Child soldiers in the Israel-Palestine conflict (2000-Present)
The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine has frequently exposed children in both societies to the horrors of war. Between 2000-2004, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) documented cases of Palestinian children being involved in suicide bombings and attacks against Israel. At the same time, Israel provided military training to children as young as 16, preparing them to engage in combat operations against Palestinian forces.
The Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, erupted in late 2000 in response to then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s controversial visit to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif holy site in Jerusalem. Over the next four years, violence escalated on both sides. According to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, 104 Palestinian children and 670 Israeli children were killed in the conflict between 2000-2004. The majority of Palestinian child deaths occurred at checkpoints, during demonstrations or military operations.
In response to attacks carried out by Palestinian militants, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began detaining Palestinian children en masse. However, prison conditions often failed to meet international juvenile justice standards. Between 2000-2015, over 8000 Palestinian minors, some as young as 12, were prosecuted in military courts with a near 100% conviction rate, according to Defense for Children International – Palestine.
On the Israeli side, the IDF accepts volunteers as young as 16 to serve in non-combat roles, with the option to engage in combat from age 18. At 16, Israeli youth undergo interviews to determine military fitness, receiving formal conscription notices at 17. Each year, approximately 27,000 Israeli students participate in pre-military youth programs through schools and organizations like Gadna, gaining exposure to soldiering.
While there is no evidence Palestinian groups formally trained child soldiers, NGO reports from 2000-2010 documented around 30 cases of Palestinian children directly involved in hostilities, usually to deliver messages or explosives. However, numbers have declined in recent years amid Palestinian Authority and international pressure against the practice.
In 2005, Israel ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, prohibiting the recruitment or use of children under 18 for military purposes. The IDF also established psychological support programs for former child soldiers. However, military trials of Palestinian minors continue to be criticized by rights groups as a violation of international law.
Mandatory conscription remains a cornerstone of Israeli national service. Today, the debate around exempting Israeli conscientious objectors from service continues, with a small number imprisoned each year for refusal, like the “Prisoners of Conscience” in 2004.
In conclusion, while both sides have taken steps to curb the practice in recent years, the protracted Israel-Palestine conflict continues to endanger children through exposure to violence and, in some cases, direct recruitment into military or paramilitary activities. Upholding juvenile justice and children’s rights remains an ongoing challenge for the protection of future generations in this divided region.
References
B’Tselem. (n.d.). Statistics: Fatalities. B’Tselem. Retrieved September 3, 2023, from https://www.btselem.org/statistics/fatalities/after-cast-lead/by-date-of-event
Defence for Children International – Palestine. (n.d.). Military detention. DCI-Palestine. Retrieved September 3, 2023, from https://www.dcipalestine.org/issues/military_detention
Singer, P. W. (2005). The new children of terror. In D. C. Rapoport (Ed.), The making of a terrorist: Recruitment, training, and root causes (Vol. 1, pp. 105-119). essay, Praeger Security International.

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