The Children of Gaza Were Not Killed For Democracy

Absolutely nothing about Israel's U.S.-sponsored genocide has to do with democracy. Biden needs to stop staining democracy with the blood of children

The Children of Gaza Were Not Killed For Democracy
Rafah, 2009. Via RafahKid Kid, used under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Edited and with a note by Sam Thielman

I'M IN A CRUNCH THIS WEEK, thanks to a non-snowstorm on Tuesday that prompted my dipshit mayor to order New York City's millions of kids, teachers, administrators and parents into remote learning. It turned into an entirely predictable fiasco that cost me a day of work while my daughter used my laptop. Piling up is a very exciting writing project that I hope I can soon announce—and I'll have you know that I have drafted the prologue of THE TORTURE AND DELIVERANCE OF MAJID KHAN, so this thing won't get in the way of Book Two, but more on that laterand I crashed on Monday for an early delivery of the Nation column that was due Tuesday, the day monopolized by computer school. That column has a lot to say about President Biden, the Israeli genocide in Gaza and the wider regional war emanating from it, stuff I won't say in this newsletter while the column is still in edits. (Paying subscribers to FOREVER WARS will get the forthcoming column in their inbox, so, y'know, buy a subscription.) 

But I want to use FOREVER WARS this time-compressed week to say this one thing. 

On its way to the House of Representatives is a much-stalled war-funding bill providing $14 billion in military aid, among other items, for Israel. It also includes $2.5 billion "to support U.S. military operations in the [Middle East] region," in the Associated Press' phrase. None of that is why the bill is stalled. It's stalled because of the Republicans' objections to the $60 billion the bill provides to Ukraine.

Biden on Tuesday gave a forceful statement urging the House Republicans to support the bill or at least let it pass. "Stand for decency, stand for democracy," Biden said. He wants to send the message to friend and foe that "America can be trusted, America can be relied upon, and America stands up for freedom." 

Strictly speaking, he's talking about Ukraine there. But the conflation of Ukraine and Israel in the bill makes it a perverse statement in defense of an Israeli military onslaught that the International Court of Justice considers plausibly genocidal and is now, horrifyingly, closing in on Rafah, the final redoubt of something like 1.4 million Palestinians who heeded Israeli calls to flee the north for its safe haven. And Biden has for the past five months wrapped U.S. material and diplomatic aid to the collective punishment of Gaza in the language of a great democratic cause. "Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common: They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy—completely annihilate it," Biden said after returning from Israel in October.

Hamas is neither capable of annihilating Israel nor does its struggle against Israel have anything to do with Israeli "democracy"—which is better understood as apartheid in the service of Jewish supremacy, but I digress. "Democratic" Israel, by contrast, is showing the world every single day that it sure is capable of annihilating Gaza, thanks in no small part to American weaponry and diplomatic support. 

The conflation of Israel and Ukraine, an aggressor and a victim, helped secure Senate passage for both funding measures. "This shocking vote effectively traded brown Palestinian lives for white Ukrainian lives—an act that should be unequivocally condemned," said Robert McCaw of the Council on American-Islamic Relations after the Senate approved the bill. As Ryan Grim of the Intercept reported, even one of the leading Senate critics of the annihilation of Gaza, Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), "gave an extraordinary speech on the Senate floor on Monday night, excoriating the Netanyahu government for deliberately blocking aid to civilians," before voting yes. 

When Biden urges legislators to "stand for decency," I think of one of the most unbearable things I've ever seen, something that took me back to the worst things I saw in the war zones I've reported from, even though thankfully I did not see there what I saw over my phone. I'm referring to what the opening phase of Israel's destruction of Rafah did to a body only identifiable as a young girl. On X, an account claiming to be a relative identified her as 12-year-old Sidra Hasouna. I won't link to the images. If you haven't seen what I'm talking about, and you want to, you can go look on your own. I can't verify her story, nor have I yet seen major media do so, and will freely admit I had an emotional reaction to seeing this imagery. (See a note from Sam below this item.) 

This imagery circulated on social media just after the body of a missing six-year old, Hind Rajab, was identified. Hind's family's car came under Israeli fire on Jan. 29. The Israeli military killed the paramedics dispatched to save the frightened little girl who had just watched her uncle, aunt and cousins die. According to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, "The occupation deliberately targeted the Red Crescent crew despite prior coordination to allow the ambulance to arrive at the site to rescue Hind." Here's the Israeli ambassador to Ireland responding on RTE to Hind's unspeakable fate. 

It was no struggle for democracy that killed something like 12,000 other children these past five months. None of these children threatened what passes for democracy inside Israel, and if someone wants to say that their very lives threaten that democracy, they need to examine what they're defending. Invoking democracy as a justification for their deaths, while America funds and protects the machinery that killed them, is to insult these slain children and slander democracy in the eyes of decent people. 

Democracy is too precious a thing—such a fragile thing, caught as it is in the jaws of oligarchy and racism—to profane with the blood of innocent children. If America was more democratic, Israel would likely not receive as much U.S. weaponry and diplomatic backing. (I know, "as much" is doing a lot of work in that sentence, but I don't want to overstate things.) My friend and Nation colleague Jack Mirkinson has already made short work of the PR farce that is the Biden administration's periodic leaks of how mad it is at Prime Minister Netanyahu. Whatever Biden says, that $14 billion is the only thing Netanyahu hears. Democracy is very far from what we're talking about here. 

A NOTE FROM SAM: I don’t usually push back on Spencer’s reporting, which is unfailingly rigorous, but I get very jumpy when we start writing about atrocity images, probably because of my background writing about technology and extremism. 

A few years ago, the Tow Center at Columbia University sent me to Iraq to talk about digital misinformation to groups of local journalists. They were (perhaps understandably) pretty hostile to my hidebound ideas of what you should and shouldn’t publish. At a stop in Baghdad, I launched into my explanation of how to spot a faked or, more commonly, repurposed image, usually of a maimed corpse from a different war, and an older reporter in the front row interrupted to scoff at me. “We use [fakes] all the time,” he said. “They show the evils of ISIS.” The thing is, of course, that they don’t show the evils of ISIS. They show some other, free-floating evil that people who hate ISIS so much they don’t particularly care about the grim details of a given conflict can assign to ISIS for the sake of convenience. Wars are filled to overflowing with these images; some are new, and some are just making the rounds.

When I read the paragraph where Spencer mentioned Sidra Hasouna, I was wary, because I have a kid, too, and I hate images of violence, especially violence done to children, too, and I know from embarrassing experience that being confronted with those images robs me of some of my critical faculties. (I don’t say that they do this to Spencer, who is one of the least wrong people I know.) [SPENCER HERE – Sam, it's fine…]

The trouble with being a tedious small-c conservative news guy in this situation is this: Well-funded outlets have reporters and sometimes entire bureaus in conflict zones and are ideally situated to perform the necessary interviews and comb through rubble and carnage and assign blame when a little boy or girl of no particular political significance is killed. But the outlets themselves are not always aligned politically in a way that will allow them to expend their resources on that, and so they often prefer to focus coverage on affairs of state. Social media makes this tradeoff much clearer, whether it is in the seemingly endless supply of videos of police murdering unarmed Black people or in the dispatches from right-wing rallies where neo-Nazis assail counterprotestors with impunity. So we do the best we can with the tools we have, in the service, primarily, of those little kids. A popular account run by a man who appears to be Sidra Hasouna’s uncle, Ibrahim Hasouna, posted a memorial video of her playing happily; Hasouna is quoted in an Al-Jazeera report as the sole survivor in his family of an attack on Rafah. I don’t have independent confirmation that the body in the horrific image circulating on X is hers, but I have enough to say that a little girl was murdered for grand geopolitical reasons, and that’s anathema to everyone here at FOREVER WARS.

A COUPLE NONFICTION BOOKS are coming out/coming out soon that you should preorder. I've read none of them, but I've got them either on preorder or through generous early provision. Despite not having read them yet, I feel confident that readers of FOREVER WARS will enjoy: The Hammer: Power, Inequality and The Struggle for The Soul of Labor by Hamilton Nolan; This American Ex-Wife: How I Ended My Marriage and Started My Life by Lyz Lenz—this is going to be an awkward one when my wife sees it on my nightstand—and The Lucky Ones: A Memoir by Zara Chowdhary. These are Amazon links because while the world would be a better place without Amazon, the unforgiving reality of book publishing is that an unfortunately substantial part of a book's success depends on its Amazon performance. Don't let these flop, you'll like them. 

MY BABY, WALLER VS. WILDSTORM, is all grown up and collected into a hardcover edition that you can purchase. Jan. 30 was her Bat Mitzvah. She started life as a comic book and today she is a graphic novel. If you want a four-issue set of her baby pictures, autographed by me and certified authentic, they're going fast at Bulletproof Comics! No one is prouder of her than her older sibling, REIGN OF TERROR: HOW THE 9/11 ERA DESTABILIZED AMERICA AND PRODUCED TRUMP, available now in hardcover, softcover, audiobook and Kindle edition. And on the way is new addition to the family: THE TORTURE AND DELIVERANCE OF MAJID KHAN