Why Do Terrorists Target Children? A guest post by the distinguished historian Prof. Anna Geifman
[Dr. Anna Geifman teaches history at Bar-Illan University. She moved to Israel in 2007 after a distinguished career at Boston University. In 2010 she published the definitive modern history of Bolshevik terrorism, Death Orders: The Vanguard of Modern Terrorism in Revolutionary Russia. I reviewed it when it appeared and have had the privilege to consult Dr. Geifman from time to time since then. I'm honored to present her analysis of the murder of the three Israeli boys as a guest post].
In blessed memory of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel, HY"D
Acts of terror against the young are the unadvertised “latest trend” in global political violence. For the first time since the Holocaust, slaying children has turned into a modus operandi. Since 9/11, they are terrorists’ preferred targets.
Terrorists are nihilists par excellence: they strike at the foundation of the mainstream culture, seeking to wipe out its pivotal symbols and meanings. In the new millennium, amid a raging sea of conflicting concepts, pluralistic connotations, confusing priorities, habitual skepticism, intellectual and ethical relativism, perhaps our only enduring value is concern for children. Whatever else we believe, we believe unconditionally in securing the welfare, health, and security of children. No sane person will claim that while it is not nice to hurt children, there is another side to the argument. Today, children are the last consecrated absolute. For its part, militant nihilism strives to ruin first and foremost what their contemporaries hold sacred.
Episodes of child-directed violence occurred as early as May 1970 in Israel, when thirty-four children were killed and wounded in the Avivim school bus massacre. In May 1974 hostage-takers in Ma’alot detonated hand grenades and sprayed high school students with machine-gun fire. In April 1980, terrorists took hold of the nursery in kibbutz Misgav Am, killed an infant and injured four children. In July of that year, in Antwerp, Belgium, a Fatah member cast hand grenades into a group of Jewish schoolchildren at a bus stop.
After the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, casualties among the Israeli young multiplied. In a single episode in June 2001, twenty-one teenagers lost their lives in the “Delphinarium” discotheque in Tel Aviv. By mid-2002, child-targeting become systematic: a bomb explosion in Jerusalem next to a group of women with baby carriages (March 2); the bombing of a discotheque in Tel Aviv (May 24); children killed in a Petah Tikva ice cream parlor (May 27).
When zoomed-in on selected Israeli localities, the picture becomes grim indeed. In Itamar, a gunman shot to death two students playing basketball outside the Hitzim school and then killed three more teenagers inside in May 2002. About a month later, two militants broke into the home of the Shabo family, killed the mother and her children, ages fifteen, twelve, and five, and severely wounded a ten- and a thirteen--year olds. In another month, a terrorist broke into another private home, stabbed the husband and wife and them ran his knife through the empty beds of their eight children, away with grandparents. The March 2011 the Fogel family was slaughtered: along with their parents, stabbed to death was a boy of eleven, his four-year old brother, and their three-month old sister; at the trial, terrorists regretted not to have noticed two other sleeping children
Itamar is a settlement, where “Jewish fanatics” are said to “provoke victimized Arabs” to kill children in the response to occupation. But Sderot is not a disputed terroritory. "A present for the start of the new school year," the Islamic Jihad website flaunted first of their September 2007 missile strikes, which sent twelve Sderot kindergarteners to the hospital to be treated for shock.[i] Terrorists send 3,200 Qassam rockets against this Israeli town in 2008.[ii] Residents reported that the shelling intensified when children were on their way to and from classes.
Attacks on schools and yeshivas in Israel reached their peak with the massacre at Merkaz HaRav in Jerusalem in March 2008. All but one of the children had just gotten off a yellow school bus in Sa'ad on April 7, 2011 when a targeted missile hit, mortally wounding the remaining boy. On March 19 the following year, a self-styled Al-Qaeda operative opened fire in a Jewish school in Toulouse, France.
"If the Jews left Palestine to us, would we start loving them? Of course not. . . . They are enemies not because they occupied Palestine,” some Islamist clerics admit openly and urge: we will "annihilate them, until not a single Jew remains on the face of the Earth."[iii] It is as if the Biblical Amalek has finally broken portentous silence to speak his mind about the annihilation of Israel--his raison d’être. According to the tradition, Amalek attacks from the rear, slaying the least protected, especially children. Yet, while Amalek’s hate is for Israel alone, his accomplices today do not spare any children.
Muslim children are among their first victims. In Iraq they are assaulted in school buildings and on playgrounds—in Baghdad, Ramadi, Tuz Khurmato, and Ba'qubah (July 13, 2005, December 3, 2006; January 28, 2007, October 12, 2007, January 22, 2008, and December 7, 2009), to list a few cases. On May 6, 2007 the Islamists bombed a UN-run elementary school in the Gaza refugee camp of Rafah during a sports festival, which the extremists had declared un-Islamic. A suicide car school bombing on December 28, 2008 in Khost, Afghanistan, was one of 1,153 Taliban acts against young students in two preceding years—via shootings, torture, acid, arson, grenades, mines, and rockets.[iv] Boko Haram of Nigeria has been targeting schools since 2010. Thousands of children have been unable to attend classes as a result; hundreds have been killed to confirm the Jihadists’ stand against westernized education. More than 200 girls kidnapped on the night of 14-15 April, 2014 are still missing: Boko Haram terrorists oppose female education; in the past, they have used abducted schoolgirls as sex slaves.[v]
When Thailand Muslim militants assailed a school bus in Ratchaburi province in June 2002, no one saw the atrocity as a sign of a new trend. Yet, in the decade that followed targeting children turned into a tactic that crossed all geographical and ideological lines. On July 2011 a self-styled “crusader” against European leftists and Muslims killed 69 people in a shooting spree in the Norwegian youth summer camp on Utøya island; 50 victims were 18-years old and younger.