Although Palestinian children endure lives of suffering, Obama’s love for their Israeli counterparts knows no limit.
What is it about Jewish and Arab children that privileges the first and spurns the second in the speeches of President Barack Obama, let alone in the Western media more generally? Are Jewish children smarter, prettier, whiter? Are they deserving of sympathy and solidarity, denied to Arab children, because they are innocent and unsullied by the guilt of their parents, themselves often referred to as “the children of Israel”? Or, is it that Arab children are dangerous, threatening, guilty, even dark and ugly, a situation that can only lead to Arabopaedophobia – the Western fear of Arab children?
Innocence and childhood are common themes in Western political discourse, official and unofficial. While it is a truism to state that since the end of European colonialism the US and Europe have been, at the official and unofficial levels, friendly to and supportive of the Zionist colonial project and hostile to Palestinians and Arabs in their resistance to Zionism, the expectation would be that a West that insists rhetorically on the “universalism” of its values would show at least a rhetorical commitment to the equality of Arab and Jewish children as victims of the violence visited on the region by Zionist colonialism and the resistance to it. Yet, the only Western sympathy manifest is to Jewish children as symbols of Zionist and Israeli innocence. This Western sympathy is deployed primarily to denounce Arab guilt, including the guilt of Arab children.
Indeed, the only time Arab children received any sympathy at all in the West was a few years ago when Israeli and US propaganda outlets, official and unofficial alike, mounted a major propaganda campaign to save these children from their barbaric Arab and Palestinian parents, who allegedly trained them to commit violent acts, or who unlovingly placed them in the middle of danger, sacrificing them for their violent political goals. It was not Israel who was to blame for killing Palestinian children, but the children’s own uncaring and cruel parents who placed them in the path of Israeli Jewish bullets, which left Israeli Jews no choice but to kill them. This of course is an old Israeli casuistry used to justify Israel’s carnage of Palestinians. Golda Meir had famously articulated the workings of Israel’s Jewish conscience thus: “We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we will never forgive you for making us kill yours.”
In the official discourse of post-World War II US power, Jewish children have been often invoked to illustrate the innocence of Israel, a tradition carried faithfully by Barack Obama’s rhetoric. Refusing to even acknowledge Arab children as victims of Israel, on June 4, 2009, Obama told Arabs in his Cairo speech: “It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.” He reiterated this in his May 19, 2011 “winds of change” speech, declaring: “For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region. For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could get blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them.”
Later that week, in his speech to the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on May 22, Obama expressed sympathy with the hardship colonising Jews experience while appropriating the lands of the Palestinians: “I saw the daily struggle to survive in the eyes of an eight-year old [Jewish] boy who lost his leg to a Hamas rocket.” He averred that the US and Israel, presumably unlike Palestinians or Arabs more generally, “both seek a region where families and their children can live free from the threat of violence”.
Endorsing Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, he asserted: “We also know how difficult that search for security can be, especially for a small nation like Israel in a tough neighbourhood. I’ve seen it firsthand. When I touched my hand against the Western Wall and placed my prayer between its ancient stones, I thought of all the centuries that the children of Israel had longed to return to their ancient homeland.” Aside from borrowing anti-Black American white racism with the use of terms like “tough neighbourhood” – a term first borrowed by Binyamin Netanyahu to refer to the Middle East over a decade ago – wherein Arabs are the “violent blacks” of the Middle East and Jews are the “peaceful white folks”, Obama’s endorsement of the Israeli claim that East Jerusalem is part of the Jewish homeland is the first such official US endorsement of Israel’s illegal occupation of the city.
Nonetheless, Obama’s attention lay elsewhere, in the fear he expresses of Arab children. He first articulated this fear in his May 19 speech: “The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River.” In his speech to AIPAC three days later, Obama reiterated his fear once more, as the first “fact” and threat that Israel, Jews, and the US must face: “Here are the facts we all must confront. First, the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian territories.” This is hardly a new fear, as Israelis have annual conferences, and have developed all kinds of political and military strategies, to deal with their fear of Palestinian children, whom Israel’s President Shimon Peres calls a “demographic bomb” that he wants to defuse. Golda Meir herself once revealed in the early seventies that she could not sleep worrying about the number of Palestinian children being conceived every night. If children are the future – except that Arab children are a negation of it – then the crux of the argument is simple: Israel can only have a future with more Jewish children and fewer Arab children.
Murdering Arab children
The story of Arab children, and especially Palestinian ones, is not only tragic in the context of Israeli violence, but one that also remains ignored, deliberately marginalised, and purposely suppressed in the US and Western media – and in Western political discourse. When Zionist terrorists began to attack Palestinian civilians in the 1930s and 1940s, Palestinian children fell victims. The most famous of these attacks include the Zionist blowing up of Palestinian cafes with grenades (such as occurred in Jerusalem on March 17, 1937) and placing electrically timed mines in crowded market places (first used against Palestinians in Haifa on July 6, 1938).
While the violence of the 1930s was the first introduction to the Middle East of such horrific terrorist violence, it is in the 1947-48 Zionist invasion of Palestinian villages and towns that Palestinian children were deliberately not spared. In December 1947, one of the first attacks by the Haganah (the pre-Israel Zionist paramilitary army) first attacks – which would become typical in this period – targeted the Palestinian village of Khisas in the Galilee and killed four Palestinian children. This proved to be a small number compared with the subsequent mass murders awaiting the Palestinians. In the village of Al-Dawayimah, where the Haganah committed a massacre in October 1948, an Israeli army soldier, quoted by Israeli historian Benny Morris, described the scene as such:
The first [wave] of conquerors killed about 80 to 100 [male] Arabs, women, and children. The children they killed by breaking their heads with sticks. There was not a house without dead… One commander ordered a sapper to put two old women in a certain house… and to blow up the house with them. The sapper refused… The commander then ordered his men to put in the old women and the evil deed was done. One soldier boasted that he had raped a woman and then shot her. One woman, with a newborn baby in her arms, was employed to clean the courtyard where the soldiers ate. She worked a day or two. In the end they shot her and her baby.