State of Israel

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 6.3 million (2.1 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 167,600 (estimate)
Compulsory recruitment age: 18
Voluntary recruitment age: 17
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: signed 14 November 2001
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, ILO 138

In Israel, volunteers aged under 18 were recruited into non-combat tasks in the government armed forces. Children from 14 years old received military training, including in the use of weapons. In Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, 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 Israeli forces allegedly used torture and other forms of coercion to recruit Palestinian children as informants (see Occupied Palestinian Territories entry). Palestinian armed groups used children in armed attacks and suicide bombings inside Israel. Children were used by Israeli settler groups to intimidate and harass Palestinians.


The renewal of the Palestinian intifada (uprising) against Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip increased the exposure of children to conflict. 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 Israel remained formally at war with Lebanon and Syria, launching occasional raids on both countries and occupying disputed territory.


National recruitment legislation and practice

All Israelis are required to perform national service. Men serve as regular soldiers for 36 months, women for 24 months, and officers for an additional 12 months. Reserve duty is obligatory for men up to the age of 40 to 45 (varying according to certain individual circumstances) and for certain categories of women.3 In February 2004, the 1986 National Defence Service Law was amended to restrict compulsory recruitment to over-18s. Children are assessed and interviewed for service in the armed forces from the age of 16, and at 17 are issued formal call-up notices.4

In law, only women and girls may be exempted from military service as conscientious objectors. Exemptions for male conscientious objectors are considered on a case-by-case basis by a special military committee and, ultimately, the Ministry of Defence.5 In practice exceptions are allowed notably to non-Jewish women, most categories of Palestinian men and some categories of religious Jewish men.6 Children must declare their conscientious objection as early as possible to maximize their chances of obtaining exemption.7 By January 2004, over 300 young Israelis had signed an open letter to the government, the "High school seniors' letter", stating that they did not want to serve in the armed forces.8 A military court sentenced five of the signatories to one-year prison terms in January 2004 and denied them exemption as conscientious objectors.9 Average prison sentences for objectors increased from under 90 days in 2001 to over 140 days from April 2002.10

Volunteers aged 17, including those enrolled in special programs such as the Academic Reserve Program, may be recruited but may not be involved in combat until they are 18.11 There were no reports of children serving in combat roles.

Israel signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 2000,12 but in 2002 the government stated that it did not intend to become a party to the treaty and had no legal obligation to abide by it. It took steps to end the deployment of under-18s, but did not support a "straight-18" position. The government was reportedly working towards ratification of the Optional Protocol in 2004.13

The Israeli government set up a number of psychosocial support programs for Israeli children who had been involved in violence or conflict, including the Psychological Counselling Service in state schools.14 Non-governmental voluntary groups such as Natal, Navah, the Terror Victims Association and the Netanya Terror Victims Fund also offered counselling to minors affected by the conflict.

Military training and military schools

Two military academies, one religious and one secular, provide military training for school students in grades 9 to 12, aged between 14 and 18. Every year 27,000 young people aged 16 to 18 attend week-long Gadna (Youth Corps) courses run by the education wing of the armed forces, which are intended to prepare them for military service.15 The courses include weapons training, navigation and military history. The Gadna also organizes a summer program for American Jewish and Israeli 14 to 18 year olds in cooperation with the scouts (Tzofim), the Ministry of Absorption and the Jewish Agency. The program involves "learning first hand what every Israeli soldier experiences" as well as cultural and educational activities.16

Armed political groups

Palestinian groups

There 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.17 All the main political groups involve children in this way, including Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.18

At least nine children carried out suicide attacks in Israel and the Occupied Territories between October 2000 and March 2004.19 Palestinian non-governmental groups documented the deaths of 30 children actively involved in organized military action from September 2000 to March 2004.20 Most of the deaths occurred as a result of accidents with explosives or during armed clashes with Israeli troops.

Israeli settlers

Israeli settlers continued to expand the territories under their control in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, often using force to take over the homes of Palestinians.21 Settler communities frequently used children to subject Palestinian civilians to sustained campaigns of harassment and violence.22 Young children, not old enough to be prosecuted for criminal offences, were reportedly involved in looting shops and mosques.23

Detention of Palestinian children

Israeli armed forces arrested Palestinian children in the Occupied Territories who were suspected of involvement in armed attacks, frequently detaining them at military bases, prison camps or detention centres, rather than civilian detention facilities. Only 70 out of an estimated 350 children in detention in September 2003 were held in special facilities designated for juveniles. The detentions were in violation of Israel's obligations under international law.24 Children were often arrested indiscriminately during mass arrests, for example in April 2003 at Tulkarem refugee camp in the West Bank, when all males aged between 15 and 40 were rounded up.

Palestinian children over 16 in the Occupied Territories were treated as adults in law and denied the protection offered to Israeli under-18s in Israel and in Israeli settlements, in defiance of Israel's commitments under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol.25 Children arrested for offences such as stone-throwing and detained on suspicion of being involved in the intifada were often denied access to legal representation and subjected to interrogation methods inappropriate to their age and physical or mental state.26

Palestinian children reported being subjected to physical or psychological torture.27 One 15-year-old boy alleged that he was detained in March 2003 and held in cramped and overcrowded conditions at an Israeli settlement outside Ramallah in the West Bank. At the Bet El detention centre, he said, he and 11 others were tied in painful positions, allowed access to a toilet infrequently, and were let out of the room where they were held only once a week for 30 minutes.28

1 Palestine Red Crescent Society,; Defence for Children International-Palestine Section (DCI-PS),

2 Israeli Defence Force (IDF), http://www1.idf. il; B'Tselem,

3 Information from Defence for Children International-Israel Section (DCI-Israel), March 2004.

4 DCI-Israel, op. cit.

5 New Profile – Movement for the Civilization of Israeli Society, February 2004,

6 Information from Human Rights Watch, March 2004.

7 Information from Israeli Conscientious Objectors Parents' Forum, 24 February 2004.

8 Refuser Solidarity Network,

9 Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture/Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'Homme, Israel: Five conscientious objectors sentenced to one year in prison, 5 January 2004.

10 War Resisters International, Conscientious objection to military service in Israel: an unrecognised human right, 31 January 2003,

11 Communication from IDF, 21 February 2004.

12 UN Treaty Collection,….

13 Coalition interview with Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 9 March 2004.

14 Ministry of Education,

15 Communication from IDF, op. cit.

16 Tzofim promotional brochure, 2003.

17 Information from Coalition members, March 2004.

18 Information from Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG), March 2004.

19 Information from PHRMG and DCI-PS, March 2004.

20 Information from DCI-PS and al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, 11 March 2004.

21 Conal Urquhart, "Armed settlers force out villagers", The Observer (UK), 27 October 2002.

22 Information from member of international monitoring team, 10 April 2004.

23 Coalition interview with International Peace Research Institute, 14 April 2004.

24 DCI-PS Child prisoner list, September 2003, unpublished.

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

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

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

28 DCI-PS, Gross violation of children's rights: Children kept in temporary detention centre in inhumane conditions for over one month, 22 April 2003.


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