Mainly covers the period June 1998 to April 2001 as well as including some earlier information.
– total: 3,000,0001435
– under-18s: 53%
- Security forces:1436
– active: nil
– paramilitary: 35,000
- Compulsory recruitment age: not applicable1437
- Voluntary recruitment age: 18; 17 under Jordanian law applied in special cases
- Voting age (government elections): unknown
- Child soldiers: indicated in various armed groups
- CRC-OP-CAC: not member of UN so cannot formally sign or ratify
- Other treaties ratified: not member of UN or ILO so cannot formally sign or ratify. However, the PLO officially endorsed the CRC on 5 April 1995
- While there are some reports of children participating in Palestinian armed groups, there is no evidence of systematic recruitment. Children participating in intifada demonstrations cannot be considered child soldiers.
Israel has militarily occupied the Palestinian territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and border areas of the Golan Heights since 1967. Israel agreed to transfer most administrative responsibilities for civil government in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the May 1994 Gaza-Jericho agreement and the September 1995 Interim Agreement. In January 1996, Palestinians elected their first government, which consisted of an 88-member Council and the Chairman of the Executive Authority. The Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) holds most senior government positions in the PA. Renewed conflict began in September 2000 with clashes between various Palestinian factions and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), and demonstrations by unarmed Palestinians dubbed the Al-Aqsa intifada.
Palestinian Police and Security Forces
According to the Oslo agreement, the PA cannot have armed forces but only a Palestinian Police Force, which may comprise up to 30,000 policemen serving in Palestinian Authority Areas (zone A) only (18,000 in Gaza and 12,000 in West Bank).1438 The Palestinian Police Force includes the Palestinian Public Security Force, the Palestinian Civil Police, Emergency and Rescue, the Preventive Security Force, the General Intelligence Service (mukhabarat), and the Palestinian Presidential Security Force, known as Force 17.1439 The Palestinian Authorities refuse to declare the actual numbers of these forces and have been accused by Israel of recruiting above agreed levels. With the police drawing only $300 per month in salary, there is reportedly widespread "ghosting", with personnel on the books who receive salary but not actually on police duty.
The minimum age for volunteering in the PA police forces is 18, is the same as for any other servant in the administration. The draft Palestinian Child Rights Charter incorporates an article forbidding the enlistment of children under 18 in any armed forces. According to some sources, the Palestinian authority applies Jordanian military law and accepts some recruits below 18 for special tasks, e.g. musical ability. When the PA attempted to introduce national service law in 1997, which would induct high school graduates into community service, Israeli authorities objected stating that this was an attempt to induct young people into military service.1440
There is no military training in regular schools. However, in the summer of 2000 it was estimated that nearly 50,000 children were enrolled in military-style camps, which included military discipline rules and training in the use of light arms. These were mostly organised by a government organisation, the Political Guidance and Training Unit.
Armed Groups and Militias
In addition to role as a political party, Fatah has a loosely organised network of militias engaged in resistance to the Israeli military occupation. The minimum age to join Fatah as a political party is sixteen and as militia members are chosen from this political support base they would therefore almost always be over seventeen. There have been no reports of the military recruitment of children by Fatah militias.
OTHER ARMED GROUPS
- Hamas (Harakat Al-Muqawama Al-Islamia – Islamic Resistance Movement)
Hamas is an Islamist political organization which became active in the early stages of the first intifada. Hamas has a complex structure, working openly through a network of mosques and social service institutions designed for recruitment, fund raising and the distribution of propaganda. Hamas' activities are concentrated in the Gaza Strip and in a few areas of the West Bank. Like other political groupings, Hamas maintains an armed wing to fight Israeli military occupation, the Izz al-Deen Al-Qassem Brigades.
Hamas receives funds from Palestinian expatriates, private benefactors in Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab states as well as the state of Iran. Some fundraising and propaganda activities take place in Western Europe and North America. There have been reports of children below 15 years of age in Hamas, with the lowest recorded age being 12, but the process of selection for the Izz al-Deen Al-Qassem Brigades is reportedly long and rigorous and has not to date included children.1441
- Islamic Jihad
The Islamic Jihad, another political organisation with an armed wing which originated in the Gaza Strip during the 1970s, is committed to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state.1442 There is no evidence of child participation in Islamic Jihad.
- The first intifada
The Palestinian intifada or uprising against Israeli military occupation that erupted in December 1987 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, apparently began as a spontaneous popular movement and was not directly controlled by the PLO. Local members of Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other parties put aside their differences and united in order to provide an organisational role through "popular committees" in camps and villages. The Israeli authorities responded to the uprising with force.
Youths played a pivotal role in the first intifada through civil disobedience and non-violent protest, as well as "throwing stones, blocking roads, burning tires, spraying graffiti ..."1443 According to one study by the Palestinian Women's Committee, "The average participation of children in the (first) Intifada reached 73 per cent."1444 Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttub, writes how the different age groups were assigned different roles during the intifada. The seven to ten-year-olds would "roll tires to the middle of the road, pouring gasoline on them, and setting them on fire. The eleven to fourteen-year-olds were "[a]ssigned the task of placing large stones in the road to slow down or stop traffic." The fifteen to nineteen-year-olds were cited as the experienced stone throwers.1445
Communiques were issued by al-Qiyada al- Wataniyya al-Muawahhada lil-Intifada, the United Leadership of the Uprising, which consisted of PLO factions: Fatah, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other factions. The communiqués were designed to serve as directives to Palestinian society during the intifada. For example, Communiqué No.2 says, "O youth of Palestine, O throwers of incendiary stones, clearly the new fascists will be forced to admit the facts entrenched by your ferocious rebellion."1446 They outlined specific days when the confrontations were to take place, "Intensify the use of popular means against all enemies beginning with the holy stones and ending with the incendiary Molotov cocktails. O our people and the youths and the girls of Palestine, further strike force, further sacrifices for sake of Palestine."1447
Voluntary youth organisations attached to political parties and factions helped in the mobilisation of Palestinian youth. The Lijan al-Shabiba l-Amal al-Ijtimat (Youth Committees for Social Activity) was established by Fatah in 1981 to increase support for the organisation and the connections between cities and rural countryside through sports and social activity. In addition, there were clubs in a number of towns in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including the Young Men's Muslim Association in Jerusalem and the Islamic Centre in Gaza. The Democratic Front, the Palestine Communist Party, Muslim Brotherhood and other groups all had youth movements associated with them.1448
- The Al-Aqsa intifada
Children have been prominent in media portrayals of the latest Al-Aqsa intifada which began on 28 September 2000. There is no evidence to date of children being recruited or used systematically by the Palestinian authority or armed groups.
The image of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Dirrah's last minutes before being shot by an Israeli soldier, or Fares Odeh, a small boy wearing jeans pants and sandals slinging a stone at an Israeli Merkavah tank have been widely reported the conflict.1449 Such images have galvanised Arab anger and prompted international criticism that Israel is using excessive force to contain the unrest. Children have also been prominent at many funerals, public rallies and demonstrations, sometimes wearing insignia or fatigues or carrying toy weapons. On 16 March, in Gaza city, young children reportedly acted out a suicide bombing at one public rally: "a boy of 10 went on stage in a white shroud and climbed into a coffin-like box covered with an Israeli flag as another boy threw a firecracker to mimic the sound of an explosion."1450
A significant per centage of Palestinians killed in the Al-Aqsa uprising have been children, but few of these have been actively involved in violent demonstrations.1451 According to the PA website, as of 26 Feb 2001 a total of 97 children under 18 were killed during the al-Aqsa intifada.1452 Many children killed in the conflict were mere bystanders or were killed in their homes or on their way to or from school. According to independent estimates, less than one per cent of the total Palestinian adolescent population (aged 12 to 18) has taken an active part in the clashes with the IDF.
The Israeli authorities have accused the Palestinian community and political leadership of using children as "soldiers" in demonstrations where stones or Molotov cocktails are thrown, but Palestinian children participating in demonstrations in the Occupied Territories cannot be classified as child soldiers and there is no evidence of their having been recruited or used systematically by the authorities or armed groups. According to a UN Commission of Inquiry which visited the region in February 2001, "stone throwing by youths at heavily protected military posts hardly seems to involve participation in hostilities".1453
The PA Minister of Information Yasser Abed Rabbo issued a statement on 8 November 2000 calling on "all actors in Palestinian society to protect and prevent children from participating in violent demonstrations against the Israeli occupation." He added that "all political Palestinian parties had taken a decision to prevent all children under 18 years old to participate in the clashes." This decision was to be implemented by keeping Palestinian schools, colleges and universities open; urging children to stay away from confrontation areas; educational programs to convince students not to participate in demonstrations; and forming a national coordination committee to implement this decision.1454 There is no information on the implementation of this commitment or other statements by the Palestinian political leadership. There have been many cases, however, in which Palestinian policemen have attempted to remove armed men from demonstrations in which civilians or children have participated.1455
Responding to a complaint from the B'tselem human rights organisation regarding Palestinian child participation in the clashes, the Minister explained that Palestinian authorities were making an effort to prevent children from taking part in the demonstrations, but that it was difficult to stop them because the children had grown up in an atmosphere of hostility toward the Israeli occupation. "Some of them live near settlements and are subject to daily harassment by the settlers ... others had fathers or brothers killed or jailed in Israeli prisons.".1456
The UN Commission of Inquiry, in its report to the UN Commission on Human Rights, stated: "While the Commission is prepared to accept that some children are likely to have been exposed to anti-Israeli propaganda in school or special training camps, it cannot disregard the fact that demonstrations are substantially the result of the humiliation and frustration felt by children and their families from years of occupation. The Commission heard evidence from parents and NGOs about the unsuccessful attempts of many parents to prevent their children participating in demonstrations and the grief caused them by the death and suffering of their children.... It is likely that the Palestinian Authority could have done more to restrain children from participation in stone-throwing demonstrations. The evidence suggests that, on occasion, the Palestinian police made attempts to prevent demonstrations, but these attempts were often unsuccessful. This can be ascribed to the incompetence of the Palestinian police, the fact that the Palestinian police were themselves targeted by stone-throwers when they attempted to curtail demonstrations, and an understandable identification of the Palestinian police with the goals and spirit of the demonstrators."1457
Youths arrested for political reasons are detained with criminal prisoners. In 1999, the Israeli military re-instituted Military Order No. 132, permitting its forces to arrest Palestinian children as young as twelve. Originally issued during the first intifada, this order had been suspended in 1993.1458 Following the renewed implementation of the order, groups of Palestinian children reported that they were beaten and threatened with physical abuse during interrogation. Palestinian youth held in Israel's Telmond Prison said they were held in over-crowded conditions and experienced difficulties in receiving family visits and medical treatment. Often arrested from home, they are taken to detention centres under Ministry of Defence control, and then to military court where they have been sentenced to 10-20 months, and in one case of attempted stabbing – six½ years. Children of the intifada were incarcerated along with Palestinian adults, though Palestinian community leaders have indicated that the detention of children with adults may offer better protection from ill treatment and coercion.1459
Since the PA is not a UN or ILO member state it cannot formally sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), its optional protocols or any other international legal instruments. However, the PA officially endorsed the CRC on 5 April 1995. In October 1993, Chairman Yasser Arafat told Amnesty International that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights standards and to incorporate them fully into Palestinian legislation.
Palestinian children, whether or not participating in demonstrations, are entitled to all the rights under the Convention on the Rights of Child. In addition, they are entitled to the special protections afforded by the Fourth Geneva Convention (GC IV), which defines the rights of persons living under occupation and the obligations of the Occupying Power towards them.
1435 Figures for the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem according to IISS op. cit.
1436 IISS op. cit., p. 50-151.
1437 Brett and McCallin op. cit.
1438 Information provided by DCI – Palestine.
1439 US State Department Human Rights Report 2000.
1440 "National Service Law Proposed", Jerusalem Times, 15/8/97.
1441 The Jerusalem Report 6/4/95.
1442 Federation of American Scientists op. cit.
1443 Kate Rouhana, "Children and the Intifada", Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 18, no. 4, 111.
1444 Youssef Nashef, The Psychological Impact of the Intifada on Palestinian Children Living in Refugee Camps in the West Bank as Reflected in their Dreams, Drawings and Behaviour." Peter Lang Berlin 1992, 76-7.
1445 Daoud Kuttub, "A Profile of the Stone throwers," Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 17, no.3 Spring 1988, 19.
1446 "Communiques of the United National Leadership of the Uprising," in Intifada, eds. Zachary Lockman and Joel Benin, 330.
1447 Ibid 353.
1448 Emile Sahliyeh, In Search of Leadership: West bank Politics Since 1967, The Brookings Institute Washington DC, 1988 145-147.
1449 Saud Abu Ramadan, "The death of a 14-year-old 'martyr'", United Press International, 20/12/00.
1450 The Guardian, 17/3/01.
1451 Kathryn Westcott, "Children Become Symbol of Struggle". BBC News, 19/11/00.
1453 UN Commission of Inquiry chaired by Prof John Dugard, E/CN.4/2001/121.
1454 Statement issued on 8/11/0 by Palestinian Ministry of Information.
1456 Danny Rubinstein, "No Mere Stone's Throw". Haaretz.
1457 UN Commission of Inquiry, op cit.
1458 Commission on Human Rights E/CN/4/2000/25 Question of the Violation of Human Rights in the Occupied Arab Territories, Including Palestine.
1459 Graham Usher, "Children in the Intifada: the psychological Impact," Middle East Insight, no. 405, 26/7/91,19.
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.