In 2021, 78 Palestinian children were killed by Israeli forces and armed Israeli citizens, making it the deadliest year for Palestinian youths since 2014, the year the Israeli military carried out a medieval-like siege on Gaza, which left more than 2,200 Palestinians dead, including 551 children.

According to Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP), Israeli forces were responsible for the deaths of 61 Palestinian kids in the Gaza Strip and 15 in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, with another two killed by Israeli settlers, averaging more than six Palestinian children killed per month in the previous year.

[Israel Holds No Space for Palestinian Rights Organizations]

[We Must Maintain the Momentum for Palestine Against Israel’s War Crimes]

17 Palestinian children were shot and killed with live ammunition, but even more disturbing is the fact that at least nine were shot and killed while presenting no direct threat to life or risk of serious injury to Israeli forces or civilians. This not only constitutes extrajudicial murder but is also considered a war crime.

Killings by both soldiers and settlers take place within a culture of impunity.

Worse – killings by both soldiers and settlers take place within a culture of impunity – as illustrated by the Israeli government’s move to consider human rights groups that document the deaths of Palestinian children as “terrorist organizations,” including DCIP, a move described by the United Nations as a “frontal attack on the Palestinian human rights movement, and on human rights everywhere.”

Ayed Abu Eqtaish, accountability program director at DCIP, said this and the international community’s lack of political will to hold Israeli officials accountable will allow soldiers to “continue to unlawfully kill Palestinian children with impunity.”

Palestinian boys throwing stones at an Israeli tank in 2003 Saif Dahlah AFP

Palestinian boys throwing stones at an Israeli tank in 2003 (Saif Dahlah, AFP)

Unfortunately, 2021 is no anomaly or blip on the radar. 2022 and every year to follow is destined to produce even greater numbers of shot and killed Palestinian children, given the Israeli military’s revision of its “open-fire” policies for the occupied West Bank.

“IDF begins allowing troops to shoot at fleeing rock-throwers.”

In December 20, 2021, a Times of Israel article titled “IDF begins allowing troops to shoot at fleeing rock-throwers,” reported that this policy revision officially permits soldiers to fire at Palestinians who throw rocks at cars, even if he or she no longer presents an immediate or direct threat to Israeli soldiers or civilians.

Needless to say, there is nothing more cowardly and grotesque than shooting unarmed civilians in the back, but this is Israel, where war criminality goes unpunished and international efforts to independently investigate said crimes are routinely blocked by the United States and many of its Western democratic allies.

Moreover, international law, as it relates to the use of force and firearms by security forces, could hardly be misconstrued as ambiguous. The Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders (1990) states plainly, “Law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defense or defense of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life.”

And it’s not like Israel can hide behind claims of ignorance, since the United Nations warned Israel in 2018 that it had “reasonable ground to believe” that Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including possible war crimes, by shooting and killing unarmed Palestinian civilians during the Great Return March protests of 2018 and 2019.

Over the course of 86 weeks, starting on March 30, 2018, Israeli soldiers shot and killed 234 Palestinians and injured another 6,106 with live ammunition, many of whom were forced to have limbs amputated, according to the UN.

“Particularly alarming is the targeting of children and persons with disabilities.”

“There can be no justification for killing and injuring journalists, medics, and persons who pose no imminent threat of death or serious injury to those around them. Particularly alarming is the targeting of children and persons with disabilities,” said Sara Hossain, chair of the UN Commission Inquiry into 2018 Gaza Protests. “Many young persons’ lives have been altered forever. 122 people have had a limb amputated since March 30 last year. Twenty of these amputees are children.”

Worryingly, Israeli forces have stepped up their operations in the West Bank during the past couple of months, including raids on the village of Burqa, located on the outskirts of Nablus.  On December 20, they left 67 injured from steel-coated rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation, after shooting and wounding eight Palestinians the previous day.

Neither of these raids was reported in the Israeli news media. Phil Weiss, a long-time commentator on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for Mondoweiss, observed that Israeli forces have a proven track record of injuring Palestinians to “mollify settlers,” which is why he believes changes to the military’s rules of engagement have been made to “bribe the settlers.”

“Where we used to fire gas grenades or rubber [coated bullets], we now shoot Ruger [bullets] or live fire.”

Weiss cites former Brigadier-General Tamir Yadai, who reportedly told settlers in 2015, “We’ve been a bit tougher with the people [Palestinians] around here. Where we used to fire gas grenades or rubber [coated bullets], we now shoot Ruger [bullets] or live fire.”

That same year, IDF Colonel Yisrael Shomer killed a fleeing Palestinian teenager, shooting him in the back after the teen had thrown a rock at the officer’s car. Shomer was censured for the incident, but not because he shot and killed a child who posed no immediate threat to him, but because he broke military protocol by discharging his weapon while running, instead of stopping and aiming properly.

The Israeli military’s newly revised open-fire policy guarantees a dramatic spike in these kinds of incidents, or what are more accurately described as war crimes.

If 2021 was an annus horribilis for Palestinian children, then 2022 promises to usher in a new era of horror.