During the Cold War, singer/songwriter Sting performed the poignant song, “Russians.” Despite the rhetoric that the Russians were cold, these verses were profound.
Now, amidst the violence in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, many Israelis are using this same rhetoric against Palestinians. Consider Meirav Eilon Shahar, consul for communications and public affairs at the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles, who sent out e-mails encouraging Israeli supporters to cast votes in the MSNBC photo contest for anything but the famous photo of 12-year-old Muhammad AlDura. Aldura was shot dead while huddling behind his father in Gaza. Shahar says the photo symbolizes “children led into the cross fire by their own parents for publicity purposes.”
Based on this rationale, one can blame Israeli settler parents for loading their kids up on the bus that was bombed. After all, how could these parents allow their kids to ride on a bus, which would be traveling through areas of potential violent clashes?
Like parents everywhere else in the world, Palestinian parents do not always have control over the choices their kids make. Nor do they always know what they’re up to. In fact, these kids are not asking for permission to throw stones. As little Ahmed pointed out in a CNN report, on that particular day he got together with his schoolmate friends to figure out their plans after school. He pointed out that his parents thought he was going elsewhere, but that he didn’t care what they thought. Sound familiar?
He said he wanted to fight for his country. And so do the other youth who see the humiliation their parents have experienced under Israeli occupation. They simply don’t want more of the same for themselves.
Fred Brauer, the first American national to serve as officer in the United Nations Reliefs and Work Agency — a UN program created for Palestinian refugees, expands on this notion. He was present during the first Intifada (1987-1993).
“While sitting in the living room sipping coffee in the afternoon, talking about the latest closure of Birzeit University and the setting up of off-campus seminars, etc., we heard shouting and eventually the firing of tear gas and plastic coated metal bullets.
“My friend’s 12 year-old son started for the front door. He was promptly told to sit down, a paternal order he reluctantly observed. When the street sounds grew louder, the boy leapt to the door. This time he opened it. He paused at his father’s insistence that he stay in the house and said: ‘Father, if you had gone out when you were 12, I would not need to go now.’
The desire for change and the youthful feeling of invincibility has resulted in so many Palestinian children being killed in this conflict. Those who haven’t are subjected to physical and psychological injuries that will scar them forever. It is inconceivable that any parent enjoys seeing their child become a paraplegic. It is further inconceivable that parents want their children to feel unsafe and unprotected. Yet, this has become rather commonplace among Palestinian children since Al Dura’s father was unable to protect him from Israeli gunfire.
It seems that in addition to blaming the deaths on parents, Israelis are willfully failing to mention the Israeli Defense Force’s (IDF) position on children. In a recent interview of an IDF sharpshooter in the Israeli Ha’aretz newspaper, the marksman states that any Palestinian child demonstrating who is over the age of 12 may be shot. “He’s not a child any more, he’s already after his bar mitzvah.” Thirteen is bar mitzvah age. If children 12 or under have been shot, then the marksman brushed them off as “mistakes.”
Brauer further reflected on the attitude of the IDF. On one particular day, he witnessed a young Palestinian teen being picked up outside of his house. Brauer said that the trip for the young boy would take 1 é hours to go less than one mile to the IDF camp. During this time, the young boy was kicked, beaten and otherwise terrified by the soldiers.
Brauer got out of his own car and ran up to the IDF jeep. He asked the leader, “Why this one? He was doing nothing. I saw it and you know it.”
According to Brauer, the leader then responded wryly: “O.K. So he didn’t do anything today. But he probably did yesterday or, he definitely will tomorrow. . .so I’ll take him today.”
Many years have since passed and sentiments appear unchanged. No apologies, no remorse, no comprehension that children and parents are suffering. Only blame and accusations. I wonder if Israelis realize that Palestinians love their children, too?
Sherri Muzher is a Freelance writer for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and Former Executive Director of the Council for Palestinian Restitution and Repatriation.