On a Tel Aviv Playground, Cruelty in Its Purest Form

History’s greatest villains are the ones who in their youth knocked other kids off the swing, hurled them onto the pavement, stood over them and laughed a hearty diabolical laugh.

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A kid on a playground (illustrative).
A kid on a playground (illustrative).Credit: Dreamstime

It’s said that the occupation corrupts. But that’s an oversimplification. An 18-year-old soldier doesn’t just wake up one day and decide that he’s Attila the Hun. To locate the roots of violence in Israeli society, one needn’t go as far as Hebron or the checkpoints in the West Bank. Just head over to the local playground. Watch the little kids running around there. A gang of self-styled storm troopers. They are devoid of all conscience and lack any capacity to distinguish between right and wrong. They have no moral quandaries. We’re talking would-be war criminals here. Not all of them, of course. Let’s not make blanket generalizations. There are also some delicate and wholesome children who harbor no malice. It’s always the other parents’ kids who are the worst. 

Before I became a father, I thought that we turn bad when we grow up. But the Christians got it right: We are born defective. As the years go by, we have two options: Kill our inner child or set him free – and finally become human beings. History’s greatest villains are the ones who in their youth knocked other kids off the swing, hurled them onto the pavement, stood over them and laughed a hearty diabolical laugh. This is the formative experience of their lives; they will relive this moment time and time again, only in different, more lethal forms. 

Not everyone who bumped another kid off the swing will grow up to be an arch-villain, but you can be sure that every arch-villain knocked a kid off the swing. I admit I can’t vouch for this with scientific certainty. It’s a gut feeling based upon close observation. Kids who push others off the swing have destructive potential. You can see it in the way they approach their victims, with the instincts of a beast of prey. These are not the kind of instincts that fade away; rather, they tend to keep getting honed. And the kids who were pushed off the swings? The desire for vengeance burns inside them. Some will ultimately put out this fire, but others will transform it into an iron fist. In short, the playground is a breeding ground for future ISIS recruits. 

Want to know what evil in its purest form is? I saw it with my own eyes at a playground in central Tel Aviv. This place is a battleground in which toddlers and children ruthlessly vie for territory and control. They lie in wait for each other. They exploit the enemy’s weaknesses. They condemn innocents to an ill fate. 

Nothing can prepare you for this. No matter how many B’Tselem testimonies you’ve read or how many of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies you’ve seen. This is no “Sesame Street” episode. It’s more like the opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan.” It’s hell, in other words.

My son, who is just 16 months old, climbed up the slide, and lurking at the other end was the devil incarnate – a 3- or 4-year-old tyke in tiny Nikes and an H&M sweatshirt, with hair as blond as an Aryan SS officer, two missing front teeth and clenched fists. Before I could react, he’d kicked my poor, bewildered son right in the face. The look of shock in my child’s eyes was plain to see. Blood ran from his nose. He began to cry and scream until he was nearly choking on his sobs, reaching out for me to scoop him up into my arms. And the little devil? He just looked at us and shrugged. As if the whole thing had nothing to do with him. 

If I could have, I would have wrung his neck. But there we were in the heart of Tel Aviv. We don’t wring necks here. Here you’re supposed to be empathetic, to explain that such behavior is “not nice” and that “we don’t believe in violence.” To show restraint.

Illustration. Credit: Sharon Fadida

“Idiot,” I couldn’t help hissing. “He’s not an idiot! He didn’t mean it, he’s just a little boy!,” exclaimed the devil’s mother, who’d been standing on the side the whole time and watching her offspring’s atrocious behavior. “A little boy, maybe, but a big maniac,” I replied. “You should be ashamed,” she huffed at me, as she patted his sinister little head. “Good boy, a good boy,” she assured him. Ten minutes later I saw him kicking another helpless young kid in the head. 

We returned to the scene of the crime the following week. What can you do? Kids need to “release their energy.” That’s code for parent-sanctioned institutionalized violence. My son, the perpetual victim, alas, was trying to climb up a rope ladder when suddenly a hulking three-footer with the trace of a mustache appeared behind him. “Hey, be careful not to step on him,” I said to the big kid. But what did that thug do? He looked at me, smiled to himself, and proceeded to deliberately step on my son’s delicate little fingers, setting off another deafening symphony of painful screams. 

The hulk continued right on with his climb. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to,” he cackled sarcastically from under that fuzzy upper lip, as he casually shoved another luckless little child to a certain death. The kid plunged down like a sack of potatoes and landed in a heap on the ground. A few more kids were lying there, strewn one atop the other, like at the scene of a terror attack. And the hulk? He just nonchalantly opened a bag of Bamba and scarfed the contents down inside of a minute. The orange crumbs stuck to the hairs of his budding mustache. A thoroughly repulsive creature. 

His parents sat on the next bench and applauded him. “Great job, Sole! You’re so cute. Want another bag of Bamba?” Sole? That’s the name of a fish. I’d like to put him in the oven and serve him up nicely roasted, with a side of baby potatoes and a bottle of red wine. 

Allow me to quote from the indictment issued against Avigdor Lieberman back in September 2001, on the charge of assaulting a minor: “On the evening of December 17, 1999, the 12-year-old son of MK Avigdor Lieberman returned to his home in the Nokdim settlement and told his father that three children had beaten him. Lieberman left his house and began pursuing the children, ages 12 and 13. As he did, Lieberman picked up a rock from the ground and hurled it at the back of one of the children. They escaped to a hiding place, and when he was unable to find them, Lieberman went to their homes and told their parents that they had beaten up his son. 

“Lieberman did not calm down. He found two of the children who had hidden in a mobile home. He hit one of them in the face. From the force [of the blow] the child was pushed against the wall, hit his head and fell on the floor. As he lay there in pain, Lieberman kicked him until the boy burst into tears. The terror continued. Lieberman pulled the boy’s hair, grabbed him by the neck and arm and put him in his car. Lieberman drove him to his parents’ home to complain about the boy, and threatened to break his arms and legs.”

I can’t believe I’m writing this but – Way to go, Avigdor Lieberman! This is how a father who isn’t going to cower in the face of infantile terrorism behaves. You can’t have a dialogue with these kids or negotiate with them. The only thing they understand is force. It’s a jungle out there, between the swings and the slides. A parent has to fight back, and not be captive to dangerous liberal illusions. Every time my kid gets beaten up, I become less and less of a leftist. There’s no partner on the playground.