Bethlehem, occupied West Bank – Fadel Tamimi feared for the worst as he rushed into the hospital.
His 15-year-old son, Mohammed, had just been brought there after being shot point-blank in the face by Israeli forces, during last week’s protests in Nabi Saleh.
“I met him at the hospital after he was injured. My wife fainted three times when she saw him,” Tamimi told Al Jazeera. “The situation was so horrible.”
The bullet entered the teen’s face below his nose, breaking his jaw before getting lodged in his skull. After undergoing a complex surgery, he was placed in a medically-induced coma.
Seventy hours later, Mohammed woke up.
“We didn’t think he would make it. I felt like I had lost my son,” said Fadel.
Mohammed is one of at least seven Palestinian minors to have suffered serious injuries by Israeli forces since protests broke out across the occupied Palestinian territories, following a US decision earlier this month to formally recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, according to a new report by Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP).
Since US President Donald Trump‘s announcement on December 6, the group has also documented a spike in military detentions of Palestinian children, with the number of minors held in one Ramallah-based detention centre more than doubling compared with the previous month.
‘Trigger-happy Israeli soldiers’
According to the UN, at least 345 Palestinian children were injured between December 5-18 in the wake of Trump’s declaration.
A separate tally by the Palestinian Red Crescent said that nearly 3,600 Palestinians were injured during protests, 729 of whom were wounded with rubber bullets and at least 192 by live rounds.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Ayed Abu Eqtaish, DCIP’s accountability programme director, said the most worrying aspect of Israel’s crackdown on recent protests was its “misuse of so-called less lethal crowd-control weapons”. These include rubber bullets, sponge bullets and tear gas.
In its report, the DCIP documented two cases in which a Palestinian minor was seriously injured by a rubber bullet.
The first one is about a 15-year-old, identified by DCIP as Qassem K, who was shot with a rubber bullet during clashes in Nablus on December 20. The bullet fractured his skull, resulting in a “critical” injury, the group said.
Mohammed Tamimi was the second serious case. DCIP said the bullet caused “severe bleeding in his brain” before being removed after two operations.
Following the initial shock, the teen’s family is now calmer.
“The doctors say he is getting better,” said Fadel, adding that Mohammed had begun to eat and drink.
“His situation was so bad that my wife and I did not believe we would receive any good news about his condition. But I am so thankful that we did not lose him.”
The use of rubber bullets as a crowd-control weapon was abandoned in Israel and Jerusalem more than a decade ago, after an investigation into the killings of at least 12 Palestinian citizens of Israel in 2000.
They were replaced by sponge-tipped, plastic bullets. However, the use of both rubber and plastic ammunition has been criticised by rights groups for causing serious injuries and deaths.
In the occupied West Bank, meanwhile, Israeli forces continue to use rubber bullets, despite banning them in Israel and Jerusalem.
Eqtaish, of DCIP, said Israeli forces often violate their own regulations on these weapons by shooting Palestinians at close-range and above the waist, which “leads to serious, sometimes permanent, injuries and may even result in death”.
According to the group’s report, two 14-year-old Palestinians were also severely wounded by Israeli forces in the besieged Gaza Strip after they were shot in the head with a tear gas canister.
One of the teens, Mohammed al-Farani, experienced internal bleeding in his brain and doctors were forced to remove his right eye.
“It was so painful, I don’t know how to describe it. There was a lot of blood running down my face,” Farani was quoted by DCIP as saying.
While Eqtaish said that Israel has typically relied on “crowd-control weapons” to quash protests over Trump’s controversial move, at least three Palestinian children were also injured by live ammunition.
Two of these children were shot in the face, the report said, with one 16-year-old suffering “skull fractures and vision loss” after being shot above his right eye.
Eqtaish said the group was “deeply concerned” about Israel’s “excessive use of force employed by trigger-happy Israeli soldiers”, adding that these violations occur “in a climate of impunity that encourages such a heavy-handed approach”.
Without soldiers facing accountability, Israel “signals tacit approval for killing or seriously injuring children”, said Eqtaish.
‘Detentions and ill-treatment of minors’
According to DCIP’s report, there was also a significant uptick in children being put under Israeli military detention since the latest wave of protests erupted.
Eqtaish said 77 Palestinian minors arrived at Israel’s Ofer military prison, located in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, in the first 19 days of December, compared with 35 in all of November.
“The majority of cases we document involves the ill-treatment, sometimes amounting to torture, of Palestinian minors and their denial of basic, fair trial rights in Israel’s military court system,” said Eqtaish.
One prominent case that received widespread attention was that of Fawzi al-Junaidi. A photo showing the 16-year-old blindfolded and being dragged by more than 20 soldiers in Hebron went viral, and became a symbol for Israel’s use of excessive force on Palestinians.
Junaidi, who is now facing charges of throwing stones, was arrested a few days after protests broke out.
Mohammed, Fawzi’s father, told Al Jazeera the family was finally able to speak to him on Friday, and said his son had been “tortured a lot”.
Fawzi told a DCIP lawyer he was “repeatedly beaten and verbally abused” for almost two hours.
“When I arrived at the checkpoint I remember my face bleeding, mostly my lips because of the beating. They took me to a room, knocked me down to the floor, and began kicking me all over my body,” Fawzi told the group.
According to its report, out of 520 cases of Palestinian children being detained by Israel between 2012 and 2016, 72 percent experienced physical violence and 66 percent “faced verbal abuse and humiliation”.
Ahed Tamimi, Mohammed Tamimi’s 16-year-old cousin, was also detained in an overnight raid on her home on December 19, followed by her mother and cousin. Eqtaish said about 45 percent of all children are detained during night raids.
Israel’s detention and ill-treatment of Palestinian minors often rupture the cohesion of Palestinian families.
Fawzi started working after school at age 11 to help his family, after his father sustained a leg injury that left him disabled and his mother developed a terminal illness.
Last year, he dropped out of school completely.
“Fawzi breathed life into our family. He sacrificed his schooling and much of his life so that we could continue as a family,” said Mohammed al-Junaidi.
“He is suffering so much now. They hurt him. I feel so sad for him, but I can’t do anything for him. We have no choice but to rely on God’s mercy.”
According to the UN, Palestinians experience an almost 100 percent conviction rate in Israel’s military courts.
As of November, 311 Palestinian children were being held in Israeli prisons, according to Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer.