We’ve feared this moment for years. 'The Israeli government has declared that in July it will announce plans to permanently seize occupied Palestinian territory, annexing swathes of the West Bank that are currently home to 80,000 Palestinians including 25,000 children.[i] This cannot be allowed to happen.
Despite the imminent threat of homelessness and job loss for thousands of Palestinian families, and the potential for conflict, the details of the plan remain unclear, with scarcely any details released of Israel’s plans to annex the Jordan Valley and 235 illegal settlement areas that make up almost a third of the West Bank. The move will see Palestinians pushed from their homes and birthlands to make way for Israeli families moving into the area.
There are few parallels in contemporary international relations to such an historic turning point which deals a fatal blow to the prospect of a two-state solution, according to many observers. For decades, the two-state solution has been seen by many as the way to resolve the conflict and to guarantee self-determination for both peoples who claim it as their own. It is also the only solution that hears the perspectives of the generations of Palestinians who have lived on the lands for centuries.
The dream of Palestinian statehood is fading fast – annexation would further split the territory into an archipelago of divided enclaves with no land left for a contiguous state. Twelve-year old Niveen* said: “I worry that there is no space left for us to live and grow. Will we have room to run around and play without hitting a checkpoint?”
International law is clear about annexation: it is illegal.[ii] It will also endanger children’s rights, including their rights to survival, health, education, and protection. 13-year-old Ashraf* is at risk of losing his home if the annexation is carried out. He said: “When I imagine my future, I see loss. A loss of rights and loss of dreams.”
Annexation will be catastrophic for many Palestinian children. It will uproot children and their families - demolitions across the West Bank are already on the rise,[iii] with a 250% increase in the destruction of Palestinian-owned structured since the beginning of the year.[iv]
Already we see a reduction of essential services and diminished presence of emergency responders in soon-to-be-annexed areas of the West Bank. There is likely to be a rise in Israeli military presence, with more armed checkpoints – frequent flashpoints for violence. Fourteen-year old Ola* said: “I get scared when I see soldiers, weapons, rockets, and checkpoints. I just want to feel safe and free.”
Annexation will destabilise the already volatile region, with protests and clashes erupting across the West Bank already. Early reports reflect an increasing state of military readiness in Gaza, in response to the annexation plans. Stability rests on a knife’s edge and any escalation of violence would be devastating for both Palestinian and Israeli children.
In the medium-term, the Palestinian Authority (PA) may dissolve, leaving ministries that provide vital services for children – water, health, education – in freefall. Over 70% of schools across the oPt are government-run and at risk of closing their doors should the PA cease to exist.
While the reliance on humanitarian assistance will likely increase, our ability to reach children in need could be set to decrease. A third of Save the Children operations[v] are in areas slated for annexation and it is unclear whether this lifeline to vulnerable children will be allowed to continue.
In the long-term, the UN has deemed it likely for human rights violations to intensify, with unequal rights for Palestinian and Israeli children living in the same space. Annexation could result in a ‘one-state-reality’, in which the campaign for self-determination would turn into an anti-apartheid-like campaign for equal rights.
Palestinian children have a fundamental right[vi] to have a say in decisions that affect their futures – but they have told us that they feel like their voices aren’t heard and that they have become invisible to the world. Twelve-year-old Khaled* said: “My request to the world is to hear my voice, and the voice of every Palestinian child. If you hear us, please set us free.”
We are living through a time of unprecedented global challenges, but we cannot afford to look away now. We appeal to Israel, Palestinian and world leaders to listen to these voices of children, not go through with annexation and instead recommit to serious negotiations to achieve a lasting settlement providing security and dignity for all.
Reflecting the gravity of the stakes involved and discussions taking place in various capitals, UN human rights experts have warned that criticism without consequences will neither forestall annexation nor end the occupation, emphasizing that now is the time for accountability and the end of impunity. More states are reviewing their own need to outline the concrete economic and political consequences of annexation as required by international humanitarian law. Most recently, the Belgian parliament called on its government to list efficient counter-measures geared at responding in a proportional manner to any Israeli annexation of occupied Palestinian territory.
Generations of Palestinian children have grown up knowing nothing but conflict and occupation. Annexation would deny them the chance of a different future. Far-reaching, unilateral actions like annexation risk unpredictable and harmful consequences for both Israeli and Palestinian children. The only way to give Palestinian and Israeli children the future they deserve is through a peace process that includes Palestinians and that has the best interests, and the rights, of all children at its heart.
[i] Netanyahu has made repeated statements to annex, or “apply sovereignty”, to different areas of the West Bank. In April last year, Netanyahu said he planned to annex Jewish settlements, outposts in the West Bank where hundreds of thousands of Israelis live. In September, the Israeli leader added he would also annex the Jordan Valley, which makes up to one-third of the West Bank and borders Jordan.
[ii] According to international law, the UN Charter and relevant UN resolutions, in particular UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, the West Bank remains under Israeli occupation and the acquisition of territory by force is inadmissible. The UN Secretary General has reiterated the need for a solution that is founded on international law and recognised borders, based on the pre-1967 lines. Also see Fourth Geneva Convention (article 47 GC IV)
[iii] Bedouin communities have been suffering from endemic demolitions of their homes and schools in areas, which are now at the highest risk of annexation.
[v] This includes Education, Child Protection & Women’s Empowerment programmes
[vi] UNCRC Article 12
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