There’s a quote of Golda Meir’s doing the rounds in many discussions of the Israeli government’s war on Gaza. It is regularly misquoted as:
we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our children, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their children.
Bob Schieffer used this in a ridiculous closing segment on Face the Nation, after allowing Benjamin Netanyahu to make a number of un-challenged statements about fact and motive. Perhaps Bob Schieffer wanted to join the rush (check any internet discussion board) to use it as a sanctimonious justification for the many children killed in the bombing of Gaza or to validate the Israeli government’s assertion that it’s all actually Hamas’ fault (or even that of the Palestinians). It is of course, the Israeli Defense Forces who are dropping the bombs and shells on Gaza.
Of course, Bob Schieffer had the Golda Meir quote wrong. The correct quote is easy to find. It’s on the last page of her autobiography and it’s right there on Wikiquote. It goes like this:
When peace comes, we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.
— Golda Meir at a Press conference in London (1969)
Sounds completely different doesn’t it?
This was said two years after Israel attacked Egypt, Jordan and Syria in what’s known as the Six-Day war. The Six-Day war was itself 10 years after a coordinated attack by Israel, Britian and France to take the Suez canal from Egypt (known as the Suez crisis). The Suez Crisis itself happened 10 years after the Nakba, when Israeli forces frightened perhaps two or three hundred thousand Palestinians enough that they fled their homes, sometimes at gunpoint. The Israeli state then passed laws to limit their ability to return. The Nakba happened shortly after the Second World War in which 6 million Jews and possibly 10 million other civilians were systematically murdered by the Nazis and their henchmen in addition to many millions more being dispossessed of their homes and property. Since the 1880s, Jews had been migrating to Palestine to escape European pogroms, growing anti-semitism and the Nazis. So that’s some of the context.
To come back to Golda Meir and whether or not it is right to use this quote in the current conflict. She was not talking about bombing the homes of Palestinians who oppose Israeli occupation from F-16s flying high above them. She was not talking about killing whole families with young children. She was not talking about children. She was talking about sons recruited for Arab armies. She was lamenting a dreadful waste of young men sent by older men to die for their glory and tribute.
Golda Meir was an astute politician, and she lived in a time when people did not talk about killing children. Or make up sanctimonious justifications for it.