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Children and minors in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict

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In May 2004 it was found that 33 percent of Israeli youth have been affected personally by violent attacks, the corresponding rate of post-traumatic stress disorder among Palestinian children was about 70 percent.[1]

Since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000 - which marked the beginning of the most recent upsurge in violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - at least 954 Palestinian and 123 Israeli children under the age of 18 have been killed, according to B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights monitoring group.[2]

During the First Intifada, thirteen Palestinian children were killed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).[3] On September 13, 1993, the Oslo Accords were signed, marking the end of the first Intifada. Between September 13, 1993 and the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, ten Palestinian children were killed by IDF soldiers, and another two by Israeli civilians.[3] During the same period, five Israeli children were killed by Palestinian citizens during the first Intifada and thirteen prior to the second intifada.[3][4]

According to a MIFTAH report between September 28, 2000 and September 30, 2008 999 Palestinian children and 123 Israeli children were killed. These figures include 32 Palestinian babies stillborn at checkpoints (not included by B'Tselem).[5]



Palestinian girl killed during the Gaza War.[6]

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) classifies children, during combat, as those who are younger than 12 years old.[7] Between the ages of 12-14, children can be sentenced for offenses for a period of up to 6 months. After the age of 14, Palestinian children are tried as adults. There are no juvenile courts, and children are often detained in centers together with adults.[8]

The first recorded incident when Palestinian children were targeted by IDF was on 2 November 1950 when three Palestinian children were shot, two fatally by IDF troops near Dayr Ayyub in the Latrun salient. Ali Muhammad Ali Alyyan (12) his sister Fakhriyeh Muhammad Ali Alyyan (10) and their cousin Khadijeh Abd al Fattah Muhammad Ali (8) all from Yalo village, "The two children [Ali and Fakhriyeh] were stood in a wadi bed and the soldiers opened fire at them. According to both [adult] witnesses only one man fired at them with a sten-gun but none of the detachment attempted to interfere".[9] On 25 February 1953 5 Arab shepherds were executed and then their bodies mutilated at al-Burj, 1 was aged 13.[10] During the Beit Jala raid when one demolition charge failed the house was broken into and the occupants (a mother and 4 children, ranging in age from 6 to 14) were then sprayed with machine gun fire and grenades tossed in.[11]

According to the Defence of Children International (DCI),[12] of the "595 children killed [29 September 2000 to 30 June 2004], 383, or 64.4%, died as a result of Israeli air and ground attacks, during assassination attempts, or when Israeli soldiers opened fire randomly" and "212 children, or 35.6%, died as a result of injuries sustained during clashes with Israeli military forces".[13]

It is estimated that two-thirds of all injuries are to Palestinian minors. The DCI estimates that from the 1 January 2001 until 1 May 2003, at least 4,816 Palestinian children were injured, with the majority of injuries happening as a result of Israeli army activity, and a small fraction of those injuries being at the hands of Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the majority of these children were killed and injured while going about their normal daily activities, such as going to school, playing, shopping, or simply when in their homes.[14][15]

According to the UNRWA, between August of 1989 and August of 1993, 1,085 people treated in its clinics had been shot in the head, of whom 545 were under the age of sixteen, and of whom 97 were under the age of six.[16] A study by the Association of Israeli and Palestinian Physicians for Human Rights (PHR-Israel) reveals that during five years of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, a child under the age of six was shot in the head every two weeks.[17]

Another cause of injury has been unexploded ordnances (UXO's). Since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, at least 11 Palestinians under the age of 17 have been injured by Israeli security forces' munitions remnants. The large majority of incidents involving unexploded ordnances occurred in the Gaza Strip.

In October 2004, 338 Palestinian minors were reported by the DCI to be under arrest by the Israeli security forces.[18] Although B'Tselem's data from the same period was not available, B'Tselem has not reported more than 252 Palestinian minors in Israeli custody at any point since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada.

Still, the DCI has estimated that there have been 2,650 Palestinian child prisoners since the start of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000,[13] which has raised concern among several Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights groups. Many Palestinian children are forced to work in Israeli prisons.[19]

In a United Nations report, Special Rapporteur Jean Ziegler stated that in the Palestinian Territories "over 22 per cent of children under 5 are now suffering from malnutrition and 15.6 per cent from acute anaemia, many of whom will suffer permanent negative effects on their physical and mental development as a result." According to the World Bank, food consumption in the Palestinian Territories has fallen by more than 25 per cent per capita, and "food shortages particularly of proteins, [are] widely reported".[20]

According to the British relief agency Oxfam, "Before the Intifada, 95% of (Palestinian) women gave birth in hospitals." Since the beginning of the Intifada, Oxfam reports that this number has dropped to 50%, which it attributed to the network of closures, checkpoints, and curfews imposed by the Israeli army. During the same period, the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported a 56% increase in stillbirths.[21] Israeli officials have been regularly strip-searching children as young as seven years old and under for decades, some of them American citizens.

Researchers are finding high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder among Palestinian children.[22] According to some researchers, the average rate of post-traumatic stress disorder among children from both sides of the Green Line is about 70 per cent.[23][24] Gaza Community Health Programs carried out a study and found that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) rate for children in Gaza was that 54% suffered from severe PTSD, 33.5 % from moderate and 11 % from mild and doubtful levels of PTSD.[23] In a report, published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, it was estimated that the rate of psychological morbidity in the southern region of Bethlehem in the West Bank, to be 42.3% among Palestinian children. The rate was 46.3% for boys and 37.8% for girls. These rates, the study reported, were twice the rate of psychological morbidity in the Gaza strip.[25]

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), some 300 Palestinian schools have been damaged in the conflict. In 2003, 580 schools were periodically forced to close, and some schools remain closed after being declared military outposts by the Israeli army.[26]


9-years old Israeli boy Osher Twito copes with lost of his leg after Qassam exploded next to him in Sderot Israel

9-year-old Israeli boy Osher Twito copes with the loss of his leg after a Palestinian Qassam rocket exploded next to him in the city of Sderot

The first acts of Palestinian violence specifically targeting Israeli children were committed in the 1970s. See Ma'alot massacre (22 children), Avivim school bus massacre (9 children), Kiryat Shmona massacre (9 children). About 70% of the Israeli children were killed by Palestinian suicide bombings and others were killed in shootings, other bomb attacks on cars, or public buses. Some examples of that include:

  • A suicide bomb attack in front of a crowded discothèque late Friday on 1 June 2001 killed 21 people of which 13 of the fatalities were under the age of 18. The armed wing of the Palestinian group Hamas claimed responsibility.[27]
  • A suicide bombing attack on 2 March 2002, detonated next to a group of women waiting with their children and husbands to leave a nearby synagogue killed 11 people, of which 7 were under the age of 18.[27]

Exact numbers are not available, but according to Amnesty International, during the past four years hundreds of children have been injured in suicide bombings, shootings, and other attacks carried out by Palestinian armed groups in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza.[28]

The Israeli settlers living in Area C of the West Bank are subject to Israeli law. They are not subject to PA security force jurisdiction and cannot be arrested by them.

The quality of medical care in Israel is significantly better than anywhere in the West Bank and Gaza. Irwin Mansdorf, a member of Task Force on Medical and Public Health Issues, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, points out the "routine... care that Palestinians continue to receive, even today after years of conflict, in Israeli hospitals and from Israeli physicians.[29] Palestinians receive care in Israel that they could not receive in any neighboring Arab country. In the last few months alone nearly 200 Palestinian children who were referred under a joint Israeli-Palestinian programme to treat children with serious medical conditions have already undergone major surgery at Israeli hospitals at no cost to the families. Another 350-400 Palestinian children have undergone free diagnostic testing."

Simon Fellerman mentions a similar program called Saving Children: "Started by the Peres Peace Center, this programme enables hundreds of Palestinian children to receive free medical care, in particular cardiac surgery, from Israeli surgeons."[30]

There is even a third initiative originating in Israel called "Save A Child's Heart" in which any child with heart problems can receive free medical attention and surgery from select doctors and hospitals within Israel. From 1996 to 2007, 4,591 children had been examined world wide, of the 1848 children treated 828 (45%) were Palestinian.[31]

Herzog Hospital's Israel Centre for the Treatment of Psychotrauma, in Jerusalem, and the UJA-Federation of New York held a conference to examine the effects of terrorism on children in Israel and the United States. Their study shows that despite nearly four years of ongoing terrorism, Israeli children have shown resilience for coping with trauma and pressing on with their lives.[32]

Nevertheless, according to one Israeli child psychiatrist, in Jerusalem, the city hit hardest by Palestinian violence, about half of the children experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, two to three times higher than the rate of children suffering from other causes of trauma. A recent study by Herzog’s trauma centre found that 33 per cent of Israeli youth have been affected personally by terrorism, either by being at the scene of an attack or by knowing someone injured or killed by terrorists. Seventy per cent of those surveyed reported increased subjective fear or hopelessness.[33]

About 26% of Israeli minors killed lived in the Israeli settlements in West Bank and Gaza. According to Miriam Shapira, the director of an emergency crisis centre for West Bank settlers, "Almost every school has students who have experienced close losses. One school had 20 students who had lost a parent in terrorist attacks. About half of the teachers also have had a close relative killed or were themselves involved in an attack."[33]

Israeli Response

The Israeli response to the deaths, injuries and arrests of Palestinian children has been mixed. Many individuals and organizations within Israel have condemned what they claim is a systemic disregard for the well-being of Palestinian children. Others, however, including the Israeli government and the Israeli Defence Forces, have expressed sympathy but deferred responsibility and blame to the Palestinians. This deferment has been on four primary grounds:

  1. that the deaths of children are a regrettable consequence of war;
  2. that Islamic militants use children as human shields or deliberately locate themselves in civilian areas during fighting;
  3. that children are used as child suicide bombers by Palestinian militant organizations;
  4. and that children engage in acts of extreme violence toward Israeli forces and civilians.[34]

Several Israeli and international human rights groups have refuted the latter two claims by collecting statistics that have shown the majority (between 64.4% and 87.7%) of Palestinian child fatalities occurred in circumstances in which the children were clearly not involved in any hostilities or clashes with Israeli forces.

The Code of Conduct of the IDF explicitly prohibits targeting non-combatants and dictates proportional force. It also stipulates that soldiers "use their weapons and force only for the purpose of their mission, only to the necessary extent and will maintain their humanity even during combat. IDF soldiers will not use their weapons and force to harm human beings who are not combatants or prisoners of war, and will do all in their power to avoid causing harm to their lives, bodies, dignity and property."

According to the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers' 2004 Global Report on the Use of Child Soldiers, there have been at least nine documented suicide attacks involving Palestinian minors between October 2000 and March 2004: "[t]here was no evidence of systematic recruitment of children by Palestinian armed groups. However, children are used as messengers and couriers, and in some cases as fighters and suicide bombers in attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians. All the main political groups involve children in this way, including Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine."

"Palestinian fatalities... have been consistently and overwhelmingly (over 95 percent) male," according to the report by Herzliya-based International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism,The al-Aqsa Intifada – An Engineered Tragedy (summary)[35]

Palestinian Response

Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the use of violence, describing the militarization of the Palestinian uprising against Israel’s continuing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a mistake.

Marwan Barghouti approved of attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers—but only in the occupied territories, resistance that he argued was condoned in international law.

The Palestinians' chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, has condemned the targeting of civilians.[36]

Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian nation poet and ex-member of the PLO executive has called for understanding but not a justification:

"We have to understand - not justify - what gives rise to this tragedy. It's not because they're looking for beautiful virgins in heaven, as Orientalists portray it. Palestinian people are in love with life. If we give them hope - a political solution - they'll stop killing themselves."[37]

As a reaction to the trauma induced in children of the city of Hebron after the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre the Palestinian Child Arts Center (PCAC), a non-governmental, non-profit organization was founded. The activities of the centre are primarily involve the intellectual development of Palestinian children, and to reinforce a positive role for the child within Palestinian society and culture.[38]

International Response

International response to reports of Palestinian child death, injury and arrest has been mixed. The United States, Micronesia, and a few other nations have consistently voted against United Nations General Assembly resolutions condemning Israel's treatment of Palestinian civilians, calling the resolutions biased and unhelpful. The United States has also vetoed many United Nations Security Council resolutions on the same grounds.

Georgetown University professor William O'Brien wrote about the active participation of Palestinian children in the First Intifada: "It appears that a substantial number, if not the majority, of troops of the intifada are young people, including elementary schoolchildren. They are engaged in throwing stones and Molotov cocktails and other forms of violence."[39]

Since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, many human rights and non-governmental organizations have raised concerns over Israel's treatment of Palestinian civilians, specifically children. Some groups, such as UNICEF, Amnesty International, B'Tselem and others, as well as some notable individuals such as the British writer Derek Summerfield, have condemned Israeli practices as violations of international law and human rights conventions and have called for Israel to meet the obligation of every government and its institutions to protect children from violence in accordance with the Geneva conventions. These condemnations have been dismissed by the Israeli government as unjustified and out of context.

The European Union has linked the suspension of Israel/Europe trade agreement talks with Human rights issues within Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, especially in regards to children.[40]


Amnesty International, a critic of human rights abuses by any group or individual, accused Israeli forces of inadequately investigating hundreds of killings of children by the Israeli army since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada.[41] It also condemned the killings of Israeli children, among others, by suicide bombings and other Palestinian attacks. Amnesty International called for thorough, independent, transparent, and impartial investigations and prosecutions by judicial authorities on both sides of the conflict.

Amnesty International claimed that the Israeli government used "excessive, disproportionate and reckless force against unarmed Palestinians and in densely populated residential areas", and that such practices "frequently result in the killing and injuring of unarmed civilians, including children."


Many individuals have contributed to the discussion and debate on Israeli violence against Palestinian children. In one editorial published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on October 16, 2004, Derek Summerfield, an honorary senior lecturer at London's Institute of Psychiatry, argued that "the Israeli army, with utter impunity, has killed more unarmed Palestinian civilians since September 2000 than the number of people who died on September 11, 2001". He also speculated that the killing of Palestinian children might be deliberate, since "two thirds of [children killed] died from small arms fire, directed in over half of cases to the head, neck and chest — the sniper's wound".

These allegations caused a wave of responses. In her response BMJ Engaging In Malpractice[dead link], Beth Goodtree, a freelance writer and winner of the 2004 Israel Hasbara Award[42] , noted that Summerfield "does not state... the breakdown of what type of person was killed - terrorist or civilian. Nor does he give the source for his 'facts'." Basing on the Fourth Geneva Convention, she argues that "a combatant hiding among a civilian population may not use said population as a human shield and is responsible for any casualties or deaths incurred. This means that the Arabs themselves are responsible for all of their civilian casualties, since they never, ever engage in lawful warfare to include the wearing of uniforms (to thus distinguish themselves from civilian populations), or stage operations and barracks, as well as retreats to non-civilian areas. In each case of Israeli military action, said action was taken in response to Arab acts of war against the Israeli civilian population."

See also


  1. Jewish news28 May 2004
  2. B'Tselem al-Aqsa Intifada Statistics
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 B'Tselem First intifada Statistics
  4. Fatal Terrorist Attacks in Israel Since the Declaration of Principles (Sept 1993), Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, September 24, 2007.
  5. MIFTAH (Palestinian Initiative for the Global Dialogue and democracy) -Special Report: Intifada Update
  6. "War On Gaza Day 14" (in Arabic). Al-Jazeera. 2009-01-09. Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
  9. Benny Morris, (1993) Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956 ISBN 0198292627, Oxford University Press p 181
  10. Benny Morris, (1993) Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956 ISBN 0198292627, Oxford University Press p 184
  11. Hutchison, E. H. (1956). Violent Truce - A Military Observer Looks at the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1951–1955. pp. 12–16. 
  12. Palestine Section of Defence for Children International
  13. 13.0 13.1 Status of Palestinian Children's Rights Defence for Children International/Palestine Section
  14. Breakdown of Palestinian Child Injuries (1 January - April 2003) May 10, 2003 Breakdown of Palestinian Child Injuries, 2002 February 14, 2003 Breakdown of Palestinian Child Deaths and Injuries in 2001 August 30, 2001. The Defence for Children International/Palestine Section
  15. World health organisation Health conditions of, and assistance to, the Arab population in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine 3 May 2004 A57/INF.DOC./1
  16. Amira Hass, Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land under Siege (Owl Books, 2000) ISBN 0-8050-5740-4.
  17. Association of Israeli and Palestinian Physicians for Human Rights (PHR-Israel), Intifada-Related Head Injuries and Rehabilitation of the Head-Injured, Tel-Aviv, July 1995
  18. Children Behind Bars, Administrative Detention Defence for Children International/Palestine Section. October 22, 2004
  19. Forced labor for Palestinian children in Israeli prison International Middle East Media Center
  20. Economic, social and cultural rights - The right to food Jean Ziegler. United Nations Commission of Human Rights. October 31, 2003
  22. Knafo, Danielle (2004) Living with Terror, Working with Trauma: A Clinician's Handbook Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 0765703785 p 220
  23. 23.0 23.1 Defense Update Terror related Post-Traumatic Stress: The Israeli Experience By David Eshel Dr. Avital Laufer of Tel Aviv University told the Knesset Committee on the Rights of Children. The committee was discussing the effects of the terror attacks of the past 32 months on children. Laufer's findings were based on a study of some 3,000 children aged 13 to 15, from both sides of the "Green Line". Some 70 percent of the children said that the terror attacks had had a direct impact on their lives, causing them to abandon or avoid certain activities.
  24. Haaretz June 5, 2003 Terror leaves 42% of children with PTSD By Gideon Alon
  25. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Vol 49, No 1, January 2004
  26. [1] United Nations Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
  27. 27.0 27.1 Israeli MFA
  28. Amnesty International Library Index
  29. BMJ journal Derek Summerfield article in reply to Simon Fellerman
  30. BMJ journal Simon Fellerman in reply to BMJ article by Derek Summerfield
  31. Save a Child's Success rates
  32. Townhall news[dead link] no information to substantiate ref
  33. 33.0 33.1[dead link] no information to substantiate ref
  34. Defence for Children International 17 February 2009 Update: 12-13 year-olds arrested for throwing stones at the Wall
  35. The al-Aqsa Intifada – An Engineered Tragedy (summary) in CFM file format unknown to microsoft, useless link[dead link]
  36. BBC 6 January 2003 Suicide bombers hit Tel Aviv
  37. Guardian 8 June 2002 profile of Mahmoud Dawish Poet of the Arab world by Maya Jaggi
  38. Irving Epstein (2008) The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Children's Issues Worldwide Greenwood Press, ISBN 0313338787 p 197
  39. William V. O'Brien, Law and Morality in Israel's War With the PLO New York: Routledge, 1991 ISBN 0415903009 page reference required
  40. Guardian Upgrade Palestinian rights As it freezes an upgrade of relations with Israel, the EU should now demand respect for human rights, especially for children by Seth Freedman 27 February 2009
  41. KILLING THE FUTURE: Children in the line of fire. AI Index: MDE 02/005/2002, 30 September 2002. Israel and the Occupied Territories and the Palestinian Authority.

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