In any situation, particularly that of war, the prevailing ethos is to protect children. But could it be that events have conspired so that the liberal left find themselves unwittingly aiding and supporting the death of children in war situations?
Surely not? While views might differ between the left and right as to right and wrong, aggressor or victim, in any war situation – on the subject of children both sides roundly agree: children must be protected at all costs in conflict situations. And the left, as usually the stronger defender of the weaker, more vulnerable parties in any conflict situation – though some might argue that claim – would as a result be the stronger defender of children; though a close call, and the one area where left and right views often correlate. So how could this terrible anomaly have arisen?
The first part of that puzzle came to mind when I recently viewed a programme on Nicholas Winton, who saved several hundred Jewish children from the holocaust in Czechoslovakia – often referred to as ‘the English Schindler’. There were many poignant moments in the programme, but one that stuck strongly in my mind was how these Jewish parents had sacrificed everything to save their children: queuing for countless hours, filling in forms, getting papers stamped, raising the necessary money, then finally the tearful goodbyes – knowing that they’d probably never see their children again and their own lives would soon be lost. The ultimate sacrifice.
At the time, I was also involved in debates regarding the growing number of knife attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank, with defences and retaliations leading to a number of teen deaths, with the father of one 16-year-old Palestinian boy who murdered a young Israeli mother boldly proclaiming, “I am proud of him”. The stark contrast stuck in my mind – that one party would go to such lengths to protect their children, while the other would so readily sacrifice their lives. If it was just one isolated incident, it could be put down to the strange aberrations of one parent, but there are numerous videos online of fathers at Hamas rallies proclaiming how they’d happily sacrifice their children for ‘martyr’ actions against Israel.
Thankfully, that isn’t the entire picture, with the Palestinian father of the gunman who killed two in a Tel-Aviv bar expressing his horror at the incident: “I am an Israeli citizen, a law-abiding citizen. I heard what my son has done, and I am sorry. I did not educate him to act in that way.” The father was no doubt aiming to be the voice of the 1.7 million Arab-Muslim citizens of Israel – largely ignored when anti-Israel protestors try to portray a purely them-and-us situation and dishonestly sell the ‘apartheid’ tag – who are peaceful and support unity rather than conflict.
But we hear in his voice a sense of plea. In the same way that many parents in the west, upon learning that their kids have become drug addicts, decry that they’d always warned them strongly against drugs, yet in the end the prevailing influences – the streets, pop and rock culture, fellow teens and peer groups – had won out. The prevailing influences in this instance come from the countless Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders praising the attacks, with even the usually moderate Abbas lending his support: “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem. This is pure blood, clean blood, blood on its way to Allah. With the help of Allah, every martyr will be in heaven, and every wounded will get his reward.” Only weeks later when an Israeli couple were killed, PLO official Mahmoud Ismail went on official Palestinian television, PBC, proclaiming their murder to be a fulfilment of Palestinian “national duty.” Faced with that level of encouragement and incitement – running all the way to the top of Palestinian leadership – it’s easy to understand the despair of any parent trying to push back against that tide.
It brought to mind that classic quote from past Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir: “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” Surely the last thing Fatah and Hamas leaders would want is to make the words of Golda Meir bear fruit and appear glaringly true thirty years after the event? Surely too, Palestinian supporters in the West, realizing that much of the current wave of attacks involves incitement of under-age Palestinian teens to attack innocent civilians and in the process often lose their own lives, would shy away from lending their support to such actions? But, sadly, that hasn’t been the case.
Go on social media and you’ll see any number of sites glorifying the deaths of these teens as ‘martyrs’ – though all too often the full details of them being involved in knife attacks prior to being shot and ‘martyred’ are conveniently avoided. The picture painted is that the IDF or Israeli check-point security have killed these teens in unprovoked assaults. Predictably, this then gives rise to righteous outrage and further chants of ‘evil Israelis’ and calls for their destruction.
So while on the face of it, Palestinian teen lives lost will have served little purpose, by the time they’ve been put through the - Al-Jazeera-Electronic-intifada-Palestine-free-river-to-sea – one-way-view editorial machine, they will at least serve a purpose in propaganda terms: Israel will have been further demonized and another victim chalked up on the hate-wall of ‘Palestinian children killed by Israel’. No thought given to the fact that it was various Palestinian leaders – safe in their villas or hotel rooms, their own children safely at school - who incited these teens in the first place to take such drastic actions. But neglecting to mention that fact – along with painting a one-way picture of Israeli aggression and Palestinian victimhood – also serves a purpose: the next Palestinian teen to read these accounts might be sufficiently outraged to take the same action, thereby providing useful cannon fodder for yet another Israel-evil-Palestinian-victim incident report, and the cycle continues.
If it was only western journalists who had picked up on this, I daresay it would hold less credence for Palestinian supporters. But tellingly this is an issue which has also raised concerns in Palestinian circles, with a number leading intellectuals and journalists speaking out, including Hafez Al-Barghouti, former editor of the PA daily and a Fatah Revolutionary Council member. He voiced that these teens were a particularly vulnerable and easily influenced age group, and that their childhood should be protected. He accused a number of Palestinian leaders of "trading in the blood of children" by praising and glorifying these attacks. Palestinian journalist Ihab Al-Jariri of Radio 24 held a similar view: "Those who write theories on Facebook, from behind the safety of a computer monitor, supporting the idea of children carrying out stabbing attacks and encouraging them to do so – should first do it themselves and only then ask the young ones to follow in their footsteps."
The fact that this current wave of renewed violence has been largely fuelled by social media has also been commented on by many newspapers, from Haaretz to The Guardian and New York Times. While four local dailies and eight TV stations give a blow-by-blow account of Israeli-Palestinian violence, the main source of news for Palestinian teens is via Facebook groups that pump out a continuous stream of bloody images and pro-violence slogans. As this cycle of life reflecting-social-media-distorted art/death reached its zenith, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented, "We are seeing a situation in which Osama Bin Laden meets Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder). The incitement on social networks is what is causing the wave of terror."
Israeli citizens too have taken this issue to heart, with more than 20,000 Israelis suing Facebook for "facilitating and encouraging" violence against Jews by allowing Palestinian users to post and share how-to videos on stabbing attacks, as well as violent messages and videos glorifying killers as martyrs. Certainly, the power of the internet and social media should not be underestimated, with it being cited as playing a major part in the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria. But its value then was for militia groups to organize and coordinate – some of it using the ‘dark web’ – not to inspire teens to carry out ‘lone wolf’ attacks. So how and why did this use of young people and teens as a useful and valued spearhead take root in Palestinian society?
To get the answer to this, you have to go back over forty years – to the attack by the PLO on Israeli athletes at Munich. While this certainly gained the Palestinian cause worldwide media attention, it was not in the way they wished. They learned from this that killing non-involved athletes was considered an abhorrent act and as a result had lost them international sympathy. The second series of actions which alerted them to what would gain or lose sympathy in the international arena was the wave of suicide bombings launched against Israel between 1995 and 2006. These targeted mainly civilians, blowing apart men, women and children in cafes, hotels, shopping malls, and on buses. Particular horror was attached to the number of children killed, with one bombing at the Delphinarium Disco specifically targeting young teens: of the 22 killed, the youngest were 13 and 14. These bombings caused outrage in Israel and internationally, alienating many to the Palestinian cause, and shortly after the dividing security wall was built.
Possibly this action was the main kick-start for the largely media-led Palestinian propaganda war that followed – after all, with the divide built and conventional terrorist and suicide-bomber attacks thwarted, what other option was there? Also, since the main banner headline of that propaganda campaign often read, ‘They’re killing our children!’, they could hardly voice that protest – at least with a straight face or without appearing grossly ironic – when their own bombing campaigns were proportionally killing far more children the Israeli side.
But the international outrage caused by the Israeli children killed in these bombing campaigns – even though, out of respect for the dead, Israel rarely if ever showed photos of these corpses – had obviously gone deep into the Palestinian psyche, because it then often played at the forefront of their own propaganda campaigns. Alongside the prerequisite ‘Killing our children’ headlines, gory photos of the victims were displayed, and if the horror of these wasn’t enough, often a blood coated teddy-bear or doll would be strategically placed by the bodies. And as this one-way Israel-demonizing campaign gained momentum, ‘apartheid’ started to be used as a tag for the security divide – even though the suicide bombing campaign had not long finished and so its main purpose should still have been blatantly clear – and the term ‘Nazis’, genocide and comparisons to the holocaust quickly followed.
It was almost as if a conversation had taken place in some electronic intifada or Hamas-central backroom whereby it was felt that labelling Israeli-Jews as ‘child killers’ might not on its own be enough. ‘What else would upset the Jews to be labelled? Racists! Yes, that’s good; having been the victims of racism for so many years, they wouldn’t like that. Ah, Nazis, genocide and holocaust. Brilliant! Comparing them to their main past aggressors and their attempted annihilation… they’ll hate that!’ What probably amazed this back-room bunch was that this rather obvious and infantile name-tagging exercise would ever gain wings outside. “I’m sure that most western journalists, academics and students will see through it and won’t be stupid enough to repeat it.” Most journalists, yes, but not all, and go on any social media site on any given day and you’ll see countless students and supposed academics repeating the same trite name-tags with abandon, not far different to kids – and with the same required intellect level - hurling playground insults. And on some choice days, you’ll even find some politicians stupid enough to repeat the same – particularly if they’re campaigning in Bradford!
But the final component which aided this ‘Child-killer’ labelling campaign came from an unlikely source: the UN. In the eyes of the UN, a ‘child’ is someone under 18 years of age, and it was probably not lost on both Hamas and Fatah that in a number of conflict showdowns, many of those on the front line jeering and throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers were in the 12-18 range. It’s one of the by-products of disaffected youth, particularly in an area of high unemployment in an on/off conflict zone. All that was needed was a tilt on that rudder for those teens to become more involved and aggressive, and they’d become a useful component in the war against Israel. Hamas would never admit to recruiting under-age militants, but there are numerous accounts of youths making up a jeering and rock-throwing front line while adult snipers shoot past them at Israeli soldiers. This provides a dual purpose: cover for their main militants and snipers, and if the young teens got caught in the crossfire, they added to the child-kill statistics aiding the propaganda campaign.
The way in which this was played to advantage can be seen from the statistics of the Gaza war of 2014 and Hamas’s announcements about losses. In this conflict (from UN figures) a total of 2,104 Palestinians died, of which 253 were women and 495 children. Downplaying their own militant losses, Hamas went instantly for the child-killer angle, claiming that the IDF had killed more children than they had militants. At the end of the conflict, Hamas admitted to 500-600 militant losses, whereas Israel claimed it was more than a thousand. So which one of them was right? There were a number of newspaper reports about the high number of male 19-39 year olds amongst casualties which threw doubt on the Hamas claims, but none of these were conclusive.
There’s an old saying in crime investigations, ‘follow the money’. Well, as any seasoned war-journalist will tell you, replace ‘money’ with ‘women’ to properly gauge civilian losses. Mainly because most nations comprise 50% men/50% women, and women generally are not involved in front-line combat – particularly true in Gaza. So by doubling the number of women, 253, you have the likely number of non-involved adult civilian deaths: 506. With the children, from a related Palestinian report, 183 of the 495 killed were female. Double 183 to get the total of non-involved civilian child deaths: 366. Which leaves 129 males unaccounted for, thus ‘involved’ to some degree, no doubt many of them in the aforementioned 12-18 range, since it’s likely those under 12 would have been kept away from the conflict wherever possible.
Deduct the 495 child deaths from the 2,104 overall and you have a total of 1,609 adult deaths. Then take away the 506 non-involved civilian deaths, and you have a total of 1,103 involved in the fighting – indeed, slightly higher than the original figure claimed by Israel. But then on top we have the aforementioned 129 males listed by the UN as ‘children’ (mainly 12-18) involved in the fighting. All this aside from the Israeli claim that Hamas often fired from heavily residential sections, thereby increasing the overall civilian death-toll, and used their tunnels - which could have been used to shelter civilians - solely to protect their munitions and their leaders.
The high number of male casualties can also be seen in the statistics from this current wave of knife attacks. Of the 284 attacks since last September, which has left 31 dead and 348 injured, only 7 of the perpetrators have been female. A number are males in their twenties, but a higher proportion are under 18, with the youngest knife attacker only 11. The one-way-demonizing posts on Facebook are certainly taking their toll, not only in Jewish lives lost, but in the larger number of young Palestinians losing their lives during these attacks – which are then duly published on Facebook to further demonize Israel and incite more attacks. The fact that so many of the attacker-victims are young males has been reported by many journals, with a Haaretz (usually more left-leaning) editorial a month ago commenting, “What kind of a national movement unleashes 13-year-olds to do its dirty work? How does a child sacrifice, or at the very least an after-the-fact justification of child sacrifice, bring honour to the Palestinian cause? Once again, the leaders of Palestinian nationalism have led their people down the long, cruel path of violence, suffering and death.”
Bassem Eid, a leading Palestinian human rights activist, in an editorial at the end of last year, lamented about the lack of good Palestinian leadership in inciting this current wave of violence. And an op-ed tagged to Amnesty International went a step further by looking deeper into the history of child-recruitment for the Palestinian cause, even going as far back as a LIFE magazine cover depicting tiger cubs of 8-11 in full assault gear and armed with automatic weapons at a Jordanian training camp, with a supporting explanation from a leading Palestinian newspaper-illustrator: “I saw for myself how afraid the Israeli soldiers were of the children. A child of ten or eleven had sufficient training to carry and use an RBG rifle. The situation was simple enough. The Israeli tanks were in front of them and the weapon was in their hands. The Israelis were afraid to go into the camps, and if they did, they would only do so in daylight.”
I’m sure that Hamas and the harder-line elements within Fatah might argue that if male youths between 11-18 are keen to be out on the streets at the forefront of conflicts, what can they do to stop them? But the lack of leadership voices urging them to desist – in fact, quite the opposite, urging them to partake and become ‘martyrs’ – tells a different story. And the reverse side of that coin is equally disturbing: if this is largely as a result of disaffected youth in an on/off conflict zone, what incentive is there to improve the lot of that youth, particularly when they can be used as such a worthwhile tool in the conflict against Israel; direct cannon fodder on one level, child-kill statistics to further demonize Israel on another. Which I suppose might go some way to explaining why much of the aid and concrete hasn’t yet found its way into re-building Gaza, it has gone into building more supply and terror tunnels.
The other archly dishonest element in this current wave of attacks is that their founding held no substance in the first place. This originally stemmed from the request of Jewish religious groups to increase the currently restrictive hours that Jews were allowed on the Temple Mount, and that some prayers should also be allowed (on the grounds only, where prayers by non-Muslims are currently forbidden); on the face of it not an unreasonable request, since this is holy ground for Jews also, being the original site for the First and Second Temples. Some radical Muslim groups took exception and called for protesters to heckle Jewish visitors during their existing allowed visiting times. This then led to more widespread protests and the current wave of knife-attacks. However the Knesset and Prime Minister Netanyahu had from the outset made it clear in announcements that they would make no alterations to the existing visiting times or prayer restrictions for Jewish worshippers - but this was roundly ignored by Muslim radicals as they spread the word that the 'Al-Aqsa' was under threat.
But where does the left-wing stand on all of this? That bastion of protection for the innocent and underprivileged, with children – and with good reason – at the pinnacle. If these observations and linked accusations were coming only from Western journalists, you might expect them to do the usual of sticking their fingers in their ears while chanting a repetitive mantra of ‘Hasbara’. But many of these accusations are coming from the core of Palestinian society itself. So now keenly aware of that fact, are they shrinking back from the fray: “I’ll support many things in the name of the Palestinian cause, but I won’t support the use of children in conflict… particularly when it might lead to the death of those children.”
Yet on numerous ‘Palestine-Free’ Facebook sites, amongst the Arabic-named posters talking about the latest young ‘martyrs’ – often linked to a gory image or video - you’ll see any number of Susan’s, Elsa’s, Steve’s or Jose’s, all reading/chanting from the same evil-Israel hymn sheet. Go on their profile pages and you’ll see links to universities in Southampton, Stockholm, Amsterdam or Oakland, while others might be business consultants, computer analysts or health or socialist party workers. A broad spectrum.
Palestinian journalist Ihab Al-Jariri’s comments about those writing on Facebook from behind the safety of a computer monitor start to hold a more callous resonance, as those writing from cities in the West are not only far removed from the conflict zones geographically, but from reality too by the very one-way-information nature of these sites. Most of these sites are private or group membership, so only those who sign up can comment. Make any comments that fall outside of a pre-set party line, and they’ll quickly be deleted and your membership revoked. Through this, a constant barrage of one-way-anti-Israel hate messages can be maintained. So they remain hermetically sealed from the reality of the situation or any balance.
All of this could be viewed as harmless banter on Facebook under the umbrella of ‘open debate’ if the only readers to get incensed by this one-way hate barrage were Israelis and their supporters. The left might shout that it was equal dues and served them right for being pro-Israel and so ‘Hasbara’. But when the recipient of those one-way hate messages might be Palestinian teens – arguably the most impressionable and easily influenced group both in terms of their age and being at the geographical heart of the conflict – who might be only a key-stroke away from taking up knives themselves, then it takes on an entirely different meaning. How would one of those left-wing supporters feel if a 14-year-old Palestinian teen they’d made a particularly bold anti-Israel comment to one day on Facebook – had the very next day lost their lives while engaged in a knife attack?
I daresay that true Palestinian supporters, concerned about the impact of their messages, would pause for thought or at least temper their posts. But the problem is that amongst this number are a collection of die-hard anti-Semites – as evidenced by the number of Rothschild-banking, Jews-in-control, blood-libel and holocaust denial posts – whose care for the Palestinians is minimal beyond the common bond of their shared hatred of Jews.
As a result, it will be interesting to see how these Facebook sites evolve and change over the coming months, especially in the face of a 20,000 strong law-suit. I think the first thing for Facebook to tackle will be the one-way nature of these sites whereby moderators censor out any opposing viewpoints which might level the playing field. Their main role should be to ‘moderate’ any inflammatory, hate-filled or racist messages – not give carte blanche to those messages and edit out or block anything which might run against that and give some due balance; ergo ‘moderation’.
But with many Palestinian leaders having made use of this under-age army in their fight against Israel for so long, and with the additional benefit of being able to use their ‘martyr’ deaths in their ‘child-killers’ demonization of Israel – I see any change slow in coming.