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Blaming a child for the sniper's bullet that killed him

Education Minister Naftali Bennett claims 15-year-old Mohammed Ayoub wouldn’t have been shot dead by an Israeli sniper if he had been at school. Bennett’s comments reflect a reality in which Israeli soldiers kill with impunity. 

Mohammed Ayoub, shortly after he was shot.

Mohammed Ayoub, shortly after he was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper.

The Israeli army kills children. That isn’t new. Occasionally, the name of one of those children appears in the headlines, and the Israeli authorities are forced to respond. Their responses almost always expose a truth more terrible than the killings themselves.

That is what happened on Sunday morning, when Army Radio morning show host Razi Barkai asked Education Minister Naftali Bennett if “we had gone too far” in killing 15-year-old Mohammed Ayoub during the Gaza return march protests last Friday.

“If he had gone to school like every other kid,” Bennett responded, “there wouldn’t have been a problem.” That is what Israel’s education minister had to say about the murder of a child – killed by a sniper’s bullet – during a protest.

The first thing that came to mind when I heard Bennett’s horrifying response was that a less ignorant, and perhaps less racist, government minister would know that there is no class on Fridays in the Palestinian school system.

Then I pictured the tens of thousands of students that Bennett’s political allies – and Bennett himself – bring to hate-filled protests in the alleys and streets of the Muslim Quarter on Jerusalem Day. Mohammed Ayoub, unlike those children, was protesting on his land: the battered, besieged, and starved Gaza Strip that was his home.



Then I thought about what kind of school system Bennett thinks the dead boy attended. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Education in Gaza, 327 school buildings and 199 kindergartens were damaged during the war on Gaza in the summer of 2014. Twenty-two of those schools were severely damaged; seven were destroyed entirely. In most schools in the strip, students are forced to learn in two, sometimes three shifts due to a classroom shortage.

Israel’s ongoing siege of Gaza has made rebuilding the schools nearly impossible due to the ban on importing most building materials. As have Washington’s cuts to UNRWA’s budget. Half a million children in the occupied territories have only partial, irregular access to education. And Bennett asks why Mohammed Ayoub wasn’t in school.

What would await Ayoub within the walls of a school that lacks supplies, electricity, and drinking water? What exactly does Education Minister Bennett think school looks like in Gaza? Does he think Ayoub was choosing between wood shop or a physics lab and facing off against snipers near the border fence?

Then I thought about 10-year-old Abir Aramin. She in fact went to school. She did not go to protest, though as a resident of East Jerusalem she had no shortage of reasons to do so. She went to school, left during recess to buy candy, and was shot in the head with a rubber-coated bullet – and killed – by an Israeli border policeman who has never been brought to justice. How do you justify her death, Minister Bennett? Will you blame the 10-year-old girl for going out to buy candy? Is she, too, responsible for her own death?

And what about Mohammed Tamimi from Nabi Saleh? Half his skull had to be removed after he was shot in the head with a rubber-coated bullet. Soldiers pulled him out of bed in the middle of the night, half his skull still missing, and forced him to sign a confession saying that it was not Israeli soldiers that caused his injury but a bicycle accident. To what school could he escape from the threat of soldiers raiding his house in the middle of the night?

Mohammed Tamimi, 15, was shot in the head with a rubber-coated bullet by the Israeli army shortly before the video of Ahed and Nur was filmed. (Activestills/Oren Ziv)

Mohammed Tamimi, 15, was shot in the head with a rubber-coated bullet by the Israeli army shortly before the video of Ahed and Nur was filmed. (Activestills/Oren Ziv)

The Knesset’s summer session will begin on Sunday. One of the bills that the most racist governing coalition in the history of the state will attempt to past is a death penalty for terrorists (Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s party has vigorously pushed for this bill). Such a law, in fact, is unnecessary, since it is already implemented as routine in the occupied territories, where every Palestinian who attempts to resist the occupation by whatever means is deemed a terrorist.

The Israeli army is carrying out summary executions with the full support of the political system, without disturbing the judicial and legislative systems one bit. And in the rare cases when there is an investigation into the killing of unarmed Palestinians, the killer almost always gets off. In the rarest of cases, the killer will face a laughable sentence – for example, Elor Azaria – and in the process become a national hero.

None of this is surprising. But when the education minister – whose most significant achievement is deepening militarism in Israeli schools and the blatant attempt to eliminate any kind of humanistic education – blames a murdered 15-year-old boy for his own death “because he wasn’t in school,” the feeling of disgust reflects a new low of evil, a gallop into the depths of immorality.

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    1. There is no school in Gaza on Friday. It is like Sunday in many other places. In the morning, people can attend mosque. The afternoon is for visits between family and friens.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      Hamas terrorists are using civilians and children to confront Israel and create trouble. It is a mass manipulation. A child of 15 years does not have to participate in public disorders.

      Reply to Comment
        • Itshak Gordin Halevy

          Do you compare the Martin Luther King movement with Hamas?
          Those who attack the Israeli army do so at their own risk. How can parents let their children face soldiers? It’s a shame. Those who support them also have some responsibility.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bruce Gould

            @Itshak: No, I’m comparing the Palestinians struggle for freedom and equal rights in an apartheid state to the civil rights movement.

            Reply to Comment
      • duh

        We hardly need to use the CRM as an counter-example; the Zionist movement itself has a history of recruiting children (and civilians to boot).

        anonymous soldiers p 281 “Children were marshaled into lines by their elders and directed to spit on troops conducting searches or making arrests (…) At Kibbutz Yagur, the troops had to use tear gas to incapacitate the women and thus take into custody the male settlers on their arrest lists.” This was during Operation Agatha.

        Gadna (youth battalion) – The Haganah, (…), also held training activities for youth, mainly in liaison and signaling positions, but in some places also in British diversion and guarding positions. In some cases young boys also took part in the actual fighting.

        Those who defend Israel’s conduct shouldn’t be allowed to throw this stuff down a memory hole.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Unless of course they’re 15 year old Jewish kids rampaging through Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods screaming “Death to Arabs!” and then its A-OK and not a “public disorder” and “the foreigners can stay if they respect our laws,” right Halevy? Your world champion ability to dully miss the point never fails to amaze me. I could swear you read these articles and say to yourself, hmmmm, how can I best show that my reading comprehension is non-existent? And every time you pull it off! Amazing!

        Reply to Comment
    3. ritzl

      It’s Occupied PALESTINE, not some nebulous “territories.” Do you say “occupying territories” for “Israel”, or do you just say “Israel”? Why the different treatment? Try writing an article where you use “occupying territories” instead of Israel and see how utterly dismissive and ludicrous it sounds. It has no meaning. Why use that phrasing?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Rick Chertoff

      “Attacking a sovereign border deserves sometimes a bullet.” This is a succinct statement of Zionist thinking, or should we say lack of thinking. First, the phrase “soverign border” is inaccurate on its face. Gaza is not a country. It is a territory that meets the international law definition of an “occupied territory”. It may come as a surprise but international law does exist outside the walls of the Hasbara department of the Israeli government. Just because Israeli media cravenly mimics Israeli government talking points does not create a reality outside of Israel. For example, the Israeli government is responsible for the well being of human life within its control, and these people were standing on territory assigned by Israel and therefore within their rights to approach the illegal barrier Israel has incarcerated them in, again, against international law. The fact that the individuals protesting did not threaten anyone is irrelevant to defenders of Israel, because, as the Defense Minister said, “there are no innocent people in Gaza”….I.e., Palestinian life is like Black life in the segregated South in the USA: no value. We get that…very clear.
      Having family that are Israeli Jews living in Israel, I’m very familiar with the Orwellian nature of political discourse of most Israelis. They say ” Temple Mount” even though there is no conclusive evidence for there having been The Temple there. If you say “Haram al-Sherif” you get a silent condemnation even though that does not deny Jewish identity with that place, in spite of lack of archeological evidence. They say “Arabs” because to correctly say Palestinians confirms Palestinian people’s history on the land that Israel has colonized and continues to illegally colonize, and therefore calls into question the ongoing ethnic cleansing by the state of Israel. Anything to rationalize the criminal actions by the Israeli state will be put forward, the facts be damned.

      Reply to Comment