Israel has killed one in every 200 children in Gaza.

It has killed over 6,150 children since October 7, and according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, “Official authorities have received approximately 7000 reports of missing persons in the rubble and corpses laying in the streets including well over 4700 children and women”.

It had killed over 183 teachers and 3,117 school students by November 11, according to the Ministry of Health in Ramallah, run by the Palestinian National Authority.

By Tuesday, according to UNOCHA, two-thirds of all school buildings and two-thirds of all houses in the Gaza strip had been damaged or destroyed.

“The ceasefire terrifies us. We fear that the war will start again and continue bombing Gaza, as it did during the 47 days before the announcement of the small truce. We want a complete halt to the Israeli war on Gaza,” said 12 year old Abdullah Abu Zeina in central Gaza, Monday.

“My friend Mohammed Abdul Qader from the displaced people from northern Gaza dreams of returning to his home and the neighbourhood where he lived. His constant conversation with me is about his friends and the neighborhood he lived in,” said Amir al-Haj.

“In every war the occupation launches, my family is forced to evacuate to schools. We have suffered a lot,” said Anas al-Mallahi. “I dream that the war will end, and I dream of living with my family and loved ones in complete peace. I want all the children of the world and the children of Gaza to be well. We do not want war, and we do not want bombing.”

He added, “I hope everyone will help the people of Gaza and stand with them. The occupation must be prevented from continuing the war, and support, food, and all the necessities of life must be provided for the children of Gaza. We want to live in peace.”

“You will meet something that is a little more prepared, so they will meet the bombs of the air force first and after that the shells of the tanks and artillery and the paws of the D9 and finally the shooting of the infantry fighters,” occupation defence minister Yoev Gallant told soldiers Monday.

“Nour Ashour, 4 years old, survived death 3 times. The first time their house was bombed in Gaza City, her mother was martyred and was pulled out from under the rubble. A week ago, the house she fled to in Khan Yunis was bombed and she sustained injuries to her face. Yesterday, she was injured in the bombing of the Ashour family’s home with injuries to her head. How could her thin body bear all this pain?” asked Gaza photographer Belal Khaled, November 19.

The attacks by Israel and the United States are being called genocide. A coalition of Palestinian civil society organisations warned again Monday that “Urgent action is needed to stop the forced displacement and transfer of Palestinians within Gaza and prevent mass deportation to Egypt,” saying: “We, the undersigned organizations, raise serious alarm regarding the ongoing forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza as part of the Israeli leadership’s stated intent to commit genocide… With the ‘humanitarian pause’ in Gaza underway, it appears that Israel has no intention of allowing internally displaced Palestinians to return to their homes, and continues to limit access for humanitarian aid to reach people remaining in the north.”

On Tuesday, a ground team of the World Food Programme warned, “after seven weeks of inadequate food and water consumption, it is highly likely that the population of Gaza, especially women and children are at high risk of famine”.

And Unicef cited a doctor at the near destroyed Shifa hospital in Gaza city saying: “the threats to children were ‘very much from the air and now very much on the ground’, in the form of diarrhoea and respiratory infections. He was terrified as a medical professional in terms of the disease outbreak that is lurking here and how that will devastate children whose immune systems and lack of food…is making them perilously weak.”

It didn’t begin on October 7.

In the West Bank alone, the occupation arrested over 102 Palestinian children this year, with no figures for November, and almost 8,000 Palestinians now in occupation prisons, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Society.

Studies show that Israel has detained nearly half of Palestinian males at some point in their lives, or more than once.

Occupation prisons hold an average of 225 Palestinian children in custody every month, according to the Israeli Prison Service.

It is the only country where military courts are used routinely to prosecute children.

The military authorities have detained, interrogated, prosecuted, and jailed over 13,000 Palestinian children since the year 2000.

Military courts at Ofer and Salem prosecute 500 to 700 Palestinian children each year, achieving a conviction rate of 99.74% per cent.

They take the kids to military prisons or detention centres including at Ofer, Meggido, Damon, Naqab, inside occupation Israel or in the illegal Jewish-only settlements, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

In reports this year by Defense for Children International (Palestine) and Save the Children, child prisoners, some younger than 11, recall their experience of violence and torture.

What many of them remember worst is Bosta, the bus.

“For me, the transfer bus was the worst. There is a tiny box inside that barely fits one person; what they would do is put two of us together in that box handcuffed to each other and driven around all day. They would drive us for hours, from early in the morning to late at night, just locked in that box,” said Khalil,* detained when he was 13.

Other kids described “being packed into the bus, standing up all the way, hands and feet cuffed, no food or water, or access to a toilet, for 12 hours or more.”

60% were handcuffed and 28% were blindfolded during the transfer. 27% were beaten, kicked, punched or slapped during the transfer.

Israel arrested two-thirds of the children during the night, mostly between midnight and dawn.

42% of them suffered injuries during arrest, including gunshot wounds and broken bones, and “a range of other injuries,” including shoulder dislocation, bruising, and suffocation.

Two in three children were strip-searched during interrogation. Two in three endured solitary confinement in prison, for as long as 48 days.

The process of arrest is violent. The mother of Islam Dar Ayyoub, 14 when he was taken, recalled: “We were asleep, two in the morning. They were banging on the door in a very violent manner. We opened the door. ‘Move! Move!’ Their weapons were aimed at us. I said ‘But why? What is it? Tell me what it is? What has the child done?’ ‘No, shut up,’ hitting me and his sister and father, then took us inside and closed the door, with the tear gas and stun grenades.”

Her recollection is recorded in the documentary Stone Cold Justice, released in 2014.

It interviews Gerard Horton of the organisation Military Court Watch, who says the children kept at Ofer remember one interrogator in particular.

“This particular interrogator specialises in threatening children with rape. And he makes very specific allegations. He will name someone who apparently is waiting outside the interrogation room who will, if the child doesn’t confess, will come in and rape that child.”

One of the journalists who made the documentary recalls earlier visits to the Ofer prison. “I saw children shuffling across the courtyard handcuffed and shackled. Some hearings lasted 60 seconds. I saw one boy shout the name of his prison so his mother would know where he was being held. I saw the judge convict some children without even once looking at them. Through it all, what I saw was a conveyor belt of convicted children.”

That conveyor belt sentences Palestinian children to an average of three months in prison, with a marked deterioration in their conditions being reported by human rights organisations since a landmark Unicef report with Israeli military officials in 2015. Almost all the report’s recommendations remain unimplemented by Israel.

In 2014, after the documentary was released, “Israel stopped the long standing practice of keeping children overnight in outdoor cages. Children had been kept freezing in the cages during snowstorms.”

Horton recalled the testimony of a young child in prison: “Somebody then put some food, he thinks it was bread, on the top of his head, and then the dog was brought over and made to eat the food off his head. He was terrified by this experience. He could hear the dog next to him, drooling all over him, he was fearful that he was going to be bitten at any moment. Then someone put food, he was dressed, but someone put food on his genitals, and the dog was then made to eat food off that part of his trousers.”

DCI Palestine said this year that “Compared with 2020, children we spoke to are reporting increases across most forms of emotional and physical abuse. Alarmingly, there has also been a rise in reports from some children of violence and abuse of a sexual nature during their detention.”

An earlier study had found that “the sexual torture of adult Palestinian male detainees by Israeli authorities is systematic, and includes verbal sexual harassment, forced nudity, and physical sexual assault.”

44% of children interviewed last year told the organisation they were forced to hear or watch other detainees being abused.

“They hit me with their hands and rifles, everywhere, especially on my private parts… Sometimes they broke into our prison cells and made us stand in the cold air outside… One night, they broke the roof and we had to spend the night with the rain pouring into our room,” said Yousef,* detained when he was 13.

Another child, taken to the Mascobiyya interrogation and detention center, told the organisation about Captain Kamel.

“A man came to the room and told me his name was Captain Kamel,” the boy told DCIP. “He kicked me and punched me while shouting and saying I should tell him what I did. Whenever I told him I did not do anything, he would beat me harder. He threatened to shock me with electricity, but I told him I did not do anything.”

The boy alleges the individual then knocked him to the floor while blindfolded and raped him with an object, according to documentation collected by DCIP. The individual threatened that the sexual violence would continue unless he confessed to the allegations against him.

The boy was then made to stand against a wall, where the individual inflicted extreme pain on his genitals. “There are no words to describe that moment,” the boy told DCIP. The Captain subsequently threatened the boy, telling him that the physical and sexual violence would continue if he told his lawyer what had occurred.

“What he did to me was very oppressive and humiliating,” the boy told DCIP. “I want this house arrest to end because it is exhausting. I want my life back. I want to leave the house and see my friends.”

Over half the children were denied communication or visits with their family during imprisonment. One in ten were imprisoned for over one and a half years.

The system is made possible by an occupation that has established two systems of law in the territories considered occupied: one for settlers in the illegal, Jewish-only settlements, and the other for Palestinians.

“No Israeli child has ever been in contact with an Israeli military court,” the reports observe. While military law governs all those in the Israeli territories deemed occupied, in practice, children in the Jewish-only annexations are tried and prosecuted by civil courts, while Palestinian children in Jerusalem, though governed by civil law, are transferred to the same prisons as those tried by the military.

In the occupied territories, Military Order 1651 is the basis of this system, since 1967, when Israel and the United States invaded the West Bank and east Jerusalem and established themselves in Gaza, making Israel the “occupying power” in these territories and responsible for the protection of Palestinian civilians under its control.

The order establishes a minimum age of criminal responsibility of 12 years, giving military courts jurisdiction over any person 12 years or older. Soldiers also often “detain” children younger than 12 and “question” them for several hours before releasing them back to Palestinian authorities or their families.

The age of majority in this law was raised from 16 to 18 in 2011, but the amendment does not apply to sentencing provisions, and the judges in these courts sentence 16 or 17 year old Palestinians as adults.

The maximum sentence for stone throwing, the most common allegation, is 10 to 20 years.

Other offences in Military Order 1651 include “insulting an Israeli soldier’s honour”.

While the child defendants do have the right to an attorney, they can be denied access to one for 90 days, usually until after the interrogation.

Parents may or may not receive notice that their child has been arrested, and unlike Israeli parents, they are not legally entitled to be present during interrogation.

“Israeli forces have established a clear pattern and practice of targeting Palestinian boys for arrest and prosecution on the basis of their Palestinian identity,” says DCI Palestine.

These detentions are “arbitrary” because the children are detained on a discriminatory basis, “specifically on national, ethnic, social origin and gender grounds.”

And because the legal basis for arrest, even in the occupation reckoning, is usually absent. Almost all the children interviewed said they were not presented with a warrant or summons or the grounds for their arrest. Most of the parents were unable to see their children until the trial.

A mechanism often used by Israel is “administrative detention,” which permits arrest and detention on the basis of “secret evidence” withheld from the child and their lawyer and therefore provides no “legal basis for the deprivation of liberty.”

A military judge can order a child’s administrative detention for up to six months. There is no limit on the number of times an administrative detention order can be renewed.

Palestinian children under military occupation are arrested, imprisoned and tried the same way as adults. The courts that try them are neither independent nor impartial as they are composed of military personnel subject to military discipline and dependent on their superiors for promotion. They are not competent to try civilians and “are fundamentally part of the system enforcing the occupation.”

They rely on evidence from children who say they were sleep-deprived, denied food, water and medical attention, forced into stress positions, abused, threatened or beaten. The reports say that military court judges “seldom exclude confessions” obtained by torture, and Israeli prosecutors sometimes solely rely on these confessions, often made in the Hebrew language most Palestinians do not speak, during trial.

This is possible because Israeli law does not define torture as an explicit crime, and permits “the defense of necessity” as a justification for torture.

Many children “plead guilty as the fastest way to get out of the system,” because trials can last over a year and most of the kids are denied bail.

The DCI Palestine report concludes that the Israeli military detention and court system is not one that is broken and can be mended, but is “working exactly as it is intended to, and failing to acknowledge this simply perpetuates injustice for Palestinian children.”

“A system of control that masquerades as justice,” it works in the interests of “a seemingly permanent Israeli military occupation.”

The organisation calls on the international community to “end complicity and financial and economic support” for Israel, and take “all necessary action to ensure no foreign military aid or assistance” is offered to the Israeli military or police units arresting Palestinian children.

Save the Children in their reports call for “an immediate moratorium on Israeli military authorities arresting, detaining and prosecuting children. No child should come into contact with the abusive detention system, until comprehensive reforms are made.”

Failing which, “a common response should be developed to the Government of Israel.”

Afterwards, most of the hundreds of children interviewed, from all the West Bank governorates and Jerusalem, shared signs of trauma.

“I can’t stop replaying all the things that happened to me in my head – it’s so scary to think about. Every time I go to bed, I feel scared. I always feel alert and I’m worried that the soldier who arrested me will find me again. He told me that when I turn 18, he’s going to come back for me,” said Rami,* detained when he was 15.

One in seven reported crying “all the time,” and one in five reported feeling afraid to be alone.

Compared with an earlier report in 2020, researchers found an increase in “all post-traumatic symptoms,” including nightmares, insomnia, anger, exhaustion, a need to be left alone, headaches, dizziness, breathing difficulties, chest pain, loss of appetite, physical numbness, muscle pain, and shaking or shivering.

“I used to have nightmares about my time in prison all the time, especially about the officer who interrogated me. He told me, ‘I promise you that you will dream about me.’ And he was right,” said Khalil,* detained when he was 13.

“After interrogation, I came out a completely different person,” said Hisham,* detained when he was 14. “I was tied to an iron chair, with my hands behind my back. The beatings seemed to just never stop. And I was blindfolded, so I couldn’t see the stick they were beating me with – or when the next blow would come. I didn’t even know night from day.”

He added, “I’ve noticed that all of us who have been arrested prefer to sit alone and not socialise. Mostly, we prefer solitude and don’t like to talk to anyone. But at the same time, I feel like I want to talk about my feelings with someone. Mostly I don’t say anything though, as it’s hard to find someone to confide in.”

“I realised something after I was released from prison,” he said. “Before I was physically incarcerated, but when I left, I was still in prison. I am still living under their military control, under occupation.

“It never ends. Just five days ago, I saw soldiers kill a friend. They shot him in the head. And yesterday they were firing shots while a few kids were playing outside; their ages ranged from 4 to 6. I was standing watching from my window. It feels like I am always in a prison, I will never experience true freedom.”

The trauma extended to their families, many of whom witnessed their violent abduction.

“When my daughter was five years old, her brothers were detained from our home, and she would hide in the closet and wet herself. Another one of my children who is twelve years old jumps off the roof (3 meters high) whenever soldiers come to our house, even if they are not coming for him,” said Bushra,* mother of Yazan,* detained when he was 15.

What is the purpose of treating Palestinians this way?

Survivors and perpetrators suggest four reasons: maintaining control, gathering information, destroying communities, and disabling future Palestinian resistance, or survival.

Yehuda Shaul, founder of Breaking the Silence, a collective of nearly 1,000 Israeli former and current soldiers, describes the sheer violence of entry into people’s homes in so-called “mapping operations” in the West Bank.

“I’ve never broken into houses in the middle of the night here in Jerusalem, to tear apart apartments. But in Hebron, where I served for 14 months, 24/7 that’s what we’ve done. In order to make our presence felt.”

“Look, from my service, I actually don’t remember children. Like you know, I have some memories of Palestinian children when you burst into houses in the middle of the night and children start to cry or whatever, but these are the vague memories I have from my service. Because just the idea that there is children and adults is not an idea that you have there, okay? When you’re in uniform, it’s them and us.”

Breaking the Silence was founded to share soldier testimony by those who believe the occupation – or its implementation – endangers the security of Israel. For Shaul, “Look, I grew up believing that our actions as a military in the occupied territories are here to protect Israel from terrorism. What I’ve learned from my three years of service and nine years of activism… is that the main story here is about maintaining our absolute military control over Palestinians.”

He says mapping operations are designed to send soldiers into every single household in a neighbourhood overnight, breaking and shattering, lining up males of the family to be photographed and interrogated, and throwing out the notes later. In more recent years, they have begun storing the photographs, supposedly to power the surveillance network of face recognition cameras.

With the largest raid in years being perpetrated in Jenin in the last few days, the Palestinian Prisoners Society says that over 7,000 Palestinians are now prisoners of the occupation, which imprisoned 145 children in October alone. With prisoner swaps underway between the armed wings of Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and Israel, Muammar Nakhleh, the father of 18 year old Amal, imprisoned since 2021, was disappointed his son had not yet been released.

“We are witnessing the worst treatment of Palestinian prisoners in recent history,” he told the media Tuesday. “Prisoners are also being killed in Israeli prisons. This is Israeli barbarity.”

He added, “I believe that the release of part of the Palestinian prisoners is a strong hit to the depth of this colonial, expansionist project, which does not have mercy neither on humans nor children nor rocks… We have confidence that all the prisoners will be freed. It is a matter of time.”

The colonial expansion of settlements in the West Bank is well known and the violent arrest of Palestinian children is part of it, such that Israeli soldiers often act in concert with the settlers, to attack and abduct young Palestinians. By traumatising these families and encouraging widespread fear, the Israeli project attacks Palestinian society.

“This is how these communities are torn apart,” says Salwa Duaibis of the Centre for Women in the 2014 documentary. “In the middle of the night, when no one is watching. And it is done one family at a time, one house at a time, and it’s systematic, and relentless.”

In recent years, there has been a slight change in Israeli policy. Child detainees are increasingly being asked to inform on their families and neighbours, as the authorities seek information about non-violent protest leaders in the West Bank, or “troublemakers.”

“This happened a lot during interrogations, where they would bring papers for me to sign, but I would refuse by telling them either I sign while my attorney is present or bring the papers in Arabic so I can read them first,” said Rami, detained when he was 15.

“They tried to trick us to make us admit things that we did not do,” said Laith, detained when he was 16.

According to Nader Abu Amsha, director of the YMCA in Palestine, which helps rehabilitate child prisoners in the West Bank:

“They are trying to know information about the village, and about the life of people, the families, their attitudes, the attitudes of the community, and all of these. And the most vicious and the most horrible thing, to push people to collaborate, as collaborators with the occupiers. To put them under the stick and carrot process. If you reject this, if you are refusing this, you will be punished. So this kind of converting a child, who is not responsible in his acts, to be a collaborator, is not just helping in information-gathering for the Israelis. It’s breaking this child forever.”

This video from 2015 shows Israeli interrogation of 13 year old Ahmed Mansara in the West Bank.

The reports on child prisoners remark a troubling “heroisation” of former prisoners by Palestinian and international society. They say children who share feeling like heroes of the Palestinian cause are differently affected in their ability to recover from trauma, with added complexity.

They may feel entitled, invincible, angry, and resist “guidance or advice” from their parents, in the words of one father. Or their helpless heroisation by society may conflict with the truth of their experience.

“Although people think of ex-detainees as heroes, the reality is different. My friends did not want to spend time with me out of fear of getting in trouble, arrested, and ruining their future. I was an outcast,” said Mohammed, detained when he was 14.

“What right do they have to arrest me and put me in prison for 100 days, threaten to arrest my father, and hit my mother?” asked Bassam, detained at age 11, and four times again later. “I was exposed to torture and spent ages without food or sleep.”

“I just like to stay awake. Just in case they come back to take me,” said Islam Dar Ayyoub, detained when he was 14.

The disabling effects, clearly intended by the occupiers, are manifold though not universal.

A third of children do not return to school after their release.

41% no longer feel safe outside their home, while over half avoid interaction with strangers.

“Before I was detained, I wanted to study – but after I was imprisoned my life was disrupted and I ended up just learning car mechanics,” says Hanna,* detained when he was 17.

Issa,* who soldiers shot in the leg and arrested at age 15, recalls: “They said bad, bad words. I don’t want to think about those words… I kept saying that I have rights and that I needed treatment. They asked me to show them my injury, so I showed them my bullet wound. They then pressed on the wound, saying that they wouldn’t stop until I confessed. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt. I then decided to confess to stop the pain. I said that I threw two stones.”

“Prison was an ugly, ugly place. I don’t like to think about it… The day that I was released was the happiest moment of my life. I was free! It was like a wedding. All my family and friends came to celebrate my freedom. I was so happy.”

Now with the prisoner exchange underway, it is reported that Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi will be among those released. First arrested at age 17 and leaving the court after her sentencing she said, “The resistance continues… there is no justice under occupation and this court is illegal.”

Iconic prisoner Israa Jaabis, released Saturday, told the media that “young Palestinian girls were being subjected to unspeakable practices in the occupation prisons,” and called for action to liberate all Palestinian prisoners.

In Jenin, Mohammed Nazzal, 16 years old, said he was badly injured in both hands by Israeli soldiers attacking him in the Naqab prison last week. “They beat me with metal pipes… There were people with their faces filled with blood… Old men are on the floor, they step on them… I’m young, I can take it, but what about them?”

Shurouq Dwayyat, released after eight years in prison, was jailed at age 16, on charges of stabbing an Israeli man who had tried to pull off her headscarf. She said, “I can’t believe it… that at night I can see the moon and the sky in one uninterrupted view.”

She added that the occupiers have forbidden the released prisoners from engaging in any celebration, joining any political activity, or expressing their views on social media.

“There is a lot of fear,” she said.

Meanwhile in Gaza, where Israel has dropped an estimated 40,000 tonnes of explosives, the UN is warning that unexploded shells are a growing danger to the children there.

According to 8 year old Bassam in Gaza, who lost his fingers and sight playing with one such object, “My sister and I used to have a YouTube page. We used to film challenges but after what I’ve been through, we stopped. We don’t like the war because children get killed and people get injured and go to hospital. I want to become a university professor to teach Islamic studies. I advise children in Palestine not to play with foreign objects so that they won’t face the same fate as me.”

“Habibi, I don't know what you done to deserve this but you should know you are beautiful just the way you are Your limbs have surpassed you to heaven my dear” – Prince Kouta, a medical student at Al Shifa Hospital, November 12