Raymond M. Berger
Real Bullet Points

Gaza’s War against Israel and the Cultural Narcissism of Western Intellectuals

A father: “If the children need to die then they’ll die.”

On May 26 of this year, the New York Times devoted a large portion of its front page to a disturbing story about the deaths of 67 children killed in the latest Israel-Gaza war.

Entitled, “They Were Only Children” the story was accompanied by a panel of thumbnail photos of the 67 victims. All but two were Arabs. The Times provided mini-biographies of each child.

The Child Victims

In Israel, sixteen-year-old Arab-Israeli Nadine was a top student, taught herself how to play the piano and took part in Jewish-Arab coexistence programs. Nadine was one of two children killed in Israel. All the rest were Gazan children. Mahmoud Tolbeh, 12 years old, liked to study science and dreamed of becoming a mechanical engineer. Yahya Khlaifa, 13, had a sweet disposition and had memorized whole chapters of the Koran. “Yahya al-Hadidi, 10, was a shy boy who liked riding his bike and playing with cats…” The list of lost lives went on, painfully.

According to the Times article, due to constant military conflict, many children in Gaza suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and are fearful and anxious. They experience nightmares and behavior problems. With the exception of one sentence about an Israeli boy’s anxiety, the article makes no mention of the widespread psychological distress among Israeli children due to constant rocket attacks from Gaza.

A Faulty Narrative

The Times article was hardly an objective report or even a fair human interest account. The New York Times used its usual bag of tricks to convince the reader that Israel was a shameless and immoral actor: selective reporting of facts, omissions, and lack of context.1 All of this was predictable, given the New York Times’ long history of anti-Israel bias. Also predictable was the flood of social media commentary that followed the story, much of it blaming Israel.

I was struck by one comment on Twitter by Hollywood actor Mark Ruffalo. A Twitter user had commented, accurately, that Hamas uses Gaza civilians as human shields. Ruffalo would have none of it: “Do you honestly think these people, these fellow human beings, would use their own children as shields? Use your heart.”

Mr. Ruffalo apparently did not know that Hamas routinely uses children as human shields. Examples abound:  rocket squads  launch next to groups of deliberately assembled young children;  Hamas sends small children to shield terrorists who launch rockets at Israel from rooftops in Gaza;  rockets are often shot from inside school yards and from deep within residential neighborhoods full of children. Mr. Ruffalo must not have seen Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar walking around town with a small child perched on his shoulder as a deterrent to an assassination strike by Israel.

In every case children were used to shield adult terrorists engaged in violent attacks. Hamas is well aware of Israel’s policy of avoiding civilian casualties at all costs. They cynically make use of this to provide cover for terrorist assaults.

Clueless Westerners and Dedicated Islamists

Why can’t Western liberals like Mr. Ruffalo believe that terrorists use children in this cynical way? Westerners cannot believe what they see with their own eyes, because they assume that other adults—-including Hamas terrorists—- feel the way they do. After all, don’t all people want to protect children?

Islamists are raised in a culture very different from that of our clueless Hollywood actors and Western intellectuals. They suffer from what some have called cultural narcissism.

From the Islamist point of view, the life we know in this world pales in significance to the afterworld, where every Muslim will be judged by his deeds in this life and will then experience the consequences for an eternity. Thus, the afterlife is far more important than our current life.

Islamists who use children as human shields believe that when these children die in the fight against the infidel (non-Muslims) they become holy martyrs and are assured a place in heaven for eternity. It follows then, that an adult who causes a child to die in this way has bestowed a blessing upon that child.

A dramatic illustration of this belief was the use of 33,000 Iranian children as human bomb sweepers by the Iranian regime in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. Government and religious leaders, parents, family members, and teachers  recruited or consented to use these children to walk into minefields to be blown to pieces on the belief that this would assure them a permanent place in heaven. I have written about this in another blog post.2

A Desperate Phone Call and a Chilling Reply

Another illustration of this Islamist view is provided by the transcript of a telephone call released by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) during last month’s conflict between Israel and Gaza. In the following transcript, an Israeli officer phones a terrorist in Gaza to tell him that his house will be bombed and that he must evacuate himself and his children. (The conversation took place in Arabic.):

Father: I can’t get all the people out. I need at least two hours to get them out.

IDF: Listen, we are going to bomb the building.

Father: You want to bomb? Bomb whatever you want.

IDF:  No brother, we need to do everything we can so you don’t die.

Father: We want to die.

IDF: But you have a responsibility for children’s lives.

Father: If the children need to die then they’ll die.

IDF: God forbid. God forbid, what do you want to die?

Father: This is how we reveal your cruelty.

None of what I have said here means that Arab or Islamist parents don’t love their children. I am certain that the loss of a child is a deep anguish for every parent. But in cases such as those described here, ideology and faith trump every human feeling.

That is something Western observers should know about Israel’s battle to survive the Islamists’ war against the Jews.


  1. On May 31 the Times of Israel Blogs published an excellent critique of the Times story by Robert Satloff, exposing its bias and inaccuracy.
  2. Raymond M. Berger, We All Want the Same Thing: Or Do We? [Blog] The Times of Israel, April 22, 2018.
About the Author
The author is a life-long Zionist and advocate for Israel. He believes that a strong Jewish state is invaluable, not only to Jews, but to the world-wide cause of democracy and human rights. Dr. Berger earned a PhD in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has twenty-seven years of teaching experience. He has authored and co-authored three books as well as over 45 professional journal articles and book chapters. His parents were Holocaust survivors.
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