Omar Hasan Abu al-Nil, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy, was standing 100 meters from the Gaza boundary fence during protests on August 21, when an Israeli sniper shot him in the neck, despite the teen posing no threat to anybody, anywhere.
He would die exactly one week later in Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital, becoming the 77th Palestinian child killed by Israeli forces since January 1, and tragically, not the last. Two more innocent lives have been lost since August 21, including 15-year-old Imad Khaled Saleh Hashash, who was shot and killed when Israeli forces stormed a refugee camp near Nablus in search of a suspect on August 24.
The devastating realities and inhumane treatment Palestinians face in their daily lives is unimaginable for most of us. Indeed, when American parents send their children to school, they are usually thinking about how to ensure their kids receive good academic grades, not concerned with the threats of an occupying force. Yet, Palestinian parents are troubled with worries of their kids being shot and slaughtered by Israeli forces, or attacked by radicalized Jewish settlers, on the way to and from home.
Last month, 11-year-old Muhammad Abu Sara died after being shot in the chest by Israeli soldiers as he sat in the back seat of his father’s car with his two siblings, in the Palestinian village of Beit Ummar in the southern West Bank.
Since the beginning of the year, Israeli forces have shot and killed 12 children in the occupied West Bank; and also shot, bombed, and killed 66 children in Gaza during the conflict with Hamas in May, according to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.
For Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation, it has been an annus horribilis, as measured by the fact that already twice as many have been murdered in 2021 so far than in 2019 and 2020 combined.
There’s no moral or lawful justification for these killings, and sadly, Israeli forces are never held accountable—neither by the leadership in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), nor the criminal justice system or international community. Thus, Palestinian children are being shot and killed with utter impunity.
The chances that a complaint made against an Israeli soldier leads to indictment for killing is a mere 0.7 percent.
The chances that a complaint made against an Israeli soldier leads to indictment for killing is a mere 0.7 percent, Israeli rights group Yesh Din reports, which means – from the perspective of the Israeli criminal justice system – 99.3 percent of Palestinian lives don’t matter.
The non-profit Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP), which documents evidence on the abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli forces, accused the IDF of using lethal force in circumstances that may amount to “extrajudicial or wilful killings.”
“Israeli forces have operated with near complete impunity for so long that unlawful killings and other flagrant violations of international law have become the norm,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program Director at DCIP. “Impunity combined with the rise in Israel’s use of live ammunition as a method of quelling demonstrators since 2014 means there is no legal mechanism that will halt this bloodshed.”
Indeed, DCIP may know better than anyone the lengths Israel goes to in shielding evidence of its criminality against Palestinian children, having recently been subjected to a violent early morning raid of its offices on July 30.
“The Israeli soldiers moved through the office confiscating computers, laptops, and files, and then cut the closed-circuit television camera feed at 5:27am,” the organization said in a statement.
Yet, it’s not only the evidence of wrongful killings that Israel is desperate to keep a lid on, but also the abuse Palestinian children are subjected to in Israeli military detention facilities. An average of 167 Palestinian children are brought to these centers each month, most without a warrant for their arrest—the definition of kidnapping in most judications throughout the world.
The majority of these arrests occur during violent midnight house raids, whereby Israeli soldiers break into family homes and point guns at the parents, before blindfolding and handcuffing the kids and taking them away to undisclosed locations, in the back of windowless military vans.
Nearly 85 percent of Palestinian children are subjected to physical abuse during their detention, according to B’Tselem. Typically, they are stripped naked and handcuffed to a chair, before being interrogated for hours, while at the same time denied access to food, water, and a toilet.
Often, they are bribed with food and water in exchange for a confession, and if one is perceived as not being forthcoming, the soldiers then lock these kids in dark cells and solitary confinement—sometimes for days and weeks on end.
Israel is the only country in the world to routinely arrest, detain, interrogate, and try children in a military court system.
It’s important to note that Israel is the only country in the world to routinely arrest, detain, interrogate, and try children in a military court system.
In addition, Palestinian children are subjected to attacks from radicalized Jewish settlers. They operate with a near-level of immunity in the Occupied Territories and have carried out more than 130 attacks in the first four months of this year, as tallied by the United Nations Humanitarian Office.
For instance, in August, 15-year-old Palestinian Tareq Zubeidi was lynched by a mob of settlers, and then shackled, beaten, and tied to a tree, before being tortured for two full hours near an evacuated settlement.
“His face was covered when the settlers inflicted the injuries on him, but he’s convinced that one wound was caused by burning, probably with a lighter held under one foot until the flesh was singed, while the other foot was dealt blows with an iron rod,” observes Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, who met with Zubeidi recently.
Even more disturbing is that a recent report by B-Tselem revealed how Israeli soldiers often participate in such attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank. Therefore, is it any wonder Palestinians have almost zero avenues for holding the perpetrators of these abuses accountable?
It’s imperative the international community – particularly the United States – pressure Israel into investigating these flagrant human rights violations and the ongoing killing and abuse of Palestinian children. Those who inflict harm on Palestinians must be held responsible, including soldiers and settlers. Furthermore, Israel’s criminal justice system should be doing its part to serve the basic tenets of international and human rights law.