The Age of Conflict: Rethinking Childhood, Law, and Age Through the Israeli-Palestinian Case

Law & Childhood Studies - Current Legal Issues, Vol. 14, 2011

29 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2010 Last revised: 15 Sep 2016

See all articles by Hedi Viterbo

Hedi Viterbo

Queen Mary University of London

Date Written: December 1, 2010


Law tends to define the term ‘child’ solely as a matter of age, and yet age has remained relatively unexplored and undertheorized. The present article provides a contextualized investigation of the law-childhood-age triangle and some of its central complexities. The context chosen for this study is the meeting between Israeli criminal law (domestic and military) and minors in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The first part of the article explains how Israeli law concurrently constructs two different childhoods along national lines – Israeli and Palestinian – in the same territory. However, notwithstanding this contingency of childhood and age on nationality, the legal construction of childhood and age is much more complex than unequivocally echoing the dominant national imaginary. The second part of the article illustrates this by pointing to the ways in which contrasting demarcations of childhood, different dimensions of age, various meanings assigned to age, and conflicting age norms – all render age and childhood elusive. I identify and examine four manifestations of this elusiveness in Israeli military law (which applies to Palestinians): the ambiguity of legal age terminology; the legal conception of youth as aggravating; the punishment of minors according to what is seen as their physical age (rather than according to their chronological age); and the simultaneous application of different ages to the same minor. The third part of the article discusses the anxieties and confusion evoked within the legal system in cases in which law’s subjects, Israeli settlers or Palestinians, were seen as obscuring their age.

In conclusion I point, among other things, to the resonance of the issues discussed in this article with other contexts outside Israel-Palestine. In light of the significant commonalities among these different contexts, I argue that the Israeli-Palestinian case can be read as a ‘super experiment’, through which to rethink how age functions and is utilized in the legal fabrication of childhood.

Keywords: childhood, age, nationality, elusiveness, body, criminal law, military, Israel, Palestine

JEL Classification: K10, K14, K19, K30, K33, K39, K40, K42, K49, J7, H56, N15

Suggested Citation

Viterbo, Hedi, The Age of Conflict: Rethinking Childhood, Law, and Age Through the Israeli-Palestinian Case (December 1, 2010). Law & Childhood Studies - Current Legal Issues, Vol. 14, 2011, Available at SSRN: or

Hedi Viterbo (Contact Author)

Queen Mary University of London

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