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  • Writer's pictureSarah van Rijswijk

Palestinian children in the upheaval of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Childhood is a critical time in which human development is shaped. Therefore, coercive environments such as armed conflicts and military occupation during childhood, have an effect on the development of children. The West Bank is a territory near the coast of the Mediterranean in Western Asia that forms the main part of the Palestinian territories. Palestinian children from this West Bank have been living under Israeli military law since 1967, which is alarming since the Israeli military court system has no special interrogation procedures for children detained in Israeli prisons. The system lacks a fair trial, and it fails to meet youthful justice standards. Youthful justice standards attempt to cover all aspects of laws regulating children’s contact with social institutions, but in this case, children most of the time don’t have the opportunity to get in contact with, for example, lawyers. This is one of the reasons why the Israeli military court system is not regarded as a comprehensive legal system but as a means of occupation. Their military court system is a way for them to exert pressure on Palestine by punishing them.


An estimated 10,000 Palestinian children have been held in the Israeli military detention system in the last 20 years, where they have dealt with abuse including physical violence, verbal violence, humiliation, threats, and solitary isolation. International humanitarian law and international human rights law should benefit children by protecting them when needed to prevent those horrible things from happening. However, Israel consistently violates those international laws by prosecuting Palestinian children in the wrong way. For example, the proportionality of the treatment isn’t acceptable. Most child prisoners are prosecuted for throwing stones, for which the maximum sentence is 20 years. But is throwing stones such a serious act, and how fair is the treatment they endure during their time in detention compared to the act? Furthermore, some Palestinian children are even in jail without a charge or under an indefinitely renewable trial.


According to Save the Children, these are the percentages regarding the treatments:

  • 81% of the children endured physical beating

  • 89% suffered from verbal abuse

  • 52% were threatened with harm to their families

  • 86% were subject to strip search

  • 88% didn’t receive adequate and timely healthcare

  • Approximately 47% were denied when they wanted contact with a lawyer


These treatments have profound impacts on Palestinian children, such as constant anxiety and depression during and after their time in prison. Inability to focus, difficulties trying to sleep, excessive crying, and inability to express feelings and emotions are also frequent impacts. The report made by Save the Children, called ‘The Impact of the Israeli Military

Detention System on Palestinian Children,’ not only looks at mental impacts, but also at impacts on children’s physical health. They also look at the coping mechanisms, such as conscious efforts to avoid thinking about their experience in detention and thinking about the details of their experience in detention every day, despite their attempts of avoidance.


Some big organizations have researched this topic, such as UNICEF, Save the Children, War Child, and Defence for Children. A few international non-governmental organizations and local grassroots organizations formed a coalition to help defend the rights of Palestinian children. War Child states that they want to empower civil society and community organizations to prevent further torture of children. They also take action to hold official bodies accountable for the torture in accordance with international law.


Especially, I want to take a look at the Palestinian Prisoners Society, which is an NGO established in 1993. This NGO is made up of approximately 1,600 former Palestinian prisoners who spent at least a year in an Israeli jail. Their goal is to assist and support Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. They aid the families of prisoners, provide legal aid, and take political action for the release of prisoners. This NGO only looks at the ongoing situation, while the other NGOs also focus on other situations and themes, which makes it a broader focus for them than for other NGOs. The mission of the Palestinian Prisoners Society is to serve prisoners and their families, which is why they also spread awareness about the conditions of prisoners in Israeli jails so that more people become aware of what is happening at the moment in Israel. Also, the members of this NGO are emotionally more attached to the problem than other NGOs, as they have experienced something similar, so they can act from experience.


To sum up, the estimated 10,000 Palestinian children that have been held in the Israeli military detention system in the last 20 years, end up with lots of trauma. Physical violence, verbal violence, humiliation, threats, and solitary isolation are what they face while being in prison. Behavioral changes, changes in physical health, and mental health problems are implications they face after their time in prison. Also, people deal with trauma in different ways. NGOs such as Save the Children, War Child, UNICEF, etc. try to help children in situations like this and give as much support as they can. The Palestinian Prisoners Society not only looks at the child prisoners but also at their families. This NGO consists of members who were prisoners in Palestine themselves, which is why they are also emotionally more attached to the problem than other NGOs. In the end, we need a way to make sure that international laws are complied with, but how can this be done? Maybe more surveillance and punishments for countries that don't follow the laws.


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