The image of Palestinian children (as well as Iraqi children) with “toy guns” has become such a cliché in recent times that I’ve almost stopped paying attention to them when they show up in journalistic slideshows. But the photograph below, which appeared recently on the Washington Post website, warrants a close look despite what might seem initially as a weary stereotype.
What distinguishes this image from the many others in the “toy gun” genre is that the young boy is not with other children playing with his fake weapon, nor is he being watched over by a small group of approving adults. Rather, he is part of what appears to be a fairly large crowd of men raising their hands in protest, and notwithstanding the gaze of the camera, he does not receive any special attention from his fellow Palestinians. He is simply one among many. And from this perspective, it is not so much the toy gun that stands out in the picture (a marker of his childhood), but rather his left hand raised in protest and civic solidarity (a harbinger of his impending adulthood).
What we are witnessing, in short, is the process of political socialization. There is nothing all that surprising about the young boy’s gesture as he imitates his elders, nor would it be all that troubling but for the historical and geo-political contexts in which it occurs. But therein lies the rub. For what the image depicts is not just the coming of age of a new citizen—Palestinian or Israeli, it really doesn’t matter—but the guaranteed perpetuation of the current crisis as each subsequent generation is sucked up within an extended, perverse, and inexorable vortex of hatred and fear that has become normative.
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has been going on for so long, and there have been so many dips and turns, that I truly don’t know where the blame resides, though my strong suspicion is that there is plenty to go around and that there are few parties—if any—who are altogether blameless. And I don’t know what the solution is as long as each of the many sides remains stubbornly entrenched in its positions and oppositions. But the photograph above makes me want to weep as I imagine the many future generations consigned to the same culture of violence and suffering animated ultimately by their own diplomatic incompetencies. Surely there is a better way.
Photo Credit: Eliana Aponte/Reuters