Despite increased media attention, there is nothing new about Israel targeting Palestinian youth

Israel/Palestine
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There was a noticeable increase in British coverage of Israel’s occupation in January, with The Guardian and the BBC running stories on the string of recent killings by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and Israel’s refusal to co-operate with the UN’s Human Rights Council. Whilst greater coverage of Israel’s killings in the occupied Palestinian territories is welcome, it must be noted that these events are not new in the slightest.

These killings include a 21-year old student from Hebron was shot and killed on her way to college. The fifth unarmed Palestinian killed in 13 days, Lubna Muneer Hanash and her friends were said to be walking through al-Aroub refugee camp before armed men drew up in a civilian car and got out, firing four bullets, one of them the fatal shot that killed her. Whilst the army and police spokesmen have claimed they were ‘returning fire’ from petrol bombs and that evidence could be found at the scene, eyewitness have reported Lubna Hanash was unarmed and killed in cold blood. Her killing, along with several others, prompted the IDF’s military commander to warn soldiers about the use of live fire.

In December, the IDF was responsible for killing Muhammad Ziad Awad Salaymah, who was gunned down in Hebron on his 17th birthday after supposedly brandishing a toy gun. Once again, the killing of a minor was justified as self-defence. Similar to the case of Lubna Hanash, Salaymah’s family have denied he was carrying a toy gun, and that Israelis held the body from the Palestinian Red Crescent for two hours, suggesting they had time enough to plant one. The Guardian also claims footage shows Salaymah being shot as he left the scene.

There is a long record of this kind of behaviour by the occupying Israeli forces. South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council, whilst studying apartheid in Israel, documented that during the final months of 2004 numerous killings were made by the IDF directed against students and children. Taking this small window of violence, we can see the character of the killings emerging.

On 7 September 2004, a ten-year old girl sitting at her desk in an UN Relief and Works Agency school in Khan Yunis camp was struck in the head by an Israeli bullet and died. This aggression was repeated a month later, when on October 3rd an Israeli tank drove through a school with children still in it, allegedly using it as a firing position. Twelve days later on the 15th of October, yet another child was killed whilst at their desk in a UN school. Two months after these incidents, a whole school was subjected to gunfire from Israeli forces which wounded no less than seven children, the eldest of them just nine years old.

The targeting of children whilst they sit in their classrooms, as depicted by the above examples, is a particularly serious offence, and the wider picture of Palestinian minors killed during the occupation is deeply distressing.

The Office for the Co-Ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) records at least 703 children killed by the IDF since January 2005 alone, whilst life is particularly bleak for Palestinian children in Gaza, with studies by Queen’s University Belfast estimating nearly all children in the besieged strip of land suffer from psychological trauma as a result of the Israeli occupation.

By far the deadliest period for Palestinian minors was during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. This assault on the Gaza strip in late 2008 and early 2009 resulted in the deaths of over 300 Palestinian children, and was recorded in Amnesty International’s report as ’22 Days of Death and Destruction’. The report details that hundreds of these children were killed with highly-accurate weapons, suggesting clear intent:

“Children playing on the roofs of their homes or in the street and other civilians going about their daily business, as well as medical staff attending the wounded were killed in broad daylight by Hellfire and other highly accurate missiles launched from helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, and by precision projectiles fired from tanks.”

It is imperative to see the continuing killing of the young in light of the Israeli occupation’s long record of brutality towards Palestinian youth. The same Amnesty report highlights how targeted schools were smouldered with burning white phosphorous, which constitutes a war crime, something which Israeli authorities continue to deny. Again in the recent attack on Gaza in November 2012, a further 34 children were killed by Israeli weapons.

When the previous two months ‘mistakes’ like the deaths of Lubna Hanash and Ziad Salaymah are woven into the long and repetitive narrative of state killings with highly precise and accurate weaponry, it is evident Israel is merely continuing its policy of disregard towards Palestinian life, a policy particularly heinous as it all too frequently includes the young, defenceless and innocent.

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