Once again, I am reading the statistics about the casualties from Israel’s latest raids on the Gaza Strip, and one again, I am deeply disturbed by the emphasis on the number of women and children. In Israel’s November 11-13 raids on the Gaza Strip, one third of the killed, and close to sixty percent of the injured, are women and children.
I am disturbed not by the percentages, but rather, by the denunciation of the deaths of women and children, as if the deaths of men did not matter. In any war, anywhere around the world, the emphasis on the “innocence” of women and children is masculinist, and patriarchal, as it strips women of agency, literally infantilizing them as it lists them alongside children, not adult men. And in this case, it is the Arab media, and Palestine allies, not Israeli media and the Zionists, who are citing the statistics.
This does not do the Palestinians any favor, as it inadvertently reinforces the racist Zionist narrative that treats every Palestinian man as a fighter, a militant, a terrorist. In this narrative, Israel is justified in its massacres, because all the men are guilty, none are civilians, and they are infiltrating the spaces of “women and children,” who then become collateral damage. Israel needs to kill the fighters, and women and children die, on the side. We have read this claim multiple times, Israel apparently cannot conceive of Palestinians as families.
Additionally, in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, Israel expects Palestinian fighters to have separate spaces, at a safe distance from schools and mosques, otherwise, they are using children as “human shields.” A 500-page report by the Israeli “Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center” blames Hamas for the casualties during Cast Lead: “By placing all of their weaponry next to homes, by operating out of homes, mosques and hospitals, by firing rockets next to schools and by using human shields, Hamas is the one responsible for the civilian deaths during the operation.” The report contradicts the Goldstone Report, which states that its authors “found no evidence that Palestinian combatants mingled with the civilian population with the intention of shielding themselves from attack.”
On the other hand, there is no equivalent focus on the percentage of “women and children” when Israelis die, every single one of them—and the majority of the Israeli casualties have tended to be adult men, and soldiers—is mourned as an individual, a member of a family, regardless of whether they are a man, a woman, or a toddler. Yet one could even argue that, as Israeli women are also drafted into their country’s military, there are more fighters, that is, fewer civilians, in Israeli than in Palestinian society.
And what if there was a Palestinian men’s meeting, let’s say, a dozen men discussing politics over a hookah and some tea, deeply conservative patriarchal men who have relegated the women and children to the kitchen, and Israel drops a bomb on the room the men have gathered in, and kills them all. And all the women and children are spared. We would have no statistics about women and children, but would these men not be mourned? Would their deaths not be murder? Would it be acceptable, or even simply less criminal, to kill only men?
As we seek to redress the Zionist narrative about Israel “defending itself” every time it bombs Gaza, we must also change the racist, Orientalist, paternalistic tone of that narrative too. The men Israel kills are besieged refugees, many are unemployed, some are students, others fishermen, yet others store keepers. They have ambitions. Some want to be writers, others lawyers. Many are in love, all are loved. Every single one has a dream: to be free.
And their deaths are as criminal as the deaths of women and children.