Save the children

Last week my daughter, aged one year and five months, stopped breathing for about a minute. At least I think it was a minute. It may have been a little more, it may have been a little less. It felt like a lot more. She had had a fever for a couple of days and, so my wife and I later discovered, was suffering a febrile convulsion: a seizure that affects between 2-4 percent of babies when their body temperature rises or falls very quickly during sickness.

Apparently she would have started breathing again of her own accord but I’m not sorry that I made a panicky, clumsy but successful attempt at CPR. The ambulance arrived within a few minutes and after a few hours in hospital we went home with our little girl her usual playful self.

The episode was, to say the least, traumatic, and I’ve been thinking in the days since about children and why it is that we are all so much more affected by the suffering of children than of adults. Is the life of a child objectively worth more than that of an adult? No. But there is something in both the innocence, and the as-yet-unrealized potential of children that touches us.

Children are always innocent. You may wish to kill your enemy in a brutal war, but your antagonists’ children are not culpable. Even when children are used, sickeningly, as soldiers, they are not responsible for their actions. They have been indoctrinated and misled by those they trust.

Children have their lives ahead of them, and the death of a child is the end, not just of a human being but of an unknown future. It is a pre-emptive strike against the friends, lovers, husbands, wives – children! – whose lives would have been touched by that child. It is the crushing of dreams of what could be.

We have then a special responsibility to protect children; and in our bloody and battered part of the world, it’s worth considering what that means. Less than 400 miles north of Jerusalem, where I’m writing these words, is the city of Aleppo in Syria. Over 500 people have been killed there in the past two weeks as the Syrian regime dropped bombs on its own civilian population. According to the Syrian Observatory for human rights, 151 of the casualties were children.

According to a new report by the Oxford Research Group, the Syrian morass has claimed the lives of 11,000 children. And lest we fall for the weasel words and crocodile tears of official Syrian spokesmen bemoaning this “tragedy”, the report also reveals that regime gunmen have deliberately targeted around 1,000 children. Deliberately targeted children.

And even closer to home, among our Palestinian neighbors are those who have planned and carried out terror attacks on children. The nightclubs and buses of schoolchildren targeted by suicide bombers during the Second Intifada were not randomly chosen. In launching a war intended to sap our society’s morale, the fanatics of Hamas and Islamic Jihad knew that striking at our children was the surest way to sow despair and defeatism. And why should this evil strategy have surprised us? After all, they have routinely ruined and disfigured the lives of their own children through indoctrination and “education”. The past twenty years of conflict have thrown up countless examples of Palestinian children taught to “martyr” themselves for the national cause. I’m surely not alone in recalling with particular horror the case of a 15-year old, mentally handicapped boy sent off towards an Israeli army base with explosives strapped to his body.

Even those who, like me, are praying for a lasting peace with the Palestinians, should pause in our rush to embrace our “peace partners” when we see the heroes’ welcome afforded released Palestinian terrorists responsible for the deaths of Israeli children.

More recently, Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon have continued to use their own children as human shields, deliberately placing weapon caches and terrorist cells in civilian homes and school buildings.

And of course no tale of depravity in the Middle East would be complete without a mention of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Ayatollahs were pioneering Islamist child-martyrdom before Hamas even existed, sending young boys to clear minefields during the Iran-Iraq War.

What of Israel? Not surprisingly we are treating children rather well when measured against the extremely low bar set by our neighbors. However, whilst fundamentalist Judaism has certainly not unleashed the savagery associated with its Islamic counterpart, the publication of Torat Hamelech in 2009(which gave Rabbinic sanction to the killing of the children of enemies of the Jewish people) and its endorsement by prominent national-religious Rabbis was a disgraceful episode and a warning that, even in our democratic state, religious extremism can be a potent and toxic force.

The occupation of the Palestinians creates daily challenges for soldiers effectively asked to police a hostile population. The IDF does have a far better record of differentiating between combatants and non-combatants than most other armies operating among civilian populations, and the majority of our soldiers conduct themselves ethically and responsibly. But we know there have been individual cases of soldiers acting violently and brutally towards Palestinian children. One such incident is one too many, and perpetrators should be brought to justice, for this is a betrayal of the most basic Jewish and progressive values from which Zionism developed.

On the other hand, nothing shows better Israel’s commitment to the highest of Jewish values – life – than the treatment in Israeli hospitals of over 200 refugees from Syria, an “enemy country”. Many lives have been saved, including many children.

We should be unreserved in our condemnation of Baathist and Islamist infanticide and the abuse and exploitation of children; and unrestrained in our demands for action from an international community that claims to care.

For about two minutes last week I felt that my world was ending. So much of my life was invested in this tiny person and her future.  In too much of the Middle East, futures are being denied and the worlds of too many parents are coming to an end.

About the Author
Before moving to Israel from the UK, Paul worked at the Embassy of Israel to the UK in the Public Affairs department, and as the Ambassador's speechwriter. He has a Masters degree in Middle East Politics from the University of London. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem - though he writes this blog in a personal capacity. He has lectured to a variety of groups on Israeli history and politics and his articles have been published in a variety of media outlets in Israel, the UK, the US and Canada.
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