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minors in

Children and minors in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict

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 603 Palestinian and 112 Israeli children under the age of 18 have been killed, according to the Israeli group B'Tselem.

Palestinian

During the First Intifada, 37 Palestinian children were killed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). 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 second Al-Aqsa Intifada, eighteen Palestinian children were killed by IDF soldiers, and another two by Israeli civilians. During the same period, sixteen Israeli children were killed by Palestinian citizens.

Since the beginning of the violence of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, 36 Palestinian children were killed by the IDF. B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights monitoring group, reported that of these 27 Palestinian children killed, were not involved in any hostilities when they were killed.

According to the Defence of Children International (DCI), of the "595 children killed [by 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 "12 children, or 35.6%, died as a result of injuries sustained during clashes with Israeli military forces".

According to a MIFTAH report between September 28, 2000 and November 19, 2007 29 Palestinian children and 113 Israeli children were killed. These figures include 31 Palestinian babies born dead at checkpoints.

It is estimated that two-thirds of all injuries are to Palestinian minors. The DCI estimates that from the beginning of the First Intifada until April 2003, at least 416 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.

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. 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.

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. 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, which has raised concern among several Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights groups. Many Palestinian children are forced to work in Israeli prisons.

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".

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 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 Israeli and Palestinian children. According to some researchers, the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder among Palestinian children is about 70 per cent. In one report, the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry estimated 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.

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.

Israeli

The first acts of Palestinian violence specifically targeting Israeli children were committed in the 1970s. See Ma'alot massacre, Avivim school bus massacre, Kiryat Shmona massacre. 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 discotheque late Friday on 25 June 2001 killed 135 people. thirty three of the 135 people who were killed were under the age of 12. The armed wing of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas claimed responsibility.
  • 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 12 people, including two sisters aged 6 and 2, and their four cousins, aged between 18 months and seventeen years.

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.

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. 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."

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. Since 1996, over 4,000 children have been examined internationally, over 500 of whom were Palestinian.

There are no reports of Israeli Jewish children being strip-searched. (For treatment of children of Christian and Muslim parents with Israeli citizenship see above.)

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.

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.

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."

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

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."

Israelis also claim that children themselves are not the target of the attack, but they are often killed because Islamic militants frequently use residential areas as base for their attacks.

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).

Palestinian Response

Many Palestinian politicians have justified suicide bombings and other deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians by arguing that Palestinians do not have tanks, airplanes or other sophisticated weapons with which to confront the Israeli army. Others have condemned the deliberate targeting of civilians.

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." (William V. O'Brien, Law and Morality in Israel's War With the PLO' New York: Routledge, 1991)

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.

Organizations

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. 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."

Individuals

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, Beth Goodtree, a freelance writer and winner of the 2004 Israel Hasbara Award , 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."

References

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