Thursday, December 21, 2006

Education or Mind Infection?

Nurit Peled-Elhanan

Speech given at Connecticut College, New London, CT 09/27/06

I would like to dedicate these words to all the Palestinian boys and girls,
and to all the Lebanese boys and girls, and to all the Iraqi boys and girls
who have been massacred by mind-infected Israeli and American soldier boys,
and who have recently joined my own little girl in the underground kingdom
of dead children, which is growing under our feet as I speak. I would like
to tell them not to worry: “You will be well received there, children, and
no one will hurt you just because you wandered off on your way to school or
because you wore a scarf on your head or because you lived in a certain
place. Rest in peace, everyone is equally worthy in your new world. This is
the world where Israeli children dwell side by side with Palestinian
children. There they lay, victims and murderers, whose bloods have long been
absorbed by the holy land which has always been indifferent to blood. There
they rest, all of them, victims of deceit.

All of you dead children were deceived, because your death has achieved
nothing at all and the world goes on living as if your blood had never been
shed. Because the leaders of the world keep playing their murderous games,
using you as their dice and our grief as fuel for their killing machines.
Because Children are abstract entities for generals and grief is a political
tool. Living at both sides, that of the victims and that of the killers, I
keep asking myself, what are the means by which good Israeli children are
turned into murdering monsters, what are the means by which they are so
mind-infected as to kill and torture and humiliate other children, their
parents and grandparents, and sacrifice their own life for nothing but the
folly and megalomania of their chiefs. In the so-called Western enlightened
world everyone feels very well-founded when they blame Islam for suicide
bombing and terror. But who would ever blame Judaism for murder? And yet,
Ulta Orthodox Jewish children who have never left Brooklyn know that to kill
Arabs is a 'mitzva' (holy commandment) for they are 'vilde hayeths' (wild
beasts). And Israeli children actually commit the crimes of slaughter and
tporture. Neither Judaism nor Islam nor any religion for that matter are
the cause for murder and terror. Racist education is. American imperialism
is, and Israeli ruthless regime of occupation is. The women and children who
suffer most from western violence today are Muslim women but racism has its
way and the blame for their suffering is attributed to their being muslim.

The western world today is infected with fear of Islam and of the muslim
womb. Great France of liberte egalite and fraternite is scared of little
head-scarved girls, Jewish Israel calls in public speeches and schoolbooks
the Arab citizens of Israel a demographic nightmare and the enemy from
within. As for the Palestinians refugees living under occupation, they are
defined in Israeli History schoolbooks as a 'problem to be solved". Not long
ago the Jews were a problem to be

This in spite the fact that the people who are destroying the world today
are not muslim. The people who are using the most sophisticated disastrous
weapons to kill thousand of innocent civilians are not Muslim. They are
Christian, and Jewish. Nevertheless people who belong to the Judeo-Christian
cultures, who support American-British and Israeli crimes against humanity,
and particularly against Muslims all over the world, people who send their
children to fight these ruthless useless wars in the name of democracy and
freedom which are cover names for greed and megalomania, dare call
themselves enlightened and blame it all on some imaginary clash of
civilizations.. What does this fear-stricken world offer as a solution to
Palestinian , Iraqi or Afgan people who are harassed, abused, tortured and
famished by western crimes and exploitation? The general offer this
enlightened world gives them is: Be like us. Constitute a Democracy like
ours, embrace our values which despise you, which consider you an inferior
primitive lot to be cultivated or cleansed away.

This, ladies and gentlemen is the attitude that permit American soldiers to
rape, torture and kill muslim men women and children by the thousands, that
permits Israeli soldiers to order Palestinian women to strip in front of
their children for security reasons, jailers to keep them in inhuman
conditions, without necessary hygienic aids, without clean water or clean
mattresses and separate them from their breast-fed babies and toddlers. To
block their way to education, to confiscate their lands, to destroy their
water wells, to uproot their trees and to prevent them from working their
fields. This is what permits Israeli pilots to drop a hundred bombs of one
ton a day on the most crowded area in the world –Gaza. This is what permits
Israel to issue racist laws that separate mothers from fathers and children.
Palestinian Iraqi and Afgan women are mothers like me. And when they lose a
child, even if it is one of 12, their pain is equal to mine. But in addition
to losing their children they also lose their homes and their livelihood and
their future because the world does not listen to their sufferings and does
not punish their murderers. Their honour as women and mothers is crushed.
Their identity is destroyed and their cry is not heard. their faith and
customs, their centuries-old ways of life are disregarded and despised.

Not only American soldiers but also Israeli soldiers who actually perform
massacres of 'Arabs' - Palestinian or Lebanese - may never see an Arab human
face until they are drafted to the army, but they learn, for 12 long years,
that these people are primitive, bear children in order to send them to the
streets and throw stones at our peace-keeping soldiers, uneducated because
they don’t receive our education, conniving and dirty because they have
different notions about politeness, they dress differently and cover their
heads with different pieces of cloth. Well, from my experience there are
many more Kafiehs in the camp of peace lovers than there are kippas. Israeli
children are deprived from knowing their immediate neighbours, their history
and their culture and their merits. Israeli children are educated to see
their neighbours as an unwanted element. This is not education, this is mind

The scientist Richard Dawkins was the first to speak about viruses of the
mind. Children, because their minds are gullible and open to almost any
suggestion, are not immune to mental infections of all sorts of propaganda
and fashion. They are easily persuaded to pierce their faces and tattoo
their bottoms, to turn their hats around and bare their bellies, to believe
in angels and fairies. They are equally easy to acquire political beliefs
and to appropriate mental maps which will later influence their decisions on
the question of the future borders of the state and on the necessity of war.
All of Our children are mind-infected from an early age. So that by the time
they are old enough to become real soldiers, they have already learned to be
good soldiers, which means their minds are totally infected and they are
incapable of questioning the 'truth' that has been inculcated to them. This
is part of the explanation one can give to the terrible deeds that are
committed today by good Israeli boys, who are characterized once and again
as "people of values". Therefore it is high time to ask, what values are
these? The following lines are part of a personal preface by Tal Sela, one
of my university students to his term-paper, which included the analysis of
a History textbook:

On the 5th of September 1997 I found myself in LEbanon , on a rescuing
mission . All my friends were in the battle, 12 soldiers were killed. The
following days I was happy: " I am alive, I survived" I said to myself.
However, a year later I was in deep depression. Sad and morose. I decided to
consult a psychologist. After a few sessions I was able to gather up my
forces again, both physical and moral. I could reorganize my thoughts. Then
I understood that the mental crisis I had was in fact a moral crisis, a
crisis of consciousness. What I actually felt was frustration, shame and
anger. … How could I be so gullible and let myself be duped? How can I
explain that a man of peace, exposes himself to such a morbid experience of
his own free will? Today, like every two weeks, I drove peace activists to
the military check-points of the Israeli army in the occupied Palestinian
territories. I saw an officer put tight handcuffs on a taxi driver because
he failed to obey the soldiers' order to park here and not there. "We told
him a thousand times" the soldiers said. The man was lying on the ground in
the worst heat of the summer, thirsty, for hours on end. His friend was
luckier: He had to stand on his feet, in a cell, without handcuffs. What
pushes these young Israeli boys to play the rĂ´le of supreme judges until
they lose all judgment? In my opinion it is the Grand Zionist Narrative
which serves as a collective conscience to the whole Israeli society,
explicitly as well as implicitly. This grand narrative is the system of
values that makes us belong to this particular collective.

This is the system that dictates the relationships between us and the
Palestinians. How else can one explain young people who were educated to
love their neighbour as they love themselves killing their neighbours,
destroying their educational institutions, their libraries and their
hospitals, for no apparent reason other than their being neighbours? The
only explanation is that their minds are infected by parents, teachers and
leaders, who convince them that the others are not as human as we are, and
therefore killing them is not real killing; it has other legitimating names
such as "cleansing" "purifying", "punishment", "operation", "mission",
"campaign" and "war". Although I speak about Israeli boys this is not an
Israeli affair because, as you know, the epidemic is worldwide. My nephew,
Doroni, 7 years old, who lives in the US, came home on Halloween day and
said he wanted to be a soldier, and then to go to Iraq and save America. How
many American young men, ignorant as he is of the absurdity of this
statement, actually went to Iraq and died there without knowing why, but
with the words "save America" on their lips? The question is, how were these
false values imprinted on their minds and how can they be erased?

The human psyche, says Dawkins, has two great sicknesses: the urge to carry
vendetta across generations and the tendency to fasten group labels on
people rather than see them as individuals. We all suffer because of
labels, but only those of us who died because of labels have realized that
the way to fight labels is to refuse labels. The way to defeat false value
systems is to expose them. The viruses of the mind are only partially
weakened by young people like Tal and other Israeli refusniks such as
'Combatants for Peace'. But most of our mind infected children would not be
free of the grip of those viruses until they find their final rest in the
evergrowing, underground kingdom of dead children . Only there will they
realize that is doesn’t matter whether their head was bare or not in a
synagogue or a church or a mosque, whether they were circumcised or not,
whether they pronounced forbidden words, ate pig or cow or whether they had
a hot chocolate after their salami pizza just before they were blown up by
someone who didn't. Israeli, American, English, Italian mothers raise their
children with all the love and care in order to sacrifice them to the god of
death, as if their uterus is a national or rather an international asset.
and fathers urge their children to commit themselves to armies whose
interests have nothing to do with defense. And when these children die for
the profits of somebody else their parents bear it with dignity and pride,
as they were taught, put their dead children's photographs on the
mantelpiece and sigh: He was so handsome in uniform. It is time to tell
these parents that no-one is andsome in the uniform of brutality. It is
time to tell them uniforms and ranks and medals have become ugly. Tell them
their dignity and pride are misplaced. It is time to tell Jewish people that
the only way to discourage anti-Semitism is by condemning the only
government in the world who deliberately sends young Jewish boys and girls
to their certain death and who persecutes to the point of genocide a whole
Semitic nation, explain to them that it is the Jewish government and the
actions of its army, not some primordial hatred for the Jewish race, which
are the reasons for the invention of the new sign we often see in
pro-Palestinian demonstration, where the Star of David is equated with the

It is a terribly hard task for people who were educated in Israel or in the
USA or in any other 'western' 'democratic' country, to admit we were raised
on false racist values. On heterophobia. The only thing that can enhance
such a change of spirit is the constant image of the mutilated small bodies
of the victims of these values . Tomorrow is Yom Kippur, the holiest day for
the Jews. On this day people are required to ask forgiveness. Not to forgive
but to try and be forgiven. I would like to quote one stanza from a poem
written by the late Hanoh Levin, one of Israel's greatest playwrights, in
the 1970s:

Dear Father, when you stand on my grave
Old and tired and very lonely,
And you see how they burry me in the ground –
Ask me to forgive you my father.

We must all ask our children's forgiveness for not being more alert, for not
fighting hard enough to keep our promises for a better world, for not
refusing the evil viruses before and for letting them be the victims of the
horrible, mental infection we are all suffering from, to look at their
innocent, astonished, disillusioned small faces and ask ourselves: why does
that streak of blood rip the petal of their cheek???

Dr. Nurit Peled-Elhanan
is a Lecturer in Language Education at Hebrew University in Jerusalem specializing in discourse in Israeli education with emphasis on visual and verbal presentation of Palestinian and non-western Jews.
In September 1997, Nurit’s daughter Samarder was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber.
She and her family are members of the Palestinian and Israeli Bereaved Families for Peace. Her two elder sons are active in the peace movements of the Refusenik and Combatants for Peace, a new movement of Israeli and Palestinian ex fighters.
Dr. Peled-Elhanan is the recipient of the European Parliament 2001 Sakharov Prize for Human Rights and Freedom of Thought. She is now touring the US together with a
Palestinian women (Hanan Abu Ghosh) who lost her 17 year old brother to Israeli gunfire.