Nassir the latest in a long line of Palestinian child victims of Israel
As the frail body of 12-year-old Nassir Al-Mosabeh fell to the ground on Friday, Sept. 28, history was repeating itself in a most tragic way. Little Nassir was not just another number, a “martyr” to be exalted by equally poor refugees in Gaza or vilified by Israel and its tireless hasbara machine. He was much more than that.
The stream of blood that poured out from his head wound on that terrible afternoon drew a line in time that travelled back 18 years. Almost 18 years to the day separated Nassir’s recent murder and the Israeli army killing of Mohammed Al-Durrah, also 12, on Sept. 30, 2000. Between these dates, hundreds of Palestinian children have perished in similar ways.
Reports by the rights group B’tselem are rife with statistics: 952 Palestinian children were killed between the Second Intifada in 2000 and Israel’s war on Gaza, the so-called Operation Cast Lead in 2008. In the latter war alone, 345 Palestinian children were reportedly killed, in addition to another 367 child fatalities reported in Israel’s latest war, Operation Protective Edge of 2014.
But Mohammed and Nassir — and thousands like them — are not mere numbers; they have more in common than simply being the ill-fated victims of trigger-happy Israeli soldiers. In that single line of blood that links Nassir and Mohammed, there is a narrative that is compelling, yet often neglected. The two 12-year-old boys were so much alike — small, handsome, dark-skinned refugees, whose families were driven from villages that were destroyed in 1948 to make room for today’s Israel.
Young as they were, both were victims of that reality. Mohammed died while crouching by the side of his father, Jamal, as he beseeched the Israelis to stop shooting. Eighteen years later, Nassir walked with thousands of his peers to the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel, staring at the faces of the snipers and chanting for a free Palestine.
Between the two boys, the entire history of Palestine can be written. Not only that of victimization and violence, but also of steadfastness and honor, passed from one generation to the next.
“Who will carry on with the dream?” were the words Nassir’s mother reportedly repeated as she held a photograph of her son and wept. In the photo, Nassir is seen carrying his schoolbag and a small bottle of rubbing alcohol near the fence separating Gaza and Israel. The “dream” is a reference to the fact that Nassir wanted to be a doctor, thus his enthusiasm to help his two sisters, Dua’a and Eslam, who were medical volunteers at the fence. His job was to carry the alcohol bottle and, sometimes, oxygen masks as his sisters rushed to help the wounded, many of them Nassir’s age or even younger.
In a recent video message, the young boy — who had just celebrated the achievement of memorizing the entire Holy Qur’an — demonstrated in impeccable classical Arabic why a smile can be considered an act of charity.
Protesting the Israeli siege and the injustice of life in Gaza was a family affair, and Nassir played his role. His innovation of taping raw onions to his own face to counter the tears induced by the Israeli army’s tear gas garnered him much recognition among the protesters, who have been rallying against the siege since March 30. So far, nearly 200 unarmed protesters have been killed while demanding an end to the 11-year-long blockade and also calling for the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. Nassir was the 34th child to be killed in cold blood since the protests began, and he is unlikely to be the last.
When Mohammed was killed 18 years ago, the images of his father trying to shield his son’s body from Israeli bullets with his bare hands left millions around the world speechless. A video of the incident, which was aired by France 2, left many with a sense of helplessness, but perhaps also hope that the publicity that Mohammed’s televised murder had received could possibly shame Israel into ending its policy of targeting children.
Alas, that was never the case. After initially taking responsibility for killing Mohammed, a bogus Israeli army investigation concluded that his death was a hoax, that Palestinians were to blame, and that the France 2 journalist who shot the video was part of a conspiracy to “delegitimize Israel.”
Many were shocked by the degree of Israeli hubris, and the brazenness of its mouthpieces around the Western world
Many were shocked by the degree of Israeli hubris, and the brazenness of its mouthpieces around the Western world, who repeated such falsehoods without any regard for morality or, even, common sense. But the Israeli discourse itself has been part of an ongoing war on Palestinian children.
Israeli and Zionist propagandists have long claimed that Palestinians teach their children to hate Jews. The likes of Elliott Abrams raged against Palestinian textbooks for “teaching children to value terrorism… That is not the way to prepare children for peace,” he wrote last year. In July, the Israeli army claimed that Palestinian children deliberately “lure IDF troops” by staging fake riots, thus forcing them into violent confrontations.
The US-Israeli propaganda machine has not just targeted Palestinian fighters or factions, but has also done its utmost to dehumanize, and thus justify the killing of, Palestinian children too. “Children as young as eight turned into bombers, shooters, stabbers,” reported one Adam Kredo in the Washington Free Beacon, citing a “new report on child terrorists and their enablers.” This is not simply bad journalism, but part of a calculated Israeli campaign aimed at preemptively justifying the killings of children such as Nassir and Mohammed, and hundreds more like them.
It is that same ominous discourse that resulted in the call for genocide made by none other than Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, when she also called for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes.”
The killings of Nassir and Mohammed should not then be viewed in the context of military operations gone awry, but in the inhuman official and media discourses that do not differentiate between a resistance fighter carrying a gun or a child carrying an onion and an oxygen mask. Nor should we forget that Nassir and Mohammed are chapters in the same book; part of an overlapping narrative that makes their stories, although set 18 years apart, one and the same.
- Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is “The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story” (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter