Obama Israel Trip 2013: Why Young Israelis Won't Listen

The Electronic Intifada's Ali Abunimah reports that on the same day Barack Obama arrived in Israel for his first trip as a sitting president, Israeli soldiers "violently seized and detained dozens of Palestinian children, some aged as young as eight, on their way to school" in the city of Hebron in the Occupied Territories. Just a day later, while addressing an audience in Jerusalem, Obama went off script and asked Israelis to put themselves in the shoes of Palestinians and see the world through their eyes. Speaking about a group of young Palestinians he had previously met with, Obama remarked, "talking to them, they weren't that different from my daughters. They weren't that different from your daughters or sons."

Yet, Obama's plea to Israelis to recognize the common humanity of Israelis and Palestinians stands in stark contrast to the "racist and violent statements" that have appeared on some Israeli Facebook accounts in reaction to the video of the Palestinian children being detained in Hebron.

The Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, which posted the video on YouTube, condemned the mass detention of the 27 minors, including at least 14 under the age of 12. At least five children were 8 to 10 years old, which is below the age of criminal responsibility and "cannot legally be arrested." While a military spokesperson told B'Tselem that the children may have been involved in throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, as B'Tselem pointed out, if "there are specific suspicions against youths over the age of criminal responsibility, the police have the authority to detain them and interrogate them, but this cannot justify the mass detention of youths for unspecified suspicions, let alone the arrest or detention of children under twelve."

A number of reports released last year condemned Israelis treatment of Palestinian child detainees. The Palestine section of Defense for Children International published a report in April which found that when the "totality of the evidence is considered, a pattern of systematic ill-treatment emerges, much of which amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as defined in the UN Convention against Torture, and in some cases, torture – both of which are absolutely prohibited." Furthermore, a study funded and supported by the United Kingdom government released in June accused Israel of violating international law, international humanitarian law and the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child in its treatment of Palestinian child detainees. It argued, "the starting point of a spiral of injustice" is the belief that "every Palestinian child is a 'potential terrorist.'"

This belief, this dehumanization of Palestinians children, is evident in the reaction when the video of Palestinian children being detained in Hebron was posted on the Israeli Facebook page, "We are all in favor of death to terrorists," which has over 41,000 "Likes." Referring to the children, users, among them Israeli soldiers, commented, "I'd break every one of his bones" or "More violence is needed. Where are the clubs to break their legs?" Or, one user commenting on how to deal with Palestinian children: "Put him on his knees and shoot a bullet into his mouth."

Shocking as they are, however, these are not simply isolated comments. On the same day as the video was posted, a picture of three Palestinian boys sitting in a tent as part of a peaceful protest to coincide with Obama's visit was re-posted to the same Facebook group. The image was accompanied by the caption, "Arab boys in the illegal Arab outpost established near Maale Adumim. What should the Israeli army do to them?" And it elicited another shocking outburst from users, including comments such as, "Burn the tent," "Put a couple of bullets in their heads and we're done," or "Run them over and shoot them. It's not complicated!"

These comments are the latest in a series of similarly racist and disgusting comments and images that have been appearing on Israeli social media, including Facebook and InstagramThis picture of a Palestinian boy in the crosshairs of an Israeli soldier's sniper rifle made headlines around the world in February.

While it's important to note that not all Israelis think like this, these comments and images are not just isolated incidents from a few people with extreme views, but rather the product of the Israeli occupation and a culture of oppression that dehumanizes the Palestinians. In this context, one in which racist incitement by Israeli public figures reportedly doubled in 2012, Obama's plea to recognize the common humanity of Israelis and Palestinians will likely continue to find many deaf ears.