Occupied Palestinian Territories

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 3.4 million (1.8 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 161,500 (Israeli Defence Force); 29,000 (Palestinian Authority security forces)
Compulsory recruitment age: no conscription
Voluntary recruitment age: 18 (security forces)
Voting age: 18
Treaties ratified: not applicable
Treaties supported: CRC, Optional Protocol

Israeli occupying forces allegedly used torture and other forms of coercion to recruit Palestinian children as informants. In the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in Israel, the Israeli forces detained Palestinian children under military provisions that failed to meet international standards for the treatment of prisoners and for juvenile justice. The Palestinian Authority reportedly recruited under-18s into its security forces for tasks not involving the use of weapons. Palestinian armed groups involved children in fighting and suicide bombings.


Israel continued its military occupation of the Palestinian territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority maintained restricted administrative control of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

Violence increased following the renewal of the Palestinian intifada (uprising) in September 2000, as the Israeli armed forces cracked down on Palestinian armed groups. Children suffered not only as victims of armed attacks by the Israeli forces but also from the soaring unemployment, poverty and loss of government services inflicted by severe restrictions on movement inside and outside the Occupied Territories.

Between September 2000 and April 2004, over 520 children were among more than 2,800 Palestinians, most of them bystanders, killed in the Occupied Territories by Israeli forces, either at checkpoints, during attacks on suspected activists or in response to stone-throwing or demonstrations.1 Suicide bombings and attacks by Palestinian armed groups in Israel and the Occupied Territories killed nearly 670 Israeli civilians in the same period, 104 of them children.2

Israeli security forces

Child recruitment and use

The Israeli intelligence services (Shabak) continually seek to recruit children as informants. A field survey with former child detainees conducted in 2003 by Defence For Children International-Palestine Section (DCI-PS), estimated that 60 per cent of the children interviewed, some of them are as young as 12, were reported to have been tortured or subjected to other forms of coercion or inducement in an attempt to make them cooperate.3 By late 2003 in Gaza alone there were on average 40 attempts to recruit minors every month. In January 2004, a 17 year old was arrested at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Israel, questioned about his and his family's political affiliations, and reportedly beaten and threatened until he agreed to inform on his family. After his release, he handed himself over to the security forces of the Palestinian Authority. Travel or work permits may be offered in exchange for information. In February 2004 a 16 year old was detained on his way to work through the Erez checkpoint and, when he refused to be an informant, was photographed being hugged by an intelligence officer. He later agreed to cooperate after he was threatened with publication of the photo, but was subsequently arrested by the security forces of the Palestinian Authority.4

The Israeli armed forces were reported to have used children as human shields. On 22 April 2004 soldiers reportedly made a 13-year old boy sit for four hours on the front of their armed jeep, with his arm tied to the windshield, to stop stones being thrown at them by demonstrators protesting at the building of the separation wall in Biddo.5

Detention and killing of Palestinian children

Despite its commitment to uphold the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, Israel failed to meet its obligations under these treaties to provide special protection for children in armed conflicts. In the Occupied Territories, Israeli forces operate under a series of military orders that require minors over the age of 16 to be treated as adults. Military Order No. 132, as re-issued in 1999, permits the arrest of Palestinian children as young as 12 by Israeli forces.6 Children suspected of offences in connection with the intifada, such as stone-throwing, are often arrested at their homes at night, and subjected to interrogation methods inappropriate to their age and physical or mental state.7 They are frequently denied access to legal representation and translators.8

Children attested to physical and psychological torture in detention.9 M.S., aged 17, was arrested at 5am on 2 October 2003 when soldiers stormed and ransacked his home in Hebron. At the police station in the Israeli settlement of Kiryat 'Arba, he was allegedly beaten severely as he climbed the stairs, receiving injuries to his face and leg. He said he was then assaulted by a group of soldiers who shouted and screamed at him, accusing him of being a member of an armed group, planning a suicide operation and throwing a Molotov cocktail.10

The Israeli armed forces frequently failed to distinguish between civilian and military targets, resulting in a high number of child casualties. The Israeli authorities said that most children were killed while actively engaged in combat.11 Detailed documentation indicates that the majority of deaths did not occur in demonstrations or in armed combat.12

Palestinian authority

National recruitment legislation and practice

Under Palestinian Authority law, there is no universal conscription. The Civil Service Law requires all government employees to be over 18 (Article 24), and the law on firearms prohibits the use of guns by under-21s (Article 5).13

A draft Child Rights Charter, which had its second reading in 2003, states that "it is forbidden to recruit or use children in military actions or military conflicts and the state should take the necessary procedures to guarantee [this]" (Article 46).14 It also requires that legal investigations are opened into cases of children who have been recruited and exploited in armed operations, and that those responsible are brought to justice under fair procedures.15

Children in the state school system did not receive military training.16

Child recruitment and deployment

The Palestinian Authority denied reports that children as young as 16 were recruited into unarmed posts in its security forces, including the Presidential Guard (Force 17) and the police.17 Unconfirmed reports indicated that the security forces used children as intelligence agents.18

The capacity of the Palestinian Authority to prevent the recruitment and use of children by armed political groups was limited by the Israeli armed forces' repeated attacks on it, including the bombardment and destruction of the President's headquarters in 2002.19

Alleged collaborators

Children accused of being recruited as informants by the Israeli authorities were at serious risk. On 5 February 2002, shortly after death sentences were passed on two 17 year olds, Khaled Kamiel and Jihad Kamiel, by the State Security Court in Jenin for the killing of a member of the Palestinian Authority security services, armed men entered the court and shot dead both boys. They had been accused of collaborating with the Israeli authorities.20

Armed political groups

There was no evidence of systematic recruitment of children by Palestinian armed groups, which all publicly opposed the use of children in combat. However, children receive military training and are used as messengers and couriers, and in some cases as fighters and suicide bombers in attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians.21 All the main political groups involve children in this way, including Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.22

At least nine children carried out suicide attacks in Israel and the Occupied Territories between October 2000 and March 2004.23 Palestinian non-governmental groups documented the deaths of 30 children actively involved in organized military action from September 2000 to March 2004.24 Most of the deaths occurred as a result of accidents with explosives or during armed clashes with Israeli troops.

Testimony from child members of armed groups suggests that they were recruited voluntarily and that children in the most difficult social and economic circumstances were often the most eager to participate.25 In a handful of cases, it was alleged that children were tricked into involvement or unwittingly used in attacks.26 Armed groups reportedly supplied locally made explosives to children. At least three children died and four were injured in Gaza in early 2004 while using homemade explosives.27

Fatah condemned the use of children in suicide operations on a number of occasions. However, its military wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, was implicated in at least four such operations, by Ayat al-Akhras, aged 17, in Jerusalem in March 2002; Issa Abedrabbu Ibrahim Badir, aged 17, in Rishon Lezion in May 2002; 16-year-old Sabih Abu al-Saoud in March 2003; and 17-year-old Islam Qteishat in Rosh Ha'ayin in August 2003.28 Al-Aqsa and Islamic Jihad also allegedly supported an attempted attack on an Israeli town by three 13- to 15-year-old boys from Tubbas in March 2004.29

Islamic Jihad said it did not support the use of children in armed operations.30 In April 2002 it stated, "We refuse any encouragement given to young people that might drive them to act alone or be pushed by others into action. They are not ready and not able to do so".31 Yet Islamic Jihad armed at least three suicide bombings, by 17-year-old Safwat Abdel Rahman, in Tel-Aviv on 25 January 2002; Hamza Aref Samudi, aged 17, on 5 June 2002 near Mejiddo junction; and 17-year old Iyad al-Masri in January 2004.32

Hamas called for an end to the use of children in armed attacks and suicide missions on a number of occasions.33 In April 2002 Hamas called on imams "to mention this issue in their sermons" and on educators "to address this issue without sacrificing the enthusiasm or spirit of martyrdom of our youth".34 However, in March 2003 Hamas leader Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi, who was killed by Israeli forces on 17 April 2004, declared, "If a boy is 16, he is a man. He is a mujaheed, a holy warrior, engaged in jihad".35 The Hamas armed forces, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, were implicated in several attacks by under-18s, including a suicide bombing by 17-year-old Khamis Gerwan near Arial in August 2003.36 Several 16- to 18-year-olds were killed in attacks on Israeli settlements that allegedly had Hamas backing.37 Hamas claimed responsibility for attacks by children as young as 15.38

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Netanya in May 2002 by 17-year-old Usama Bishkar, its only attack known to have involved a minor.39

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)

Nearly all children in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were negatively affected by the conflict. A study carried out by the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme in 2002 found that 55 per cent of children had developed symptoms of acute post-traumatic stress disorder; 97 per cent had witnessed shootings; and 23 per cent had seen family members killed or injured.40 There were few specific psychosocial rehabilitation programs for children who had direct experience of conflict. Most programs focused on financial support or vocational training for children who had been imprisoned by the Israeli authorities.41 A number of psychosocial programs targeted the general effects of witnessing violence and conflict at close hand.42

Other developments

In May 2002 the Palestinian Authority addressed the UN Special Session on Children in support of the Optional Protocol.43 In 2004, it reaffirmed its opposition to the use of children in hostilities.44 The Palestinian Authority condemned the use of under-18s on a number of occasions as well as the targeting of civilians and minors by all sides. "Our children should have hope and a future and should not be suicide bombers. We want them to be doctors and engineers", said Palestinian Minister Saeb Erekat in February 2004.45

1 Palestine Red Crescent Society, http://www.palestinercs.org; Defence for Children International-Palestine Section (DCI-PS), http://www.dci-pal.org.

2 Israeli Defence Force (IDF), http://www1.idf. il; B'Tselem, http://www.btselem.org/English/Statistics/Al_Aqsa_Fatalities_Tables.asp.

3 Information from DCI-PS, 13 April 2004.

4 Information from al-Mezan Center for Human Rights (Mezan), 29 February 2004.

5 Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture, Seven children killed and one boy used as human shield by Israeli forces, 29 April 2004.

6 Child Soldiers Coalition, 1379 Report, November 2002.

7 Legal submission by DCI-Israel to Israeli authorities, 28 February 2003.

8 Catherine Cook, Adam Hanieh, Adah Kay, Stolen youth: The politics of Israel's detention of Palestinian children, Pluto Press, 2004.

9 DCI-PS, Arrest and detention: A measure of first resort for Palestinian children, 30 May 2003.

10 DCI-PS, Child Prisoner Briefing No. 20, 3 November 2003.

11 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, "Israel presents initial report to the CRC on its compliance with the convention", 3 October 2002.

12 DCI-PS, Breakdown of Palestinian child deaths.

13 Communication from the Palestinian High Council for Childhood and Motherhood, 21 March 2004.

14 Information from DCI-PS, March 2004.

15 Information from DCI-PS, April 2004.

16 Information from DCI-PS, March 2004.

17 Information from DCI-PS, March 2004; communication from the Palestinian High Council for Childhood and Motherhood, op. cit.

18 Information from Child Soldiers Coalition member in Gaza, 29 February 2004.

19 Information from the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP), March 2004 and Mezan, 11 March 2004.

20 Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG), Suspected collaborators killed in the street, http://www.phrmg.org, February 2002.

21 Information from Child Soldiers Coalition members, March 2004.

22 Information from PHRMG, March 2004

23 Various PHRMG, DCI-PS, media reports.

24 Information from DCI-PS and Mezan, 11 March 2004.

25 DCI-PS documentation, 2002-2003.

26 See, for example, Ali Daraghmeh, "'Militants' Recruit Boy, 15, As Bomber", AP, 30 March 2004.

27 Information from Mezan, 29 February 2004.

28 Chris McGreal, "Suicide attacks in Israel test road map to peace", The Guardian (UK), 13 August 2003.

29 AFP, "Israeli police arrest three Palestinian teens en route to shooting", 29 February 2004.

30 Islamic Jihad, "Protect our children from being killed", 26 April 2002, cited in Human Rights Watch (HRW), Erased in a moment, October 2002.

31 Information from Al-Hayat, 31 March 2004.

32 Information from PHRMG and DCI-PS, March 2004; Chris McGreal, "Bomber's family hits out at Islamic Jihad", The Guardian, 16 January 2004.

33 Islam Online, "Rantisi urges Palestinian children not to attack settlements", 14 January 2003, http://www.UmmahNews.com.

34 Cited in HRW, Erased in a moment, op. cit.

35 Anton Antonowicz, "Rantisi to Mirror Man: You're the Terrorist", Daily Mirror (UK), 25 March 2004.

36 Information from PHRMG, March 2004.

37 Information from DCI-PS, March 2004.

38 Mu'tasim Abu al-Hassan, aged 15, cited at Ezzedeen.net, http://www.ezzedeen.net/shohada/2004/01_2004/moatasem_hasan/moatasem_ha….

39 Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, http://www.pflp-palestine.org/martyrs.php.

40 GCMHP, First GCMHP Study on the Psychosocial Effects of Al-Aqsa Intifada: Significant increase in mental disorders and symptoms of PTSD among children and women, 2002.

41 Information from DCI-PS, March 2004.

42 Various reports by Save the Children, Terre des Hommes, Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and DCI-PS.

43 Statement of the Observer Delegation of Palestine on the occasion of the Special Session of the General Assembly on Children, 9 May 2002, http://www.un.org/ga/children/palestineE.htm.

44 Communication from the Palestinian High Council for Childhood and Motherhood, op. cit.

45 Ali Daraghmeh, "Palestinians Outraged by Recruiting of Children for Attacks on Israelis", AP, 29 February 2004.


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