The report, Growing Up between Israeli Settlements and Soldiers, details the experiences of children and their families living in villages and towns hemmed in by expanding and often violent settler communities. It finds that attacks on schools, assaults on individual homes, and the physical abuse of children are occurring throughout the West Bank as a result of close proximity to settlements and military outposts.
“Settler and military violence against Palestinians in the West Bank is condoned by the state of Israel because it serves to further distress and control the occupied population,” said Rifat Kassis, executive director of DCI-Palestine. “Unfortunately children are consistently the victims of this persistent and unrestricted violence.”
Since Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, it has established some 125 Jewish-only settlements that house 515,000 Israelis. The settlements are woven throughout the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, often dividing the cities, villages and refugee camps of the 2.65 million Palestinians who live there. According to international law, Israel’s settlements in the West Bank are illegal. Israel, however, claims religious and historical rights to the territory.
Israel recently approved plans to build 1,500 new settlement units in the West Bank, following the failure of U.S.-brokered peace talks. In 2013, Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, increased by 130 percent compared with 2012, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Israel’s continued settlement expansion comes at a time when Israeli officials are considering unilateral action to annex areas in the occupied West Bank under full Israeli control, according to media reports.
Stationed throughout the West Bank, Israeli soldiers, police and private security firms protect settler populations at the expense of Palestinian civilians. Unlike Israeli civilians living across the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 boundary with the West Bank, many settlers carry government-issued arms. In this hyper-militarized environment, disproportionate physical and psychological violence is inflicted on Palestinian children.
In the small village of Sinjil to the north of Ramallah, seven-year-old Eman’s family continues to suffer from the devastating effects of an attack by Israeli settlers from the nearby settlement of Shilo, who set fire to the family home in the middle of the night. While near the Ahiya outpost, five-year-old Farah was beaten with a rock during an hour-long settler attack on his family home. In the divided city of Hebron, settlers grabbed seven-year-old Marwa as she walked home from school, held her down and set her hair on fire. Sadly, they are not alone: other children face similar trauma.
Schools such as the Urif Secondary School near the Yitzhar settlement and the UNRWA school near the settlement of Beit El experience regular attacks from soldiers who fire rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas canisters into their schoolyards.
These anecdotes of settler and military violence across the West Bank in recent years serve as a window into the innumerable injustices Palestinian children face. Recent statistics by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that more than 2,100 settler attacks have occurred since 2006, 399 of which took place in 2013 alone.
Following incidents of settler violence, the report finds that lack of justice is the norm, and not the exception. At the center of the issue is the disparate treatment of Palestinians and Israelis living in the West Bank by the Israeli government. Though they live in the same territory, all Palestinians are subject to military law, while Israeli settlers fall under the Israeli civilian and criminal legal system.
Israeli settlers, including children, often attack Palestinians with stones and other objects, but they are rarely held accountable as the Israeli army lacks the authority to arrest Israeli settlers in the West Bank. As a result only Palestinians, often children, are detained or arrested in connection with stone-throwing exchanges, according to affidavits collected by DCI-Palestine.
DCI-Palestine estimates that the Israeli military has detained over 8,000 children since 2000. Since 2008, there have been at least 170 Palestinian children in Israeli detention at any given time.
Almost more alarming than the fact that 1,405 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers since 2000 is the climate of impunity that makes such violence possible.
Although the UN and other international legal institutions have consistently condemned Israel’s practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, little has been done to either put pressure on Israel or hold its government and institutions accountable.