UNITED NATIONS — Israel’s attacks on Palestinian children increased dramatically in 2016, with Palestinian human rights groups and United Nations agencies documenting sharp escalations in killings and detentions of children in the occupied West Bank, demolitions of Palestinian property, and restrictions on Palestinians — primarily children — in the Gaza Strip.
On Dec. 23, the Ramallah-based organization reported that Israeli forces had killed 32 children in the Palestinian enclave, often denying access to responding Palestinian paramedics.
“Israeli forces have increasingly used excessive force to squash demonstrations since 2014,” Ayed Abu Eqtaish, director of DCIP’s Accountability Program, said in the organization’s report.
“Intentional lethal force now appears to be routinely used by Israeli forces, even in unjustified situations, with no accountability, putting more and more children at risk.”
With three more killings of Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip, the overall toll reached 35.
DCIP’s findings came just before New York-based Human Rights Watch released a compilation of statements by high-ranking Israeli officials encouraging military and security forces to kill Palestinians suspected of attacking Israelis, even when the Palestinians pose no threat.
After the detentions of two 14-year-old Palestinians on Feb. 18, 2016, transportation minister and cabinet member Yisrael Katz posted on Facebook: “The restrictions and codes are clear, but we cannot let attackers remain alive, risking the lives of Jews.”
Avigdor Lieberman, who now oversees Israel’s military forces as defense minister, posted in 2015 that “no attacker, male or female, should make it out of any attack alive.”
These statements by Israeli leaders incite occupation forces to violence, encouraging them to act as judge, jury and executioner, often with complete impunity, critics say.
“It’s not just about potentially rogue soldiers, but also about senior Israeli officials who publicly tell security forces to unlawfully shoot to kill,” Sari Bashi, HRW’s Israel advocacy director, said in the organization’s report released on Jan. 2.
“Whatever the results of trials of individual soldiers, the Israeli government should issue clear directives to use force only in accordance with international law.”
This incitement by Israeli leaders seems to have borne fruit in the wave of deaths inflicted on Palestinians by Israeli soldiers and security forces.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Jan. 20, 2016 that “some of these responses strongly suggest unlawful killings, including possible extrajudicial executions.”
According to DCIP, no Israeli forces faced trials for the killings of Palestinian children in 2016, and in fact, only one incident since 2014 has even resulted in an indictment.
‘They put me on the floor and stepped on my face’
West Bank children also faced a spike in military detentions, with those held by the Israeli army more than doubling in 2016.
According to the Ramallah-based Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, the number of Palestinian minors currently in military detention stands at 350.
These include five “administrative detainees,” held indefinitely without charge or trial, out of 19 children ordered into administrative detention by Israeli commanders since 2015.
In a May 13 report, the U.N. Committee against Torture cited “allegations of many instances in which Palestinian minors were exposed to torture or ill-treatment, including to obtain confessions; were given confessions to sign in Hebrew, a language they do not understand; and were interrogated in the absence of a lawyer or a family member.”
On Nov. 30, Addameer released “Precarious Childhood: Arrests of Jerusalemite Children,” a 12-minute documentary on detentions of children in the occupied Palestinian capital.
Watch Precarious Childhood: Arrests of Jerusalemite Children:
“I was at my cousin’s house, heading home, [when] a big white van came by,” Fadi-al-Issawi, a former Palestinian child prisoner, said in the video.
“I didn’t know what was happening,” he added. “Masked men suddenly opened the doors, and one guy charged at me [and] grabbed me.”
When the man fell on him, pinning him against a pile of stones, the attack fractured his wrist, Shadi said.
“I was interrogated from the morning until the evening every day, and there was a lot of beating,” Nadeem al-Safadi, another former child prisoner, said.
“They put me on the floor and stepped on my face.”
A nine-year backlog
While transparent violence against children may at times draw relatively high attention, Israeli restrictions on Palestinian infrastructure and economic life can also have dire effects.
On Dec. 29, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that in 2016, Israeli forces had demolished or seized 1,089 Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank.
The operations displaced 1,593 Palestinians, including large numbers of children, and reduced the livelihoods of another 7,101, impoverishing entire families.
The figures marked the highest numbers of demolitions and displacements since the OCHA began recording them in 2009.
Meanwhile, Israel has tightened its closure of the Gaza Strip, particularly its restrictions on travel by Palestinians, including medical patients, and importation of building materials urgently needed after its 2014 military offensive against the besieged enclave.
As of Dec. 13, only 90 truckloads of cement were allowed by Israel to enter the Strip daily, despite a backlog demand of 577,000 tons.
At the current rate, it could take more than nine years of imports to meet the local demand, according to the OCHA.
Meanwhile 75,000 Palestinians, including an estimated 44,000 children, remain displaced following Israel’s destruction of their homes in 2014.
And the demands of Gaza’s overwhelmingly young population, which currently has a median age of 16.9 years, are set to surge in the coming decades, as a Dec. 5 report by the U.N. Population Fund estimated that local numbers would more than double through the births of new children by 2050.
‘They don’t have to pretend to care’
Israeli measures undermining the physical security and well-being of Palestinian children come amid a renewed Palestinian uprising that started in October 2015.
But attempts to suppress Palestinian resistance cannot adequately explain many of them.
Instead, many observers see them as reactions to shifting political realities, both within Israel’s domestic landscape and among the international community.
“International attention, especially in the U.S. and Western nations, has been diverted away from Palestine to other critical areas such as Syria, Yemen and Iraq,” Jennifer Loewenstein, a senior lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies at the Pennsylvania State University, told MintPress News.
“In general, it has been an easy year for Israel to continue its expansionist goals unhindered by outsiders and, by definition, its sadistic treatment of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories and within Israel ‘proper,’” she said.
“In 2016, any remnant of the ‘peace process’ was dead with the U.S., [and] the Arab states were too caught up with Syria, Yemen and Iraq to care,” Bill Chambers, editor-in-chief of the Chicago Monitor, told MintPress.
“They don’t have to pretend to care about a peace process anymore.”
Others see the developments as reflecting a new norm in Israeli governance, dominated since 2015 by an electoral coalition that even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry calls “the most right wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements.”
“The ‘greater Israel’ camp has decisively taken charge,” Mick Kelly, a leader of the Minnesota Coalition for a People’s Bailout, told MintPress.
“The ‘two-state’ solution, which was never just or viable, has been abandoned by the Zionists.”