Instead of holding the culprits accountable, Israel criminalizes the work that organizations like mine do to protect the rights of Palestinian children.
This year is unlike any I can remember in decades of defending the rights of Palestinian children. Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip in May, amid a mass youth-led uprising across historic Palestine, sparked outcry around the world, with more people than ever demanding that Israel be held accountable for his violence against the Palestinians and calling for an end to his apartheid regime. It felt like our movement for justice, accountability and liberation was finally in the spotlight of the world.
And yet, this attention has not resulted in any significant change for Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation. In fact, 2021 was the deadliest year for Palestinian children since 2014, a year that included Israel’s devastating military assault on the Gaza Strip, dubbed “Operation Protective Edge”.
As of December 14, 86 Palestinian children have been killed in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in the Gaza Strip, according to documents collected by Defense for Children International – Palestine, where I am Director General. Israeli forces and armed Israeli civilians killed 78 of these Palestinian children.
Based on our findings, a total of 67 Palestinian children were killed during the 11-day military escalation between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in May. Sixty of these children were killed by the Israeli army using shells fired by tanks, live ammunition, missiles dropped by armed drones, warplanes and Apache helicopters of American source. DCIP also found that seven Palestinian children had been killed by failed rockets by Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip during this period.
During the year, Israeli forces shot and killed 15 other Palestinian children in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, and shot and killed another Palestinian child who was protesting near the Gaza perimeter fence in August. Armed Israeli civilians also shot and killed two other Palestinian children in the West Bank.
Under international law, intentional lethal force is only justified in circumstances where there is a direct threat to life or threat of serious injury. However, evidence gathered through DCIP investigations suggests that Israeli forces routinely use lethal force against Palestinian children in ways that may amount to extrajudicial or deliberate executions.
Among those children whose lives were stolen by an Israeli bullet is Obaida Jawabra, who was killed at the age of 17. Obaida is recognizable to thousands of people around the world because in 2019 DCIP produced a short film about his experience in the Israeli army. detention. By the time he was 15, Israeli forces had already arrested and imprisoned Obaida twice: first when he was 14, and again the following year. Like the overwhelming majority of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces in the West Bank, Obaida has been accused of throwing stones.
Israeli soldiers shot Obaida with live ammunition in Al-Arroub refugee camp near Hebron on May 17. He was shot in the chest during a protest at the entrance to the camp located near Route 60, the main Israeli highway that cuts through the West Bank to connect the illegal Israeli settlements of Hebron with Jerusalem. A soldier standing about 70 meters (230 feet) from Obadia fired the fatal shot, according to eyewitnesses interviewed by DCIP.
Obaida was due to graduate the following month from a professional cooking course at Talitha Kumi Community College in Beit Jala. And he was only three weeks away from his 18th birthday.
Ban child rights work as ‘terrorism’
This year marks DCIP’s 30th anniversary in promoting and defending the rights of Palestinian children. For me, this work is deeply personal. I decided to study law after visiting my older brother, who had been arrested by the Israeli army, in prison; I was 14 at the time. When I met him there with my parents, the Israeli guards forbade us to touch him; only my brother’s lawyer was allowed near him, as I sat there wanting nothing more than to hug my brother. It was then that I knew I would become a lawyer dedicated to helping Palestinians – like my brother – before Israeli military courts.
As CEO of DCIP, I think we have much to be proud of. For three decades, we have defended Palestinian children in the Israeli military justice system, connected them with psychological support after their release, trained children to document rights violations in their communities, worked with officials to create child-friendly support systems and environments, advocated on national and international stages, and more.
Yet, as I reflect on the deadly nature of the past year, I can’t help but sit with an ominous number in my mind. Since 2000, the year the Second Intifada began, our team has documented the murder of 2,206 Palestinian children. That’s 2,206 Palestinian children, all with lives and stories as rich as Obaida’s, all with families that loved them, all that their communities deeply lack. More than 2,200 children who will never grow up to live in a liberated Palestine.
During these two decades, almost no Israeli officer or settler has been held responsible for the deaths of these children. Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization, reports that the chances that a complaint filed by Palestinians with Israeli authorities for alleged harm or violence by soldiers will result in an indictment is 0. .7%.
Meanwhile, instead of holding their forces accountable for killing Palestinian children, the Israeli authorities have decided to criminalize the type of work carried out by the DCIP. For years, a network of pro-Israel civil society organizations, with the support of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and other government agencies, have waged a relentless campaign of delegitimization and disinformation against DCIP, claiming that our work to protect children in accordance with international law amounts to “terrorism” or “anti-Semitism”.
While such attacks are nothing new to us, the Israeli government has now designated DCIP and five other Palestinian civil society organizations as “terrorist groups” – an obvious escalation that makes our work for the rights of Palestinian children not only more difficult, but extremely dangerous for our staff and the communities we represent.
Although Israel’s allegations are unsubstantiated and distort key factual and legal elements of our work, its actions nonetheless negatively impact the ability of organizations like ours to provide essential assistance to Palestinians and defend their rights. And as long as the international community allows the Israeli authorities to act with such impunity, it is unlikely that any Palestinian, let alone a child, will obtain justice for the wrongs inflicted on them.
That is why we need the international community to use all available means to hold the Israeli authorities accountable for their targeted attacks and repression of Palestinian civil society organizations like ours, and to act to end the complicity international community and support for the apartheid regime of Israel.
Although these attacks are designed to drain our resources and our morale, our team is more committed than ever to protecting Palestinian children. We will continue to work for a liberated future for all Palestinian children – in honor of the more than 2,200 children whose lives have been violently cut short. (972mag.com)
—Khaled Quzmar is the Executive Director of Defense for Children International – Palestine.