Henry Greenspan

Dead Children and the War on Shame

In recent days, the right-wing website, The Daily Caller, has featured a series of articles alleging that Hamas was intending to use its tunnels to “target Israel’s kindergartens.”  Indeed, the writer suggests that “fantastic quantities of explosives” had already been placed in tunnels under the kindergartens in preparation for a “mega-attack” intended to “kill the children first”; then go after everyone else.   Revelations of the intended mass murder was said to come from interrogations of captured Hamas fighters.  The massacre was scheduled for September 24th, “during the Jewish New Year,” the writer emphasizes.

I have no idea whether there is truth to these allegations.  They have not been reported elsewhere.  While the writer boasts of having authored “thirty books ranging from engineering to poetry,” most if not all of them appear to be self-published on Amazon Digital Services.  The articles themselves appear under the “Guns and Gear” column of the The Daily Caller, a regular feature suggesting the website’s alliances with the National Rifle Association.  This is not surprising.  The right of Israelis to “bear arms” has always been one of the NRA’s prime talking points.  Also not entirely surprising is the writer’s suggestion that the “sophistication and know-how” demonstrated in Hamas’s tunnels is “being copied right now by Mexico-based Hezbollah agents along the Southern U.S. border.”  The implication is clear: American kids are as vulnerable as Israeli children to killers from the South.

I am not privy to Israeli investigations, and I certainly don’t know how many Hezbollah operatives may be swimming among the sea of child migrants aiming to come—or already having come–through Mexico into the United States. Still, we are not entirely uninformed about the situation in Israel.  In 2013, there were similar suggestions of Hamas “terror tunnels” dug to blow up Israeli children.  In an article about the question (“IDF blames Hamas for ‘terror tunnel’ from Gaza to Israel,” October 13, 2013), the Times of Israel reported that “contrary to initial media reports, the IDF said, the tunnel did not end near an Israeli kindergarten, nor was it filled with explosives.”  Of course, that does not mean that various tunnels’ capacities to serve as conduits for obliterating children could not have been enhanced over the past nine months.  One tunnel more recently discovered was, indeed, within a kilometer of an Israeli kindergarten.

We also know that more than 150 Palestinian children have been killed in Gaza in the process of building the tunnels, mainly in the Rafah area.  And we have known at least since 2001 that kindergarten playgrounds in Gaza are routinely used by Hamas to bury arms and explosives.  Like schools and hospitals, it was assumed that the IDF would either not hit these caches and the children playing above them, or that it would.

More than anything else, then, fantasies and actualities about obliterated children have become the fulcrum around which the current war turns.  Even when they are invoked in support of strategy and ideology–as they always are–those images trump strategy and ideology.

It is right that they should.  If there are to be any victors in the current war—and it is difficult to imagine what that could mean—it will be those, looking into the eyes of dead and dying children, who are still capable of radical human shame.  They will not exploit those children for political debate.  They will not factor them into some accounting scheme in which “what they do” is weighed against “what we do.”   They will not try to add it up, factor it in, cover dead and dying eyes with words even before they are covered with earth.

Unqualified and unrationalized shame and grief are the last remnant of our own dying selves, underground, almost lost, airless and tunneled away.

About the Author
Henry (Hank) Greenspan is a psychologist and playwright at the University of Michigan who has been interviewing, teaching, and writing about the Holocaust and its survivors since the 1970s.
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