Palestinian Funerals Are Not 'Militant Pageantry'

Palestinians love their children and want them to live just like the rest of us.

I shouldn't have to say this, but I feel it's necessary following a New York Times piece by Jodi Rudoren critiquing the funeral held for members of the Dalou family killed in a single Israeli airstrike on Gaza, four of who were small children between the ages of one and six. Rudoren is the New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief. While I have mad respect for all of the journalists risking their lives to report from Gaza while bombs are falling, her piece is totally unacceptable and I'm utterly shocked that her editors at the Times allowed it to be published.

From beginning to end, the piece is packed with racially loaded buzzwords that reflect common negative stereotypes westerners hold about Arabs and Muslims. The trouble begins in the opening sentence:

Sweat streamed through the beards of three men clutching the body of 7-year-old Jamal Dalu as they raced through the streets toward his final resting place here amid bursts from assault rifles fired into the air and shouts of "God is great."

This immediately paints a picture of bearded, Islamic fundamentalists. You know, the people the media loves to show us setting fire to effigies of US presidents and American flags with AK-47s strapped across their shoulders as they chant, "Death to America." The reason I know I'm not over reacting is because I'm an Arab deeply aware of these dangerous stereotypes, yet that opening sentence still elicited those images in my mind. I imagine it was the same for readers far less aware than me. So already, the reader's ability to empathize with Palestinians is compromised. The racial undertones continue in the second paragraph:

There were few if any visible tears at the intense, chaotic, lengthy funeral on Monday of Jamal and seven relatives, among 12 people killed the day before in the single deadliest attack since the latest hostilities between Israel and the Gaza Strip began Wednesday after months of Palestinian militant rocket fire into Israel. Instead, there were fingers jabbing the air to signal "Allah is the only one," defiant chants about resistance and calls for revenge, flags in the signature green of Hamas and the white of its Al Qassam Brigades.

The message here is that Palestinians don't cry even when 12 people are killed. Instead, Rudoren explains, they vie for revenge while praising the evil terrorists (Hamas) and their evil terrorist God. Nevermind that the dozen civilians who were killed had absolutely no affiliation with Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any other militant group. Still, sandwiched in between all of this is the false though frequently repeated notion that Palestinians started this round of bombardments with "months of Palestinian rocket fire into Israel," a claim that's been overwhelmingly disproven.

Despite the focus being on a funeral, we don't learn details about the victims until the eighth paragraph, preceded first by the unchallenged claims of an IDF spokeswomen justifying the attack and inflammatory rhetoric by Hamas officials unrelated to the victims. It's not until the tenth paragraph that Rudoren even quotes a relative of the victims. This is because the true theme of the article is the inappropriate way Palestinians mourn their dead:

At the destroyed Dalu family home, a man climbed atop the pile of rubble where a dozen photographers had positioned themselves and hoisted the body of one of the four dead children into the air several times, as though a totem. At the mosque, the eulogy was disrupted by the sound of missiles launched toward Israel from nearby...Much of the militant pageantry most likely was meant as a message for the news media, and thus the world, given how the Dalus had instantly become the face of the Palestinian cause.

Rudoren's description would have you believe that Palestinians view their dead children as nothing more than photo-ops, a chance to gain sympathy from the west. She even refers to the funeral as "militant pageantry," which she echoed in a Facebook post, writing, "I have not been to a lot -- OK, any - Hamas funerals before."

She proceeds to quote Hamas officials and mourners calling for revenge, as though that's an unnatural response to a massacre, especially since westerners, particularly Americans, have a penchant for vengeance too, arguably more so than Palestinians. When 3,000 Americans were killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we reacted by attacking not one, but two countries, one of which (Iraq) had no connection to the attacks whatsoever. Over a decade later, we are still bombing countries (Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Philippines this year alone) to avenge the deaths of those 3,000 Americans. In this context, it's almost laughable that American journalists from publications that cheer-led these attacks have the audacity to scold Palestinians for seeking vengeance.

Then comes the most deeply offensive part of all:

But the tone, far more fundamentalist than funereal, was also a potent sign of the culture of martyrdom that pervades this place, and the numbness that many here have developed to death and destruction after years of cross-border conflict.

Many of them aspire to what they see as martyrdom in the struggle for a Palestinian state.

This is a common accusation among the pro-Israel crowd who like to say that Palestinians have a desire for death and that parents are proud when their children are blown to bits while fighting Israel. Israeli Jews on the other hand love their children and respect the sanctity of life. Later, Rudoren doubled down on her portrayal of Palestinians on Facebook, writing:

...while death and destruction is far more severe in Gaza than in Israel, it seems like Israelis are almost more traumatized. The Gazans have a deep culture of resistance and aspiration to martyrdom, they're used to it from Cast Lead and other conflicts, and they have such limited lives than in many ways they have less to lose...I've been surprised that when I talk to people who just lost a relative, or who are gathering belongings from a bombed-out house, they seem a bit ho-hum.

When challenged by Philip Weiss and others about her troubling comments, Rudoren did not apologize for her remarks, but rather for bad word choice.

While her reporting and subsequent comments aren't surprising given her clear attachment to Israel, I still have a hard time comprehending how someone can see the destruction and suffering in Gaza first hand and still hold such deeply bigoted views.

For starters, the idea that Muslims and Arabs "aspire to martyrdom" is nonsense. For people who are struggling against occupiers, colonizers or any great abusive power, there is indeed a sentiment that their death is not in vein because they've sacrificed their life to free their people. As any quick look at history will show, this is far from unique to Palestinians and extends to those who fought the American revolution, blacks who resisted slavery, Native Americans who fought against European colonizers and the list goes on. As for calling dead Palestinian children "martyrs", that's simply a way to cope with the death of a loved one, or in Gaza, loved ones. We do it in the west too when we say, "it was God's will" or "it's all a part of God's plan."

Palestinians love their children and want them to live just like the rest of us. Why is that so hard to see?

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