U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar has unleashed a firestorm of controversy for empathizing with the plight of an oppressed people. Responding to a violent weekend during which nearly 700 rockets were launched at Israel by the ruling party of Gaza, Hamas, Rep. Omar tweeted:
“How many more protesters must be shot, rockets must be fired, and little kids must be killed until the endless cycle of violence ends? The status quo of occupation and humanitarian crisis in Gaza is unsustainable. Only real justice can bring about security and lasting peace.”
This rather bland objection to the horror of war and terrorism is especially insidious because of its vagueness. Any good-hearted, fair minded person will agree that violence against peaceful protesters and children is bad. Similarly, no rational human being would choose to live in a place where a foreign occupying power is creating a humanitarian crisis for its inhabitants. And being pro-justice, security, and peace are the moral equivalents of supporting oxygen, health, and love. Spouting such sweet sounding bromides allows Omar to establish her virtuousness without the heavy responsibility of having to assign cause for human suffering.
Instead, Omar’s statement substitutes causation with correlation. Her tweet suggests an association between Israel’s military response and the abuses inflicted on Palestinian children. Representative Omar is silent on the question of who’s responsible for the daily horrors being inflicted on Gaza’s approximately one million children. But only by establishing a causal link can we begin to consider ways to end the suffering of Gaza’s children. Some facts about being a child in Gaza are thus worth considering.
The Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) finds that large numbers of detainees in Palestinian jails (Palestinian Authority and the Gaza Strip) were children between 16 and 17. Detainees were subjected to different forms of torture, including beating, kicking, punching, flogging, cold water dousing, and being forced to strip.
Amnesty International reports that women and girls continue to face discrimination in law and practice. They are inadequately protected against sexual and other gender-based violence, including honor killings. At least 28 women and girls were reported to have been killed by male relatives in such a manner between 2017 and 2018.
The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics has repeatedly found that disabled children suffer from discrimination and degrading treatment in both the West Bank and Gaza. One report revealed that 37.6% of children with disabilities 15 and up had never been enrolled in an educational institution, with 53.1% being reported as illiterate.
UNICEF also reports that the family poverty rate in the Gaza Strip is 53.7%, one of the highest rates in the world. With unemployment reaching 60% of youth in the Gaza Strip, coping mechanisms are eroding fast. As a result, some children and families are resorting to such negative strategies as dropping out of school, child labor, substance abuse, and child marriages.
Hamas Summer Camp
Beginning in July, thousands of Palestinian children from the Gaza Strip will receive military training as part of Hamas’s and other militant groups’ summer camp programs. The camps are aimed at preparing children as young as 12 to fight against Israel. In some of these retreats, children are instructed in the basics of military action, how to carry and fire weapons, techniques to navigate obstacle courses, and other combat skills.
Meanwhile, Back in Israel
Representative Omar associates Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip with the suffering of the Palestinian people. Setting aside the fact that in 2005 the Israeli army withdrew from Gaza, dismantled all Israeli settlements in the area and removed 8,500 Jewish Israelis, there’s a simple way to analyze the Jewish state’s treatment of Palestinians: the state of the Arab population in Israel.
One interesting indication of Arab citizens’ desire to integrate into the wider Israeli society is the language they choose to communicate in. Tzvi Barel, Middle East commentator of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, notes that Israel’s Arabs are actually using too much Hebrew to his liking. The proliferation of Hebrew can be seen in the signs of shops and businesses in Israeli Arab towns and villages. Barel also observes that the conversation of Israeli Arabs when talking among themselves is increasingly full of Hebrew words and phrases.
Another survey questions the conventional wisdom that Israel is the cause of Palestinian misfortune. A survey by the Israel Democracy Institute reveals that Israeli Arabs are more satisfied than Israel’s Jewish citizens. According to the study, Israeli Arabs are more likely than Jewish Israelis to describe the country’s “overall situation” as good or very good, by 66% to 43.9%.
“We Want to Live”
While Representative Ilhan Omar raises the possibility that Israel is the root of Palestinians’ misery, Gazans seem to disagree. Over the past week, Palestinians have been demonstrating under the slogan: “We want to live.” The Gaza Strip is on the verge of a major public-health crisis: shortages of both doctors and medications have become critical and hospitals have been sending patients home untreated.
Omar may be surprised to learn that “We want to live” isn’t in reference to Israel at all. Otherwise, why did Hamas security forces respond by beating demonstrators, including two senior representatives of the Palestinian watchdog the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR)?
Maybe the freshman U.S. Representative from Minnesota’s 5th congressional district should take a break from tweeting to bone up on the difference between cause and correlation. The people she claims to be defending deserve at least that courtesy.
This piece was originally published in Newsmax on May 7, 2019.