The Other View, Issue 6
In his article A Child is Killed (The Other View Issue 5), Anthony McIntyre describes the killing of twelve year old Mohamed Elargi by Israeli forces as “profoundly disturbing”. As a mother who raised two children during the course of the recent violent conflict in Northern Ireland, and who has dreaded the possibility that either could be killed as the result of an indiscriminate shooting or bombing, I would certainly agree with those remarks.
That any child should die, whether accidentally or wilfully, as a consequence of political conflict is deplorable. This applies as much to Israeli children killed by Palestinian fighters as it does to Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces. All such deaths should be regarded as “profoundly disturbing”. No child, Israeli or Palestinian, deserves to be killed and when we take up the pen to condemn one such killing we ought to be consistent and condemn all such killings. The killing of a Palestinian child is no more horrendous and no more murderous than the killing of an Israeli child.
The horrendous killing of six Israeli children by a Palestinian suicide bomber in a Pizza Café in August reminds us of the absolute horror of total war. But what was even more disturbing were the newsreel pictures of adults dancing in the street in celebration of the slaughter. Celebrating the death of children! – that is “profoundly disturbing” indeed.
Children in Northern Ireland have been no more immune from attack than children in Palestine or in Israel. Statistics provided by the “Cost of the Troubles Study” show that 257 children under the age of eighteen were killed between 1969 and 1998. Twenty-five of these were five years old or under and a further twenty-four between the ages of six and eleven. Sixty-seven children under the age of eighteen have been killed by the security forces. That is “profoundly disturbing”. A further ninety children within the same age range have died as a result of anti-state paramilitaries and a further seventy-four by pro-state paramilitaries. The deaths of these children were also “profoundly disturbing”. None of these children deserved to die and none of the forces responsible for their can hold up clean hands.
I stood numbed with shock one Saturday afternoon in December 1971 as the lifeless bodies of two babies were dug out of the rubble of furniture showroom on the Shankill Road. One child was two years old, the other a mere seven months. That was my first close encounter with the death of a child who had been killed during the course of the Northern Ireland conflict. That “profoundly disturbing” experience has stayed with me ever since. It could have been my child or my neighbours child and the thought that has haunted me down through the years was the knowledge that at any time either of my children could suffer a similar fate. When the Rule of Law and the values of normal civic morality are dispensed with, any child is liable to the same horrible fate.
In Northern Ireland we have a very bad habit of defining victim-hood in the narrowest of terms. We tend to draw a circle around “our” people and deny victim-hood to all who fall outside that circle. This simply serves to justify injury to some, suggesting that there are “deserving” and “undeserving” victims – those who “are good value for it” and others who are not. Genuine concern for healing in the community will lead us to acknowledge that all who have suffered loss as a result of violence have a right to have that suffering validated. This means that the definition of "victim-hood" must be all-inclusive. The children of Israel as much as the children of Palestine, Unionist children no less that Nationalist children, victims of anti-state violence no less than the victims of state violence.
A view of victim-hood that is skewed towards “our” people, or towards those people elsewhere with whose political aspirations we identify, produces a “profoundly disturbing” approach to victim-hood. A much more even-handed view is required if we are ever to assist communities in conflict to heal the hurts of the past. By all means let us write and talk about the effects of violent conflict on our children, but let us do so in as open and as unbiased a way as is possible.