The Israel Defense Forces this week cynically capitalized on an earlier
public relations coup, releasing yet another snapshot of a Palestinian
toddler posed with weapons. The photograph, purportedly seized during a
military operation in Hebron, is reminiscent of last month's notorious
"Terror in Diapers" photo, which showed a Gaza child decked out as a
The latest picture is of course a boon to pro-Israel flacks, who had been
so desperate to keep the kiddie terrorist story alive that they resorted to
recycling year-old snaps of a militaristic kindergarten pageant in Gaza,
falsely implying that the stale images were fresh. (See, for example,
"Palestinian Kindergartners Being Schooled in Hate," an Anti-Defamation
League press release dated June 27, 2002, or "Gaza Toddlers Taught Hatred,
Martyrdom and Jihad," a June 28, 2002 story in Israelinsider.com, where
weasel words are used to sell the old news as a hot item about a "recent"
ceremony. A little digging revealed the same information and identical
photos, clearly dated May 27, 2001, on the Israeli Prime Minister's web site.)
Whatever their provenance, all of these alarming images were widely
circulated in print and electronic media, where they were offered as
evidence that Palestinians are heartless monsters who would snatch their
own kids from the cradle and train them in terror.
But as I watched Zionist spinmeisters drawing ugly conclusions on CNN, I
couldn't help flashing back to fond memories of dear old Camp Milldale,
where -- to borrow a phrase from the ADL -- I myself was "schooled in hate"
during the summer of 1967.
Milldale is a suburban day camp located some miles outside of Baltimore,
Md., birthplace of its sponsoring organization, the Jewish Community Center
Association (JCC). Originally an educational and civic institution for poor
Jewish immigrants, the JCC redirected its energies toward middle-class
"schuls with pools" following WWII, and began aggressively promoting
Zionism in the aftermath of the Six-Day War.
Which is why, as a seven-year-old camper, I found myself manufacturing
cardboard daggers and machine guns during arts-and-crafts period. These
were to be used as props for Camp Milldale's end-of-summer pageant, which
featured a highly stylized re-enactment of episodes from Israeli history,
interspersed with songs from Fiddler on the Roof. Emmis.
We first-graders were entrusted with recreating 1948. Some of us got to
play Jewish militia; others -- probably not the counselors' favorites --
had to be Arabs. We took to the stage bristling with toy weapons.
Pint-sized Irgunists raised the Israeli flag, declared independence, and
were immediately attacked by shrieking hordes of simulated Palestinians.
After a brief melee, the Arabs all clutched their chests and fell down.
Then everyone stood and sang "Hatikvah." Curtain; wild applause.
You could look at this perversely funny little performance as a harmless
assertion of solidarity with Israel. Or you might see it as a callous
exploitation of innocent minds. Either way, my fellow campers and I were
certainly not being trained as terrorists. Nor, I suppose, were we
literally being "schooled in hate," except in the abstract sense in which
all such nationalist rituals are aimed at turning children into unthinking
Yet somewhere in Baltimore there's undoubtedly an album filled with lurid
snapshots of Milldale's 1967 summer pageant, and it would be simple enough
to deploy them on a web page or press release with the headline: "At Jewish
Summer Camp, Kids are Taught to Re-Enact Deir Yassin Massacre." The
resulting story would be close to literal truth, but its implications would
be essentially false.
My point? Context is everything. Those photos of Palestinian "terror tots"
might look very different if they were juxtaposed with shots of Jewish
settlers training their children to handle Uzis. (You can find some of
these on the web if you look hard enough; needless to say, they never
appear on CNN.) The baby bomber pics might even teach us something
important about the brutalizing effects of an endless colonial war -- but
only if they were presented in the context of daily life in occupied
Palestine, where violence, humiliation, and poverty are an inescapable part
of growing up.
Plucked out of context, however, these photos teach nothing but hatred.
They are intended to elicit rage and horror while stifling thought and
compassion. The obvious message is that Palestinians are incorrigibly
criminal, and therefore deserve nothing better than lifelong confinement in
the gigantic prison camps that Israel has made of Gaza and the West Bank.
The deeper implication is that all Palestinian children are actual or
potential terrorists, making them legitimate targets of Israeli military
Just as I wouldn't excuse a parent who dresses up an innocent kid as a
suicide bomber, I can't forgive a propagandist so reckless as to encourage
violence against children. Preying on the weak is a sin. Ironically, that's
one of the things I was taught at Camp Milldale.
Jacob Levich (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a writer and editor living in Queens, N.Y.