Israeli soldiers shoot rubber bullets at Palestinian protesters, near a gate leading to Hebron's main al-Shuhada street, closed by troops earlier in February, during an annual demonstration in memory of the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque massacre, in the divided West Bank city of Hebron, on February 22, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. In its report on the situation of children in armed conflicts in 2018, Unicef warned: “Attacks on children must end. Children in Palestine are exposed to fear, shock and injuries.” Recently, DCI-P the Defence for Children-Palestine, in cooperation with the New York University School of Law, presented a joint report to the United Nations investigators detailing the killings of Palestinian children during peaceful marches in the Gaza Strip and serious violations of international law committed by the Israeli forces. According to the report, “57 Palestinian children were killed by the Israeli occupation forces and (Jewish) settlers in 2018, including 45 children killed in the Gaza Strip since the start of peaceful marches on March, 30.” Evidence gathered by the organisation confirmed that “the vast majority of children who were shot by soldiers did not pose any threat to the occupation soldiers at the moment of their assassination.” The report concluded that “Israeli occupation forces and officials are responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other grave violations of international law for killing children protesting in the Gaza Strip.”

While it is obvious that the Israeli occupation is the source of all these sufferings to the Palestinians, these same sufferings, at the same time, have increased the Palestinians’ determination and challenge to the bitter reality they are living. According to data from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, since the beginning of the “Right of Return Marches”, 24516 Palestinians, including 4072 children, have been injured, while it is important to remember that the occupation authorities arrested since 1967, tens of thousands of Palestinian children who have been subjected to torture, unfair trials and inhuman treatment violating their basic rights. Indeed, the Israeli occupation authorities deny Palestinian children the right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest, to know the reason for detention, or obtain a lawyer. They are also denied the right of families to know their place of detention, when they will appear before a judge, or to challenge and contest the charges. Thus, they are not allowed contact with the outside world, just as they are denied a human treatment that preserves the dignity of a child in detention.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the number of children under the age of 18 in Palestine is around 2,207,535 accounting to 45.8% of the number of population. They include 1,127,283 and 1,080,252 male and female children respectively. It is a fact that the Palestinian children suffer at the hands of the Israeli occupation forces from a lack of the simplest rights as they face killing, arrest, blockade and hunger. Some of them have even lost the meaning of childhood and the fun of life. For its part, the Palestinian Prisoners Centre for Studies confirmed that the occupation army “still holds 280 children in its prisons, prompting the opening of new sections in the prisons of Megiddo and Ofer, while a number of them are in the interrogation and detention centers in extremely harsh conditions. A new phenomenon in recent months showed the imposition of administrative detention on minor children as well as high sentences accompanied by heavy fines.” Such reports and conditions prompted the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to call on Israel to “change its laws in order to protect the rights of Palestinian children and put an end to their mistreatment.” The Assembly called for “the occupation to end the practices of arresting Palestinian children by storming their homes, interrogating them at night, closing their eyes with bandages, while their hands handcuffed.” In Arab East Jerusalem in particular, thousands of Palestinian children face daily suffering as a result of the Israeli measures. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) noted five basic problems facing Palestinian children in East Jerusalem as a result of the Israeli occupation measures including arrest, poverty, lack of school classes, social deprivation and extreme laws.

It is therefore incumbent upon local civil society groups to work in conjunction with international organisations to develop urgent programs and projects in order to deal with the dire conditions facing children for the purpose of defending the Palestinian children’s rights, document as well as expose violations they are subjected to. It is also necessary to support and help them to adjust to such a situation where they face arrest, killing and terrorising acts. Palestine’s accession to the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a step towards ending the era of Israel’s impunity and non-accountability. It should prompt us to recommend the prosecution of Israeli crimes against Palestinian children (and others) in international courts as part of a process to falsify the claim of Israel of being ‘an oasis of democracy’ and a ‘haven for humanity’ (a claim supported by some pro-Zionism world powers). Because the facts in Israeli politics belie the aforementioned claim, hence, the ugly face of the Zionist state should be revealed to the public eye in order to help Palestinian children especially those who are living in the West Bank (of the River Jordan) and in the Gaza Strip. It is our duty, as well as all other concerned parties all over the world, to expose as well as denounce such punitive measures against the Palestinian people, and the Palestinian children in particular.

Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.