Israeli policies of physical elimination

Israeli policies of physical elimination

The 16 Palestinian children killed in the Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip, August 5-7, 2022.


Funeral of 12-year-old Mohammed al Alami, in the village of Beit Ummar, north of Hebron. Alami was shot by Israeli soldiers while sitting in the passenger side of his family’s car as he and his father returned from buying vegetables. July 29, 2021. (Oren Ziv/Activestills)

The most basic form of elimination is the killing of children. The latest attacks on Gaza, wiping out in the first hours entire families, were once again a stark reminder of the disproportionate number of Palestinian children that die in Israeli attacks. The seven children assassinated in Gaza in the five days of Israeli bombing at the beginning of May 2023 made up 21% of all Palestinians killed. During the 2008 massacre in Gaza, 24% were children and during the attack in May 2021 27% were children. 

The United Nations’ independent international Commission of Inquiry in the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that investigated the Israeli policies and actions during May 2021 found that the Israeli military “used lethal force against children who did not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to its soldiers”, and that “several children were recognizable as such when they were shot.” The Commission also found “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot them intentionally, knowing that they were children.” 

Whether this indicates a pattern of intentional killing of children or simple, criminal disregard for the moral and ethical obligation to protect them, one thing is evident: Israel’s ‘precision’ weapons clearly don’t spare children. They are not unintended collateral damage but the fact that roughly a quarter of all Palestinians killed are children is a constant part of Israeli policies. 

The fact that the killing of children is at the very least an accepted, if not an encouraged, part of Israeli military doctrine is bolstered by the complete impunity guaranteed to the military that ordered and executed the killing of four children playing at the beach in Gaza in 2014, the assassination of five children in a cemetery in 2022 or those that targeted one of Gaza’s UNWRA schools with white phosphorous

The targeting of children is also part of the settlers’ paramilitary attacks on Palestinians. One of the most horrific examples remains the abduction of 16-year-old Palestinian child Mohammed Abu Khdeir, on July 2 2014, from a street near his home in Shu’fat in the eastern part of occupied Jerusalem. The three settlers that had kidnapped him, then beat him savagely, forced him to drink gasoline and burned him alive. They then left his charred body in the village of Deir Yassin in occupied Jerusalem. In a similar attack almost exactly a year later, on 31 July 2015, a group of Israeli settlers raided the Palestinian village of Duma, and set a Palestinian house on fire. They killed the father, mother, and their eighteen-month old infant, leaving a four-year old child suffering from severe burns.


Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian boy as Jewish Israelis tour in the West Bank city of Hebron, September 23, 2021. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Each year approximately 500-700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12 years old, are detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system. The most common charge is stone throwing. Since 2000, Israeli military authorities have detained, interrogated, prosecuted, and imprisoned over 13,000 Palestinian children, according to estimates of Defense of Children International – Palestine (DCI-P). DCI-P’s report “Arbitrary by Default” shows how none of the Palestinian child prisoners that they have followed over the last six years has received an arrest warrant and 85.5% have not even been informed during detention as to why they are arrested. They all know what the fundamental reason for their arrest is: being Palestinian. 

Beyond the detention of children, since 2015 Israel has also reactivated the policy of detaining bodies of those killed. As of August 2022, Israel has withheld 102 Palestinian bodies in refrigerators, including the bodies of ten Palestinian children. One of the children, whose bodies have been detained, was 14 year old Nassim Abu Roumi, killed by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint. His twelve year old sister Sumoud asked “Let him just come back. Why try his dead body, are they afraid of him after they executed him?” The short answer is yes. Within the logic of elimination, the steadfastness of a new generation of Palestinians risks bringing down the logic of Israeli settler-colonialism even after death. Nassim wasn’t deemed dangerous despite his age but because he was a child. 

In order to attempt breaking this steadfastness, Israeli policies in Jerusalem include the practice of house arrest. Israeli courts won’t keep the children in their jails but ask for a “guarantor”, usually the child’s mother, who becomes a prison guard for her son. This renders “the parent a state agent and effectively expands the Israeli settler-colonialism to infiltrate and redesign the dynamics within the Palestinian family. The juxtaposed penological system installed, which includes, inter alia, police phone calls and check-ins, social workers, and surveillance, penetrates the Palestinian family, governs the family unit, and instills fear within it.”


A short analysis of Israel’s targeting of Palestinian children and youth as part of the repression of protests shows how the role this plays in the overall attempt to eliminate the hope and the efforts of the Palestinian people to claim their rights. 

In 2009, Stop the Wall together with Addameer released an analysis of the forms the repression of anti-Wall protests had taken since their beginning in 2004. Over this period the often daily protests mobilized the entire population of dozens of villages across the occupied West Bank. 

The research showed that the killing, maiming and punitive attacks have been systematic and premeditated, not sporadic and accidental. They are tactically intended to create a highly visible spectacle, rendering victims as examples. Stop the Wall and Addameer concluded that “The IOF consistently targets protestors, predominantly youth, with the stated intent of causing serious, at times permanent, injury.” Out of the 16 Palestinians Israeli military killed in villages protesting against the Wall between 2004 and 2009, often through sniper fire or through bullets shot at short range, half were children. 

Together with leading activists, children and youth have also carried the brunt of the repression during raids and arrest campaigns, usually under the false pretext of being stone throwers and ‘troublemakers’.

Research about the repression of the Great Return March, a popular mobilization in Gaza challenging the wall around Gaza that lasted roughly a year and started on March 2018, shows similar patterns. According to the WHO, as of 31 August 2019 doctors had to undertake 149 amputations as a result of protest-related injuries, 20 percent of which had to be undertaken on 30 children. Of the 217 Palestinians killed at the protests 48 were children (22 percent) and of the roughly 19,000 Palestinians that were wounded, 4,966 children (26%) that were injured.

The brutal repression of youth demanding their right of return and fighting the walls Israel builds in a failed attempt to squash the hopes and determination of the Palestinian people, is clear also in a research by Badil of the tactique of “kneecapping” Israeli military has developed to target Palestinian youth in the refugee camps in the West Bank. Badil found during 2015/16 a “significant amount of this increased use of live fire was directed at the lower limbs of Palestinian youth, particularly the knees, which prompted the use of the term ‘kneecapping’ to refer to these incidents.”