Main Menu
76 Years of Ongoing Nakba: Israeli Colonial Violence Through the Eyes of Palestinian Children, Beaten and Used as Human Shields in West Bank Refugee Camps
22، May 2024

As the Palestinian people commemorate 76 years of the Nakba, Al-Haq highlights the continuation of the Nakba as experienced by children residing in refugee camps in the occupied West Bank, particularly in the form of terrorising children and using them as human shields.


Last week, we marked the 76th annual commemoration of Nakba Day on 15 May. Nakba Day is not a day to only remember, but a day to fortify our resilience, and reaffirm our commitment to the struggle for decolonisation, justice and freedom, as the Nakba is still ongoing. For 76 years, refugee camps have stood as poignant symbols of the Palestinian plight against Israel’s systematic efforts to eliminate the Palestinian people and appropriate the land of Palestine. This year, Israel’s escalation of colonial violence across historic Palestine, including against refugee camps, further solidifies its oppressive Zionist settler-colonial apartheid regime.


In the Gaza Strip, where scenes too familiar of the mass displacement of the Nakba continue to be enacted, over two million Palestinians have been attempting to survive Israel’s ongoing genocide for 229 consecutive days, the great majority of whom have been refugees since 1948. Since 7 October 2023, the ongoing genocide has resulted in the killing of at least 35,562 Palestinians, around 70% of whom are children and women; the destruction or damage of more than 60% of all Gaza’s housing units; and the multiple displacement of around 1.7 million Palestinians, nearly 75% of the population, while the number may be even higher given the recent ground invasions in Rafah and northern Gaza.


As Israel continues with its widespread and systematic attacks across the Strip, its military forces are invading Rafah, which has been sheltering over 1.5 million Palestinians with no safe place to go, and threatening to broaden the scope of its military attack. In the words of the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, “[i]n over 30 years of studying and engaging with communities affected by displacement, I have never seen a shocking atrocity like this. Multiple forced displacement of generations, compelled to be on the run.” Like everything else, Gaza’s eight refugee camps, as well as UNRWA schools, where people are sheltering, have not been spared Israeli targeting. For example, Jabaliya refugee camp, where the first Intifada started, has been witnessing an escalation in Israeli attacks in the past days. Reports indicate increased Israeli airstrikes, coinciding with military incursions into the Camp, including UNRWA-designated shelters. Israeli attacks, along with cutting off internet and electricity, have hindered access for ambulances and medical teams, preventing them from reaching injured or trapped Palestinians under the rubble.


Concurrently, the West Bank, especially its refugee camps in northern parts, has been witnessing increased large-scale, aggressive and lengthy Israeli military attacks and raids, characterised by the overwhelming deployment of military force, including snipers; an array of vehicles, notably D9 bulldozers; and recourse to airstrikes. This disturbing escalation of military attacks resulted in the killing, injuring, and detaining of Palestinians, the destruction of Palestinian homes, properties, and infrastructure, and obstruction of all aspects of life, including healthcare. Since 7 October 2023 and as of 20 May 2024, at least 472 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli occupying forces (IOF) throughout the West Bank, including eastern Jerusalem, of whom 118 are children. Notably, 172 of the Palestinians killed by the IOF, more than a third, were residing in refugee camps.


Al-Haq’s documentation of these military attacks and raids has alarmingly revealed the use of Palestinians as human shields by the IOF, including of children and paramedics, the brutalisation of Palestinians through military dogs, and looting and vandalising Palestinian homes.

For example, the IOF used three Palestinian children, Karam, 11, Mohammad, 12, and Ibrahim, 15, as human shields during a 20-hour-long military attack on Tulkarem Refugee Camp, on 6 May 2024. In each of the three occurrences, armed Israeli occupying soldiers physically assaulted and forced the boys to lead the way as they conducted searches of Palestinian residences.


Recalling the horrifying experience, 11-year-old Karam told Al-Haq:


“One soldier told me that they would take me outside the building and to neighbouring houses so that I would knock on doors and ask residents to leave… Despite my mother’s protests and her cries to the soldiers, telling them that I was just a child, they insisted on her silence. She was sobbing, but the soldiers ignored her pleas. I cannot describe the fear I felt. I am only an 11-year-old fifth grader, but that did not matter to them. Surrounded by roughly 20 armed soldiers, I had no choice but to follow their demands.”


Similarly, 15-year-old Ibrahim, who was subjected to a field interrogation and threatened with death if he were to lie, recalled to Al-Haq:


“[Israeli] soldiers [raided our home and] walked towards us, pointing their guns at us. I saw about 20-25 soldiers, all dressed in military uniforms and carrying guns. Some of them had masks on their faces, which made them look scary and frightening… I was handcuffed in plastic zip ties and was ordered to go out with many soldiers to get residents out of some nearby houses in the area where I lived… They made me walk in front of the soldiers through the alleys of Al-Sawalme neighbourhood, enter the houses chosen by the soldiers and request the residents to leave so the soldiers could enter…This was repeated in three houses… They used me as a human shield for 1.5–2 hours.”


Subjected to the same practice, 12-year-old Mohammad further found himself in dangerously close quarters when an occupying soldier fired his weapon. He told Al-Haq:


“While I was at the entrance of the apartment, shouting to see if anyone was inside, one of the soldiers fired multiple shots from behind me, the barrel of his gun resting on my right shoulder. He fired at least two shots like that, and it really scared me, especially since the shots were coming from above my right shoulder, really close to my right ear.”


During the same military attack, another child, a 13-year-old boy, Osama, was beaten when he refused to strip naked. Osama informed Al-Haq:


“The soldiers detained us with their guns pointed at us. I was surprised when one soldier, speaking Arabic, asked me to remove all my clothes. I took off my upper garments and pants, leaving only my underwear, all while the soldiers watched and kept their weapons aimed at us. Once I finished undressing, the same soldier demanded that I remove my underwear as well. I refused, and at that moment, I was subjected to beating by some soldiers with their hands and feet all over my body. I endured the blows for about a minute, as I screamed and cried. My father was beside me, but he couldn’t do anything because the soldiers had their guns pointed at him. If he had made any move to stop them from hitting me, he would have been shot, maybe killed.”


In another incident, 14-year-old girl, Joud, was attacked by an unmuzzled military dog, with Israeli occupying soldiers failing to prevent or stop the dog, or provide her with medical assistance afterwards. After noticing that her cat went missing from her home, Joud left looking for it, when she was suddenly surprised by a medium-sized dog running towards her from the direction of Israeli soldiers. Joud told Al-Haq:


“In just moments, the dog reached me and began attacking me. I screamed in terror as I felt the dog biting my left hand. I continued screaming, and at that moment, my mother rushed to my aid, doing her best to keep the dog away from me amidst both of our cries. This terrifying ordeal lasted, in my estimation, for a minute or slightly less. Then, the dog retreated and ran back towards the Israeli soldiers. The dog, of medium size, had no equipment attached to it, nor was there a muzzle on its mouth. During its attack, the dog managed to knock me to the ground with its strength and aggression. Throughout the dog’s attack, the Israeli soldiers did not approach us, but they watched as their dog attacked me. After the dog finished its attack and returned to the soldiers, the soldiers did not come to check on me or offer any assistance. They simply remained in the area as if nothing had happened.”


The above testimonies reflect Israel’s policy of dehumanising the Palestinian people, subjecting them to the most heinous forms of colonial violence that disrupt all aspects of their lives, thereby feeding into the coercive environment Israel continues to impose on Palestinians to force their displacement and elimination. 


Furthermore, the IOF demolished monuments and memorials of killed Palestinains during these military attacks on refugee camps. This included the Horse Roundabout in Jenin Refugee Camp, where the IOF seized the horse sculpture, the symbol of Palestinian resilience during the 2002 invasion of Jenin Refugee Camp, which was facing Haifa, from which thousands of Camp residents originated and were expelled during the Nakba of 1948.


The oppression, displacement, dispossession and uprooting of Palestinians, however, is not limited to Palestinian refugee camps. Between 7 October 2023 and 20 May 2024, the Israeli authorities and settlers demolished or damaged around 415 Palestinian homes throughout the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem, forcibly displacing 1,335 Palestinians, 45 percent of whom are children, according to Al-Haq’s documentation. At the same time, the Israeli authorities continue to displace Palestinians with Israeli citizenship – most recently on 8 May 2024, when they destroyed 47 homes in al-Naqab, displacing over 300 Palestinians. Furthermore, as Israel has been advancing its settlement enterprise, settler violence has increased since 7 October 2023, resulting in the killing of at least 13 Palestinians, including two children, damage of properties, and the forcible transfer of 1,330 Palestinians across the West Bank – all while settlers are encouraged by the Israeli government to carry more arms.


While physically fragmented, the Palestinian people are struggle-bound. Approximately 9.17 million out of the total Palestinian people - 14 million—equating to around 65 percent—are refugees or internally displaced persons, deprived of their right to return. Whether currently living in refugee camps inside the occupied Palestinian territory; inside the Green Line, kilometres away from their ancestral homes; or scattered across the diaspora, Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons view their current abodes as a waiting station, steadfastly awaiting the day they can assert their inalienable rights of self-determination and return.


76 years on, we reassert that Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people will continue unless the root causes of its colonial violence are dismantled. The dismantlement of Israel’s settler-colonial apartheid regime must involve the immediate end to the occupation, dismantling of all structures of domination and oppression, the collective realisation of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, and the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes.