Podcast: Shocking Instagram photos show Palestinian children are targets, says Ali Abunimah

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Hundreds of Palestinians, protesting the ongoing imprisonment of hunger striking political prisoners, lead Friday prayers outside the Ofer military prison camp near Ramallah, 15 February.

(Issam Rimawi / APA images)

This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:

Rush transcript - Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada: So, first off, talk about these stories. Since The Electronic Intifada broke them starting a week ago, they’ve been picked up by mainstream news outlets and dozens of publications on all inhabited continents and in more than a dozen different languages. For people who are familiar with the Israeli army’s behavior, this kind of story doesn’t come as a surprise, although the photos and racist speech are still incredibly shocking. But why do you think that these stories have been widely picked up by the global media, and what does it reveal about the culture within the Israeli army — which said that these incidents do not accord with their values?

Ali Abunimah: Well, I have to say, I did expect these stories to be widely read, but even I was surprised by how just what a huge impact they made, and have been picked up as you said, by media everywhere — including Israeli media, which has reported on them quite extensively.

When I think about that first image that we revealed, of the boy in the crosshairs of the sniper rifle, you know, I think that it struck a chord with people because it really, I think, embodies the view of the Israeli army, of the Israeli occupation, that life is cheap — particularly the lives of Palestinian children. And when any Palestinian parent looks at that image, they know that that could really be their child in the crosshairs, because even in the first weeks of 2013, several Palestinian children have been shot dead by the Israeli army. And what is common to all of these cases is that there is never any kind of credible investigation or accountability.

So I think that the image embodies this notion that Palestinian children are targets, that Palestinian life is cheap, and that Palestinian life can be taken time and time again with real impunity. That soldiers get away with it time and time again.

And I think that the image is also such a stark opposite to the image that the Israeli army itself tries to portray of the “most moral army in the world,” the tagline they use. And I think that’s really why it did strike such a chord around the world.

EI: Well, Ali, as you said, this is not the first time that this type of brutality has been documented by soldiers themselves, albeit in a way where the soldiers are bragging about arresting, humiliating and threatening to kill Palestinians they’re occupying. Talk about the history of this kind of behavior, and what’s behind it, psychologically, the culture of impunity we’re seeing here throughout the six decades of Israel’s brutal policies in Palestine.

AA: Yeah, I think that what was new about this was the medium — the fact that it was on Instagram, a very trendy and attractive social media platform, that the Israeli army itself has tried to use for positive propaganda. And this is an example of it backfiring badly on them.

But in terms of what it reveals — you’re right, there’s nothing new about that. Of course, and here one of us familiar with this issue can cite report after report from human rights organizations, whether it’s Amnesty or Human Rights Watch or PCHR [Palestinian Centre for Human Rights] or B’Tselem, or Defense for Children International, documenting the systematic brutality against Palestinian children.

Perhaps there’s something that people around the world, a lot of people are not going to read through those thick reports, and perhaps these images have touched them or brought this reality home to them in a way that all that documentary evidence has failed to do somehow. But there are even also testimonies, or stories from Israeli soldiers themselves, collected by this Israeli group called Breaking the Silence — which, in 2012, published a report containing really horrifying testimonies of soldiers themselves saying how, you know, when they would get bored, they would start provoking riots, they would randomly pick Palestinian children and shoot at them. These are of course reports that we’ve published and reported on in The Electronic Intifada, people can find them by searching for “Breaking the Silence.”

But even that, in another country, in another democracy, I mean Israel calls itself a democracy, but in a real democracy, if a group had said, look, here are these testimonies, and these are people who are talking about serious crimes — murder, war crimes, kidnapping, violence — the judicial authorities ought to open an investigation, they ought to say, hand over that evidence so we can investigate and prosecute.

But nothing like that has been done in Israel. And I think again, that’s an illustration of how deep and high the impunity goes. That soldiers can talk about doing these things, apparently without fear that the authorities will take any serious efforts to investigate.

EI: Finally, Ali, can you talk a little about how the global media has been analyzing the report that you broke on EI, and what this reveals about the way in which the culture of impunity inside the Israeli army is regarded in the global media?

AA: Well, I’m very glad that these stories have gotten a lot of attention and brought attention to these issues. At this point, it’s not an exaggeration to say that hundreds of thousands of people have read these stories just on The Electronic Intifada. And many millions more in other media outlets.

I really hope that it does get people to dig a little deeper, to go beyond the pictures. And not to accept the notion put out by the Israeli army that “this is against our values and principles.” Or that these are isolated cases, or rotten apples. I really hope that it encourages media to really get out of this situation where we are so used to this kind of brutality from Israel that it’s almost not newsworthy anymore. It’s just a norm.

There are 200 Palestinian children currently, as we’re speaking, in Israeli prisons. The experience of being pulled out of your bed at night, being put in solitary confinement, being tortured, being subjected to really cruel and inhuman conditions, is not an unusual one for Palestinian children, particularly for teenage boys living under Israeli occupation.

But it’s one that is almost never talked about in the media. And I hope that perhaps this can provoke at least a few people to look deeper into the issues.

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