by EA Sophie    –    6 min read

‘During my stay in the West Bank I have heard children of all ages talk about how much they love Palestine and how much they want the occupation to end. At Dheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, children from 7 years to 14 years of age talked about performing traditional Palestinian dance as a means to keep their culture and tradition alive and resist losing hope in the face of occupation. At Khallet Athaba School and As Simiya School in the South Hebron Hills, pupils spoke of their determination to carry on their education even when their school buildings are demolished.

‘For others, it means supporting their communities in their efforts to rebuild the schools, knowing they could be demolished again at any moment. Young people in At Tuwani sang songs about how wonderful Palestinian life is, whilst planting fields of olive trees. And at the Sumud Story House in Bethlehem I was introduced to many accounts by children of their active resistance to occupation as they strive to make life happy and dignified in the face of hardships.’ (EA, Mike)

What is it like to be a child living in Palestine? From barriers to education to child detention, Palestinian children living under occupation face serious violations of their rights.

Soldiers stationed at a primary school in Bethlehem


Education is highly valued in Palestinian culture, yet getting to school every day can be a challenging and scary experience for many Palestinian children. Many experience harassment on their way to school from the Israeli military, which can range from delaying students or searching their bags to physical harassment by soldiers (Unicef). Those who have to pass Israeli settlements also face intimidation and physical violence from settlers, either children or adults. Defence for Children International documented one such incident where a child in Hebron had her hair set on fire by settlers as she travelled home from school.

Children have their bags searched on their way to school in Hebron

Child going through a checkpoint on his way to school

According to UNOCHA, there are 705 permanent obstacles across the West Bank restricting or controlling Palestinian movement. Many children have to pass through military checkpoints on the way to school, adding not just delays, but further risks of harassment. Road closures and lack of passable roads mean that as of 2015, around 1,700 children had to walk five or more kilometres to school each day (Human Rights Watch).

Although schools should be places where every child feels safe, attacks on schools in the occupied West Bank by the Israeli military are common. In 2018 alone, the UN recorded 111 incidents where the Israeli military launched attacks schools, affecting over 19,000 children. More than half of the incidents ‘involved live ammunition, tear gas, and stun grenades fired into or near schools by Israeli forces’.

Attacks on schools are identified by the UN as a grave violation of children’s rights. They place children in immediate danger of being hit by rubber bullets or live fire, or breathing difficulties resulting from tear gas exposure, as well as having an enduring impact on children’s mental health.

It is common for children in Palestine to suffer with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of occupation practices and some experience bedwetting, nightmares and anxiety as a result (Unicef).

Schoolchildren passing a military checkpoint in Hebron

One of the most basic and critical elements of having an education is having a school to go to. But for many children in occupied Palestine this is not a certainty. Although the Israeli authorities control planning and building in most of the West Bank, they rarely issue permits for Palestinian buildings, despite natural growth in the population. Because of this, many buildings in the West Bank (including schools) are built without permits and are at threat of demolition. As of November 2020, 44 schools remain at risk of full or partial demolition. These demolitions stop children from accessing their education, or lead to children needing to navigate long journeys alone to get to school.

‘At 05.00hrs December 5th 2018 a newly built six-roomed school was sawn apart. Panel by panel, block by block it was de-constructed and loaded onto transporters.’

EA Natalie describes witnessing the demolition of a Palestinian secondary school

A Palestinian child standing by the remains of his demolished school

‘Right to education’ graffiti at Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem

Child Detention

According to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, children should only ever be arrested or detained as a last resort. Yet since 2000, an estimated 10,000 Palestinian children have been detained by Israeli authorities from the occupied West Bank and held in the Israeli military detention system.  As of September 2020, more than 150 children were being detained in Israeli military jails, some as young as 12-years-old. In more than eighty percent of cases the charge is ‘stone throwing’ or ‘suspected stone throwing’.

‘Military court is a scary and bewildering situation for many children, and almost all minors enter plea bargains in an attempt to return to their families as soon as possible.’

EA Sophie

Children arrested in Hebron hold hands

All charges filed by Israel against Palestinians in the West Bank take place in a military court – including against children. Under international law, Israel is entitled to set up military courts in temporarily occupied territory, but it is the only country in the world that systematically sends children to them. Furthermore, there are multiple human rights abuses reported under this system, without any recourse for justice.

Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP) collected 739 testimonies from Palestinian children who were detained by the Israeli authorities from the occupied West Bank, and prosecuted in Israeli military courts between 2013 and 2018. In the vast majority of cases, children experienced violence and were not fully informed of their rights.

(Source: DCIP)

Percentage of children who experienced physical violence:    73%

Palestine 73%

Percentage of children hand tied:      95%

Palestine 95%

Percentage of children blindfolded:      86%

Palestine 86%

Percentage of children who experienced verbal abuse, humiliation or intimidation:    64%

Palestine 86%

Percentage of children who were not informed of their rights:      74%

Israel 74%

Percentage of children interrogated without a family member present:      96%

Israel 74%

Palestinian children often experience poor treatment from the moment of arrest. Many children experience physical violence at the hands of soldiers, whether this is during their arrest, during transfer or interrogation. More than half are detained in the middle of the night. It is not clear why this is the case, though the experience is often traumatising for children, and makes families feel vulnerable and unsafe. After their arrest, children are taken to military bases to be interrogated, which are often inside Israeli settlements.

Palestinian children arrested in Hebron

A Palestinian teenager is stop-searched in Hebron

Defence for Children International has also documented multiple instances of soldiers obtaining confessions from children under coercion, including through the use of solitary confinement. A number of children report being forced to sign a confession written in Hebrew rather than Arabic and not knowing what they were signing. This is even more worrying when considering Unicef’s research, which revealed that in most child arrest cases the principal evidence for conviction is the child’s own confession.

Children are eligible for a prison sentence if found guilty. For security offences (such as stone throwing), children can be sentenced to the same prison sentence as adults from the age of 14. Conviction rates are high, as most children give plea bargains so they can return to their families sooner. While families can in theory visit their children, many struggle to obtain the necessary permits to visit them as around fifty per cent are detained in prisons within Israel, where travel for Palestinians is heavily restricted. Permits can take months to arrive meaning that those with sentences of less than a year may be released before their families are able to see them.

Children’s education often suffers while they are in prison. Although some prisons provide classes for young people, these are not to the same standard you would find in a school. Megiddo Prison, for example, only provides classes in Arabic and Maths and children only attend an average of two or three times a week. Israeli minors held in juvenile detention, by contrast, are provided with academic classes and a specially crafted curriculum. Some young people may need to re-sit years of school after their release.

What does international law say?

'The Occupying Power shall, with the cooperation of the national and local authorities, facilitate the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children.'

Article 50, Fourth Geneva Convention, 1949

'States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity.'

Article 28, Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989

'No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.'

Article 37a, Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989

'No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.'

Article 37b, Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989

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