The politics of sick children

Children who are sick or terminally ill are a universal tragedy no matter who their parents or grandparents are and no one should be politicizing their suffering.

Over the past week, there have been two incidents aired publicly where sick children’s plight have been politicized and they have not been pretty. Let me explain:

The City of San Francisco held a special celebration last weekend together with the Make a Wish Foundation. The city organized a day dedicated to Miles Scott, a 5-year-old who has been battling leukemia for the past three years. Because Miles loves Batman, he got to dress up as Batkid and save the city in several simulations before receiving the key to the city from the Mayor at City Hall, before a crowd of thousands of cheering San Franciscans. The highly planned and organized event brought great joy to many across the United States and the world as media outlets got on board in covering the story.

A San Francisco County Supervisor learned the hard way that the politicization of the occasion for his pet-project, children on food stamps, was not a good idea. During the event, the Supervisor who was previously most known for being behind the banning McDonald’s Happy Meal toys instagramed: “Waiting for Miles the BatKid & Wondering how many 1000s of SF kids living off SNAP/FoodStamps could have been fed from the $$” his instagram and facebook pages were rightfully inundated with a barrage of angry voter’s comments, due to his bad timing in using the occasion to advance his personal political agenda. A few days later, news agencies reported that the amount of $$ the city paid for the celebration. It was minimal, and the Make a Wish Foundation will likely be able to raise funds to reimburse the city for the expense. The amount of goodwill and good publicity the story generated for San Francisco more than made up for the cost of the event even if the city were to get no reimbursement at all.

At the time, I thought it would be difficult to find other politicization of child suffering worse than Supervisor Eric Mar’s, but I was wrong.

Move over to Israel and a story emerges about Aamal Haniyah, a one-year-old, Gaza based, baby suffering from a serious infection in her digestive tract. Medical care where she lives is less than adequate for many reasons, one of which is that the Gaza enclave is one of the most isolated places on earth. Her father had her sent to the Schneider Medical Center in Petakh Tikvah, Israel from the Al Nasser clinic in Gaza with the hope that the better quality of care in Israel could help her recover. Unfortunately she was transferred back to Gaza in a 24-hour period because there was nothing the Schneider Medical Center could do for her. She will most likely not have much time left to live on earth.

The Israeli government routinely provides medical care for sick or injured Palestinians. This practice is in keeping with Article 16 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Aamal’s story would not be news, however she also happens to have the unfortunate distinction of being the granddaughter of the former Dean of Islamic Law Studies at the Islamic University of Gaza and current Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. The Israeli press (including Times of Israel) and subsequently the international wire service AP seem to have no issue in running headlines tying Aamal Haniyeh to her infamous grandfather.

That is a very brutal mistake. If Supervisor Eric Mar’s instagram comments were in bad taste, using Aamal Haniyeh’s transfer to a hospital in Israel to score political points for Israel is appallingly reprehensible. Aamal Haniyeh can’t talk, let alone comprehend the terrible political situation she was born into during her short life. She is a baby. Even those most repulsed by her grandfather’s politics should realize that she is not her grandfather and his politics have nothing to do with her need for medical care. Her father loves her enough to send her deep into “enemy territory” in a failed attempt to save her life.

This brash politicization could easily be turned on those doing the politicizing. Many of the same Israelis who are making a big deal out of Aamal Haniyeh’s suffering, love to repeat the mantra from 1957 by long-gone Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir who said “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” Now a Hamas leader’s son loves his daughter more than he hates Israel, but for sure his move will not bring the Palestinians one step closer to living in peace with Israel.

Perhaps the lesson from this episode is that Israeli leaders need to come up with better slogans for why they have not yet reached a peace with the Palestinians.

About the Author
Kouichi Shirayanagi is a writer and editor from San Francisco. He has traveled around or lived Israel a total of about a year of his life.