In one of its most shocking reports on the Israeli-Palestinian war, Amnesty International today condemns both sides in the conflict for their “utter disregard” for the lives of children – 250 of them Palestinian and 72 Israeli – who have been killed over the past year.
In a 29-page report containing some of the most painful evidence amassed on child-killing in the occupied territories and Israel, the organisation blames Israel for “excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force” and “reckless shooting” in residential areas, and Palestinians for “direct and indiscriminate attacks”, including suicide bombings.
The solemn list of dead children that Amnesty has collected shows just how ingrained child-killing has become. There is Sami Jazzar, shot in the head by an Israeli soldier on the eve of his 12th birthday in Gaza, 11-year-old Khalil Mughrabi, killed by an Israeli sniper in Gaza – one of his friends survived after being shot in the testicles by a high-velocity round – and 10-year-old Riham al-Ward, killed in her Jenin schoolyard by an Israeli tank shell.
Then there are Raaya and Hemda, aged 14 and two, killed with their parents by a Palestinian suicide bomber in a Jerusalem pizzeria, Shalhevet Pass – just 10 months old – shot by a Palestinian sniper in Hebron, and Avia Malka, killed by Palestinians who fired on and threw grenades at cars in Netanya. She was nine months old.
Amnesty’s condemnation has rarely been so scathing. “The pattern of killings of children which has become so entrenched and widespread in the past two years developed against a background of impunity for the perpetrators of such crimes,” it says.
Despite repeated claims to the contrary: “No judicial investigation is known to have been carried out into any of the killings of children by members of the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] in the occupied territories, even in cases where Israeli government officials have stated publicly that investigations would be carried out.” None of the Israeli soldiers responsible for these crimes is known to have been brought to justice, Amnesty says.
It also attacks Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority for imprisoning militants for political purposes rather than submitting them to fair trials for the killing of children. It says the assertion by Palestinian armed groups that international law imposes no constraints on them is untrue. “No violations by the Israeli army, no matter their scale or gravity, can ever justify the targeting and killing of Israeli children or any other civilians by Palestinian groups.”
In the first seven months of this year, more than 100 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli gunfire, 48 per cent of them 12 years old or younger. Amnesty pulls no punches about who is to blame. The majority of these children, it says, “were killed when the IDF randomly opened fire, or shelled or bombarded residential neighbourhoods in Palestinian towns and villages. Most of these children were killed when there was no exchange of fire and in circumstances in which the lives of the soldiers were not at risk.”
The most terrible incident – praised by the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, at the time as a “great success” – was the attack by Israel on Salah Shehada, a Hamas activist, which also slaughtered nine children along with eight adults. Their names give a terrible reality to this bloodbath: 18-month old Ayman Matar, three-year-old Mohamed Matar, five-year-old Diana Matar, four-year-old Sobhi Hweiti, six-year-old Mohamed Hweiti, 10-year-old Ala Matar, 15-year-old Iman Shehada, 17-year-old Maryam Matar. And Dina Matar. She was only two months old. An Israeli air force pilot dropped a one-ton bomb on their homes from an American-made F-16 aircraft on 22 July.
Amnesty also highlights the carnage at the Dolphinarium nightclub in Tel Aviv on 1 June last year when a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 21 people, of whom 12 were under 18. They included 15-year-old Raisa Namirovsky, 14-year-old Maria Tagilchev, 15-year-old Yevgenia Dorfman, 15-year-old Kastanada Talker, 16-year-old Yulia Nelimov, Anya Kazachkov and Mariana Medvedenko, both aged 16, and Marina Berkovski. Marina had gone to the club to celebrate her 17th birthday.
Amnesty says if international monitors had been deployed on the ground – and Israel has repeatedly refused to allow this – many of the children’s lives might have been spared. What the international organisation does not say, but which its report makes abundantly clear, is that children have become “fair game” for both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian war. Innocence, as usual, has been trampled by two brutal antagonists.