The news is hideous. 298 people died when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot out of the sky over Ukraine, apparently by pro-Russian separatists. Meanwhile, almost as many people have been killed in Gaza by Israeli air strikes, in response to Hamas firing rockets into Israel.
In both cases, the news reports emphasise the number of children killed. It’s a common journalistic practice that we take for granted, which is actually quite curious.
What is being communicated? Is it that a child’s death is somehow more tragic, because they have not had a chance to properly experience life? If so, what about all the dead adults who have still not achieved their potential?
Or is it because children are weak and unable to protect themselves? If a single child is abused or murdered I can see how that could feel different from the killing of an adult… But when people have been exploded in their seats or in their beds, any calculation about weakness or strength of the victim seems meaningless.
The way in which the deaths of Palestinian children are discussed and reported particularly troubles me, because there is an extra layer of cynicism overlaid across the discourse. It is only when a school or a family home or a group of children on a beach are targeted, that it is suggested that this time, Israel has gone too far. Implicit in this is the idea that if only Palestinian adults had been killed, the air strikes would have been more acceptable. Because Palestinian adults are seen as dispensible.
Or worse: deserving of their fate. An idea that Palestinian adults are fair game, and their lives count for less, because they voted Hamas into power. The kids didn’t vote, and so are less culpable.
So let it be said: Targeting civilian areas is just wrong. An air strike that kills a dozen adults is exactly as bad as one that kills a dozen children.
A life is a life, isn’t it?
And moreover, in a confused, desperate situation like the one in Gaza, we should also consider the idea that the killing of a dozen militants is exactly as bad, too. I would not be surprised if many of the ‘militants’ killed in the recent strikes turn out to be people co-opted or coerced into fighting for Hamas, or family members of terrorists. And I bet a fair number of those taking up arms against the Israeli ground operation, and thus classified as ‘fighters’, are actually children.
I understand the impetus behind the counting of children and female casualties. The killing of innocents in Gaza by Israel’s war machine is a crime. But Palestinian men are victims of Israeli state terrorism too. Let’s not repeat the logic of the war on terror, where only children and women can be victims but men (including boys over 15, sometimes 13) are always suspects and thus somehow they share in the blame of their own death. This is the gendering of the War on Terror: our men and boys are inherently dangerous and are merely the potential for violence encased in human flesh.
Furthermore, every woman who lives and loves and loses and struggles within Israel’s military occupation and siege is a revolutionary. You do not have to pick up a gun in Gaza to be a revolutionary or an “enemy” of Israel. You just have to be alive and to insist on living. After all, isnt’ that point of settler colonialism?
Hat-tip² to Abu Noura for the previous link, and another more developed piece by the same author, on ‘gendering Israel’s war on Gaza’:
One detail about the dead, however, is repeated often in western-based mass media: the vast majority of murdered Palestinians in Gaza are civilians—and sources say that a “disproportionate” number are women and children. The killing of women and children is horrific—but in the reiteration of these disturbing facts there is something missing: the public mourning of Palestinian men killed by Israel’s war machine. In 1990 Cynthia Enloe coined the term “womenandchildren” in order to think about the operationalization of gendered discourses to justify the first Gulf War. Today, we should be aware of how the trope of “womenandchildren” is circulating in relation to Gaza and to Palestine more broadly. This trope accomplishes many discursive feats, two of which are most prominent: The massifying of women and children into an undistinguishable group brought together by the “sameness” of gender and sex, and the reproduction of the male Palestinian body (and the male Arab body more generally) as always already dangerous. Thus the status of male Palestinians (a designation that includes boys aged fifteen and up, and sometimes boys as young as thirteen) as “civilians” is always circumspect.