Many years ago, Edward Said, the towering Palestinian American intellectual who founded the academic field of post-colonialist studies said in Orientalism: ‘Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires, as if one shouldn’t trust the evidence of one’s eyes watching the destruction and the misery and death brought by the latest mission civilizatrice.’ His words were never more poignant than in relation to the story that emerged last week that an Israeli general had confirmed that army snipers had been ordered to shoot children.
Last week the general confirmed that when snipers stationed along Israel’s boundary with Gaza shoot at children, they are doing so deliberately, under clear and specific orders. In a radio interview, Brigadier-General (Reserve) Zvika Fogel describes how a sniper identifies the ‘small body’ of a child and is given authorization to shoot.
On Friday, an Israeli sniper shot dead 14-year-old Muhammad Ibrahim Ayyoub. The boy, shot in the head, was the fourth child among the more than 30 Palestinians killed in Gaza since 30 March – at least, that was accurate at the time of writing. In a transcript of his radio interview, translated and published by The Electronic Intifada, Fogel is asked if the Israeli army should rethink its use of snipers,’ and suggests that someone giving orders ‘lowered the bar for using live fire.’
Fogel doesn’t mince his words: ‘At the tactical level, any person who gets close to the fence, anyone who could be a future threat to the border of the State of Israel and its residents, should bear a price for that violation. If this child or anyone else gets close to the fence in order to hide an explosive device or check if there are any dead zones there or to cut the fence so someone could infiltrate the territory of the State of Israel to kill us …’
‘Then his punishment is death?’ the host interrupts him. Without taking a breath, Fogel continued: ‘His punishment is death. As far as I’m concerned then yes, if you can only shoot him to stop him, in the leg or arm – great. But if it’s more than that then, yes, you want to check with me whose blood is thicker, ours or theirs.’
Living in the North of Ireland throughout the thirty years of the troubles, which left well over 3,000 men, women and children, combatants and non-combatants alike dead, and many thousands more wounded, maimed and bereaved, I can tell Brigadier General Fogel that he is wrong.
Terribly and cruelly wrong.
As anyone in the Gaza strip can tell you, as anyone in the Yemen, Pakistan, Venezuela, or anywhere bloody conflict breaks out in disputes over contested identity and culture can tell you, blood is simply blood.
Suffering is simply suffering. And loss is simply loss.
Perhaps, one day, Trump, Putin, May and others who fuel and profit from these proxy wars around the world will recognise the truth of Said’s words. Until then, it would seem, we are condemned to reflect on the truth of Gandhi’s words: ‘An eye for an eye leaves us all blind.’
And as the great Renaissance humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam said in the Middle Ages, ‘in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.’
Edward Said would have agreed with his humanism. When Said wrote Orientalism many centuries later, he concluded: ‘Most important, humanism is the only, and I would go so far as to say, the final resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history.’