The effects of Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield on Palestinian children living in the West Bank

Palestinian children in Nablus (AEF, 2002)

The Israeli Operation Defensive Shield began on 29 March 2002 with the reoccupation of the city of Ramallah followed soon after by the rest of the Palestinian cities. The reoccupation lasted variable lengths of time, with the longest in Bethlehem for 45 consecutive days.

For Palestinian children, this meant the interruption of normal life including education, social interactions, accessibility to health care, and loss of income for their families. In addition, there was psychological trauma from exposure to shelling, shootings and beatings that led to injuries, disabilities and loss of life.

Objectives

This report summarizes some specific violations of children’s rights that occurred between 29 March and 31 May 2002 as a result of Operation Defensive Shield - the rights to life, physical and psychological well being, healthcare, education, and protection from torture.

Methodology

This report focuses on children under the age of 18. Information was obtained from local and international organizations that deal with children - Defense of Children International (DCI) - Palestinian Sector, National Plan of Action (NPA), UNICEF, the Red Crescent Society (RCS), Ministry of Health (MoH) and Human Development and Information project (HDIP). In addition, the local papers and the Internet were screened for reports on events affecting Palestinian children during that period.

Results

Deaths

During the reported time period, 55 children were killed. Thirty-eight percent (21) were under 12 years of age and 85 percent (47) were males. Forty-four percent (24) died from live bullets including rubber-coated metal bullets, 13 percent (7) from shelling, bombing or explosions, 9 percent (5) from delays in receiving healthcare, 19 percent (10) from acts of violence such as beatings or being struck by army vehicles, and 11 percent (6) were buried under the rubble by a bulldozer. Of those who died, 34.5 percent were from Nablus and 25.5 percent from Jenin. 14.5 percent and 12.7 percent were from Bethlehem and Hebron respectively.

During the third day of the incursion into Nablus, the Shu’bi family home was demolished by an Israeli bulldozer; the mother, seven-months pregnant, and, three brothers, Abdullah, 8, Azzam, 6, and Anas, 4, were buried under the rubble, along with their grandfather and two aunts.1

Another family, from Qabatia near Jenin, was similarly devastated when an Israeli tank fired at the family, as they were cultivating their land, killing the mother and her two children, Abeer, 3, and Basil, 4. The father was detained for a couple of hours and ambulances were prevented from transporting the children and the mother for several hours, by which time they were all dead.2

On 23 April,[3] Ameen Ziad Thawabte, 14, from the village of Beit Fajjar near Hebron, was returning from school with a small group of children his age at approximately 1:00 p.m. An Israeli jeep passed nearby and fired a single shot that killed Ameen. There were no clashes or confrontations with soldiers in the area at the time and there was no curfew on the village. The Israeli army claimed that the children were close to a settlement. However, the nearest settlement, Mijdal Oz, is located three kilometers from the place where Ameen was shot.

Five deaths were due to delay in receiving health care, three of which were babies delivered at checkpoints who died soon after birth. The other two were sick children who either died at checkpoints or later due to delays in getting healthcare. Dr Ali Sha’ar’s newborn from Nablus, became unwell soon after home delivery. The Israeli occupation force prevented his transport to a hospital and he died a couple of hours later. Haleema al-Atrash, a woman in labor from Walajeh village near Bethlehem, was prevented from reaching an ambulance located only 10 meters away from her. As a result, she delivered at the checkpoint, but the baby died soon after.

The Israeli occupation force regularly left mines in commonly used Palestinian areas before their withdrawal and 11 children were affected, seven of them have died. On 23 April, Asad Orsan lost four limbs, Saed al-Wahshi, 12, suffered severe burns and shrapnel over his entire body, and on 17 May, Ameer Nashrati, 12, was injured while playing in the rubble.

Injuries

The data on injury is by no mean complete as not all the injuries were reported. Overall, 342 injuries were documented. Forty percent were from Nablus, 33.6 percent from Hebron, and 13 percent were from Tulkarim, the rest were from the other cities. Of these injuries, live bullets, including rubber-coated metal bullets caused 24 percent, and beatings, collisions with an army vehicle, and shock injury caused 51 percent, the rest were due to other causes. Forty-seven percent of the children were from the city while the rest were split equally between villages and refugee camps. Again, as in death, 37 percent were under 12 years of age and most of the injured were males (82.5 percent).

The DCI - Palestine Sector, documented some stories of the injured children.4

On 3 April, during a three-hour break in the curfew in Ramallah, Israeli troops fired randomly at Palestinian civilians who were attempting to buy food, water, and essential goods. A 14-year old boy, Kindi Qutteineh, who lives in the center of the city, was shot in his leg by live ammunition fired from an Israeli tank. An eyewitness to the shooting told DCI, “I was walking up the street to buy some food when Israeli soldiers shot randomly at people. Kindi was near his house. It took around one hour before an ambulance could reach him and take him to hospital.”

On 5 April, 9-year old, Mohammed Amin Abdul Rahman al-Zougheir of Hebron was seriously injured during an assassination attempt on the life of a Palestinian activist. Mohammed and his father were next to their car when an air-to-surface missile slammed into the vehicle. The attack caused third-degree burns to 80 percent of Mohammed’s body.

On 10 April, 16-year old Abdul Rahman Ismail Mohammed Abu Hadwan from Hebron sustained injuries to his lower leg and ankle when Israeli soldiers shot him with a fragmenting bullet.

On 16 April, 16-year old Shadi Issa Mohammed Yunis Jaradat of Hebron sustained injuries after being shot in the chest with live ammunition during an Israeli army invasion into Hebron.

Detention

Defense of Children International revealed that as of 22 May around 40 - 50 children are being detained in Ofrah prison near the city of Ramallah. When the DCI lawyer attempted to visit the children, he was allowed to see seven of them, but only after much difficulty. The prison is composed of nine compartments separated by metal wire, with four tents in each section, housing 25 to 35 prisoners. The tents are erected on a concrete floor and prisoners sleep on wooden benches with only a thin mattress and dirty, smelly blankets. There is no electricity in the tents and the prisoners are completely cut off from the outside world. There are no cleaning facilities and two of the compartments have flooded sewage. Food is prepared and eaten from large containers, shared by eight prisoners.

One of the children said he was arrested on 23 April, interrogated and the next day he was taken to Ofrah and beaten on the way. On arrival, he was interrogated again for an entire day and one of the soldiers kept banging his head against a table.5

On 7 June, the Israeli Minister of Prisoner Affairs announced that there are 7,500 prisoners detained in 12 prisons (two of which were recently opened); 170 are children and 20 female.6

Family visits have been made difficult and if allowed, the mothers are humiliated through requests such as removing their clothes in order to be searched.

Psychological trauma

Since the beginning of the al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000, Palestinian children have been exposed to harassment, displacement, shooting, and destruction of their homes and schools. These measures were drastically increased during the recent occupation, accentuating the psychological effects on children.

Prior to the incursion, in April - May 2001, which is 7 to 8 months after the intifada began; the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) began to document the shooting, bombing and harassment of children.7 The results showed that even at that time, 27331 (1.3 percent) of the Palestinians in the West Bank had changed their residence due to the situation - 22.3 percent permanently and 54 percent temporarily. Of 483,460 school children interviewed at that time, 3 percent had been stopped at checkpoints, 1.2 percent shot at, 1.4 percent humiliated, 0.8 percent beaten, and equal number harassed.

At least half of the school children showed psychological symptoms such as crying and fear from loneliness, the dark, and loud noises. About a third showed symptoms of sleep disorder, nervousness, decrease in eating and weight, feelings of hopelessness and frustration, and abnormal thoughts of death. About half of the children showed deterioration in their schoolwork and one-third were unable to concentrate. In the same report, around 7 percent of families had experienced shooting at their houses, 3.5 percent raids into their homes by Israeli soldiers or settlers, and 6 percent were exposed to tear gas. Five percent of families reported damage to their land, 3 percent to their homes, and 4 percent to their cars.

Recently, at the end of the recent incursion, May 2002, the Institute of Community and Public Health (ICPH), Birzeit University prepared a brief statistical report on the daily life, health and environmental conditions of families living under curfew.8 The report sampled five cities and showed that 23 to 37 percent of families housed other families because of life-threatening danger, houses being demolished or taken over by the army, or being stranded and not able to reach their homes. A range of 31 to 87 percent of families reported considerable destruction to their neighborhoods and 28 to 59 percent reported exposure to shooting and /or destruction of their own home.

The Israeli occupying forces searched between 30 to 50 percent of homes; 12 to 36 percent of households reported the arrest of at least one family member. As a result, between 70 and 93 percent of interviewees reported mental health problems in at least one family member. Symptoms included great fear among children - shivering, crying, loss of appetite, and lack of sleep. Methods for coping included prayer, sleeping with the children, and intensification of normal activities, explaining to the children what is happening, and sometimes seeking help from a counselor by telephone.

Now, after the third incursion, June 2002, psychologists expect that all the children to have been traumatized, as shooting, damage to properties, bombing and house demolition has become a regular event in all areas of the West Bank.

Examples of events causing psychological trauma to children include the main incursion of the Jenin refugee camp with 600 houses completely destroyed by bombs and bulldozers and 200 houses unfit for habitation, leaving 1,250 families homeless.

One personal tale began on 5 April. The Abu Ramaileh family had hidden in the kitchen for a couple of days to avoid shelling and shooting at the Jenin refugee camp. At a quiet moment, the father decided to check damage in the sitting room. A shot was heard and when the mother went to check on her husband, she found that he had been shot dead. The ambulance could not reach the house for seven days and she convinced her children, Muhammed, 7, Hazar, 6, and Rami, 4, that their father was tired and asleep.9

In Nablus, 250 houses were destroyed, the families housed in schools, mosques, and temporary apartments before their houses were repaired or a permanent residence was available.10

Health

Child health in general is dependent on preventive and curative services. In the Palestinian territories, these services are provided free of charge during the first three years of life. After this age, curative services are covered by private or government insurance policies or direct payment for the service.

The PCBS studied health-seeking behavior for curative services on the West Bank during April and May 2001, a year ago. Results showed that 28.6 percent of families who needed curative services did not obtain medical care because medication was not available, 32.9 percent said they had no money, 26.6 percent could not reach a health center, and 16.8 percent reported that the doctor could not reach the health center.11 A month prior to the study, March 2001, PCBS found 10.7 percent of households in the Palestinian territories12 had lost their income and 64.2 percent were living below the poverty line. Since then, poverty and inaccessibility of drugs and healthcare has become increasingly worse, especially after the reoccupation on 29 March 2002 that led to tighter curfews imposed on Palestinian cities.

Although health-seeking behavior during the siege has not yet been evaluated, it must have been completely dependent on physical barriers and cash availability. Although drug donations and foreign doctors provided free services in some cities, there is no information on the percentage they covered and the quality of the service they offered. Looking at income and cash availability, PCBS in January - February 200213 found 57.8 percent of households in the West Bank lived below the poverty line, while 58 percent lost half their income during the intifada, from 2,500 NIS to 1200 NIS per month and a further 20.3 percent lost their income altogether. The brief statistical report, by the ICPH, 14 reported on the daily life, health and environmental conditions of families living under curfew, showed in Bethlehem, 65 percent reported problems with cash availability, compared to 54 percent in Ramallah, 39 percent in Tulkarim, 34 percent in Jenin, and 33 percent in Nablus. Also 23 to 29 percent of respondents were no longer working after the reoccupation. This tight situation must have forced families to use alternative methods to deal with illnesses, possibly using indigenous medical practices, traditional healers, over-the-counter drugs, and free services offered by foreign physicians.

Preventive services were also interrupted. Some services were remedied when the curfew was lifted, but two others could not: Hepatitis B vaccination, to protect from a disease which can lead to chronic Hepatitis and liver cancer; and phenylketonuria (PKU) test, which screens for two diseases, where timing of diagnosis and treatment is crucial to prevent mental retardation in children.

Hepatitis B is normally given to infants in three doses at birth, 1 and 6 months to protect children from Hepatitis B, which is moderately endemic (3.4%). The Ministry of Health policy is to vaccinate newborns immediately after birth, to reduce the risk of acquiring the disease. This policy, in optimal circumstances, is 93 percent effective i.e. 7 percent of infants of infected mothers will acquire Hepatitis B even if vaccinated immediately after birth. Vaccination for Hepatitis B is normally done in the hospital or delivery unit where 93 percent of Palestinian mothers deliver, while the home-delivery births attend the Mother and Child Health (MCH) Clinic. During the incursion, home deliveries increased to 40 percent15 and the MCH clinics became inaccessible for variable lengths of time. As a result, it is predicted that there will be a rise in Hepatitis B among newborns of infected mothers. Since routine testing is not practiced, these children will be discovered when they become chronic carriers as adults.

For PKU, the screening test is done within seven days of birth, when breast-feeding is established, to detect two diseases, phenylketonuria, and hypothyroidism. Both are congenital diseases that cause mental retardation. Treatment success depends in the introduction of special milk or hormone replacement as early as possible. Due to the increase in home deliveries and inaccessibility of the MCH clinics to mothers and inaccessibility of the central government laboratory to the MCH clinics, infants were either not tested, tested but the test was not sent to the laboratory, or tested at the lab but not reported back to the parents.

A private physician, who opened his clinic when the curfew was lifted temporarily, reported one baby girl, at 40 days, who showed symptoms of developmental delay. Her blood had been tested before the incursion, but the test never reached the laboratory.

Education

The November 2001 PCBS report 16 which covered only the first year of the uprising and siege, reported that of those children attending schools, 14 percent said their schools were closed, bombed, became a military base or had been entered by Israeli occupation forces; 36 percent said their time at school had been reduced due to the Israeli measures; 60 percent had been absent for at least one day due to these measures, with an average of 10 absent days; and 2.4 percent had had to change their schools.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Education,17 the initial assessment of damage to schools during the main incursion (29 March through 11 April) indicated that 11 schools were completely destroyed, 9 were vandalized, 15 were used as military installations, and 15 were used as detention/ holding facilities. The systematic destruction and abuse of Palestinian educational facilities resulted not only in material damage and financial loss, but seriously affected the education of hundred of thousands of Palestinian children. The Ministry estimates that 54,730 teaching sessions were lost in three weeks as a result of the Israeli siege and the ensuing complete cessation of classes in Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarim, Bethlehem, Qalqilia, Salfit, and Qabatia district schools. Moreover, the widespread destruction or confiscation of vital Ministry files, such as documents necessary for certifying students’ transcripts, will make rebuilding the education sector extremely difficult.

Another problem was the secondary school matriculation exam (tawjihi). Every district has been affected to a certain extent by Israeli curfews and closures. For example, villages to the west of Ramallah have not been able to hold classes for more than two months due to the complete closure placed on that area. Education officials are concerned how to conduct the nationwide tawjihi exams when each school has reached a different stage in the curriculum. The exam, taken at the end of June, has been completely disrupted. All Palestinian cities have been reoccupied and are under curfew: Jenin, Beitunia, Tulkarim, and Bethlehem since 19 June; Nablus since 21 June; Qalqilia since 22 June; Ramallah since 24 June; and Hebron, Tubas, and Arrabeh village since 25 June. This has drastic results on the students as they are expected to apply for universities very soon with their tawjihi grades, otherwise they will miss the deadline for application. It seems most likely that many will lose this year completely as some are injured, in detention, prison or under curfew, or unable to reach the examination site because of closure.

UNICEF estimates that more than 600,000 (61 percent) of 986,000 children in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were unable to attend school on a regular bases.18 The percentage in the West Bank where most of the closures took place will be much higher, probably approaching 90 percent.

Reports show that a number of children are leaving private schools to attend government or UNRWA schools where education is not of the same high standards due to cost. It is also known that child labor is influenced by the adult unemployment rate, so one expects more children to leave school in the next academic year, to find regular or irregular paid employment to supplement family income. The rate for 10 to 14 year olds employed prior to the incursion was 0.6 percent for the West Bank.19 It will be tragic if this rate increases in the coming years.

Poverty

A 16 June 2002 report in the al-Quds newspaper, estimates poverty in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has reached 75 percent.20 The PCBS reported that the 2002 first-quarter status of the labor force,21 just before the 29 March Israeli incursion, showed that 59.6 percent of those on the West Bank aged 15 years and older are outside the labor force by International Labour Organization (ILO) standards. Of those who are employed, 84.4 percent are working in the Palestinian territories. The percentage of employees whose monthly wages are below the poverty line (1,642 NIS for a family of two adults and four children), increased form 43.5 percent in the third quarter of 2000 to 54.2 percent in the first quarter of 2002. The economic dependency ratio (number of population divided by number of employed person), increased from 4.3 in the third quarter of 2000 to 5.6 in the first quarter of 2002 in the West Bank.

Since the incursion, the ICPH report,22 reported that of those who were working prior to the incursion, between 23 and 29 percent are no longer working. The main reasons given were the siege and collapse of the market.

As a result of Israeli Operation Determined Path, which began on 26 June 2002, Palestinians living in the West Bank have entered a semi-continuous occupation that is expected to last for a an unlimited period of time, poverty affecting families and children is expected to rise to drastic levels as the self-employed and wage employed, making up 87.6 percent of total employment,23 is not expected to be sustainable in the absence of aid money and implementation of persistent curfews.

This is expected to affect children by compromising their food intake, as confirmed by the findings of the PCBS,24 January - February 2002 report on changes to nutrition during the intifada. It reported that 51 percent of households reduced the quantity of their food and 63.2 percent reduced the quality. Monthly-consumed meat was reduced by 73.9 percent, fruits by 71.3 percent, and milk and milk products by 54.6 percent of families. Sixty-seven percent of families said price was a very important determinant for purchasing food. This decreased food intake will lead to increased numbers of failing to thrive children and with nutritional inadequacies leading to drastic increase in the already existing 50% rate of iron deficiency anemia.

Rehabilitation

The Palestinian juvenile rehabilitation home in Ramallah,25 Dar al-Amal, founded in 1958, used as a prison for juveniles during the Israeli occupation, and a rehabilitation home for troubled juveniles since the arrival of the Palestinian Authority, was completely destroyed during the Israeli invasion. Dar al-Amal served as a support center, providing classes and counseling for youths, and training for teachers. Just prior to the invasion of Ramallah, ten of the 15 youths who were housed in the building moved to stay with relatives. The five other children, aged between 12 and 15 years, were not able to find people to stay with and remained in the building along with five teachers. The building was attacked three times during the invasion. The director, Anwar Hamam, told DCI - Palestine Sector, who were reporting this case, that Israeli soldiers raided the building on 18 April at 5:00 p.m. and placed the teachers and juveniles in one room on the first floor. On the ground floor they placed a large number of explosive devices that they detonated from afar. All of the rooms on the ground floor were completely destroyed. On the first floor, the bedrooms and bathrooms were destroyed and looted. Every window and door in the building was smashed or destroyed with explosive devices while the ten residents remained imprisoned in one room. The electricity, water, and sewage networks were completely destroyed during the attacks. Dar al-Amal was the only institution of its kind operating in Ramallah and one of only three such centers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

One of the most serious psychological consequences of these attacks is that the children who had remained in the building were forced to return to relatives who were not willing to take them prior to the 29 March incursion.

Conclusion

The outlook for Palestinian children under Israeli occupation is grim as children’s rights continue to be violated and there is no hope in the near future for a political solution. For children who are old enough to remember the time when they were able to travel from one city to another without hassle, attend school without fear of shelling, and travel without facing a checkpoint, they understand that their life has changed.

Now, all Palestinians are confined to their homes for variable lengths of time and the sounds of bullets, bombs, tanks, and bulldozers are regular background noise. The children sense the adults’ desperation and anxiety and become anxious themselves. The ones who are old enough to dream of something else, are also old enough to realize that their dreams are a far-fetched fantasy and their reality is poverty, poor education, inadequate healthcare, and fear for their loved ones. The occupation, the tanks, the checkpoints and the Israeli soldiers have incarcerated their dreams. Beyond, there is no future.

Acknowledgement

I would like to thank Amal Daoud for entering the injury and dead data on SPSS. Rita Giacaman, the director of the Institute of Community and Public Health for reviewing the report and Mary Zuraik for editing it.

Footnotes

1 Al-Quds newspaper, 17 May 2002

2 Al-Quds newspaper, 6 May 2002

3 DCI- Palestine Sector. Situation of Palestinian Children Remains Dire: Killings, Injury, and Arrests of Children Continue. April 2002. ref: 0013/02 .

4 DCI - Palestine Sector. Violations of Palestinian Children’s Rights: 29 March - 19 April 2002. Submitted on 19 April 2002 to Mrs. Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

5 Al-Quds newspaper, 22 May 2002

6 Al-Quds newspaper, 7 June 2002

7 PCBS 2001, Impact of the Israeli Measures: Survey on the Well Being of the Palestinian Children, Women and Palestinian Households, 2001, Main Findings. Ramallah, Palestine.

8Giacaman R and A. Husseini. Life and Health during the Israeli Invasion of the West Bank. May 2002.

9 Al-Quds newspaper, 24 April 2002

10Al-Quds newspaper, 20 May 2002

11 PCBS 2002, Impact of the Israeli Measures: Survey on the Well Being of the Palestinian Children, Women and Palestinian Households, 2001, Main Findings. Ramallah, Palestine.

12 PCBS 2001. Impact of the Israeli Measures on the Economic Conditions of Palestinian Households on the Eve of the Israeli Incursion (4th round January- February 2002).

13 PCBS 2002. Impact of the Israeli Measures on the Economic Conditions of Palestinian Households on the Eve of the Israeli Incursion (4th round: January- February 2002).

14 Giacaman R and A. Husseini. Life and Health during the Israeli Invasion of the West Bank. May 2002.

15 Interview with Dr. As’ad Ramlawi, Deputy of General Director of Primary Health Care. May 2002.

16 PCBS 2001. Impact of the Israeli Measures: Survey on the Well Being of the Palestinian Children, Women and Palestinian Households, 2001, Main Findings. Ramallah, Palestine.

17 DCI- Palestine Sector. Situation of Palestinian Children Remains Dire: Killings, Injury, and Arrests of Children Continue. April 2002. ref: 0013/02.

18 UNICEF Status Report 2002.

19 PCBS 2002. Palestinian Labor Force Status on the Eve of the Israeli Incursion: January - March, 2002.

20 Al-Quds newspaper, 16 June 2002

21 PCBS 2002. Palestinian Labor Force Status on the Eve of the Israeli Incursion:January - March, 2002.

22 Giacaman R and A. Husseini. Life and Health during the Israeli Invasion of the West Bank. May 2002.

23 PCBS 2002. Palestinian Labor Force Status on the Eve of the Israeli Incursion: January - March, 2002.

24 PCBS 2002. Impact of the Israeli Measures on the Economic Conditions of Palestinian Households on the Eve of the Israeli Incursion (4th round: January - February 2002)

25 DCI- Palestine Sector. Situation of Palestinian Children Remains Dire: Killings, Injury, and Arrests of Children Continue. April 2002. ref: 0013/02.