In a report released on Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Israeli occupation forces of a disturbing pattern of killing Palestinian children with little to no accountability. The report highlights a sharp increase in the number of casualties and underscores a lack of justification for the use of lethal force.
According to HRW, the year 2022 witnessed the highest number of Palestinian children deaths in the West Bank in the past 15 years, and the trend continues into 2023. The organization stated that Israeli occupation forces have already taken the lives of at least 34 Palestinian children in the West Bank as of August 22.
Investigating Unjustified Use of Lethal Force
HRW’s investigation focused on four instances of fatal shootings involving Palestinian children by Israeli occupation forces between November 2022 and March 2023. Shockingly, the report found that none of these children posed a substantial threat that would warrant the use of lethal force.
Bill Van Esveld, the associate children’s rights director at HRW, expressed deep concern, stating, “Israeli forces are gunning down Palestinian children living under occupation with increasing frequency. Unless Israel’s allies, particularly the United States, pressure Israel to change course, more Palestinian children will be killed.”
One of the cases brought to light was that of Mahmoud al-Sadi, a 17-year-old who was killed by a single shot fired from an Israeli military vehicle while he was on his way to school near the Jenin refugee camp on November 21, 2022. The HRW investigation revealed that Mahmoud was unarmed and posed no immediate threat.
In the other cases investigated, Israeli occupation forces used lethal force against boys who were reportedly involved in stone-throwing or setting off fireworks. HRW stressed that the response from Israeli occupation forces was disproportionate and without imminent justification for using lethal force under international law enforcement standards.
Calls for Accountability and International Pressure
The HRW report also highlighted the troubling lack of credible investigations by Israeli authorities into these cases and the absence of accountability for those responsible. Data from the Israeli rights group Yesh Din indicated that out of 295 investigations into alleged offenses by Israeli soldiers against Palestinians between 2019 and 2020, only three resulted in indictments.
HRW called for an end to the cycle of impunity for unlawful lethal force against Palestinian children and urged Israel’s allies to step up pressure to halt these actions. Additionally, the organization called upon the UN Secretary-General to list Israel’s armed forces in the annual report on grave violations against children in armed conflict, specifically for the violation of killing and maiming Palestinian children.
Broader Context of Violence and Vulnerability
The comprehensive HRW report underscores the broader context of Israeli policies and practices in the occupied West Bank, which contribute to violence and a culture of impunity. These practices include the expansion of illegal settlements on Palestinian land, often accompanied by violent attacks on Palestinians by settlers.
The report also highlights the heightened vulnerability of Palestinian children due to their age and circumstances. They face abuse and mistreatment during arrest, interrogation, and detention by Israeli forces, along with prosecution in military courts that fall short of international fair trial standards.
The HRW report calls upon the Israeli occupation to adhere to its international obligations under human rights and humanitarian law, demanding that lethal force be used only as a last resort to protect life. The report urges accountability for violations and the provision of remedies for victims. It also places the onus on the international community, particularly Israel’s allies, to take concrete actions to end the unlawful killings and human rights abuses of Palestinian children.