Targeting Palestinian children: broken legs, shattered futures

by the Bethlehem team, 

Imagine there are two 12-year old boys standing by the side of the road. Both pick up a similar size rock, and hurl it towards a passing tourist bus. Both have done wrong, there’s no doubt about that, but the consequences these two youngsters, from neighboring areas, may face will differ hugely, depending on their ethnicity and nationality.

16.11.15 Bethlehem, Tuqu, Military presence next to Tuqu school, Photo EAPPI/S. Rehell

16.11.15 Bethlehem, Tuqu, Military presence next to Tuqu school, Photo EAPPI/Suvi. R

Lets’ say that one of these boys come from one of the 100+ Israeli settlements [1] in the West Bank and the other is from a neighboring Palestinian village. The boy, whether an Israeli citizen or a Jewish resident is protected and prosecuted by Israeli civil law; this is due to Israel having applied much of its law to the settlers living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, despite the area being subject to military rules.[2] Although under Israeli civilian law a 12-year old can be held responsible for their own actions, he/she cannot be sentenced to a prison under the age of 14.[3]

A Palestinian of the same age however will be tried in military court due being subject to over 1,500 military orders rather than civil law. This practice is particular to the Occupied Palestinian territory, where Israel is enforcing that children are systematically tried by juvenile military courts. According to UNICEF“It is understood that in no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights.”  [4]   

In this hypothetical case of children throwing rocks at a moving vehicle, a Palestinian aged between 12 and 13 faces the risk of 6-month maximum imprisonment. If the stone thrower were two years older, aged 14-15, he would already be considered “a young adult” and could in theory receive a maximum penalty of 20 years! [5] Additionally, he does not have the right to have a parent present during questioning or to consult with a lawyer beforehand.[6] Even if he manages to escape a sentence, statistics indicate that most minors are subject to abusive treatment and interrogation during detention.[7] [8]. Our 12-year-old Palestinian offender may be detained for up to 24 hours; however a judicial review can be postponed for up to 48 hours “in special cases”. A 16-18 year old could be held in detention for 96 hours, yet again this can be extended by an additional 48 hours and in exceptional cases by up to 6 or 8 days. [9] Detainment of children under military rule poses serious risks to their health and safety. As stated by B’Tselem, “detention is injurious by definition[10]; after all this is a person held in custody who has not yet been convicted and should thus be presumed innocent until otherwise proven.

Tuqu’: A Village of Tangible Nightmares

In one village south of Bethlehem the consequence of these weak legal protections for children under military rule has been highlighted for EAs. During October 2015, at a time of escalating unrest in Israel and Palestine, the EAs reported on 18 child arrest or detainments in the village of Tuqu’ alone.

15.10.15 Bethlehem, Tuqu', 16-year old boy shows sings of violent interrogation, Photo EAPPI/S. Rehell

15.10.15 Bethlehem, Tuqu’, 16-year old boy shows sings of violent interrogation, Photo EAPPI/Suvi. R

Yusuf*, aged 16, gives EAs an account of his detention that was echoed by most of the young boys we spoke with. At about 2AM one night, three military vehicles, with nearly 20 soldiers, arrived without notice at Yusuf’s family home in Tuqu’. The front door of the house was forced open and the house was searched by a group of soldiers. Yusuf was handcuffed, blindfolded and taken away without he or his family being told the charges he was accused of. Yusuf told us that he was first taken to a nearby settlement, then to a police station for an interrogation and eventually a juvenile military prison during his 48-hour detention. There was no case for his accused crime – rock-throwing – and Yusuf was eventually released in the middle of the night. He had to find his own way home; first he took a taxi, then a bus before finally reaching his father’s car. Shyly, he showed us marks on his neck, which he said he got from being beaten during interrogation.

Broken Legs, Shattered Futures

Military incursions in civilian neighborhoods have serious, long-lasting effects. Omar, a social worker from Tuqu’ secondary school for boys told EAs about some of the consequences of the detentions, violence and military presence the school is dealing with on daily basis.

On the day EAs visited the school, eight students were missing due being in imprisonment or detained at the time or in recent past. According to Omar there are days when it has been easier to write down the names of those present rather than those who were absent in the attendance register, as there are times when more than two thirds of the schools’ students have been absent. Parents often keep their children at home because they fear violent clashes between students and the Israeli military who are almost constantly present near the school. The students’ academic achievements have suffered and parents have noticed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as nightmares age-inappropriate wetting.

Ahmed*, aged 16, (pictured below), will not be returning to school this term to finish his exams; he will be staying in bed to recover. He recently underwent four hours of operations on his knee after he was shot by live ammunition during a clash in Tuqu’.He had three successive operations and still the prognosis for his knee is unclear. His family tells he was hit by a “two-Twos” bullet (0.22 caliber live ammunition) during an military incursion into the village that escalated into a clash between soldiers and residents – an incident that was witnessed by EAs.

25.10.15, Bethlehem, Tuqu, 16-year old boy shot in the knee during clashes. Photo EAPPI/S. Rehell

25.10.15, Bethlehem, Tuqu, 16-year old boy shot in the knee during clashes. Photo EAPPI/Suvi. R.

During the incursion EAs’ saw some Palestinian youths throwing stones in the direction of heavily armed Israeli soldiers who shot teargas, and had a sniper aiming in the direction of the youths. Being what looked to be at least 20-30 meters away and unarmed, Ahmed couldn’t have posed a real or immediate threat to the soldiers. International Humanitarian norms would suggest that the use of force was excessive and disproportionate in this case and arguably without military necessity.

Alarmingly the Israeli Government recently adopted a slew of harsh policies targeting Palestinian children. Among them is a new law ​allowing the use of live ammunition on stone throwers as well as a​ four-year minimum sentence for stonethrowersThe latest bill, approved by the Israeli Ministerial Committee for Legislation, proposes internment of children, as young as 12, who are convicted of “nationalistic-motivated” offenses.

In Tuqu’ EAs have collected accounts of large scale operations involving several military vehicles and as many as 100 heavily armed soldiers. Tuqu residents report that the Israeli army entered the village during the night from three fronts and without warning. According to Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, incursions such as these are often carried out as military training exercises rather than out of military necessity. [11]

Imagining a future in Tuqu’ has been hard for several generations due to settlement expansion, loss of land and military activity. For these youngsters it has been made near impossible. The soldiers stationed outside Tuqu’ primary school tell us that they will stay there to protect the road passing settlers’ cars from possible stone throwers. Thus unless, in the future, the illegal Israeli settlements are dismantled it is hard to envision that the military activity in the area will be eased. For now, Tuqu’ and its many concerned faces will continue to be a focus point for EAPPI’s Bethlehem team.

16.11.15, Tuqu, Bethlehem, Staring contest_ military presence at Tuqu primary school. Photo EAPPI/S. Rehell

16.11.15, Bethlehem, School boys watch Israeli soldier next to Tuqu primary school. Photo EAPPI/Suvi. R

*The minors interviewed here have chosen to remain anonymous.

More Information:

Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, 2014 Children  

Addameer 2015: Israeli Occupation Targets Palestinian Children in East Jerusalem with Harsh Policies

Association for Civil Rights in Israel, 2014, One Rule, Two Legal Systems: Israel’s Regime of Laws in the West Bank

B’Tselem, 2015, Presumed Guilty: Remand in Custody by Military Courts in the West Bank 

B’Tselem, 2001, Settler violence: Lack of Accountability – Dual System of Law.

B’Tselem 2015: Allowing the use of live ammunition against stone-throwers in East Jerusalem will have lethal consequences

The Guardian, 2013, Palestinian villages subject to Israeli mock raids not told they are exercises.

Military Court Watch, 2015, Discrimination

Military Court Watch, 2015, Factsheet,

UNICEF, 2013, Children in Israeli Military Detention: Observations and Recommendations

UNOCHA, 2013, Area C of the West Bank: Key Humanitarian Concerns

 

2 thoughts on “Targeting Palestinian children: broken legs, shattered futures

  1. Pingback: Studying for a better future under military pressure |

  2. Pingback: Visualising Access to Education under military occupation |

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