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Israeli Politician Says “Children of Gaza Have Brought This Upon Themselves”

When children are explicitly framed as “not innocent,” all-out genocidal warfare is possible.

Injured Palestinian children sit in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital following Israeli airstrikes in Deir al-Balah, Gaza, on October 18, 2023.

It really is hard to imagine a more malicious statement than “the children of Gaza have brought this upon themselves” when children in Gaza are now being massacred by the hundreds. But this was actually said in a recent Knesset session. And it wasn’t someone considered an extreme right-winger, but a liberal centrist – Meirav Ben-Ari from Yair Lapid’s opposition party Yesh Atid.

The full, over-three-hour session from Monday can be seen here. Ben-Ari is evidently getting worked up as Palestinian lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman (around two hours into the session) bemoans the loss of civilian lives “both in the area surrounding Gaza and in Gaza,” imploring to make an effort to release hostages and to “get the civilians out of the circle of blood.” “Jews as well as Arabs, Israelis as well as Palestinians.” “A child is a child,” Touma-Sliman reminds everyone, pointing out that at that point, over 900 children had been killed from Israel’s bombing of Gaza (a day later, that number swelled to well over a thousand).

All this humanity was just too much for Ben-Ari. She started shouting and heckling Touma-Sliman, saying, “There is not symmetry, there is no symmetry!”

Touma-Sliman held her ground despite the non-stop disruption, now mostly from Ben-Ari, and kept reading from her remarks. At some point, Touma-Sliman apparently went off-script, and referred to Ben-Ari:

“Between children there is symmetry,” she said.

Ben Ari went livid: “There is no symmetry!!”

Touma-Sliman emphasized: “A child is a child is a child.”

Twenty-five minutes after this unbearable episode, Ben-Ari came up to speak, admittedly unplanned. This is precisely 2.5 hours into the session video:

“I did not plan to speak, of course, but I have to say one thing that should be clear: There is no symmetry. There is no symmetry. Me, my friends, ok, were on the way to the synagogue on the day of Simchat Torah, and they were shot at, only because they were Jews in this state. That’s it. And friends of mine – their children went to the party, to celebrate – seculars, religious, doesn’t matter who, only because they were Jewish, they were murdered. So there is no symmetry! And the children in Gaza – the children in Gaza have brought this upon themselves! We are a peace-seeking nation, a life-loving nation. There is no symmetry – our children are kidnapped over there!” (My emphasis)

Ben-Ari continued for a while with her speech, adding that Hamas is using civilians as human shields (the tiresomely repeated hasbara point), ending it with a repetition of the “no symmetry” mantra:

“There is no symmetry in genocide!”

It is, of course, impossible not to see the advocacy for genocide in this.

These words have not gotten much attention, as far as I can see. It is enough to reflect upon what would happen if a Palestinian leader said Israeli children brought it upon themselves. Can we even imagine the outcry and condemnation, the cries of antisemitism and Holocaust tropes? It would be deafening. But this passes quietly. And it wasn’t a slip of the tongue.

Ben-Ari’s genocidal rhetoric was actually echoing a comment just made by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who is also known as a liberal, even from further left. At a recent press conference on October 13, Herzog answered a question by Rageh Omar from ITV, who asked him what Israel can do to alleviate the impact on the over two million civilians in Gaza, many of whom have nothing to do with Hamas. Herzog answered:

“We are working, operating militarily in terms according to rules of international law, period. Unequivocally. It is an entire nation out there that is responsible. It’s not true this rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up, they could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup ‘d état.” (My emphasis)

This is really unmistakable – Herzog is really implying that an “entire nation is responsible,” and the implication is that they are legitimate targets. However, he later denied that this is what he meant.

This rhetoric has a long history among Israeli politicians. In 2018, when Avigdor Lieberman was Defense Minister, he declared that “there are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip” because “everyone has a connection to Hamas.” This was in April 2018, when Israel was beginning to turkey-shoot unarmed Palestinian protesters in the Great March of Return. When a video filmed by Israeli snipers, where they celebrate their shooting of a motionless, unarmed Palestinian, surfaced on social media around that same time, Lieberman commented that they deserved a medal for their shots. I could just as well mention that Lieberman has advocated for the decapitating of “disloyal” Palestinian citizens with an axe and the drowning of Palestinian prisoners in the Dead Sea. Lieberman is now regarded as a Netanyahu critic who is considering joining the “unity government” so as to “join the war cabinet in order to bring about the fastest possible victory.”

You may say this is just rhetoric, but these words also lead to actions. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant’s comments referred to Palestinians as “human animals” as Israel closed all the water taps to Gaza, making the already unlivable living conditions there a genocidal nightmare. The relationship between words to actions is obvious.

Children have often been a marker for whether one has gone too far. Once children were explicitly framed as “not innocent,” you know that all-out genocidal warfare is possible. It is not for nothing that Netanyahu cited Haim Nachman Bialik’s poem from 1904, saying, “Revenge for the blood of a little child has yet been devised by Satan” when he vowed to “destroy [Hamas]” and “forcefully avenge this dark day.” That poem, called “On the Slaughter”, is often cited in Israeli culture and often by Netanyahu. It was written in the wake of the 1903 Kishiniev pogrom. Interestingly, the outcry is always about the death of Israeli children. But interestingly, the line that comes just before the one cited says: “And cursed be the man who says: Avenge!”

And so many Israelis just don’t seem to get that. They become cursed by their lust for revenge, and they become oblivious to the death of over one thousand children.

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