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Israel tutors its children in fear and loathing

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A display of Israeli-style community policing before an audience of hundreds of young schoolchildren was captured on video last week. Were the 10-year-olds offered road safety tips, advice on what to do if they got lost, or how to report someone suspicion hanging around the school?

No. In Israel, they do things differently. The video shows four officers staging a mock anti-terror operation in a park close to Tel Aviv. The team roar in on motorbikes, firing their rifles at the “terrorist”.

As he lies badly wounded, the officers empty their magazines into him from close range. In Israel it is known as “confirming the kill”. Everywhere else it is called an extrajudicial execution or murder. The children can be heard clapping.

It was an uncomfortable reminder of a near-identical execution captured on film last year. A young army medic, Elor Azaria, is seen shooting a bullet into the head of an incapacitated Palestinian in Hebron. A military court sentenced him to 18 months for manslaughter in February.

There has been little sign of soul-searching since. Most Israelis, including government officials, call Azaria a hero. In the recent religious festival of Purim, dressing up as Azaria was a favorite among children.

There is plenty of evidence that Israel’s security services are still regularly executing real Palestinians.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem denounced the killing last week of a 16-year-old Jerusalem schoolgirl, Fatima Hjeiji, in a hail of bullets. She had frozen to the spot after pulling out a knife some distance from a police checkpoint. She posed no threat, concluded B’Tselem, and did not need to be killed.

The police were unrepentant about their staged execution, calling it “a positive, empowering” demonstration for the youngsters. The event was hardly exceptional.

In communities across Israel this month, the army celebrated Israel’s Independence Day by bringing along its usual “attractions” – tanks, guns and grenades – for children to play with, while families watched army dogs sicking yet more “terrorists”.

In a West Bank settlement, meanwhile, the army painted youngsters’ arms and legs with shrapnel wounds. Blood-like liquid dripped convincingly from dummies with amputated limbs. The army said the event was a standard one that “many families enjoyed”.

The purpose of exposing children at an impressionable age to so much gore and killing is not hard to divine. It creates traumatised children, distrustful and fearful of anyone outside their tribe. That way they become more pliant soldiers, trigger-happy as they rule over Palestinians in the occupied territories.

A few educators have started to sense they are complicit in this emotional and mental abuse.

Holocaust Memorial Day, marked in Israeli schools last month, largely avoids universal messages, such as that we must recognise the humanity of others and stand up for the oppressed. Instead, pupils as young as three are told the Holocaust serves as a warning to be eternally vigilant – that Israel and its strong army are the only things preventing another genocide by non-Jews.

Last year Zeev Degani, principal of one Israel’s most prestigious schools, caused a furor when he announced his school would no longer send pupils on annual trips to Auschwitz. This is a rite of passage for Israeli pupils. He called the misuse of the Holocaust “pathological” and intended to “generate fear and hatred” to inculcate extreme nationalism.

It is not by accident that these trips – imparting the message that a strong army is vital to Israel’s survival – take place just before teenagers begin a three-year military draft.

Increasingly, they receive no alternative messages in school. Degani was among the few principals who had been inviting Breaking the Silence, a group of whistle-blowing soldiers, to discuss their part in committing war crimes.

In response, the education minister, Naftali Bennett, leader of the settlers’ party, has barred dissident groups like Breaking the Silence. He has also banned books and theatre trips that might encourage greater empathy with those outside the tribe.

Polls show this is paying off. Schoolchildren are even more ultra-nationalist than their parents. More than four-fifths think there is no hope of peace with the Palestinians.

But these cultivated attitudes don’t just sabotage peacemaking. They also damage any chance of Israeli Jews living peacefully with the large minority of Palestinian citizens in their midst.

Half of Jewish schoolchildren believe these Palestinians, one in five of the population, should not be allowed to vote in elections. This month the defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called the minority’s representatives in parliament “Nazis” and suggested they should share a similar fate.

This extreme chauvinism was translated last week into legislation that defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people around the world, not its citizens. The Palestinian minority are effectively turned into little more than resident aliens in their own homeland.

Degani and others are losing the battle to educate for peace and reconciliation. If a society’s future lies with its children, the outlook for Israelis and Palestinians is bleak indeed.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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16 Responses

  1. AddictionMyth on May 16, 2017, 11:07 am

    What’s also scary about these people is that if they are so quick to kill Palestinians, then other groups aren’t far behind. That includes the ultra-religious (who they constantly ridicule even as they feign reverence) and then of course are the people who point this out – you know, the ones who created the problem in the first place according too their rapidly evolving mythologies.

    Fortunately the children haven’t killed anyone (yet) and they are smart and therefore they are well poised to overturn the established order. I’m not worried. :-)

  2. Ossinev on May 16, 2017, 12:37 pm

    What a truly truly sick society. In the civilised world this would be categorised as straightforward child abuse. Decent moral Jewish Israelis should reflect on what is being perpetrated in their name and especially if they have young children pack their bags and seek refuge in a civilised country.

    • pabelmont on May 16, 2017, 7:25 pm

      It appears that “decent moral Jewish Israelis” are folded into this sort of “education” either from fear of (ovrhyped) terrorism, fear of government and zealots, or from a truly horrible us-against-them idea that Jews are special and deserve to prevail over everyone else (but in that case, who’ll be the shabat goy?).

    • YoniFalic on May 17, 2017, 4:57 am

      Educating young (Rabbinic) Jews to such attitudes and behavior is a normative part of Rabbinic Judaism (but not Karaite Judaism or Samaritan Hebraic religion).

      From the (Rabbinic Jewish) Haggadah.

      הִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ, וְלָנוּ–שֶׁלֹּא אֶחָד בִּלְבָד עָמַד עָלֵינוּ, אֵלָא בְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר עוֹמְדִים עָלֵינוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנוּ; וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּדָם.

      It [feminine singular] is that it has stood for our ancestors and us. It [absent/common singular] is that not one [masculine singular] only has stood over us; rather, in every generation, they [masculine/common plural] stand over us to annihilate us. But the Holy One blessed be He saves us from their hands.

      [Generally English translations butcher the above passage. Challenge question. Why is the first “it” feminine?]

      Mondoweiss had already addressed attitudes that Rabbinic Judaism inculcates in In every generation they rise up against us’ — Passover and the Jewish imagination . Personally, I don’t see how any rational person can cling to this silly and repugnant religion.

      • MHughes976 on May 18, 2017, 6:08 pm

        We may place some hope, though, in the fact that Annie has been mentioning, that traditions are always being interpreted and reinterpreted. The next wave of interpretation may be for the better.

      • Mooser on May 18, 2017, 8:25 pm

        “The next wave of interpretation may be for the better.”

        Interpretation is good, yes, but don’t forget syncretism.

      • Citizen on May 19, 2017, 7:38 am

        @ Mooser
        You mean like, e.g., Maimonides and Hegel? Or Nazism and Zionism? Or what, for example?

      • Mooser on May 19, 2017, 12:21 pm

        “You mean like, e.g.,”

        Hard to say in advance. Religious syncretion can be an astounding process. The most unlikely and seemingly contradictory ideas and concepts become part of one another.

      • RoHa on May 20, 2017, 2:35 am

        “The most unlikely and seemingly contradictory ideas and concepts become part of one another.”

        Far simpler to ignore them all and just be a natural pagan.

  3. Maghlawatan on May 16, 2017, 2:37 pm

    Such a contrast to Jewish camps for kids in the US. a reflection.of the authoritarian countries most Israeli Jews can trace their families back to. Because there was no stable host population to absorb the new Israelis (it had been ethnically cleansed) Israel was guaranteed to destabilise.

    Compare to the US where ashkénazi immigration from autocratic countries was absorbed by a stable host population.

    US Jewish life is normal. Israel will never be normal.

    • Mooser on May 17, 2017, 12:54 pm

      “Such a contrast to Jewish camps for kids in the US.”

      It sure is!

    • Citizen on May 19, 2017, 8:16 am

      Camp Judaea Video Brochure in the USA: Note the Flag Flown is Not Old Glory, but the flag of Israel: via @YouTube

      BTW, only a small percentage of American kids get to go to summer camp; most parents cannot afford it.

  4. Kay24 on May 16, 2017, 2:56 pm

    They will only have peace with the Arabs, when they love their children more than they hate the Arabs.

    Teaching them to hate the victims of their occupation, is only ensuring the cycle of violence keeps going on in the next generation, and their children will never know peace (but plenty of stolen lands).

  5. Ronald Johnson on May 17, 2017, 11:30 am

    If one were to seek an ancient scriptural text for a Jewish reformation, texts with less of the chauvinism and xenophobia, then the Samaritan and Karaite canons are likely choices. In 18th and 19th century Russia, the Karaites enjoyed good will among the Russians. That, according to the history reported by the late Professor John Doyle Klier, of the University College of London:

    No tax farming, no liquor monopoly, no local cartels in lending and commodities trading supervised by the Kehillah.

  6. JLewisDickerson on May 17, 2017, 5:14 pm

    RE: “[T]he education minister, Naftali Bennett, leader of the settlers’ party, has barred dissident groups like Breaking the Silence. He has also banned books and theatre trips that might encourage greater empathy with those outside the tribe. Polls show this is paying off. Schoolchildren are even more ultra-nationalist than their parents. More than four-fifths think there is no hope of peace with the Palestinians.” ~ Jonathan Cook

    MY QUESTION: I have the sickening feeling that scenes in Israel like this might not be very far away.
    But then again, come to think of the Dixie Chicks . . .

    • Rashers2 on May 20, 2017, 5:27 am

      @JLD, elsewhere, burning Qrans is no longer unthinkable but almost unremarkable among atavistic rednecks. I suspect the only reason Naftali Bennett hasn’t yet done so is that the Qrans in his government’s possession are valuable antiquities, plundered during the Nakba! Jonathan’s story is absolutely sickening. Indoctrinating children to fear and hate is a crime against those children’s own humanity – but, I suppose, that doesn’t matter to the Ziopaths who themselves have been indoctrinated in a similar way; rather, it probably seems a wholly normal and rational way in which to educate the next generation of incipient, little Ziopaths. Breaking the vicious cycle will be a Sisyphean task.

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