By Richard Lightbown
On 11 March a French soldier was shot dead in Toulouse by a lone gunman who escaped on a scooter.
On 15 March two more soldiers were shot dead were shot in Montauban, 50 Km from Toulouse, apparently by the same gunman.
On 19 March, in what appears to have been a third attack by the same killer, one teacher and three pupils were shot dead at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse. Another pupil was also shot and injured.
Later on 19 March, Baroness Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy made a scheduled speech at the opening of a conference organized by UNRWA in cooperation with the European Union. The event was entitled ‘Engaging Youth: Palestinian Refugees in a Changing Middle East’.
In her address Baroness Ashton spoke of recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, and of her visits to Palestine from which she quoted some of the young people that she had met there. She continued by saying that the EU is UNRWA’s largest and most loyal donor, explaining that the ultimate European goal was for Palestinians to be masters of their own fate, in their own state.
She continued by explaining that UNRWA’s work was special because it helped Palestinians establish their own sense of identity, and stressed that because the EU believed the agency was essential to the development and well-being of all the Palestine refugees it would continue to offer financial support in the future. In closing she declared:
“We are gathered here because we have recognised the potential of the youth of Palestine. Against all the odds, they continue to learn, to work, to dream and aspire to a better future. And the days when we remember young people who have been killed in all sorts of terrible circumstances – the Belgian children having lost their lives in a terrible tragedy and when we think of what happened in Toulouse today, when we remember what happened in Norway a year ago, when we know what is happening in Syria, when we see what is happening in Gaza and Sderot and in different parts of the world – we remember young people and children who lose their lives. Here are young people who are asking not to be leaders of the future, but to be taken seriously as leaders of today. And it is to them that we should look and to them we should listen and it is to them that I pay tribute.”
The official transcript of the speech that was released the same day made no reference to Sderot, although AFP reported that a video of the speech showed that she had in fact made the comment. A revised transcript was issued by the EU the next day.
But the next day also brought a storm of criticism against the speech from senior Israeli politicians. The New York Times reported Prime Minister Netanyahu (apparently in self-contradiction) saying he was “infuriated [by] the comparison between a deliberate massacre of children and the defensive, surgical actions [of the Israeli military] intended to hit terrorists who use children as a human shield.”
Israel apparently only deliberately targets children surgically when they are put in the way (like skittles perhaps).
The Times also quoted Defence Minister Ehud Barak saying “The comparison made by Ashton between what is happening in Gaza to what happened in Toulouse and what is going on in Syria every day, is outrageous and has absolutely no grounding in reality.” In Haaretz Mr Barak was also quoted as saying the remarks were “infuriating and far from reality”.
Mr Barak appears to have shared the same speech writer as Kadima chair Tzipi Livni who was reported by Haaretz to have found the comparison “between the murder of children in Toulouse and the massacre Assad is leading in Syria, and the situation in Gaza […] reprehensible, infuriating, [yes, that same word yet again]and wrong.” Did the two politicians receive a discount for dual use of the same sound bite?
However Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, on an official visit to China, upstaged them all. With an apparent comparison to the oft-repeated propaganda lie about the Israel Defence Forces he said “Israel is the most moral country in the world, despite having to fight terrorists operating from within a civilian population. The IDF is doing everything it can to not hurt that population even though it is defending terrorists.”
Did he say this with a straight face? Is he really so stupid as to believe this fantastic remark?
(For the record Israel did not feature in CIRI’s top 13 countries for overall human rights in 2010, the last year that data were available. It is also worth remembering such incidents as Israel’s use of white phosphorus on civilians in Gaza, originally denied by Israeli officials, which resulted in infant children being burnt to a cinder. As a self-defined light unto all nations, Israel is a demonstrable failure, and Mr Lieberman, who really does have a vile way with words, clearly has more moral things to catch up on instead of criticising Catherine Ashton for her totally inoffensive remarks.)
Messrs Barak and Lieberman both called on Ms Ashton to retract her remarks. This call was echoed by Interior Minister Eli Yishai who told Israel Radio that the High Representative should not remain at her post.
Yet what is there to retract? Does Israel’s criminal leadership now want to expunge all reference to their crimes? Or is there some other problem with Catherine Ashton, who not only promised continued financial support for Palestine, but praised the potential of Palestinian youth by saying “Given the opportunity, the children of Gaza can achieve whatever they want. This is what I say to PM Netanyahu every time I meet with him”?
The real problem in fact is nothing to do with Catherine Ashton. What is genuinely reprehensible and wrong about this whole sordid, calculated attack by Israel’s top flight of political leaders is the obscene and inhumane exploitation of the assassination of three French children as a tool to unjustifiably stir up hatred and disdain. The contemptible Benjamin Netanyahu and his collaborators have once again shown that Jewish suffering is merely another instrument of exploitation and manipulation which they, exclusively, can use against any person that dares, however mildly, to criticize their illegal apartheid policies for creating a greater Israel. In order to achieve that end nothing is disallowed, no lie is too great, and no deed is too foul to contemplate or to implement.
– Richard Lightbown contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
 David L. Cingranelli and David L. Richards, 2010; The Cingranelli-Richards (CIRI) Human Rights Dataset; www.humanrightsdata.org.