Geneva - The Israeli army has abducted Palestinian children and transferred them out of the Gaza Strip, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said, as part of its genocide against Gazans that has been ongoing since 7 October. The rights group called on Israel to return the children to their parents.

In light of the horrific crime of kidnapping children, as well as the recent mysterious disappearance of hundreds of Palestinian detainees from the Strip, Euro-Med Monitor stressed that the international community must bear its responsibilities and apply pressure to Israel in order to ensure the safe return of all victims.

The Geneva-based organisation also stated that it takes very seriously the information published by Israeli Army Radio on 1 January 2024 regarding the kidnapping of a Palestinian infant from inside her Gaza family home by Israeli officer Harel Itach, a commander in the Givati Brigade, after the killing of her family members. The incident’s date was not revealed.

Following the news that the Israeli officer died on 22 December 2023 from injuries sustained during fighting in Gaza, a friend of Itach’s disclosed the kidnapping incident, and said that the little girl’s whereabouts remain unknown. Euro-Med Monitor expressed its deep fear and concern that the incident involving the officer and the Palestinian baby is not an isolated case. Numerous testimonies that the rights group has received say that the Israeli army regularly detains and transfers Palestinian children without disclosing their whereabouts.

Furthermore, Euro-Med Monitor has been receiving alarming reports from many Palestinian families who have lost contact with their children. It said that these reports are mainly from areas where Israeli ground incursions are occurring.

More than 7,000 Palestinians—mostly women and children—are reportedly missing, amid chaos caused by the difficulty of removing bodies from the rubble, the near-total disruption of communications and Internet across most of the Strip, and the forced displacement of the vast majority of Gazan families.

While most of the missing are thought to have perished beneath the debris of houses hit by Israeli airstrikes, some are believed to be lost on the streets, or have vanished from neighbourhoods where Israeli army ground incursions took place. The risk of Israeli soldiers forcibly transferring and disappearing children is only increasing, Euro-Med Monitor stressed, especially since hundreds of Palestinian families have reported the loss of one or more of their children, and as verifying the location and condition of these individuals is typically impossible right now due to Israel’s ongoing genocide.

Rushdi Al-Zhaza, a detainee who was recently released from Israeli custody after being detailed along with his family a month ago from their home in the Zaytoun neighbourhood in the south of Gaza City, told Euro-Med Monitor that the fate of his wife and two children remain unknown. Al-Zhaza explained that the Israeli army detained him, his wife Hadeel Youssef Al-Dahdouh, and their two children, four-year-old Mohamed and six-month-old Zein, while they were inside their own house.

Al-Zhaza said that the two children had been taken from their mother’s arms, and that when she protested, Israeli soldiers had tied her up, removed her headscarf, and abducted her along with the kids. Weeks later, the soldiers released Al-Zhaza without disclosing the whereabouts or health status of his wife or either of their children. The Israeli army told him that his children would be analysed to ensure they were not Israelis being held in the Gaza Strip, he said. Euro-Med Monitor emphasised that committing such a crime is prohibited under international law in all cases and circumstances, regardless of any motives or reasons.

In another testimony documented by Euro-Med Monitor, a Palestinian woman stated that a few weeks ago, while being evacuated from Gaza City to the south of Wadi Gaza Nature Reserve through the Netzarim checkpoint, Israeli soldiers stopped a 12-year-old girl with blonde hair. The woman witnessed the girl’s parents attempt to intervene; the soldiers then informed them that the child would be taken away under the suspicion that she was an Israeli detainee—despite the fact that she was speaking Arabic and accompanied by her parents. The woman had to continue to walk, and said that she did not know what happened to the child or her parents.

Many displaced families from northern Gaza or the incursion areas of Khan Yunis have reported losing their children during evacuations or bombings of homes. Euro-Med Monitor has been monitoring these announcements and reports constantly, particularly on social media and in journalistic and activist WhatsApp groups.

Euro-Med Monitor indicated that there is no accurate count of Palestinian detainees, specifically, due to the ongoing Israeli enforced disappearance policy, the difficulty of receiving reports in the Gaza Strip due to the high number of displaced persons, and the almost complete interruption of communications and the Internet. However, preliminary estimates suggest that more than 3,000 people have been detained by Israeli forces, including 200 women and young girls. These Palestinians are being held in detention in blatant violation of international law, with no official information available regarding their charges or conditions.

The international community must oblige Israel to turn over the missing Palestinian baby that the Israeli officer acknowledged has been abducted, Euro-Med Monitor demanded. Individuals and organisations outside of the Gaza Strip must pressure Israel to disclose all abduction cases of Palestinian children, and to return them to the Strip immediately.

According to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, to which Israel is a party, "forcibly transferring children from the group to another group"—as Israeli soldiers frequently do—is regarded as a form of the crime of genocide, Euro-Med Monitor confirmed. The arbitrary and unlawful deportation and transfer of children also constitutes a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and is a grave violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor called for immediate action to end the arbitrary detention and forced disappearance of hundreds of Palestinian detainees from the Gaza Strip. The rights group noted that States are required to consider enforced disappearance a crime punishable by law with appropriate penalties, given its extreme seriousness, under the 2006 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which went into effect in 2010.

The agreement states that forced disappearance is illegal and qualifies as a crime against humanity if it is carried out extensively or methodically, as the Israeli army forces are currently doing in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military has detained over 3,000 people whose whereabouts are still unknown, Euro-Med Monitor reiterated, while no information has been released about them.

Parallel to this, Euro-Med Monitor appealed to the international community to compel Israel to allow civil defence teams to retrieve bodies from Gaza’s streets and under the rubble, and to expedite the provision of the tools and equipment required for this operation. This will also allow to determine the number of people who are dead versus missing and/or thought to be detained by Israeli forces.