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Children at High Risk: “After Gaza, the Most Dangerous Place for Palestinians Right Now Is East Jerusalem”


Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP) is part of an international network that aims to promote and protect the human rights of children. With its headquarters in Ramallah, DCIP is the only organization that focuses solely on the rights of children in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPT). Established in 1991, it offers free legal aid to Palestinian children in courts and investigates, documents, and exposes human rights violations against children in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

Khaled Quzmar is the general director of DCIP. He joined the organization in 1995 as a lawyer representing Palestinian children in Israeli military courts. With a master’s degree in international human rights law, Quzmar specializes in issues surrounding juvenile justice and violations against children during armed conflict. On November 13, 2023, Jerusalem Story sat down with Quzmar to understand the myriad of challenges the organization and the children of East Jerusalem have been facing since the start of Israel’s war on Gaza on October 7, 2023.

Jerusalem Story: Can you tell us about the mission and work of DCIP?

Khaled Quzmar: Our mandate covers the oPT—the West Bank, which includes East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip—and we document violations of human rights against Palestinian children. But our work in the Gaza Strip is limited to field workers and contracted consultants who report on issues like violence against children or death.

In East Jerusalem, we offer legal services to children in Israeli military and civil courts, and in Palestinian courts in the rest of the West Bank. We also support Palestinian children with psychosocial support. This means that our lawyers can present social workers in court to support children, explaining to the judge and juvenile prosecutor why they came into conflict with the law and why they should be rehabilitated to avoid the issue recurring. According to the International Juvenile Justice System, no child is born a criminal. If a child commits a crime, they should be considered a victim, not a criminal, so our team works to ensure the judges share this view.

We also do advocacy work with schools, civil society organizations, and communities to build protective environments for children. We want to show our communities that children are human beings with their own rights, and that our role as parents, as communities, and as governments is to offer them protection and invest in their future. For example, when children are arrested, they often lose one or two years of school. But the judges do not take this into account, nor do they consider deprivation of education as a punishment. So, we fight for children to be rehabilitated rather than punished through imprisonment, which should be the very last resort.

Khaled Quzmar

Khaled Quzmar, General Director of Defense for Children International—Palestine, in his office in Jerusalem, November 13, 2023


Alice Austin for Jerusalem Story

JS: What new issues are you seeing and dealing with on the ground since October 7?

KQ: Since October 7, our work in Gaza has completely stopped. When there is a phone connection, we talk to our team there, but we don’t ask them to do any work—just to let us know they are okay.

In the West Bank, every Palestinian city, town, and village is surrounded by checkpoints, and it’s risky to get out. Israeli soldiers stop cars and take people’s phones to see if there are any posts in support of resistance in Gaza or the West Bank, and they may be arrested and prosecuted for that.

I’m almost 60 years old. I’ve been working in this field for 30 years, and what I’m seeing is unprecedented. Palestinians are subject to torture and beatings in Israeli detention facilities. Five Palestinians have already died in Israeli custody, but there are no investigations. Soldiers and settlers have free hand to do what they want.

“I’ve been working in this field for 30 years, and what I’m seeing is unprecedented.”

Khaled Quzmar, Director General, Defense for Children International—Palestine

We’re in an emergency situation, so our team meets virtually because it’s risky to move around. But we always say al-hamdulillah—thank God. Why? Because our situation here can’t be compared to that in Gaza. I feel shy talking about the West Bank when in Gaza, the issue is totally different. It’s a catastrophe. There’s no safe place there. It’s beyond imaginable.

JS: How have Palestinian Jerusalemites in particular been impacted by the war?

KQ: After Gaza, the most dangerous place for Palestinians right now is East Jerusalem. Because Palestinians in the city are in a closed area that is full of aggressive Israeli police with free rein to do what they want, and their aim is to punish Palestinians, even if it means killing them. I’ve seen videos of police walking through the streets, going into supermarkets and shops, searching the mobile phones of Palestinian children like they do in the rest of the West Bank, not giving them the option to say no. In East Jerusalem, the police come to punish and to kill. Even Israelis who protest what is happening in Gaza are attacked by police. So, Palestinians in Jerusalem are under attack.

“After Gaza, the most dangerous place for Palestinians right now is East Jerusalem.”

Khaled Quzmar, Director General, Defense for Children International—Palestine

JS: What are the biggest challenges your organization is currently facing?

KQ: In the history of this organization, we’ve never accepted, documented, or published any case before taking detailed evidence from witnesses and victims if they haven’t been killed. But we no longer have access to these people, so now, the work is to collect the initial information and keep the file open until the situation changes.

But we can’t access a lot of information or documentation right now, especially from Gaza. We only have statistics from the Ministry of Health, so we just follow the numbers, which aren’t always reliable. For example, in Gaza, the number of children killed keeps increasing, and we don’t know how many are buried under the rubble.

JS: On November 6, DCIP published a report about Israel’s killing of a Palestinian child in East Jerusalem and the confiscation of his body.1 Has Israel’s confiscation of bodies increased since the war began?

KQ: Confiscating bodies is an inhuman policy. There is no law in the world that justifies withholding bodies, certainly not of children. It’s collective punishment, since the families of the deceased suffer greatly. You can’t imagine how a mother must feel. And Israel does this deliberately. Israel has withheld some bodies for over two years, and it currently withholds about 20 bodies.

Why does it withhold bodies? To prolong the family’s suffering. Some have been kept for over two years. The tactic is supposed to deter other Palestinians from committing so-called crimes. So, it withholds bodies and demolishes the family houses of the deceased to send a message not to throw stones or resist in any way. But these policies never stop resistance under occupation.

“Confiscating bodies is an inhuman policy.”

Khaled Quzmar, Director General, Defense for Children International—Palestine

JS: How has your organization adapted to the changes in circumstances since the war?

KQ: I’m talking to the media and collecting information from fieldworkers, but there is no transportation from city to city, so each team member works from wherever they are. We only allow field visits if there is no risk, and then we collect evidence from eyewitnesses. We do hold in-person meetings and training with children and communities whenever possible, and if not, we hold them online.

JS: What issues were children experiencing before the war started, especially after the extremist Israeli government came into power in January 2023?

KQ: To be honest, Palestinians in Jerusalem have been under attack for years—arrests, humiliation, home demolitions, movement restrictions—even to the al-Aqsa Mosque for prayer. So, Palestinians in Jerusalem have been experiencing Israeli violence every day since before this government came to power. Jerusalem is under attack.

Every Israeli government wants to ensure the number of Palestinians in Jerusalem decreases, and to do so, it makes their lives more complicated and unlivable with the goal of driving them out of the city. This is the Israeli policy at the highest level, both political and military.

JS: And how do you think children will experience the impact of this war in the future?

KQ: For every action there is a reaction. What Palestinian children are facing in East Jerusalem is creating a generation full of hate for anything related to Israel, and this is expressed in violence. So, I don’t know where these Israeli practices will lead us, but it is bleak. What is happening will create a radical new generation.

“What is happening will create a radical new generation.”

Khaled Quzmar, Director General, Defense for Children International—Palestine

JS: What are your predictions for the future of Jerusalem?

KQ: Of course, change will come. But the price is so high. Governments are changing their positions, calling for a ceasefire. They didn’t call for it at first, but after the killing of more than 10,000 Palestinians in Gaza, they are finally calling for it and some are talking about taking Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC). But we’re still waiting for many other governments to do so.

My question to the international community is: How many Palestinians need to die for you to say enough is enough? It seems 10,000 is not enough. Maybe governments like the UK and US need 10 times more this number. It’s inhuman for the international community to disregard the lives of people this way.

So, while I believe that things will change, the price will unfortunately be high because Western governments are complicit in Israel’s violence. There is so much hypocrisy and double standards. As a Palestinian, I always ask: What is the difference between Ukraine and Palestine? The international community supported Ukraine, and the ICC even issued an arrest warrant against Putin. But Palestinians have been under these circumstances for 75 years, under military occupation for 56 years, and under siege in Gaza for 16 years. Why isn’t Israel being held accountable? This is very frustrating for us.

Our role as human rights defenders is to provide victims with hope, to minimize damage to their lives through our services, and to reduce their suffering. I believe what is happening is not forever—it is temporary, but the price is high, and it’s being paid by civilians.



Israeli Forces Kill, Confiscate Body of 16-Year-Old Palestinian Boy in East Jerusalem,” Defense for Children International—Palestine, November 6, 2023.

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