On July 17, 2014, three Palestinian children from the Shabir family were killed in an Israeli air strike on Sabra, Gaza. Their deaths are neither rare nor the most recent in Israel’s war against Palestinian children. As of this writing, the total Palestinian death count stands at 301, including 72 children, 24 women, and 18 elderly people, with more than 2,000 wounded. Since the start of Operation Protective Edge on July 8, approximately 1 in 5 of those killed in Gaza are children.
A high proportion of dead Palestinian kids should surprise no one, including Israeli authorities – in the tiny Gaza Strip, half of the population of 1.8 million is under the age of 18. As Human Rights Watch’s Bill Van Esveld put it, “If you are going to attack civilian structures in densely populated areas, of course you are going to see children killed.” With exit and entry controlled by the closely aligned governments of Egypt and Israel, escape from Gaza is impossible, and the chances of being killed by merciless, Israeli precision weaponry are extremely high.
Most of those Palestinian children killed have died in the one place where their safety should be assured: their own homes. These homes are not military installations, or terrorist cells. They are not hideouts for Hamas fighters or staging grounds for rocket launches into Israel. What they are, instead, are places where children run, play, eat, and sleep. They are places where fishermen, business owners, doctors, and nurses raise their families and make plans for the future.
Under international law, they are the epitome of illegitimate military targets, as they should be. During times of war, with soldiers on the ground, war planes overhead, and battleships off the coast, home is the only place children have left to hide. No knock-on-the-roof warning, text message, or phone call, all strategies adopted by the Israeli government to supposedly “urge” civilians to leave their homes, can ensure these attacks satisfy the principles of distinction and proportionality, which determine the legitimacy of attacks against civilian lives and property.
The following images of family and friends mourning the Shabir children, killed while sleeping in their home, were captured by Palestinian photographer Mohammed Zaanoun.