Editorial

Israel Isn't Telling Its Soldiers That Shooting Children Is a Crime. It Has To

Sponge-tipped bullets.
Emil Salman

Malek Issa came home from school on Saturday. First he called his mother and asked her to come get him, but she said it was nice out and he could walk home with his younger sisters.

Issa, 9, grew up in Isawiyah, the East Jerusalem neighborhood the police have targeted for abuse. His father, Wahel, told Haaretz’s Nir Hasson Sunday, “I turn my home into a prison for my kids because of all the problems in the village.” That’s how he tries to protect them from harm.

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When his son returned from school, police were in the neighborhood, apparently to arrest a resident. A crowd gathered around the officers, who began shooting. Residents say no one was throwing stones at the time. Malek suffered serious injuries to his head and face when he was hit by a sponge-tipped steel bullet. There are fears for his sight, and he may also have suffered brain damage. He was admitted to Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Hospital, Mount Scopus, then transferred to Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem.

The police said, “During an operation by the police in Isawiyah, riot-control measures were employed during which a minor, aged 9, was wounded. The circumstances are being examined.” The examination of circumstances by the police is familiar to everyone: Nothing will come of it. A police officer shoots a boy, and the matter doesn’t even reach the stage of a real investigation. That’s how it is when the victim is a Palestinian, even if he’s a young child.

In the past several years, hundreds of East Jerusalem residents have been wounded by sponge-tipped bullets shot by police. Dozens have lost an eye. In 2014, the police even replaced their old sponge-tipped bullets with harder ones that cause more-serious injuries.

At Hadassah Ein Karem, Mohammed Shatawi, 14, of Qaddum, is hospitalized in critical condition because soldiers shot him in the head with a sponge-tipped bullet. A relative of his, Abd el-Rahman Shatawi, 10, is in a vegetative state at the rehabilitation hospital in Beit Jala, in the West Bank, after soldiers shot him in the head with a live round. These children and many others are victims of the light trigger fingers of Israeli soldiers and policemen. When it comes to Palestinians, there’s no difference between children and adults as far as the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Police are concerned. They’re all potential terrorists. The contempt for Palestinian lives is the same, whether they’re adults or children.

The only way to end this intolerable practice of shooting children – who clearly didn’t endanger the lives of the people who shot them – is to prosecute the responsible parties. As long as police make do with empty media statements about an “inquiry,” while the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, asked about a child who was shot, merely says it’s “aware of the allegation,” children will continue to be shot without let or hindrance. There’s nobody to make it clear to soldiers and police officers that when they shoot children, they are committing a crime.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.