This report addresses Israeli violations of international law in the Gaza Strip vis-à-vis child protesters taking part in the Great March of Return (GMR). The demonstrations started on 30 March 2018 and stress the right of return of Palestinian refugees, as enshrined in international law, and call for an end to Israel’s 11-year closure and blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip. Since the start of the protests, the Israeli military’s conduct has led to 33 children killed, 1,213 children wounded from live fire, at least 12 children permanently disabled due to limb amputation, and hundreds of children hospitalized for injuries from tear gas and rubber-coated bullets. Taking place in the context of closure and blockade, Israel’s restrictions also led to the denial of access to urgent medical care for children participating in the protests—a stark example of the impact that the closure and blockade restrictions have on all aspects of children’s lives in Gaza.
The documentation conducted by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (Al Mezan) indicates that during the weekly demonstrations—usually taking place on Fridays near the fence in the eastern parts of the Gaza Strip—Israeli forces perpetuated systematic breaches of obligations under international law, in particular regarding children. The military’s use of force resulted in the violation of the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) and other international human rights law (IHRL) obligations and concerning children’s access to medical care and the Israeli military’s holding of children’s bodies after they are killed, of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law (IHL) as well.
The access restricted areas (ARA) in which the protests take place are a unilaterally declared buffer-zone on Palestinian territory that forms part of Israel’s closure and blockade policy. It must be stressed that the Israeli military has for years used violent, often lethal, means to enforce its movement restrictions in the ARA, in ways that directly affect the lives of children. The force used on children often leads to loss of life, injury, detention and abuse, and ultimately the loss of childhoods.
The closure and blockade policy has had other broader, but also more widespread, impacts on children in Gaza. For example, the chronic lack of electricity, sometimes causing over 20 hours of power outage per day, exacerbates the public health crisis. The closure and blockade policy also hinders the provision of basic services across such crucial sectors as water and sanitation, which harms inter alia the environment, and the education sector. The impacts of these crises affect children disproportionately, for example by preventing children from fully enjoying their right to education.
The collapse of Gaza’s economy adds to the challenges that Gaza’s children face. The rates of poverty, unemployment, and food-insecurity remain high and Palestinian children struggle to access their rights to health, food, housing and an adequate standard of living, because the local economy is unable to support the lives of two million residents in the Gaza Strip.
It is in, and from, this complex situation that the GMR demonstrations began. Following a call from groups of young activists in Gaza, the protesters directed their criticism at the Israeli policies and international complacency that created and supports a situation of stagnant humanitarian suffering. Israeli forces, however, have dealt with the demonstrations in a way that demonstrates disregard for human rights, and in particular children’s rights.
This report provides statistics and basic analysis of the effects of Israel’s military force on children attending demonstrations and of the Israeli authorities’ restrictions on children’s access to medical care outside Gaza. This report concludes with a reiteration of Al Mezan’s calls for the full respect of children’s rights and for improved protection of children in-line with international law. Further, this report calls for free and unimpeded access to healthcare as well as the full range of vital services that are necessary for children’s growth and development in the Gaza Strip.