Children mean an age of innocence, natural purity and a promising future generation. This is the popular view. The internationally-accepted definition describes a child as anyone under the age of 18. In the occupied Palestinian territories, though, Israel regards Palestinian children as criminals who must be assaulted, locked up or killed, along with their families. Palestinian children are being deprived of their childhood by Israel's brutal military occupation. The apartheid state is still killing them.
The decision to kill Palestinian children is not a spur of the moment thing, and did not begin with the cold-blooded killing of 12-year-old Muhammad Al-Durra in the Gaza Strip on 30 December, 2000, while he was in his father's arms and in front of the whole world. Nor will it end with last week's killing of 14-year-old Muhammad Rizk Shehadeh in Al-Khader, south of Bethlehem. Israel and its occupation have a long history of killing Palestinian children. It is a criminal record of which it should be ashamed.
"When peace comes," former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir is alleged to have said, "we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons." Whether she actually said this or not, it encapsulates the importance placed by Israel on targeting Palestinian children, either for arrest or death. Israel's prisons have always held dozens of Palestinian children aged 17 and under.
Israel has killed at least 2,200 Palestinian children since 2000. Sometimes they are shot; sometimes they are wounded and left to bleed to death; sometimes they are targeted by bombs and missiles. Last year alone Israel killed 61 children in the besieged Gaza Strip, and 17 in the occupied West Bank. None of them apparently posed any threat to the occupation authorities, unless their innocent laughter angered Israel and made it fear for the future with an emerging generation which believes in the cause of liberation and the end of the occupation.
The killing of Muhammad Shehadeh was a crime that revealed the extent of Zionist brutality. According to eyewitness accounts, Israeli soldiers used live ammunition and shot directly at the child; they wounded him and prevented an ambulance and paramedics from reaching him. They then took him to an unknown destination before announcing that he had died. What is noteworthy about this crime is that a video exists which shows an Israeli officer threatening to kill the boy: "I want to liquidate you," said the soldier as he reminded him about two Palestinians killed by another officer recently and indicated that his fate will be the same.
This reflects Israel's contempt for international laws and conventions. The callous nature of the crime alone is sufficient to warrant the prosecution of the occupation authorities. We know that will never happen, though, due to the complete lack of any political will internationally, which actually encourages and emboldens Israel to commit more heinous crimes.
Shehadeh's murder was condemned by all Palestinian factions and human rights institutions. Calls have been made for an international investigation of Israeli crimes against Palestinian children. There were also demands for the Palestinian Authority to redouble its efforts to prosecute Israeli leaders.
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It is through such behaviour that Israel wants to terrorise the younger generation of Palestinians and make them scared to resist the occupation. It wants to create a weak generation that does not believe in the Palestinian cause and will not make sacrifices to liberate the land from Israeli occupation.
Israel is misjudging the situation, though. This generation will be stronger and even more committed to its land, legitimate rights and love for Palestine. They are witnesses to its crimes, arrogance and brutality, and most have suffered at Israel's hands directly. They will not rest until their land is free.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 27 February 2022
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.