Sunday, October 06, 2002

Amnesty International - Library - Middle East: Israel and the Occupied Territories and the Palestinian Authority: Killing the future: Children in the line of fire

The alarming pattern of killing of Palestinian children by the IDF was established at the outset of the intifada and has continued. On the second day of the intifada, on 30 September 2000, four children were killed by IDF fire.(6) The following day another four children aged between 12 and 17 were again killed by other security services. Within a month some 30 Palestinian children had been killed by IDF fire and by the end of the year 2000 the number was over 80.(7)

The rate at which Palestinian children were being killed decreased slightly during 2001 but increased again in 2002. In the first seven months of 2002 alone, more than 100 children were killed by IDF fire and the age of the victims was significantly lower than in the previous two years: in 2002, some 48% of the children killed were 12 years old or younger, as compared with some 35% in 2001 and about 13% in 2000.

In the first months of the intifada, the majority of child victims were killed as a result of the unlawful and excessive use of lethal force in response to demonstrations and stone-throwing incidents, when the lives of IDF soldiers were not at risk. In 2002 the majority were those children killed when the IDF randomly opened fire, or shelled or bombarded residential neighbourhoods in Palestinian towns and villages. Most of these children were killed when there was no exchange of fire and in circumstances in which the lives of the soldiers were not at risk.

During the first months of the intifada children were mostly killed during stone-throwing demonstrations, though in many cases they appear to have been bystanders during these demonstrations.

Children killed by flechettes and booby-traps
Several children have been killed by flechette shells or explosive devices used by the IDF in densely populated areas. Flechette shells are 120mm shells filled with up to 5,000 potentially lethal five-centimetre long steel darts or flechettes. Although not illegal per se under international law, such weapons should never be used in populated areas. In a visit to Khan Yunis in September 2001, Amnesty International delegates saw flechettes embedded in the wall of a house where 14 people lived, most of them children.

On 22 November 2001 five boys from the Istal family were killed by a booby trap device as they walked to school in Khan Yunis: six-year-old Akram Abd al-Karim al-Istal; Muhammad Na'im Abd al-Karim al-Istal, age 14; Umar Idris al-Istal, age 13; Anis Idris al-Istal, 11; and Muhammad Salman al-Istal, also 11. Amnesty International delegates visited the site on 1 February 2002. The IDF at first denied responsibility for the explosion but subsequently admitted having placed the device there in the hope that it might detonate against armed Palestinians who sometimes shot during the night from the area. Such a device should never have been placed in such a public location, or at least should have been immediately defused before morning, as this is an area where many people passed, especially children on their way to school.

Children killed as a result of the demolition of houses

In Jenin, Nablus and other places the IDF bulldozed a number of houses while residents, including children, were still inside. On other occasions the IDF used explosives to blow up houses without evacuating the surrounding houses, which were also destroyed or damaged in the process. In some cases civilians, including children, were killed or buried alive under rubble of the demolished house. In the cases researched by Amnesty International, no warnings were apparently given for the safe evacuation of civilians before houses were demolished.

Death of children as a result of denial of access to medical care

Palestinian women in labour have been held up at checkpoints, and delayed or even prevented from passing through to reach hospital; in several cases such delays have resulted in loss of life for the babies and their mothers.

Children killed by Israeli settlers

Attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have continued during the intifada. In most cases the IDF does not intervene sufficiently promptly or vigorously - if at all - to protect Palestinians from settler violence.


A fundamental principle of international humanitarian law is that parties involved in a conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians (and therefore children) and combatants, and between civilian objects and military objectives. It is not permitted to target civilians, that is people who are not members of the armed forces of either side. This principle, known as the principle of distinction, is a fundamental rule of customary international humanitarian law, binding on all parties to armed conflicts, whether international or non-international.(19)

Amnesty International condemns unreservedly all attacks on children, as on all civilians, whatever the cause for which the perpetrators are fighting, whatever justification they may give for their actions. Targeting civilians of whatever age and being reckless as to their fate is contrary to fundamental principles of humanity which should apply in all circumstances at all times.

Israels obligations as an occupying power

The rules of an occupying power are laid down in the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1949, to which Israel is a High Contracting Party. Palestinian children, like all residents of the Occupied Territories, benefit from the protection of the Fourth Geneva Convention and are ''protected persons''.(20)

Even though Israel has in the past rejected the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the Occupied Territories (the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip), according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the UN, and the international community in general, the Fourth Geneva Convention fully applies to the Occupied Territories and the Palestinians are a protected population under the terms of the Convention.

Israel has equal obligations to protect human rights, including the right to life, under the terms of major UN human rights treaties which it has ratified and which it is obliged to uphold. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Other human rights standards binding on members of the UN that are particularly relevant for the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinian children in this context are the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (Code of Conduct) and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (Basic Principles).

Many killings of Palestinian children have been the result of excessive and totally disproportionate use of force by the IDF. Article 2 of the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials states that:

"In the performance of their duty, law enforcement officials shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons. Law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty."

Article 3 of the Code of Conduct clarifies that the use of firearms is considered as an extreme measure and states specifically that every effort should be made to exclude the use of firearms, especially against children.

Israeli regulations on the use of firearms before the current intifada began in 2000 allowed the use of non-lethal firearms to disperse demonstrations or to arrest suspects. Prior to the intifada Israeli soldiers responded to Palestinian children who demonstrated and often threw stones by frequently shooting at them with rubber-coated metal bullets. These bullets are lethal, especially at short range; they consist of a heavy metal core coated with a thin layer of hard rubber or plastic and have considerable penetrative power.

According to the IDF's own regulations, they are not intended to be used at close range, should only be fired at the lower extremities, and it is explicitly prohibited to use them against children. However, the IDF has regularly used such bullets against child demonstrators at distances considerably closer than the minimum permitted range of 40 metres and the pattern of injury indicates that IDF practice has not been to aim at the legs of demonstrators, as the majority of injuries suffered by children from rubber-coated bullets are to the upper body and head .

It is not clear what the current regulations on the use of firearms are, as the Israeli authorities have refused to disclose them since shortly after the beginning of the intifada.(21) The pattern of injury sustained by Palestinian children and others shows that immediately from the first days of the intifada the IDF used live ammunition as well as rubber-coated metal bullets, and that they sharply increased the use of live ammunition very quickly. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) also charted a steady rise in injuries from live fire since 1 October 2000, three days after the start of the Palestinian uprising, and a parallel decline in the use of rubber-coated bullets.

It is not clear what instructions, if any, have been given to IDF soldiers about the targeting of children. However, the large number of children killed and injured by the IDF throughout the Occupied Territories in the past two years and the fact that most children killed or injured were hit in the head or upper body shows that in their use of firearms against Palestinian children, the IDF have consistently breached international standards regulating the use of force and firearms. (22)\ISRAEL/OCCUPIED TERRITORIES