Palestinian children have been facing a genocidal war waged by Israel in recent weeks, whether in Gaza, the West Bank, or Jerusalem. They are subjected to various forms of killing, torture, and persecution, ranging from airstrikes in Gaza to killings in the West Bank and administrative detention.
According to a report by Advocates for Children’s Rights in Palestine, an NGO, one of the main focuses of the aggression is targeting Palestinian children including through airstrikes on their homes in Gaza, as well as sniper attacks, killings, and arrests in the West Bank.
The report indicates that Israeli warplanes targeted children in their supposedly safe homes in Gaza, designated as civilian residential areas by the UN and intended to spare them from military operations.
Israel has bombed hospitals and places of worship in its ongoing war against the Palestinians, intensifying this after the Hamas attacks on 7 October.
The over 6,000 children who have lost their lives in the Israeli aggression, joined by several thousand others still under the rubble of their homes and alongside the tens of thousands of wounded, highlight the need for serious efforts to protect them and hold the Israeli government accountable.
Thirteen-year-old Marah Jamal Mohamed Abdel-Hamid, who was rescued from under the rubble of her home due to Israeli airstrikes, recounted playing with her friends’ and neighbours’ daughters when the house and neighbourhood were bombarded with rockets.
After being pulled out from under the debris, Marah said that “I was sitting playing with the girls in the neighbourhood and around the house. Suddenly, I felt myself under something black, covered in dust, and everything closed in on me. That’s when I started screaming until someone pulled me out.”
“I kept calling until I felt them removing the rubble, and they told me to watch out. Indeed, I watched out, but I also believed in God,” she said.
“Now I’m in good health, but the painful part is that I was with my family, but after the bombing they disappeared, and I couldn’t find them. Thanks to God, I still have my three brothers.”
Asked about her feelings regarding this traumatic experience, Marah tearfully said “I felt great fear,” though she found comfort in the presence of her brothers.
Palestinian children in the West Bank are not in a better situation than their counterparts in Gaza, as hardly a day passes without the killing of children by the Israeli Authorities, either through sniper fire from military towers or during daily incursions.
The mother of killed child Ahmed Sdouq began her statement by expressing gratitude to God and conveyed her confusion, saying “I don’t know where to start.”
She said that Ahmed was born 15 years after his older brother, who wanted a younger sibling and did not want to remain alone in the family. “When he arrived in this world, joy and happiness filled our home, and his brother requested that he be named Ahmed,” she said.
“I am the one who wanted him, and I want to name him,” his brother had said.
She added that Ahmed had been very affectionate to his family, especially his siblings, and that he was intelligent and diligent in his studies. “Ahmed would not go to school unless both his father and I accompanied him,” she said.
She said that he was promised a scholarship to Russia for high achievers after completing his high school education. He was loved by his teachers and friends.
“May God deprive them of the light of their eyes as they deprived me of him,” she said. She thanked God that her son is in paradise, and she found solace in prayers.
Referring to the day of Ahmed’s death in October, she said “it was a very painful day that I will never forget, no matter how much time passes.”
“On that night, the Israeli occupation forces stormed the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, Ahmed was following the news about Israel’s desire to arrest workers from Gaza who were working in the Occupied Territories,” his father said. “These workers were residents of the devastated Gaza Strip, and Ahmed sympathised with them.”
When he saw the Israeli forces about 200 m from the house, he brought Ahmed and his younger brother Mohamed into the house out of fear for them. “This occupation targets everyone and does not care about those in front of it. It kills children, women, and the elderly indiscriminately,” he said.
Ahmed had opened the windows of the house, trying to let Israeli tear gas from a grenade out. “But at that moment, we heard the sound of a single bullet fired by an Israeli sniper stealing the lives of our children. This was the sound of the bullet that killed Ahmed in a moment, taking away his dreams and laughter.”
“When I saw Ahmed’s injury, I completely lost hope and entrusted him to God. But after a few moments, I saw him move his right hand, filling me with hope. I performed artificial respiration on him, and there was a response in his breathing. Family members were screaming and calling for an ambulance, but the occupation forces prevented them from reaching us, and this is documented in a video showing that they hit the ambulance and prevented it from entering the camp to save Ahmed.”
“We transferred Ahmed by our neighbour’s private car to the hospital, risking our lives in the brutal atmosphere of the invasion,” Ahmed’s father said. He then sighed, saying that “we saw our son at the time of his death, holding him in our hands, helpless.”
Human rights organisations, especially those focusing on children, say that unprecedented crimes against children are taking place.
Lawyer Khaled Quzmar, director of the International Movement to Defend Palestinian Children, said that what is currently happening in Palestine represents a genocide against children.
He said that there is no longer any safe place for children in Palestine, as the crimes against them are part of a political decision at the highest levels of the Israeli state. This includes cutting off water, electricity, and medicine from the Gaza Strip and the Israeli Army’s siege, preventing civilians from accessing the essentials of life by destroying their homes.
Quzmar said that as director of an international movement for children’s rights and working in the field for more than 30 years, he is no longer able to count the numbers of children killed by the Israeli occupation.
He emphasised that through their global networks, along with civil society institutions, they are making an immediate appeal for a ceasefire and an end to the targeting of civilians in Gaza. Hospitals have become the primary target of the occupation in the final days of this aggression, he said.
The international community has not dealt with the events occurring in Palestine in a way that befits their seriousness, exposing the hypocrisy and double standards it operates with. He considered its silence to be complicity in such crimes, adding that the Western powers had given support, militarily, politically, and economically, to the Israeli occupation state.
This support has prompted Israel to commit and continue its crimes, he said, calling on the international community and everyone who believes in humanity to think of what is happening in Gaza.
He urged them to recognise the crime of genocide, the supreme crime committed against humanity, emphasising that this crime was committed in World War II and that since then the world has enacted international laws that criminalise it and anyone involved in it.
“Despite those who enacted these laws, this crime is now being committed in Palestine in partnership with these states,” he said, asking “how many victims are needed for the Western world, specifically decision makers, to wake up?”
Quzmar mentioned that hope is now evident in movements emerging in several European countries, in addition to committees in the UN supporting the Palestinians.
“We are talking about 36 days under bombardment [at the time of the interview] and about the need to provide the necessities of life after the cessation of the aggression, and then work with children specifically to help them overcome the psychological trauma they have experienced.”
Addressing the international community, Quzmar stated that the crime of genocide committed in Gaza, along with the accompanying war crimes in the West Bank, are international crimes prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Every signatory state is obliged to hold every state that violates it accountable. It is the responsibility of those states to use their judicial systems to demand this, he said.
He emphasised that the International Criminal Court (ICC) must investigate these crimes and issue arrest warrants against the political and military leaders of Israel. These individuals are not unknown, and the ICC prosecutor must conduct investigations.
He said that the green light given to Israel by the world has emboldened it in its crimes, allowing it to carry out genocide without fear. Israeli forces are now bombing and besieging the homes of civilians and hospitals, he added.
“What kind of self defence is this,” he asked, citing Israel’s own defence. “Self defence is for the occupied, not for the occupier.”
* A version of this article appears in print in the 30 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly