Israel’s killing of Palestinian Children: Grave...
Children in occupied Palestine are exposed to violence and they have experienced unjustifiable stress. Despite overwhelming evidence of war crimes committed by Israeli forces, justice and accountability remain elusive for Palestinian children. Some 1,048 Palestinian children have been injured by Israeli security forces across the Occupied Palestinian Territory between 1 November 2019 and 31 October 2020.
United Nations human rights experts called for an impartial and independent investigation into the killing of a 15-year-old boy by Israeli security forces during the weekly anti-settlement demonstrations on Dec. 4 in the occupied West Bank.
The special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, and the special rapporteur on extrajudicial and arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, said in a statement that they were "deeply troubled by the overall lack of accountability for the killings of Palestinian children in recent years." The experts said the killing of children by the Israeli Defense Forces – in circumstances where there was no threat of death or serious injury to the Israeli Security Forces – is a grave violation of international law. “Intentional lethal force is justified only when the security personnel are facing an immediate threat of deadly force or serious harm.”
On 4 December, Palestinian youths in Al-Mughayyir protested against the construction of a nearby illegal Israeli settlement outpost. Information gathered by civil society organisations and the UN Human Rights Office indicated that they had thrown stones at Israeli Security Forces, who responded with rubber-coated metal bullets, tear gas and, eventually, live ammunition. Abu Ali was the sixth Palestinian child living in the occupied West Bank to be killed in 2020 by Israeli security forces using live ammunition.
“Children enjoy special protected rights under international law,” the experts said. “Each of these killings raises deep concerns about Israel’s adherence to its solemn human rights and humanitarian law obligations as the occupying power.”
Israel has been criticized by a U.N. human rights body for its killings of protesters in Gaza and the treatment of the Palestinians, declaring it a "war crime" under the Statute of Rome. Palestinian communities often use Friday after midday prayers as a time to protest against the Israeli policies of land confiscation, road blockades, and settlement expansion among other issues. Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have condemned Israel's response to such protests, which frequently result in the loss of life, accusing the army of carrying out a "shoot-to-kill" policy that encourages "extrajudicial killings". Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, protests have been less frequent in the occupied West Bank this year.
Investigations ‘rarely result’ in accountability
The Israeli Security Forces announced that they would conduct an investigation into Abu Aliya’s killing. The human rights experts noted, however, that investigations by the Israeli Defense Forces of fatal shootings of Palestinians by its soldiers rarely result in appropriate accountability.
Civil society organisations have documented the deaths of 155 Palestinian children by Israeli Security Forces using live ammunition or crowd-control weapons since 2013. Only three indictments on criminal charges have been issued for offences directly tied to those killings. In one case, the charges were subsequently dropped. In the second case, the responsible soldier reached a plea deal and was sentenced to nine months jail for death by negligence. In the third case, a soldier was convicted of not obeying orders and sentenced to one month in military prison.
“This low level of legal accountability for the killings of so many children by Israeli security forces is unworthy of a country which proclaims that it lives by the rule of law,” the experts said.
Unicef, the UN agency concerned with children's well-being, denounced the killing. “UNICEF urges Israeli authorities to fully respect, protect, and fulfil the rights of all children and refrain from using violence against children, in accordance with international law," Ted Chaiban, the agency's regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.
As the “occupying power” under international humanitarian law, Israel has clear obligations to protect the civilian population in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, children enjoy special protections, as does civilian infrastructure that provides shelter and services to children amidst armed conflict.
Israel must ensure that children living under occupation no longer face death or injury when exercising their legitimate right to protest. All necessary measures need to be taken to ensure children are not targeted.