July 31, 2006

"Teaching Our Sons to Kill"

"Teaching Our Sons to Kill"

Israeli-American Deborah van Rooyen was standing on the Israeli side of the border with Lebanon the day before the first Katyusha rockets hit, marveling at how peaceful the area was.

“I kicked aside an old green road sign that read, “Halt, Tatzor. Border ahead of you! Forbidden to cross??? in English, Hebrew and Arabic, completely neglected, completely unguarded. I took a picture. One man posed and said, ‘Nothing happening around here, not for 6 years.’… Now I’m sure that place is just crawling with soldiers.???

Deborah van Rooyen, in a conversation with Open Source, July 28 2006.

Deborah has since returned to her life as an graphic designer in the states, but her relatives are hunkered down in a Kibbutz in the north. After reading Lisa Goldman’s feature on our site last week, she told us this story about another controversial photograph:

Read the full text of Deborah’s comment here.

I have been reminded of pictures that can be interpreted any way you decide works for you: When I lived and worked in Amman… I discovered a brilliant woman photographer named Jan Kassay… Jan and I became great friends until one evening, while sipping cool minted lemonade on the terrace of the Hyatt, Jan told me just how cruel and evil my people were, how they were born to be occupiers and killers. Stunned, I asked her what she was referring to. She dug a black and white photograph out of her handbag and pushed it squarely beneath my nose. “See –you Israelis only want one thing???. I stared at the photo and there were soldiers, teenagers, barely able to shave, boy-soldiers who could have been my cousins, my brothers, my own children, standing nervously in riot formation holding off an anschluss of stone-throwing Palestinian teenagers and kids, and yes, sure enough, written across their helmets in English (not even Hebrew!) were three horrible words “Born to Kill??? in black magic marker.

Or taught? [mat. / Flickr]

“You see!???, Jan said, immensely satisfied to be proven correct, ‘they are taught to kill us from the cradle???. I scratched my head, confused. Propaganda? There were many interpretations I could have tried to bring to the table, to smooth the provocation. Did Jan know how many soldiers, how many refuseniks, how many young boys might have written those words “Born to Kill??? in homage to Golda Meir who made famous that one line, “I can forgive the Arabs many things, but not for teaching our sons to kill.??? How many boys, how many sons, how many brothers, fathers, husbands feel that they have only been born to be fodder for the Israeli Army because there is no other choice if they want to keep their wives, their mothers, their children, their sisters, their farmlands one bullet away from living like a normal person? And this is just one interpretation: I read the words on the helmets and heard their cynical voices, the futility, a thrust of the middle finger to the government of Israel that had just put a bullet in Rabin’s head. Jan read the words on the helmets and saw bloodlust and dead children in uprooted olive groves.

So yes, whatever were those parents in Kiriyat Shmonay thinking when they let their little girls with cute pigtails write love notes to the Darth Vader of Evil? But the scorecard is unfortunately pretty well even– I’ve also seen little children from Ramallah and Amman and Khan Yunis parading with toy guns and flags and suicide belts screaming with nationalist furor, as I’ve seen Kitah Aleph (first grade) Israeli kids from Kibbutz Ginosar play acting kissing their “husbands??? goodbye and sending them off to war, and I am frightened by all of these children….because eventually they do grow up and the game becomes real.

Deborah van Rooyen, in a comment to Open Source, July 26, 2006.

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