The Israeli occupation results in ongoing and simultaneous violations of Palestinian children’s rights. Since the beginning of the Palestinian uprising against occupation, or Intifada, in September 2000, the frequency and severity of these violations has progressively increased. This trend has continued in 2004, with a steady decline in the economic and social conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
In the West Bank, continued construction of the Segregation Wall in 2004 has led to further land confiscation and home demolition and the imposition of ever-harsher restrictions of movement for significant swathes of the Palestinian population. In the Gaza Strip, repeated air attacks and invasions into Palestinian urban locales by Israeli military forces has resulted in high civilian casualty rates, extensive destruction of property and left hundreds of Palestinian civilians homeless.
This report, which covers the period from 1 January – 30 June 2004 and is based on DCI/PS documentation in a number of areas, adopts a rights based approach. It examines Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children and the impact of its policies during this period through the lens of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history.
The CRC entered into force in Israel in 1991. According to article 2 of the Convention, State Parties “shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the … Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind ….”
In 2002, upon its initial review of Israel’s report concerning compliance with the CRC, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child underlined the applicability of the Convention in the OPT and Israel’s responsibility to implement its provisions therein. Likewise, in its 9 July 2004 Advisory Opinion concerning the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the International Court of Justice affirmed the CRC’s applicability to Palestinian areas under Israeli occupation.
In spite of Israel’s clear and well defined legal obligation to respect and ensure Palestinian children’s rights, Israel continues to deny the applicability of human rights treaties to the OPT while its military forces simultaneously perpetrate systematic violations of Palestinian human rights as they enforce policies sanctioned by the government of Israel.
Right to Life and Security
Israeli military actions in the OPT caused the deaths of 81 Palestinian children during the first six months of 2004, bringing the death toll to 595 since 29 September 2000. Over 10,000 additional children have been wounded since the beginning of the Intifada. Thus far in 2004, as throughout the second Intifada, children who were not involved in direct confrontation with Israeli forces have been killed and injured. Many children are killed while in or just outside their family home or while they are performing everyday chores, such as hanging out the washing or going to the shops when they were shot by Israeli forces.
Whereas an average of 11 Palestinian children were killed each month in 2003, escalating violence and Israeli military attacks thus far in 2004, particularly in the Gaza Strip, brought the figure to an average of 13.5 child fatalities per month. May saw a hike in the number of child deaths to 35 – the highest monthly child fatality rate since April 2002 when Israel re-invaded major West Bank cities. Of the 81 children killed from 1 January – 30 June 2004, 61.7% (50 children) died after sustaining injuries from live bullets.
Child fatalities were exceptionally high in the Gaza Strip in the first half of 2004. Sixty-six children were killed, constituting 81.5% of the total number of Palestinian children killed during this period. Thirteen children alone were killed during the first five days of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, dubbed “Operation Rainbow,” which occurred in late-May. In the West Bank, the highest number of child fatalities occurred in the Nablus Governorate, where eight children, or 9.8%, were killed.
Rights of Children Deprived of their Liberty
Israel’s policy of imprisoning Palestinian children continued during the first half of 2004, during which DCI/PS noted an increase in the number of children arrested by Israeli forces. Between January - June 2004, some 350 children were taken into Israeli custody, compared with around 650 in all of 2003. As of 10 July 2004, 324 Palestinian children were held in Israeli prisons and detention centers. Of these, 10 were girls.
Israeli forces continue to employ methods of arrest of children that ignore international legal standards. The majority of arrests so far this year were made when Israeli forces carried out mass arrest campaigns. In some cases tens of children were arrested at the same time.
During arrest and interrogation, children are subjected to physical and psychological abuse, often amounting to torture. Such treatment threatens the children’s development and, in some cases, is life-threatening. Forms of physical and psychological pressure inflicted upon Palestinian child prisoners include attempts to coerce them into confessing or inducing them to collaborate with the Israeli authorities.
Children are routinely handcuffed with painful nylon restraints, subjected to beatings, forced to remain for prolonged periods in unnatural and agonizing positions, soaked in cold and hot water, sexually harassed, threatened with rape and deprived of food, sleep and contact with the outside world, including, most painfully of all, family visits.
As of 10 July 2004, approximately 30 boys – around 9% of all Palestinian child prisoners – were held under administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial. In addition to denying the detainee the right to a fair trial, children, their families and attorneys are denied the right to know the alleged offence of which the child is accused. Administrative detention orders can be renewed indefinitely.
Right to an Adequate Standard of Living
The dramatic downturn of the Palestinian economy since September 2000, Israeli restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, along with Israeli military actions in the OPT have prompted a significant decline in the Palestinian standard of living. Pre-existing conditions have been exacerbated in many parts of the West Bank in 2004 due to ongoing construction of the Segregation Wall.
In the first five months of 2004, 500 houses were demolished, mostly in the Gaza Strip, leaving people with little or nothing. According to UN agencies, over 2,500 Palestinian homes or buildings have been destroyed since the beginning of the Intifada, affecting thousands of Palestinian children. According to Save the Children UK, since September 2002 alone, thousands of children and their families have been displaced after their homes were damaged or destroyed due to violence, incursions, and the construction of the Segregation Wall.
An estimated 60 – 70% of the Palestinian workforce is unemployed, over half the population is reliant upon direct food aid, and increasing numbers of child labourers can be seen on the streets. Aged between 6 to 16 years old, many of these children gather at checkpoints and traffic lights, selling sweets or other small items in an attempt to supplement their family’s meagre income.
The violations of Palestinian children’s rights outlined in this report are by no means comprehensive. Rather they provide an overview of the many ways in which Palestinian children’s rights are violated as a result of Israel’s occupation and highlight the manner in which these violations occur simultaneously and on a daily basis.
When a child is unable to reach school because Israeli soldiers have closed a checkpoint and opened fire, a child’s right to education, right to freedom of movement and right to security are all threatened. The child whose father or mother is imprisoned often loses the right to an adequate standard of living, as the family’s income is depleted. This often causes a violation to the right to health, as the family is unable to purchase healthy foods, such as meat or dairy products. Insufficient income levels have resulted in increased malnutrition among young children and are forcing children as young as six into the street as vendors.
These violations of Palestinian children’s rights are well documented by local and international organizations. They are the result of systematic policies implemented by the government of Israel – some for decades, others for the period of this Intifada. Despite repeated requests to Israel for improvements in the humanitarian situation in the OPT, these policies remain largely unchanged and their negative impact continues to grow more serious.
That Palestinian children, who comprise 53% of the population, are coming of age in such an environment bodes ill in many ways for the future of Palestinian society. As UNICEF has highlighted, “ongoing violence, movement restrictions and a general lack of perspective in people’s lives are eroding the population’s coping mechanisms, gradually weakening children’s and adults potential for resiliency and increasing the risk for deep, long-term impact on their psychosocial well-being.”
To download the full report click here.