Perhaps the most shocking news of the last terrible few days in and around Jerusalem was the revelation that the Palestinian who shot two Israelis on Saturday was only 13-years-old. Muhammad Aliyat from the Silwan district of Jerusalem used a pistol to shoot and seriously wound an Israeli father and son. A gunboy rather than a gunman. He seemed to be acting alone rather than as the member of any militant group.

That shooting came in the wake of a Palestinian killing seven worshippers outside a synagogue in the Neve Yaakov district on Friday evening. It in turn followed the killing of nine Palestinians on Thursday in an Israeli military raid on Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank.

Seven or eight of the nine Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in Jenin ( the number depends on the account you read) were fighters in Palestinian military groups. Two of those killed were teenagers  - 17-year-old Abdullah Marwan Musa and 16-year-old Wasim Amjad Abu Jaes. It looks certain that at least one of them, and possibly both, were members of armed Palestinian factions.

This raises the awful moral dilemma of how to deal with children who take up arms. It feels painful to say it but it seems to me that once they are holding a gun they can no longer expect to be treated as children. They have to be tackled in the same way as any other terrorist.

Of course everything should be done to avoid getting into that position in the first place. It underlines the need to at least move in the direction of some kind of peaceful resolution of the conflict. And, if child terrorists are captured alive, there is the possibility of treating them differently from adult ones.

Naturally not all the Palestinian children who get killed in the conflict are armed combatants. Often such children get caught in the crossfire between Israeli and Palestinian forces. Sometimes they are inadvertently killed by rockets launched by Islamist groups such as Hamas. They are also often placed in precarious positions.

But there is no evidence, despite frequent claims to the contrary, that Israel seeks out Palestinian children to kill. When children get killed by Israeli forces, as tragically they sometimes do, it is not the result of a deliberate policy.

Indeed Friday’s Jenin raid provides a prime example of the unbelievable cynicism is which child death is manipulated by Islamists and anti-Israel activists. They mourn the killing of children but, at least when speaking to western audiences, typically avoid mentioning when they are military combatants. This of course gives an extremely misleading impression of who is morally culpable.

It is apparent from following the conflict closely that there are often – literally –two contrasting images used to illustrate the death of each child combatant. Photos of innocent-looking fresh-faced teenagers are typically used for the benefit of western audiences. But for other Palestinian or Islamic audiences the same individuals are shown carrying automatic weapons and hailed as martyrs. The same teenager is presented as a fragile child in one shot and a brave armed resistance fighter against Zionist oppression in another. Such cynicism knows no bounds.

The result of such fiendish manipulation is to rehabilitate the old anti-Semitic trope of Jews as child-killers. Back in the Middle Ages the poisonous idea of Jews killing non-Jewish babies, known as the blood libel, was central to religious Jew-hatred. Nowadays anti-Israel activists repeat time and again that Israel is guilty of killing children. It is a central theme of their propaganda. At the very least they are recycling this old anti-Semitic prejudice for their advantage.

This creates a cycle of almost unbelievable depravity. On the one hand, Islamist groups recruit children as combatants. Then, if such children get killed, they are presented to the western public as innocent victims of Israeli child murderers. This one-sided portrayal is then held up as evidence of the Jewish propensity for killing children.

Generally there is no need to make explicit anti-Semitic comments in such propaganda. It is communicated with a nod, wink and frequent references to Israelis as child murderers.

It is hard to imagine a more depraved approach to the problem.

Photo: "Islamic Jihad Kindergarten Graduation in Gaza" by Israel Defense Forces is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.