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.