OPINION - A glimpse into the lives of Palestinian children
Expansion of Israeli settlements and the Israeli settler’s terrorist attacks confines Palestinian children to villages and towns, exposing them to the real danger to their lives
-The author is General Director of Defense for Children International - Palestine.
Palestinian children, confront a reality deeply marred by the enduring consequences of the Israeli military occupation, where daily challenges and unpredictability become a harsh norm against a backdrop of historical struggles and geopolitical complexities. This multifaceted plight transcends typical childhood obstacles, casting a pervasive shadow over every aspect of their lives.
Children living under Israeli military and apartheid occupation in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip routinely face severe fundamental rights denials. Their right to life, education, adequate housing, and access to healthcare is consistently denied, perpetuated by the decades-long Israeli military occupation. Additionally, a complex and sometimes outdated Palestinian legal system contributes to rights violations by Palestinian actors against children, putting them at risk violence and exploitation. The expansion of Israeli settlements and the Israeli settler’s terrorist attacks confines Palestinian children to villages and towns, exposing them to the real danger to their lives, limited educational access, and enduring psychological issues.
The Gaza Strip is currently experiencing a significant wave of aggression and military attacks from the sky, the sea and from the land, further endangering the safety of children and exacerbating an existing mental health crisis. Save the Children reports that Palestinian children in Gaza live in constant fear for their lives due to escalating tensions. Since October 7th, Gaza has been under a genocidal war, resulting in the tragic loss of more than 12,000 lives, including over 4,900 children. The Ministry of Health struggles to record the exact number of martyrs due to the destruction of infrastructure caused by airstrikes, sea, and ground bombs. The overwhelming impact on the health sector impedes the accurate documentation of casualties, highlighting the dire humanitarian crisis faced by the people of Gaza.
According to the latest statistics issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) this year, almost half of Palestinian society consists of children. The number of children constitutes about 44% of the total population (41% in the West Bank and 47% in the Gaza Strip). The PCBS added that by mid-2023, there would be 2.39 million children in Palestine under the age of 18, with 1.22 million males and 1.17 million females.
Right of freedom
Palestinian children's right to freedom is significantly impacted by the ongoing Israeli occupation. The right to special care and assistance for children is reaffirmed by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, yet Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation are frequently denied their right to life in freedom.
Each year approximately 500-700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12 years old, are detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system, while the most common charge is stone throwing. Moreover, ill-treatment in the Israeli military detention system remains “widespread, systematic, and institutionalized throughout the process,” according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report named Children in Israeli Military Detention Observations and Recommendations.
Between 2016 and 2022, many affidavits were provided from 766 children detained in the West Bank; the results showed three-quarters of them had experienced some form of physical violence following arrest. Two thirds of the children were not adequately informed of their rights during interrogation, and 97% of them did not have a parent present. And in 85.5% of the cases, Israeli forces did not inform the children of the reason for their arrest, and beside that the interrogators used position abuse, threats, and isolation to coerce confessions from some of these children. Before interrogation, these children were left to wait for prolonged periods without access to water, food, or bathroom facilities, leading to severe discomfort and humiliation. DCIP documented 178 Palestinian boys, including children in administrative detention, held in solitary confinement, for an average period of 16.5 days, during the reporting period.
The No Way to Treat a Child campaign highlights that under an Israeli military detention system that denies them fundamental rights, Palestinian children and adults alike face arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment.
Right of access and movement, including education and healthcare
Palestinian children's right of access and movement is significantly impacted by the ongoing constraints imposed from the occupation. They are frequently denied access to healthcare, education, and adequate housing, among other rights, due to the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
Human Rights Watch's submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child points out to the effects of movement restrictions and forcible displacement on Palestinian children. And it calls for an end to the generalized ban on travel to and from Gaza, as well as the free movement of people to and from Gaza, subject to individual screenings for security purposes. These factors, as example, collectively obstruct Palestinian children's freedom of access and movement, perpetuating their vulnerability and decreasing their prospects for a future free from injustice and safety.
Access to education
Poverty has a wide range of negative effects on children's lives and many children facing obstacles in accessing education, particularly in areas without schools. This challenge increases the chances of drop out of schools at an early age to work, especially in refugee camps, marginalized Bedouins and herding communities and villages.
In light of the presence of barriers, checkpoints, and the separation wall in the West Bank, these obstacles can make it challenging for students to reach their schools. And this lack of access results in disruptions to their education, above and beyond, the presence of Israeli military forces and operations near schools can create a stressful and potentially dangerous environment for children.
It is worth mentioning that the Israeli Forces are targeting schools for several years. Three schools have been demolished across the West Bank in the past 12 months, affecting 132 Palestinian students. On top of that, 53 Palestinian schools housing and teaching more that 6,000 Palestinian children across the occupied Palestinian territory are at risk of demolition by Israeli authorities.
While children are affected by the difficulty of obtaining an education, they also suffer from difficulty accessing health care appropriate for their age. Healthcare delivery to Palestinian children is hindered by the destruction of medical facilities, restrictions on the movement of medical personnel and supplies, and an all-around unstable security situation.
In emergency situations, delays at checkpoints and other barriers can be particularly concerning as they impede timely access to medical facilities, thereby affecting the health and well-being of individuals involved. The restriction of movement makes it more difficult for families from seeking medical treatment for their children in a timely manner.
Despite Israel accession to the UNCRC, the full realization of this treaty's applicability remains elusive, and children in Palestine continue to face challenges in accessing their fundamental rights. The child rights context in Palestine is characterized by ongoing military tensions, the enduring impact of the Israeli occupation. Palestinian children grapple with various obstacles, due to military checkpoints, the construction of the apartheid wall, and economic hardship, particularly affecting those in marginalized areas. The continuation of the Israeli army’s attacks on the Palestinian population, especially children, and the accompanying operations of killing, arbitrary arrest, torture, and deprivation of the rest of the basic rights of children. All of this comes within a systematic Israeli policy to create a Palestinian generation without hope, and thus strike the entire Palestinian future.
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