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Jul 20, 2006

Bloodthirsty Children Or Media Missiles?



So many of you wrote me about these images, I felt I had to address them.  But then, I struggled for a long time to find my orientation.  I even did a couple write ups based on the politics and ethics of these images -- feeling, the whole time, however, like something was off.

The major problem, I finally realized, was that the moral fireworks were so intense, it was virtually impossible to "read" the pictures themselves.  (In fact, the content was so emotional that I couldn't help feeling guilty for questioning or straying from the manifest level.)

To get a little more perspective, I started searching.  Not surprisingly though, most sites that ran the pictures were reacting from that surface level., for example, framed the photos as "Israeli kids send(ing) gifts of love to Arab kids." The site author even created a mock letter, with Israeli kids actually wishing the death of Lebanese, Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and Christian children.

In the long discussion thread, however, quite a few readers, keeping with the literal, emphasized that the actual target (and object of the twisted love message) was solely and specifically Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah.  Nasrallah, it should be added, was also the man responsible for the bombs falling on Kiryat Shmona, the town where these children are from, and where the pictures were taken.

(To better understand the context, the message on one missile -- based on two different views -- reads in English: "[To] Nazrala with love from Israel."  A second message, translated from Hebrew, apparently reads: “I've been waiting for this a long time”, and is signed “Nasrallah.”)

I also came upon a post and discussion thread on  The post was disheartening, setting up a simplistic, cynical analogy implicating both Arab and Israeli children as sick little killers.  Some interesting terms and phrases jumped out of the discussion, however.  Specifically, references were made to these images being framed or staged.  Different readers mentioned:

"having elementary school kids write those messages ... as part of some State-run activity."

"bringing kids into the proximity of high explosives"

"Israeli girls .. apparently .. told to "sign" bombs"

Reading further, still another theme emerged, this one suggesting the pics were either orchestrated, or at least co-opted and mediated by the media.  Notice the comments and the terminology:

The point is that pictures like this of Palestinian children are continually trotted out to explain why Palestinians are maniacs who can never be negotiated with.... (via boingboing)

This unfortunate 'photo op' ... with the meme [of] bloodthirsty Israeli children....

You can read his entire post for yourself, but I think my friend Dennis Dunleavy -- a visual theorist and critic -- caught these photos just right.  His discussion, Photojournalism and Propaganda: Are Photo-Ops Fact or Fiction?, is subtitled:  Do photojournalists intentionally set out to stir up controversy and debate by making pictures that may later offend viewers?

Here's a snip:

[W]hat the photojournalists recorded presumably was a fact. There was a group of Israeli children gathered to write hate messages on bombs to be used in the escalating conflict in Lebanon.

Is this news? By most journalistic standards, this ... would be considered as newsworthy as any other type of staged event. The only criticism I have here – something that I have encountered many times in my own career – is that many photojournalists forget about how the event is “staged” for the camera before hand. Many photojournalists, myself included, tend to get caught up with “getting the picture” and do not generally indulge in evaluating the moral complexities or consequences of a particular event unfolding before them and for them.

In this case, we don’t know if the photographers just happened to come along at the time when the children gathered to sign the bombs or if someone had arranged for the journalists to be there. My strongest instincts suggest the latter may be the case.

Let’s face it, the media are constantly be[ing] used to propagandize a particularly ideology. The visual message, especially when children are involved, is extremely persuasive.

If uncertain how much innocence or spontaneity to afford this scene, a simple discovery seemed to pull back the curtain.  Every email I was sent, and every blog I had viewed contained one or both of the images above, kindly selected for us by the Associated Press.  These images were also the only two representing this situation on the widely-followed YahooNews.

What I finally noticed, however, was that the site (originating from Bahrain) offered up a third image, this one credited to AFP.


Interestingly, this shot featured not just the children "caught in the act," but a photographer "doing the catching."  (Yes, this might be a parent.  Notice the women in the first shot, above, seems to also sport a camera.  But I doubt it.)

In combination, these pictures reveal these children as the subject of a photo shoot, with multiple photographers (representing world-wide photo news agencies) shooting simultaneously from both directions.  Given the context, it seems to appear that the woman in the blue-and-white dress, and even the soldier, a good distance away, on top of the tank, are something of an audience.

Better for them that they see what's going down.  For us, on the other hand, unaware of the stage (and unwitting consumers of "knock out" information product), we can only be outraged.

(image 1 & 2: Sebastian Scheiner/A.P.  Artillery position near Kiryat Shmona,  Northern Israel, next to the Lebanese border. July 17, 2006.  Via YahooNews.  image 3: unattributed. AFP.)


The Photo Op: From Israel with Love.

Even our youngest and prettiest--those that the world has the most to offer--are committed to killing you.

Let us send you a message of kindness while we kill you, assuming, of course, we cannot literally kill you with our kindness.

That the girls are so young suggests the usual intractability of the Arab/Israeli conflict. Generational war; well, here’s a new generation for you, happy for war. The message is that these enthusiastic girls will gladly fight or support the fighting for their lifetimes. They play today, like conflict-free children would, with make-believe dolls or houses, but instead of toys these kids have been given live bombs to play with. It is a suggestion of the same modeling of adults that all children engage in; they play with the toys of their parents. Children mimic the adults of the world in order to learn how to live as one.

The adults in these children’s lives are ready to kill their geographic neighbors.

The photo is propaganda, intentional propaganda and strong propaganda. There is a point where today’s humdrum photo-op (so many!) turns into something more. Something insidious. Something which is itself a weapon of war, the very image, at least by its intent. Photo ops obviously are not accidental, and each has intent. That such an event as the children bomb signing was envisioned, arranged and staged (and covered), that is the real story and a bit of history we will see unfold.

Personally, I despise any photo-op which makes children the unwitting champions of a cause. In this staged event especially, they are made a weapon of war and maybe also made insensitive to the killing the bombs will produce. A decision their government and parents may support, but one which they are years from considering on their own.

(N.B. turned this on it’s side in pshop and saw what it said—the AFP photo. Reminded of Dr. Strangelove among other scary things.)

The saddest and most disheartening image, so far. Who can see the good in this, innocent malevolence? It is the perfect image for the stirring up both sides.

Notice the orange strings in their hair?....
Israel in on LSD...

Uh-oh... a photo that gives a negative view of Israel. Let's go out of our way to make excuses for it...

I wouldn't be surprised if someone had told the photographers that this was taking place - isn't that how they get most of their pictures? So what? Who is supposed to have arranged the photo-op? Their parents must have been involved - or is the idea that some nasty anti-Semitic photographers put them up to it? Since there's an Israeli soldier watching, and since this area would presumable have had some security so that children couldn't just walk up and play with these weapons, and since any photos and reports from Israel are strictly censored, the Army must have approved.

It's the same girl in all three pictures. In the third picture, it's probably just the AP photographer who's seen taking pictures from her other side.

Maybe they're writing to Nasrallah, but we all know those are going to be killing civilians, just like the rest of them. Maybe even little girls like them, as so many have. But those girls don't have bomb shelters to go to (and neither do girls in the Arab Israeli villages, even though they're Israeli citizens).

By the way, the third one was the one that was on the front page of my newspaper (the Kuwait edition of the Daily Star, which is a Lebanese newspaper) on Tuesday (July 18th). The caption read, "Young Israeli girls attach messages to shells to be dropped in Israel's offensive against Gaza and Lebanon".

AFP photos and reports are often much better than those of other agencies, but I often can't find them online. Was this photo available online?



Here are children who don't realize the implications of what they're doing. But I wonder how they'll feel looking back at these pictures of themselves when they're adults. Let's hope they hold the so-called grown-ups who goaded them into this responsible. By then they'll know that Nasrallah was a weasel who crawled into the shadows (right now he's in "hiding") and let the most innocent and vulnerable citizens of both Israel and Lebanon take the hit for his actions. These photographs will haunt these children for the rest of their lives.

When my daughter was that age her penmanship was excellent, too. She drew her letters with the same care we see here, because she listened carefully to her teachers. She wrapped her whole hand around the marker, just like the girl in the photo. Like the girl in the photo she wore little string bracelets, tied her hair with bright colors. If her teachers had bused the class to a munitions dump, handed the children markers and told them to print messages on the shells, she too would have carefully followed instructions with the earnest seriousness we see in the photos, the natural face of children that age.

I sit here now trying to imagine what I'd have done if my daughter had been conscripted to stage such a scene. I come up blank. None of my child's teachers would have asked this of my child.

If I'd asked my daughter to write on shells she'd have wanted to know why. World War II GI's wrote messages to Hitler on their ordinance, understandable, and I would have too. But I have no idea why a school girl would do it.

Sad. Very sad. Is there no hope for humanity? A tooth for a tooth lesson being passed from generation to generation and captured in a freeze frame for ever.
Would it be any different if the little girls were wearing army fatigues and were carrying weapons instead of pencils?

Now, try to imagine the parents of these children writing messages on bombs. Wouldn't many people find that very childish? Well, I would.

My first thought was "who is letting children touch high explosives?". What if one of the kids knocked over one of the shells? Presumably they're not fused yet, but it still seems a bit reckless.


No, I wouldn't find that childish at all. Writing messages on projectile weapons is a very common thing for soldiers to do, dating back to the days of catapults. does this guy look childish to you?

Its all *a matter of degree,* it wasn't only Lenin or Stalin who knew and are credited with saying, "Give me the children for the first ten years and I will have them for life all leaders know this.


A man who sees another man on the street corner with only a stump for an arm will be so shocked the first time he'll give him sixpence. But the second time it'll only be a three penny bit. And if he sees him a third time, he'll have him cold-bloodedly handed over to the police. Bertolt Brecht

AOG, as a history buff I assume you are aware that 68,000 Canadians (probably the Canuck writing on the shell as well) offered themselves up for slaughter. Percapita this represented the greatest number of soldiers killed of any nation in WW I "the war to end all wars".
I appreciate your concern for children these soldiers in the main has just chronologically graduated from childhood.
The question or the message is, have we grown up, or are we still in *a child like state* of awareness ?

I was much more intrigued by the woman in an orange frock in the second photograph in the background - she is smiling / laughing like she was at a backyard barbecue.

Is it really that simple over there? Uncontrolled Death is sent with smiles and laughter?

If that is true, humanity has nochance of survival.

I happened to check this site just after checking the ABC Blotter site, which has an item on the Dutch "Pedophilia Party" -- "The PNVD, widely known as the "pedophile" party, caused a stir in May when the group announced on a newly-registered official website its goal of lowering the legal age of sexual consent from 16 to 12 and ultimately scrapping the age requirement altogether. The group believes children should have the right to make sexual decisions without state interference."

Explaining opposition to this outlook, an American expert notes:

"Pedophile groups like this are just skirting the issue of consent," says Dr. Gene G. Abel, a Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Emory University and an expert on sexual pathology. "Children at the age of 12 haven't yet developed the moral framework to make an informed decision on whether or not to engage in sexual activity. Often the logic of children at that age is simply to do what an adult or authority figure tells them, which in this case is to perform sexual acts."

Or,in the Israeli case, to perform propaganda acts. The adults who organized the bomb-signing event are not pedophiles, but I think they might qualify as pornographers.

Great Photo and intial analysis. The comments so far have been precise to the image. Would like to add a broader persepective.

This image represents the continual deep seeded engraving of regional hate that has been going on for decades and decades. We all hear of China, and how the school children are forced to watch TV with "The leader is Great." messaging. We see and hear all the time of the children of the Muslim fanatics being trained "to hate Israel". How the Palestinians raise the children with the message of killing Israel and on and on. And we in the west are aghast at how people can instill such hate into their young. So naturally they are insane, radical people that cannot be rationally dealt with.

But how cute to have little western looking school kids coloring on bombs (knowing full well what they are and what they do...sorry, not buying any innocence of children here. Six year olds in the US know what an AK-47 can do. You bet that children growing up in the conitnual threat of attack sure do know what those pointy little things are.)

The simple truth is that society NEEDS to continue to teach their kids that war is a good and natural part of life. We all do it. The west just makes it cuter.

...and perhaps more effective. What better killing machine than the one that thinks they are simply sending little love notes.

peace and progress

Innocent in the sense that they have yet to see the blood, bone and intestines, malevolent in the sense of purposely wishing the death of others.

These are portraits of socially acceptable insanity. I have two words for the adults responsible for this scene: Hitler Youth.

"German youth could join the Hitler Youth beginning at the age of 10. The organization was divided into two categories, one for members ages 10-14 and the other for members 14-18. The organizational structure was based on a military model, with squads, platoons, and companies.

"Hitler was a firm believer in the need to indoctrinate Nazi ideology early and the power of young people in ensuring the continued vitality of the 'Thousand Year Reich.' The Hitler Youth was based on Hitler's anti-intellectualism, focusing on military training in preparation for becoming a soldier at 18.

"Young German women were indoctrinated with the values of obedience, duty, self-sacrifice, discipline and physical self-control. The goal of girls in the BDM was to prepare women for motherhood and raise children who would be educated in the ways of National Socialism. They were indoctrinated with 'racial pride' and told to avoid any contact with Jews.

"During World War II, the girls of the BDM played a significant role in the ideological and propaganda side. The girls' division of Hitler Youth was much more ideological then the boys'. Sometimes estranged from their families, the girls would become their family's ideological guides and guards."

Michael: You did a good job of capturing the nuance of the image & its context. An Israeli blogger whose political perspective is different fr. my own has published her version of the context which she collected fr. an Israeli photograher who was at the site. She confirms it was a staged or semi-staged situation & that the children had been in a bomb shelter for several days & just "come up for air." However, I don't agree w. Goldman's attempt to temporize or "explain away" the sentiments expressed by the girls.

What is also interesting to me is the "story" created after the fact by the partisans on both sides who either are trying to make the Israeli children out to be bloodthirsty young haters; and those on the other like the Israeli blogger who're concerned with the "bad impression" it conveys of Israelis.

The fact of the matter is that this war instills hatred, ignorance & "lashing out" on both sides of the conflict. Just take me for example, I've been writing at my blog for over a wk. denouncing the Israeli invasion (& Hezbollah's rocketing of Israel too) & yet several Arab commenters have written profanity laced comments treating me as if I'm their enemy. One wrote "Jude+terroristen." Thankfully, two Lebanese bloggers I've been reading & writing to about the conflict have pointed out that war tends to do this to people, which I think places it in its proper context. War tends to warp the mind & judgment.

Question: Why do zealots always drag children into their schemes?

Item: Gdub's veto of stem-cell research yesterday surrounded by little "snowflake babies."

Item: Christianist family leader telling dads to shower with their sons so they can see a 'real' man and thus not become a homosexual.

Item: Zionists taming their weapons of mass destruction by busing children to autograph them for photo ops.

Is it because they inherently know their own evil and are trying to distract us from such evil intent by dangling the innocence of children before our eyes?

Was this photo available online?
Amabdullah: Yes. Here's a link Michael provided to me from Yahoo Photos.

The children are (once again) the real victims here. They will one day be faced with this action, for which they could have no understanding.

Bad parents come in all shapes, sizes and nationalities. So -- I can't be overly critical of them even. But what I find particularly abhorent is that the Israeli military allowed the children to even touch the missles, much less write on them.

If Lebanese or Palestinian children were photographed doing the same thing, the entire world would be screaming about the "culture of hate" in the Arab world.

The photagraphers who participated -- have either unwittingly -- revealed that it generally takes two sides to maintain a culture of hatred. "Some" Arab children are raised to hate, just as some "Jewish/Israeli" children are raised to hate (see how "Pam" of indoctrinates her children, for example).


Yes, thanks for showing me something I didn't know. So, then, if it's not childish, it might be the opposite: I guess just plain normal because adults are not known ever to be childish. Maybe the whole thing is a put up job and the armanents are dummies.

I find it distressing that adults put the children up to this. Could they have possibly thought of it themselves? Why have the adults chosen to let the kids do it instead of doing it themselves? That was more or less my point. As the Bag has elarier pointed out, the unconscious has become unfashionable...

I emailed this story and pix to all my contacts. I can't wait to hear what the Bushies will say about this - my guess is that they will not find anything wrong at any level. And so HATE is normalized and made into entertainment.

I just want to get this out of the way: In my opinion, Israel is out of line in the amount of force and destruction they are causing and they're doing it because of the vacuum the US has created in the region, especially the chaos in Iraq and because we've been intentionally silent. At the same time, I have some sympathy for Israel. I believe all parties must accept each other's existence and go from there. I wish we had the kind of adiministration in power which was engaged as an honest broker between the Israelis and Palestinians. I also believe the Arab countries tacitly approving by not disapproving of the conflict are doing so because they are majority sunni as opposed to shi'ia and because they fear Iran's growing influence. Bottom line, it appears the major players are saying what's the death of a few children on either side when control is at issue....

That being said.....

what's the difference between photos of Palestinian children dressed up as suicide bombers and photos of Isaraeli children signing bombs? Are the latter more staged? I'd really appreciate a response, but I don't get it. It all looks terribly sad and war sick to me.

Will you please stop making excuses for Israel? If you want to see more photos like this just head over to and under the Editorial section search for "Israeli girls".

The photos are a sign of the moral corruption and bankruptcy of the state of Israel - why is it so hard for you to come out and just say so?

The photos also show that contrary to media reports, the Israeli/Lebanese "frontline" is quite safe - for the Israelis that is. Safe enough for kids to come over to artillery units and joyfully sign their greetings. Safe enough for parents to think a "field trip" to the soldiers for their kids will be a nice outing.

As for the greetings themselves - yes, one of them is a greeting for Nasrallah. Do you think an artillery shell has the guidance and precision to land on Nasrallah's turban? Or can your mind think a bit more realistically - that it will land on some poor Lebanese family's house and kill the civilians inside, 300+ up to this point?

The photos are irresponsible (of the parents and journalists), that's about all. It's just like the people who signed bombs in WWII; the kids think they're being patriotic and from their perspective they're firing back at the terrorist who drove them into underground bomb shelters--big deal! That's why it says "To Nasrallah...," it doesn't say "To the Palestinians" or "To the Lebanese..." You try getting hundreds of missiles shot at you're family by terrorists and then do and say everything 100% PC....

Besides, its not state sanctioned behaviour so who cares what a few people in one little place do? Find me another example of this and then I'll take you seriously. If you've only got one example of this it doesn't indicate a "culture of hate" at all. In fact, that you have an entire country of people constantly under attack and only a few photos like this actually suggests its not a very jingoistic society at all (ever take a statistics class?)...

Israeli children don't hate Lebanese children--you'd have to prove that for the images to be truly obscene.

Are only Israeli girls, not boys, scribbling sweet nothings on bombs? If so, how curious, almost obscene. Does anyone know?

Shaun, It is not necessary to prove that Israeli children hate Lebanese children to call the activity 'truly obscene'. You see, it's the parents who are whoring their children. Disgusting of me to say such a thing, huh, but what else is it? The children are getting attention and probably having fun. FUN! The parents are using the children for the cause and possibly their own amusement. How could Israeli children possibly hate Lebanese children? Maybe their parents told them to.

The culture of hate exists when target=_>close to 90% of Israelis approve of the assault and murder in Lebanon, and 60% want it to continue till the destruction of Hezbollah (an impossible task). That is 9 out of 10 Israelis - Israelis who have access to satellite TV and high speed Internet, who are intelligent human beings, who live in what the West calls "a free and democratic society" (but what is really an Apartheid regime), who see the daily carnage and massive destruction and bodies of dead and burnt children on TV and read about on the web.

When they see what their army has done in Lebanon, and support it wholeheartedly, that is the definition of a corrupt and morally banckrupt culture.

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