Monday, January 4, 2010

Like a Waving Flag

Ever since catching a piece of the song on the radio a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been taken with K’naan’s Like a Waving Flag. The lyrics, the music, K’naan’s own Somalian history grab me. I love the Balboaesque, רבים ביד מעטים defiance. Listening to the song, which is also the official anthem of the 2010 World Cup, it’s obvious that so much of it could be a history of the Jewish people.

But the other day I saw a homemade Youtube video set to the song, featuring pictures of victim children from around the world. Sudan, Tamil Tigers, Segregation-era US, Iran, and, of course, inevitably, Palestinian Arab children holding weapons, depicted not as victims of their parents’ militance but rather as victims of Israeli aggression. No pictures of Sderot's children, of course. And now I can’t hear the gentle iron of K’naan’s voice without thinking of those pictures and feeling outraged.

We've seen this before, of course; the world loves its youthful victims, embracing and even idolizing them for their suffering martyrdom. These children tug at our consciences, their pain is our pain, their faces the faces of our own youth, and helping them, or even contemplating helping them, makes us feel better about our own luxury. That their narrative can be so simply described – “Jews moved in, took their land and consigned them to poverty” – helps their cause, too; the world is hardly as sympathetic to Chechnyan children, for example, whose story seems so much more murky.

This is a professional martyrdom, a calculated decision to continue as victims in order to rally the world’s sympathy, and it drives me up the wall. The greatest sin of modern Israeli history is the decision of a nation to defend itself, and the Divine as well as international aid which made that effort a success.

Had the Jewish state remained a pitiful, besieged enclave, surviving at subsistence level, the world would have been most sympathetic, and aid for Israel would be as attractive a cause as tsunami relief was in 2004. But, instead, Israel is cast as the aggressor for its relative success in creating a strong and free society – you cannot be strong unless you are also guilty, apparently – and the Palestinian Arab child, consigned by his family to hunger to afford ammunition, is the poster child for a song about longing for freedom.


  1. Ilana Turgeman. Rachel Aputa. Yocheved Mazoz. Sarah Ben-Shim'on. Yona Sabag. Yafa Cohen. Shoshana Cohen. Michal Sitrok. Malka Amrosy. Aviva Saada. Yocheved Diyi. Yaakov Levi. Yaakov Kabla. Rina Cohen. Ilana Ne'eman. Sarah Madar. Tamar Dahan. Sarah Soper. Lili Morad. David Madar. Yehudit Madar.

  2. Our Sderot ChildrenJanuary 5, 2010 at 10:34 PM

    sorry, these are the children of Ma'alot, not Sderot.

  3. OSC-
    Yes, but I thought your point was simply that if people would look for child victims, they would certainly find them in Israel.

  4. It is not merely an issue about who is seen more sympathetically; I think that much of what is driving public opinion in many places is an automatic demonization of our side. At one point in time (in the '50s and '60s), Israel was seen as a victim of Arab aggression in liberal circles, and those circles likewise recognized the legitimacy of the Jewish state. Today, not only are Israelis seen as aggressors, but the Jewish claim to the land is totally de-legitimized, and Jews are seen as foreigners. It is not clear to me if seeing Israel as a victim led to sympathy for its national mission, or if sympathy for its national mission induced liberal circles to support it and view it as a victim. Similarly, are the TV images of Palestinian suffering causing people to ignore our side, or is ignorance of our side allowing others to ignore our plight? Of course, the answer may vary depending on the person involved, but I think that a good deal of the unwillingness to listen to our side is due to the wholesale adoption of the Palestinian narrative. This allows ignoramuses and bigots to look at Israel and Zionism in a very simplistic fashion and precludes them from feeling any sympathy for us.

  5. Joseph, as a non-Jew, I can only address your inquiries from my point of view. You make a good point in that much of what most people know about Israeli-Palestinian relations is skewed because there is very little education concerning the full history from both sides of the coin.

    You posed the question, "are the TV images of Palestinian suffering causing people to ignore our side, or is ignorance of our side allowing others to ignore our plight?" The simple answer is "yes". What is concerning to me is that there are many people who will hear about something on the news and choose not to research further, engage in a conversation for understanding, and figure "that has nothing to do with me".

    The only way to eliminate ignorance is to gain knowledge. Maybe through having conversations with those who are not Jewish with the intention of sharing and educating will bring about understanding. I enjoy this blog because I learn about Judaism and often see that there are feelings and thoughts not much different than mine. And I have friends (and probably family members) who are Jewish, was rear Christian where I was taught to respect Judaism deeply, not to mention that I've always been interested in Judaism. That is what allows me to delve deeper, empathize, and remain in a conversation for understanding.