Ten minutes before the siren went off in our yishuv, my 16 year old daughter and I had an intense discussion about the Palestinians in Gaza. The debate was brought about by a particularly disturbing video that someone had uploaded to Facebook. It was a series of clips – videos and stills – that was titled Children of Hamas.
The clip opened up with a shot of a Palestinian baby – maybe a year old – with a “suicide belt” around his diapered bottom and hundreds of bullets draped around his neck. It then featured Palestinian children in kindergarten. All the boys were dressed in full kid-sized army gear, complete with bullets and guns (fake, I hope!) with Hamas ski masks that were strangely similar to KKK masks only in black, and their familiar green bandanas tied around their foreheads. Their teacher, in a full burqa, was instructing them how to crawl on their bellies military-style towards their target with their guns held in front of them. Then, if that wasn’t enough, other boys in the class, similarly dressed, started leaping over them as if attending a boot camp obstacle course.
Then it flipped to an interview with what looked like a four year old boy. He was asked, “do you want to be a martyr?” He answers, “yes.” Then, “why do you want to?” The little boy answers, “to kill the Jews.” The interviewer then asks, “why are they shooting at us?” The boy responds, “because they are animals.”
What struck me right away was not the horror of it all – I had been expecting it to be awful – but that these kids were practicing war tactics in a bright, colorful classroom with a cheerful mural on the wall of children playing on a swingset in a green park with a bright yellow sun shining down on them.
The juxtaposition of the “miniature terrorists in training” against this happy wall that you’d find in any kindergarten in the world was jarring.
So at the end of this video, we had the age-old discussion of good versus evil, right versus wrong and nature versus nurture. My daughter’s opinion was that she pitied the children of Gaza. Her argument was that had they had been brought up in open, loving, tolerant homes, they would not be thirsty for Jewish blood. She maintains that it’s not necessarily their fault that they had been indoctrined to hate us from the womb.
I don’t disagree with her. I don’t. Hamas has abused its power and destroyed its people. But I don’t have the same compassion that she has. And I won’t apologize for it. After hearing name after name of our soldiers who have been killed announced on the radio and after hearing Palestinian youth respond to whether or not they would welcome peace with “no, either we stay or they do,” I’m just not feeling all that compassionate.
A Golani soldier – who is currently recovering from wounds sustained on the battleground in Gaza – told the press that the terrorists that shot at him and his comrades were 12-13 year old boys. 12-13!!! These are not men, but boys. Boys who should be playing soccer or flirting with the girl next door. Not carrying guns. And then there was the most shocking photo of a terrorist with a baby – a baby! – strapped to his chest, along with several cartridges of bullets hanging around his neck.
So what is the definition of innocence in this situation? Are children under 18 automatically considered “innocent” just because they are young? At what age does someone become culpable for their own behavior? Do children grow up with an innate sense of right or wrong or must it be taught?
I’m not a child psychologist nor would I presume to know the answer. It’s a controversial subject and plenty of strong opinions exist on both sides of this issue. But that’s not important. What is important is this question that needs to be answered: what are our soldiers supposed to do when faced with a smooth-cheeked, unshaven, baby-faced boy with a gun aimed at their heads?
The constant theme of every foreign news report about this war is that while they unwillingly concede that Israel has the right to defend itself against incoming rockets, now that our army has gone into Gaza, they are showing “excessive force”. And that too many “innocent” men, women and children are being killed by IDF forces.
The international community – and shame on them – doesn’t bother distinguishing between a child of twelve and a child of twelve with a gun held to our heads. And brainwashed or not, that “innocent” child is the enemy. Yes, maybe he might have grown up to be different if his environment had been one of life and peace instead of death and war. We’ll never know. But the only thing we can do to possibly change that is to remove Hamas and every possible threat against us. And the international community has to support our basic right to defend ourselves or – pardon my French – shut the hell up.
My peace-loving, compassionate, empathetic and rather astute daughter said regarding the international community: “they think they know everything, but in fact, they know nothing.”
Then she skillfully summed it up:
“If the rest of the world was in our situation and the international community told them not to defend themselves and to sit and wait to be slaughtered, they’d mute us and our opinions and they’d do what they know is right. Even if it caused death. So we have to do the same. To stand up for ourselves. To protect ourselves at all cost. And focusing on that is way more important than focusing on what everyone else has to say about it.”