The Revenge of a Child
mikedf at amnh.org
Mon Nov 18 15:39:03 MST 2002
November 18, 2002
The Revenge of a Child
by URI AVNERY
Since last Sunday, a question has been running around in my head and
troubling my sleep: What induced the young Palestinian, who broke
into Kibbutz Metzer, to aim his weapon at a mother and her two little
children and kill them?
In war one does not kill children. That is a fundamental human
instinct, common to all peoples and all cultures. Even a Palestinian
who wants to take revenge for the hundreds of children killed by the
Israeli army should not take revenge on children. No moral
commandment says "a child for a child".
The persons who do these things are not known as crazy killers,
blood-thirsty from birth. In almost all interviews with relatives and
neighbors they are described as quite ordinary, non-violent
individuals. Many of them are not religious fanatics. Indeed, Sirkhan
Sirkhan, the man who committed the deed in Metzer, belonged to Fatah,
a secular movement.
These persons belong to all social classes; some come from poor
families who have reached the threshold of hunger, but others come
from middle class families, university students, educated people.
Their genes are not different from ours.
So what makes them do these things? What makes other Palestinians justify them?
In order to cope, one has to understand, and that does not mean to
justify. Nothing in the world can justify a Palestinian who shoots at
a child in his mother's embrace, just as nothing can justify an
Israeli who drops a bomb on a house in which a child is sleeping in
his bed. As the Hebrew poet Bialik wrote a hundred years ago, after
the Kishinev pogrom: "Even Satan has not yet invented the revenge for
the blood of a little child."
But without understanding, it is impossible to cope. The chiefs of
the IDF have a simple solution: hit, hit, hit. Kill the attackers.
Kill their commanders. Kill the leaders of their organizations.
Demolish the homes of their families and exile their relatives. But,
wonder of wonders, these methods achieve the opposite. After the huge
IDF bulldozer flattens the "terrorist infrastructure",
destroying-killing-uprooting everything on its way, within days a new
"infrastructure" comes into being. According to the announcements of
the IDF itself, since operation "Protective Shield" there have been
some fifty warnings of imminent attacks every day.
The reason for this can be summed up in one word: rage.
Terrible rage, that fills the soul of a human being, leaving no space
for anything else. Rage that dominates the person's whole life,
making life itself unimportant. Rage that wipes out all limitations,
eclipses all values, breaks the chains of family and responsibility.
Rage that a person wakes up with in the morning, goes to sleep with
in the evening, dreams about at night. Rage that tells a person: get
up, take a weapon or an explosive belt, go to their homes and kill,
kill, kill, no matter what the consequences.
An ordinary Israeli, who has never been in the Palestinian
territories, cannot even imagine the reasons for this rage. Our media
totally ignore the events there, or describe them in small, sweetened
doses. The average Israeli knows somehow that the Palestinians suffer
(it's their own fault, of course), but he has no idea what's really
happening there. It doesn't concern him, anyhow.
Homes are demolished. A merchant, lawyer, ordinary craftsman,
respected in his community, turns overnight into a "homeless", he and
his children and grandchildren. Each one of them a potential suicide
Fruit-trees are being uprooted in their thousands. For the officer,
it's just a tree, an obstacle. For the owners, it's the blood of his
heart, the heritage of his forefathers, years of toil, the livelihood
of his family. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.
On a hill between the villages a gang of thugs has put up an
"outpost". The army arrives to defend them. When the villagers come
to till their fields, they are shot at. They are forbidden to work in
all fields and groves within a one or two kilometers range, so that
the security of the outpost will not be endangered. The peasants see
from afar, with longing eyes, how their fruit is rotting on the
trees, how their fields are being covered by thorns and thistles
waist high, while their children have nothing to eat. Each one of
them a potential suicide bomber.
People are killed. Their torn bodies lie in the streets, for everyone
to see. Some of them are "martyrs" who chose their lot. But many
others - men, women, children - are killed "by mistake",
"accidentally", "trying to escape", "were close to the source of
fire" - and all the hundred and one pretexts of professional
spokesmen. The IDF does not apologize, officers and soldiers are
never convicted, because "that's how things are in war". But each of
the people killed has parents, brothers, sons, cousins. Each one of
them a potential suicide bomber.
Beyond these are the families living on the fringes of hunger,
suffering from severe malnutrition. Fathers who cannot bring food to
their children feel despair. Each one of them a potential suicide
Hundred of thousands are kept under curfew for weeks and months on
end, eight persons cooped up in two or three rooms, a living hell
difficult to imagine, while outside the settlers have a ball,
protected by the soldiers. A vicious circle: yesterday's bombers
caused the curfew, the curfew creates the bombers of tomorrow.
And beyond all these, the total humiliation which every Palestinian,
without distinction of age, gender or social standing, experiences
every moment of his life. Not an abstract humiliation, but an
altogether concrete one. To be dependent for life and death on the
whim of an 18-year old boy in the street and at one of the
innumerable checkpoints that a Palestinian has to pass wherever he
goes, while gangs of settlers pass freely and "visit" their villages,
damage property, pick the olives in their groves, set fire to the
An Israeli who has not seen it cannot imagine such a life, a
situation of "every bastard a king" and "the slave who has becomes
master", a situation of curses and pushes at best, threats with
weapons in many cases, actual shooting in some. Not to mention the
sick on the way to dialysis, the pregnant women on the way to
hospital, students who don't get to their classes, children who can't
reach their schools. The youngsters who see their venerable
grandfather publicly humiliated by some boy in uniform with a runny
nose. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.
A normal Israeli cannot imagine all this. After all, the soldiers are
nice boys, the sons of all of us, only yesterday they were
schoolboys. But when one takes these nice boys and puts them in
uniforms, pushes them through the military machine and puts them into
a situation of occupation, something happens to them. Many try to
keep their human face in impossible circumstances, many others become
order-fulfilling robots. And always, in every company, there are some
disturbed people who flourish in this situation and do repulsive
things, knowing that their officers will turn a blind eye or wink
All this does not justify the killing of children in the arms of
their mother. But it helps to grasp why this is happening, and why
this will go on happening as long as the occupation lasts.
Uri Avnery has closely followed the career of Sharon for four
decades. Over the years, he has written three extensive biographical
essays about him, two (1973, 1981) with his cooperation. Avnery is
featured in the new book, The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and
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