Childhood Under Apartheid

Photo: Laurence Chiasson

Israeli apartheid negatively affects the lives of Palestinian children in a myriad of ways. Here are some of them.

Barriers to education

In 1999, Israel ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which stipulates that the right to education extends to all children, including those with disabilities and members of minority religious, ethnic or linguistic groups. The core principle of the CRC is to ensure the “best interests of the child”. The CRC also mandates that states promote school attendance, provide primary school that is free and compulsory and references situations where children have been deprived of their liberty.

Photo: Peter Biro (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The differential government funding that is provided to students demonstrates the inequity experienced by those who are Palestinian. Based on government data, the Haifa-based rights group Mossawa Center found that, in 2013, the annual expenditure per student in Palestinian localities was 734 NIS ($220), compared to 3,344 NIS ($1,004) in poor Jewish localities and 5,934 NIS ($1,781) in wealthier Jewish ones.

Citing government data for that same school year, Haaretz found that expenditures by the state for Jewish Israeli high school students were 35 to 68 percent higher than for Palestinian students at the same socioeconomic level.

In some places, Palestinian children trying to get to school are compelled to cross through Israeli security checkpoints or military roadblocks.

According to a household survey conducted by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in the restricted areas of Hebron controlled by Israeli authorities, 88% of children have to cross a checkpoint to reach school. In this relatively small area, there are no fewer than 121 physical barriers to their movement, including roadblocks, gates, and checkpoints.

Israeli soldiers search the bags of Palestinian students in Hebron, 2012 (Photo CC0 1.0)

Soldiers often subject Palestinian children to bag and body searches, unnecessary delays, and sometimes detention. According to UNICEF, adolescent boys are particularly likely to be targeted by Israeli forces for stops and searches. These aggressive interactions are not just an inconvenience for students. Research has shown that after dealing with harassment or humiliation at military roadblocks, children face difficulties concentrating at school.

A photo of four female students and two female adults with their backs to the camera. Student in the middle is holding up peace signs with both her hands.
Palestinian students protest Israel’s apartheid wall in the village of Bil’in, West Bank. Photo: Aaron Lakoff

Palestinian parents have few options that allow them to keep their kids safe from these experiences. The Israeli administration routinely denies or ignores requests from Palestinians for permits to build schools. If schools are built without such permits, the administration often issues stop work orders or has the schools demolished. According to the Education Cluster, co-led by UNICEF and Save the Children, in December 2020, there were 52 Palestinian schools, serving around 5200 students, at risk of full or partial demolition in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Existing schools are often in poor condition, without libraries, labs, playgrounds, or proper temperature controls.

The schools themselves cannot protect Palestinian children from harassment or attacks. The Education Cluster’s 2020 Annual Report notes there were 119 education-related incidents affecting 7,757 students and 615 teachers and school staff. This, in a year when schools were closed for four months due to a COVID-19 outbreak. The incidents include soldiers firing tear gas at students and staff, soldiers firing rubber coated metal bullets at students (hitting one in a group buying sandwiches), a classroom set on fire by settlers, and aggressive threats of violence and intimidation by settlers, settlement security and soldiers. Children were detained and delayed and occasionally schools were unable to open because Israeli officials had not provided the permits staff needed to allow them access the schools.

Children’s health

According to a 2017 report by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), for a 9 year old child living in Gaza, there is a 7% chance that they experience stunted growth due to prolonged exposure to malnutrition and a 60% chance that they suffer from mild to moderate anemia.

Another study conducted by the NRC found that in 2019, 68% of schoolchildren in areas close to the Israeli perimeter fence (the fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip) had clear indications of psychosocial distress. The majority said they were severely affected by the sounds of nearby explosions and media images of conflict in Gaza. The study also revealed that a staggering 81% of children struggle academically due to conflict-related stress.  Fifty-four per cent indicated that they had no hope for a brighter future.

In the Gaza Strip, the well-being of students declined significantly between 2019 (pre-Covid-19) and 2020 (in the midst of Covid-19). Prior to Covid-19, 80% of students in Gaza had a positive outlook on the future. By September 2020, this had dropped to 29%.

Policing and detaining children

Each year 500 to 700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12 years old, are detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system, according to Defense for Children International-Palestine.

In Jerusalem, while Palestinians and Jewish residents are formally subject to the same criminal law, discrimination underlies policing in the city. Across Jerusalem, 77% of children arrested in 2018 were Palestinian, although Palestinians constitute less than 40% of the city’s population.

Further reading on childhood under apartheid

Raided and Razed

A report by the Norwegian Refugee Council

A Threshold Crossed

Human Rights Watch