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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The Tragic Palestinian Children’s Crusade

Filed under: Palestinians

The Tragic Palestinian Children’s Crusade
Palestinian boys learn how to assemble AK-47 assault rifles at a Hamas training camp, 2021. (Hamas)
  • In a cynical public diplomacy campaign, the Palestinian Authority exploited the death of Palestinian teen Jana Majdi Zakharna in December 2022 during an IDF operation against terrorist networks in Jenin, accusing Israel of systematically “executing” Palestinian children.
  • The IDF’s investigation revealed that the girl was shot to death on a rooftop as she stood in proximity to a Palestinian gunman who had opened fire at Israeli troops below and that she assisted the gunmen by observing the soldiers’ movements.
  • The Telegram channel also noted that Jenin has a network of observation units staffed by “young people” assisting terrorist groups by documenting on video and delivering reports about the activities of IDF forces.

Jana Majdi Zakarneh
Jana Majdi Zakarneh (Social Media)

The Death of Jana Majdi Zakharna

On December 12, 2022, 15-year-old Jana Majdi Zakharna was killed during an IDF operation in Jenin. Yair Lapid, then Israel’s prime minister, expressed his regret over the death of the Palestinian teen:1

I mourn the death of the female teen during an [IDF] operation to arrest terrorist suspects in Jenin, and I send my condolences to her family. The investigation that was published is preliminary. The security forces continue to investigate the circumstances of the incident. The State of Israel will continue trying to thwart terrorism and capture terrorists wherever necessary. I trust IDF soldiers and the security forces that even in their most complicated missions, they will continue to do their utmost to prevent harm to those who are not involved [in hostilities].

The B’Tselem organization, which records data on Palestinian casualties, described the circumstances of Jana Majdi Zakharna’s death as follows:2

Jana Majdi, a 15-year-old resident of Jenin, killed on December 11, 2022, died after being hit by a gunshot. She was fatally shot by an undercover Border Police officer while standing on the roof of her house, while an exchange of fire was taking place several hundred meters away between armed Palestinians and Israeli soldiers and Border Police officers who had entered the city.

The Palestinian Authority Accuses Israel of “Execution”

The Palestinian Authority accused Israel of “executing” the Palestinian teen. Hussain Al-Sheikh, secretary of the PLO Executive Committee, called for an international investigation into “the execution of Jana Zakharna by Israeli occupation forces,” adding that she was “a victim of the brutality of the occupation” and that “her blood exposes this ongoing crime which allows everything, and reveals the truth about the brutal racist behavior of the occupying forces.”3

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry also called the killing of the young Palestinian woman an “execution,” noting that “this new crime is an integral part of continuous daily killings directed against our people with the backing and consent of the political echelon.” The Palestinian Foreign Ministry also stated that “this crime reaches the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”4

The Fatah movement, under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, published a condemnation of the “crime of the execution of the 16-year-old girl Jana Majdi Zakharna,” noting that “the citizens and children are a bank of targets for the occupation army.”5

IDF Investigation: The Palestinian Teen Provided Aid to Terrorists during Combat

The IDF denied the Palestinian accusations, claiming that the Palestinian female teen conducted an observation overwatch for the terrorist operatives who were firing at an IDF force operating in Jenin.

Below are the main points of the IDF’s initial investigation as published by the Israeli news website Ynet (originally in Hebrew):6

It is believed that the security forces fatally shot the Palestinian teen in an exchange of fire in Jenin. The IDF said at the end of a preliminary investigation of the incident that “there is a high probability” that one of the Israel Border Police soldiers accidentally killed 16-year-old Jana Zakharna. The army said it is believed that the teenager aided the militants who opened fire at the soldiers during their operation in Jenin to arrest wanted fugitives. In addition, she conducted an observation overwatch near the militants from a rooftop in Jenin, and because of this, she was mistakenly identified as one of the militants.

The army stated that the force was operating in Jenin around 10:00 p.m., in the city’s eastern neighborhood. About a minute after exiting the vehicles, the undercover forces were fired upon, and the rest of the forces came to rescue them. The rescue lasted about an hour and included positioning two of our sniper squads on two buildings. Heavy fire was directed at the [Israeli] forces when the forces assembled. A decorated and experienced undercover sniper spotted two figures on a roof; one was armed and opened fire. He shot at the figure when it tried to run away. Footage received from a SkyRider drone also verified it. The sniper fired nine bullets, and the Palestinians detected eight hits [on a wall]. The assumption is that the ninth bullet hit her.

The army also said: In the operation, we hit two armed men. We estimate that she was standing next to one of the gunmen. She may have been conducting an observation mission and was mistakenly identified as a gunman. Unfortunately, she was killed. The fighter who fired with a sniper rifle was also a sharpshooter and recently received a citation. We also have to ask what the teenager was looking for there. The teenager said [on social media] that she was aiding the gunmen to observe the IDF forces like other Palestinian youths via Telegram. She and the gunman were about 100 meters south of the force.

The exchange of fire in which the Palestinian girl was killed took place last night in Jenin while the security forces were carrying out an operation to arrest fugitives there. Palestinian media reported that she was injured when taking footage of the forces from a rooftop. The first reports of her death came around midnight between Sunday and Monday. As part of the operation In Jenin, three people wanted for terrorist activities were arrested, including one suspected of planning to carry out attacks and had access to weapons. After the arrest of the three, violent riots erupted, which included shooting fire and hurling explosive charges at various ranges at the security forces, who responded by shooting at the armed men.

Instructions for Terrorist Groups: How to Use Minors for Observation and Information-Gathering

The Telegram channel “Jenin Al-Qassam,” which serves as a central source of information for the armed groups in the area of Jenin, published on April 10, 2022, instructions for the mujahideen (“Jihad fighters”), which included a section dealing with the “use of children and residents to conduct visual observation and information-gathering.”

Screenshot from the Telegram channel “Jenin Al-Qassam”
The Telegram channel “Jenin Al-Qassam,” which serves armed Palestinian groups in the Jenin region, has published instructions for “Jihad fighters” that deal with the use of children “to conduct visual observation and information gathering.”

The Telegram channel also noted that Jenin has a network of observation units staffed by “young people” assisting terrorist groups by documenting on video and delivering reports about the activities of IDF forces.

Below is the translation of the guidelines document (originally in Arabic):7

To our brothers and the crown of our head, the jihad fighters all over the Jenin district, the city, the village, and the [refugee] camp that stand firm. You must know that nowadays, you are the tip of our spear and sail, and thanks to you, there is hope in us after [our trust in] Allah. From this, we hope, in our eyes, that you stay vigilant and cautious, gain experience and learn from it since there are no more evident conclusions and lessons than those engraved in the blood that was shed, and therefore [you must]:

  • Stay away from phones and social media and find other means of communication
  • Divide roles and avoid gathering together
  • Do not shoot without cover
  • Do not move without cover
  • Be alert for [IDF] snipers
  • Don’t be drawn into the deceptions of the enemy who wants to take you out [of your hiding place] so that you will be a target for snipers
  • Use children and residents to observe and gather information
  • Prepare ambushes
  • Channel them [the IDF force] into a trap
  • [Prepare] a day and night guard plan
  • Be vigilant about being undercover
  • Make use of codes in communication
  • Prepare iron obstacles and barricades against jeeps
  • Avoid improvisation, uncalculated movement, and emotional action
  • When firing from behind cover, nothing will stand out from it but the rifle
  • Do not shoot in bunches
  • Prepare a large cache of explosive charges

The “Jenin al-Qassam” Telegram channel compiles regular reports from people who perform observation missions on IDF forces in the Jenin area and submit in real-time written summaries and video documentation. On March 7, 2022, the channel noted, “we have couriers and observation units, and we see everything. So calm down and don’t spread rumors.”8

On February 18, 2022, Jenin al-Qassam published the following instructions for the young Palestinians who are assigned to observe the activities of the IDF forces in the Jenin area: “Young people, do not take your eyes off the [Israeli] Dotan checkpoint. There are special observation units to monitor Dotan, and the checkpoint is subject to 24-hour observation. We will keep you informed of any new [development]. Monitor [the checkpoints] al-Salam and al-Jalameh. May Allah protect them all.”9

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) book, “Interpretive Guidance on the Notion of Direct Participation in Hostilities under International Humanitarian Law,” stated:10

Continuous combat function requires lasting integration into an organized armed group acting as the armed forces of a non-State party to an armed conflict. Thus, individuals whose continuous function involves the preparation, execution, or command of acts or operations amounting to direct participation in hostilities are assuming a continuous combat function. An individual recruited, trained, and equipped by such a group to continuously and directly participate in hostilities on its behalf can be considered to assume a continuous combat function even before he or she first carries out a hostile act.

The first Children’s Crusade in 1212.
The first Children’s Crusade.
Palestinian camp for children in Jordan, 1970
The first Children’s Crusade was in 1212. Their destination was Palestine, but the crusade ended quickly and tragically. In the 1970s, the Palestine Liberation Organization launched its children’s crusade, but after more than 50 years, it has also been a tragic failure. Palestinian camp for children in Jordan, 1970. (Life Magazine)

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