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Defense for Children International: Recruitment and Use of Palestinian Children in Armed Conflict

Executive Summary

The recruitment and use of children in armed conflict is prohibited under international law. Recruitment and involvement in armed conflict can take many forms, ranging from direct involvement in fighting, to subsidiary roles, such as acting as informants, scouts, cooks and porters. The prohibition also includes using children as human shields against possible attack. In the context of the military occupation of the Palestinian Territory, both Israel and Palestinian armed groups have violated the prohibition.

The report covers an eight year period between 2004 and 2011 (the reporting period) and identifies three circumstances where children are particularly vulnerable to recruitment by both parties to the conflict:

Human shields: During the reporting period, DCI, and other human rights organisations, have documented 17 cases of Palestinian children being used as human shields by Israeli forces. The practice of using human shields involves forcing civilians to directly assist in military operations or using them to shield an area or troops from attack. Civilians are usually threatened and/or physically coerced into performing these tasks, most of the time at gunpoint.

Informants: During the reporting period, DCI has documented 16 cases where attempts have been made to recruit Palestinian children as informants by the Israeli authorities. The task of the informant is to monitor the movement and activities of people living in his or her neighbourhood and to pass this information onto Israeli forces. The types of activities that are monitored cover a wide spectrum, ranging from involvement in armed resistance and political activism, to children throwing stones.

Child soldiers: During the reporting period, DCI has documented 26 cases where Palestinian children have participated, either directly or indirectly, in hostilities, usually under the banner of an armed group. This participation ranges from openly bearing arms and launching rockets, to performing subsidiary roles, such as scouting and cooking.

The key findings of the report include:

1. In 16 out of the 17 cases involving the use of Palestinian children as human shields, the event occurred after a ruling by the Israeli High Court of Justice declared the practice illegal under domestic law. This would suggest that the Israeli army is either ignoring the court’s judgment, or not properly ensuring compliance with its ruling. It is also significant to note that in only one case was anybody held accountable for using a child as a human shield.

2. The report identifies 16 cases in which attempts were made by Israeli authorities to recruit children as informants, most recently in November 2011. Most attempts at recruitment occur during interrogation following arrest and the report identifies a number of methods, including the offer of money and early release. Due to the sensitive nature of the subject and the reluctance to talk, it is difficult to ascertain the scale of the problem, although there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that the practice is widespread.

3. Finally, the report identifies 26 cases involving the recruitment and use of children by Palestinian armed groups during the reporting period. It is
significant to note that in 23 out of 26 cases (88 percent), the children were from the Gaza Strip. It is also significant that in all 26 cases (100 percent)
the evidence indicates that the children were not forcefully conscripted, but volunteered to join a group or to participate in hostilities. When asked
why they volunteered, the children gave reasons ranging from patriotism to the ‘oppression’ of the occupation and the killing and imprisonment of
family members. The report finds that the recruitment and use of children by Palestinian armed groups increases during large scale incursions by the Israeli army, but such involvement does not appear to be either widespread or systematic.

The report concludes with a number of recommendations intended to assist the relevant stakeholders to adopt a series of measures aimed at upholding the legal prohibition against the use of children in armed conflict, with a particular focus on holding all parties accountable.


Full report (PDF)

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