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Chronic uncertainty: Trauma of childhood under occupation

Fear of night raids and imprisonment loom large in the imagination of almost every Palestinian child. Reports on specific cases of violence and abuse fail to capture the epidemic of instability Palestinian children face daily.

By Vicky Hosker

Children from Tuwani, West Bank (photo: Vicky Hosker)

Days after a team of British jurists published a report on the experiences of Palestinian child detainees entitled Children in Military Custody, B’Tselem released footage of border policemen grabbing and kicking a nine-year-old boy in Hebron. The coverage cast a sharp but fleeting spotlight on two aspects of what life is like for children under military occupation: torture in prison (or fear of the same) and casual harassment in the street (or the risk of the same). Working with children in Bethlehem provides daily glimpses into the world that lies between these two poles.

Eight-year-old Sahar is originally from Gaza. Born blind and with learning difficulties, she was given permission to attend a special school in the West Bank in the wake of Cast Lead. Her hair is kept short, given her tendency to yank it out; her arms and legs are usually covered with scratches and bite marks. One evening she took a pair of scissors and dug them into her ears. Her language problems make it difficult to pinpoint what drives her self-harm, but this time she was clear enough: “Bombs in ears.” That week had been full of wedding parties, with the usual celebratory fireworks, a sound Sahar cannot stand. For her the world has all the stability of Krakatoa (and the same tendency to intermittently erupt).

This sense of unpredictability is shared by seventeen-year-old Ruwaida, who has transformed the wall of her bedroom in the Aida refugee camp into a mural. The sun blazes in a cloudless sky and a tree arches protectively over her bed. She suffers night terrors about soldiers bursting through the walls. At first I thought that this was just a surreal twist to the nightmare until I discovered that during the Second Intifada this was a routine way for soldiers to enter the camp’s tightly-packed houses.

As no one can guarantee the children practical stability, we concentrate on fostering strong friendships and family ties. Ruwaida has been helped through a youth group, while Sahar’s interest has been captured by my Israeli friend Orit (whom she persistently refers to as ‘Oreo’). She wonders why Orit doesn’t visit more often, having no concept of the distance between Bethlehem and Kfar Saba – or the illegality of Orit’s presence in Area A. The last time we met, she announced, “When I’m big” – she leapt to indicate height, thwacking me on the chin – “I’m live there, with Oreo and giraffes.” My protestations that Orit has no giraffes were met with a decisive head butt to the stomach, presumably in rebuke for my lack of enterprise.  “Giraffes,” she said firmly.

Media attention tends to focus on specific cases of violence or abuse, and fails to capture the systematic uncertainty that Palestinian children face. Trauma still affects them even if they don’t have a background like Ruwaida’s or disabilities like Sahar’s. Sahar is lucky to attend a school suited to her needs, however the permit system for travel means that many children are denied such stability altogether. When the separation wall is finished in Beit Jala, all the children currently educated at the Salesian sisters school will need permits to cross the checkpoint that is going to be built in their playground. Permits in the Occupied Territories are privileges, not rights; and this makes education itself a privilege, and not a right. This lesson is brought home to children in multiple ways, from enforced school closures to intimidation from settlers to simply having to pass under the wavering red light of a gun on the way to class, day after day. “If the army is at the nuns’ school, I can’t send my children there,” one Beit Jala parent told me. “I won’t let them grow up wondering if they’re at school or in jail.”

Father and baby in Susya, West Bank (Photo: Vicky Hosker)

Jail looms large in the imagination of local children. Recently a soldier reprimanded seven-year-old Yara for dropping candy wrappers in the checkpoint by playfully threatening her with imprisonment. He did not mean it seriously, but failed to realize the effect that his words would have. That night Yara refused to go to bed, but curled up in the bottom of the wardrobe as part of a cunning plan to escape any soldiers who might come looking for her in the night.  It took 45 minutes and the prospect of pancakes to coax her out, on condition that she could sleep in someone else’s room.

Chronic uncertainty surrounds children living under occupation like amniotic fluid. Even if they aren’t one of the 500-700 children who are arrested annually by the IDF, even if they haven’t had their homes demolished or lived through bombing raids, they imbibe fear. They also inherit the anxieties and preoccupations of their parents, many of whom were born into this situation themselves and grew up with a similar sense of instability. Present-day child trauma in Palestine is knotted into a tapestry that spans generations, portrayed in haunting detail in Ghada Karmi’s memoir In Search of Fatima. Trying to settle down to a schoolgirl’s life in London in the aftermath of her family’s expulsion from Qatamon (in West Jerusalem), the young Karmi was by turns exasperated and unnerved by her mother’s erratic behaviour, which overshadowed her adolescence. “No one understood what had happened to her or why she had changed so…Today, we would call it depression, but none of us understood such a concept at the time.” All the rehabilitation work I do in the West Bank is coloured by bitter awareness of its backdrop. The machine is still whirring, stitching the same relentless pattern. It is impossible to resolve the problems experienced by these children until the machinery itself is broken.

The hideousness of that pattern hit home when I went to stay with Sameeha, a close friend from Gaza who is doing an MA in England. Twenty-four years old, she’s articulate, funny, and sharp enough to have secured one of only a handful of scholarships. This’s the first time in her life that she left Gaza, but when I met her in the Durham autumn she seemed perfectly at home – until we settled down to sleep and I snapped off the light. “I sleep with the light on!” All the savoir-faire vanished, and I might have been back in Bethlehem with a terrified 10-year-old. She sat twisting the quilt in her hands, my beautiful confident friend, and didn’t look at me as she said dully and quietly, “I get dreams about bombings. Soldiers getting in the house, killing everyone.” Holding her, it occurred to me to wonder what those Bethlehem 10-year-olds are going to be like at 24 – and what lessons Sameeha’s children might absorb from a mother who is scared of dark and sleep. Inevitably they will wrestle further demons of their own. Or perhaps things will change, and the machine will be broken, and they will go looking for giraffes in Kfar Saba.

Vicky Hosker works with an educational charity in Bethlehem. She has a background in special education and mental health, and is interested in how creative arts can be used therapeutically. Her doctoral research will explore how literature and storytelling can enable people to access taboo history, with a focus on the Nakba and the Holocaust.

Related:
WATCH: Palestinian child kicked by Border Police in Hebron
Report by British jurists reminds of horrors of Israeli child detention

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Joel

      “Fear of night raids and imprisonment loom large in the imagination of almost every Palestinian child.”

      Every Palestinian child?

      Something like 90% of all West Bank kids live in Area A where no IDF soldier may even step foot.

      C’mon.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Aaron

      Sounds like you’re doing good work. Kol hakavod.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Joel: Israeli soldiers can and do execute night raids in Area A every single day – including right in the heart of downtown Ramallah.

      Reply to Comment
    4. rose

      Joel please get few infos before writing again. This article is extremely important

      Reply to Comment
    5. CigarButNoNice

      Chronic uncertainty: the trauma of childhood under Kassam rockets.

      But I already know they don’t count to the righteous souls of 972mag, so spare me the replies.

      Reply to Comment
    6. CBN – Israeli children do not get arrested by armed soldiers who roust them from their beds in the middle of the night. They are not taken to jail and denied access to a lawyer or the presence of a parent while they are interrogated. They are not randomly beaten on the street by passing border guards. They have legal recourse, freedom of movement – basic rights.

      Also, Sderot is considered quite a nice place to live: http://www.salon.com/2012/07/15/troubled_israeli_town_revives/

      And finally: Perhaps you could feel compassion for *all* the children who are traumatized by violence, regardless of their nationality or ethnicity, and recognize the long-term ripple effects of this problem.

      Reply to Comment
    7. rose

      CBN,
      the kassam rockets that hit sderot are peraphs fired by the children of Najd, the ones that were expelled in 1948 so that Sderot/OrHaNer could be built on their village. This does not make that kasamim more acceptable, but could help to better picture the reality about which you are talking about

      Reply to Comment
    8. Adding to Lisa: And they don’t watch their parents being degraded and humiliated by 20-year-olds. But like Lisa, I’m wasting my breath – those who defend the occupation and deny the stories of its horrors are terminally desensitized.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Aaron

      Those who defend the occupation and deny horrors do so because they *are* sensitized. If they were desensitized, they would have no problem supporting an occupation with all of its horrors. If you defend the occupation and acknowledge the horrors and are not a sociopath, well, it’s hard.

      Reply to Comment
    10. CigarButNoNice

      @Lisa Goldman “Also, Sderot is considered quite a nice place to live”
      .
      I’m sure London was a nice place to live between every two V2 rocket strikes.
      .
      @Rose “the kassam rockets that hit sderot are peraphs fired by the children of Najd, the ones that were expelled in 1948″
      .
      Nothing like a philosophy of perpetual revenge and retribution to bring peace in the Middle East. It’s also nice to know you’re reaching as far back to 1948 for the roots, which should work wonders for a peace solution, given as the majority of Israeli Jews are in no way willing to consider the founding of their state as an evil act. You 972maggers are eliminationist fanatics of the most extreme order.
      .
      “This does not make that kasamim more acceptable,”
      .
      Right, you said it just because it would make for a more complete tourist guide. “Just an interesting fact you should know, a tidbit, a curio.” Tactics as slippery as an eel.
      .
      “but could help to better picture the reality about which you are talking about”
      .
      You want a better picture? Consider the fact that the Arabs already have 21 states, and the Jews have only one. That’ll help you better picture the reality of this conflict. You’re projecting when you talk about Israel “stealing land”-it’s you who are in support of robbery here.

      Reply to Comment
    11. sh

      “Trying to settle down to a schoolgirl’s life in London in the aftermath of her family’s expulsion from Qatamon (in West Jerusalem), the young Karmi was by turns exasperated and unnerved by her mother’s erratic behaviour, which overshadowed her adolescence.”
      That sounds so much like settling down to a Jewish (with “continental” parents) schoolgirl’s life in the aftermath of WWII. That’s why our actions here seem so impossible to credit.
      .
      “Those who defend the occupation and deny horrors do so because they *are* sensitized.” Yes Aaron, you’re right.
      .
      Thanks for this eloquent article, Vicky. When I watch those night raid videos of soldiers turning a whole house upside down, with children waking up from their sleep to see soldiers with blackened faces, guns and crazy headgear, speaking a foreign language while rummaging through their belongings, I wonder what sort of hell their inner lives will become and for how long.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Khaled

      This feels more like a Tale of Two Israels. Those who “Get It” and those who live in some Comic Book Fantasy of an ancient “Heroic” Israel/Judea/Sumeria.
      One wonders what all this persecution, demolition and building on the West Bank will accomplish? By the very hands of Right Wingers, Zionists are creating a defacto One State Solution. What then? Israeli Citizenship? With all the asymetry of Power in Israel’s favour the politicians, Palestinians aside, they can’t even do right by their own citizens: To push an Israeli to despair, he burns himself to death. (A dreadful way to die.)
      Power without responsibility is an Unsustainable, Dangerous combination as history has shown.

      Reply to Comment
    13. “You want a better picture? Consider the fact that the Arabs already have 21 states, and the Jews have only one.”
      .
      CBN, these children are Palestinians and their home is in Palestine. Home for them is first and foremost their own little community, the corner store that sells the good ice cream, their favourite picnic spot. (Not so unusual – it’s like this for people all over the world. When I think of ‘home’, I don’t think first of all of my flag.) The existence of other Arab states does not make what is being done to these kids remotely acceptable.
      .
      “Nothing like a philosophy of perpetual revenge and retribution to bring peace in the Middle East.”
      .
      You say this, yet your first response to the stories of distressed children was a mention of rockets that they have nothing to do with and that are completely unrelated to the hardships they face under military rule. The vast majority of Israelis are blithely unaware of what that rule entails (see Joel’s comment about soldiers not going into Area A) which is why I wrote the piece. I hesitated to write it, because I knew there would be responses like yours (I have a sort of mental bingo card of expected ripostes) and I didn’t want to subject these kids’ stories to the indifference or scorn of people whose first priority is to protect their ideology (or who don’t really care). They deserve better than that.
      .
      This being so, can I ask other commenters not to get sucked into discussions of the existence of other Arab countries, comparisons between London in WW2 and present-day Sderot, or anything else that has been written to deflect attention from the issue at hand: endemic trauma-related mental health problems in the children of Palestine.

      Reply to Comment
    14. CigarButNoNice

      @Vicky
      .
      Israelis too are Palestinians and their home too is in Palestine. Your empathy is curiously lacking for Jewish Palestinian children as it is abundant for Arab Palestinian children. This is a racist double standard.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Richard SM

      @ CIGARBUT 2.56PM
      .
      It’s perfectly clear to me that Lisa Goldman has already answered that point for you.(10.37AM post)

      Reply to Comment
    16. rose

      CBN,
      To write that “the Arabs already have 21 states, and the Jews have only one” shows racism and ignorance. “FILASTIN BILADUNA” (Palestine our land): this was what you will read in the books of the jurist Al Din al Ramli in the XVI century. The fact that Palestine is part of the Arab world is like to say that Britain is part of Europe: it does not make it less “british”. If you want to “Judaize” hundred of villages (ein houd, musrara, majdal, najd…ect ect) and then u expect that people do not complain is your problem

      Vicky,
      I do apologize. I hate racism and this Cigarsomething is disgusting to me. Congratulations for your important article: I will not anymore divert the attention from the topic of your article

      Reply to Comment
    17. Bringing Vicky on board shows the power of 972 once again. If we needed another demonstration of how information technology can alter social possibility, this is it.
      .
      “Yara refused to go to bed, but curled up in the bottom of the wardrobe as part of a cunning plan to escape any soldiers who might come looking for her in the night. It took 45 minutes and the prospect of pancakes to coax her out, on condition that she could sleep in someone else’s room.”
      .
      “cunning plan”: these two words make marvelous writing, enpowering the child.
      .
      “Chronic uncertainty surrounds children living under occupation like amniotic fluid.”
      .
      “amiotic fluid”: says more than many full paragraphs.
      .
      “They also inherit the anxieties and preoccupations of their parents, many of whom were born into this situation themselves and grew up with a similar sense of instability.”
      .
      Sadly, this same process creates occupation denial among many Jews, Israeli and not. Occupation is, partly but not completely, a trauma reaction which you are endeavoring to prevent through your own work.
      .
      “Inevitably they will wrestle further demons of their own.”
      .
      As are the occupiers. Desolation and destruction jumps from side to side; that’s how it keeps going, growing.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Sinjim

      Based on the comments from some, I’d say you’ve hit a nerve. Good.
      .
      These children are Israel’s most vulnerable victims, and they deserve at minimum to have their plight exposed to a wider audience. Thank you, Vicky, for your work and your words.

      Reply to Comment
    19. XYZ

      Just think, had Arafat accepted a peace agreement at Camp David in 2000, this article wouldn’t even have to be written. Same if Abbas had accepted Olmert’s even bigger concessions in 2006. No occupation (of course, the term “occupation” is used the way the Israeli Left uses it referring to the territories Israel controlled after 1967, and not the way the Palestinians or other anti-Zionists do, referring to the areas controlled by Israel after 1948).
      However, the Palestinians have a much longer shopping list of grievances than just “the occupation” so we see that “ending the occupation” is not the most important item on the agenda of the Palestinian national movement. Keeping the occupation going is preferrable to giving up their other grievances.
      Thus, the address of complaints about the occupation should not be addressed to Israel, but rather the Palestinian leadership. They are the ones keeping it going.

      Reply to Comment
    20. XYZ – Do you believe that children should be punished for something Arafat did or did not do 12 years ago?

      Reply to Comment
    21. Aaron

      Lisa, you, uh, misunderstood XYZ’s comment. He didn’t suggest that children should be punished for acts by Arafat or for anything else. Israel’s acts in the territories are justified, if at all, by reasons other than what happened twelve years ago. I think XYZ was pretty clear, and that it would take some effort to misunderstand him the way you did.
       
      Arafat and the rest of the Palestinian leadership are partly responsible for what Israel is now doing in the territories in pretty much the same way that the Israeli leadership is partly responsible for the Iranian-backed attack on Israeli tourists, if it was Iranian-backed. You either accept that broad definition of responsibility (as I do), or you reject it.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Richard SM

      @ Aaron – No, Lisa’s question seems very clear and relevant to me. Did you read the posts properly?

      Reply to Comment
    23. XYZ

      The children are suffering because Arafat, with the broad support of his people, decided to use a massive wave of terrorist attacks, based largely on suicide bombers, to get Israel to capitulate, after he agreed to a “peace process” that was supposed to terminate the occupation peacefully. Israeli security operations in the West Bank are a direct consequence of Arafat’s decision, which as I said, was supported by a large majority of the Palestinian people. This situation will continue as long as the Palestinian leadership refuses to consider a compromise peace.
      What I see repeatedly here at 972 and other “progressive” sites is an attempt to portray Israeli security operations as being motivated simply by a desire to harrass the Palestinians. This is nonsense. The man in charge of security today in Israel is Ehud Barak, the same man who offered Arafat a state at Camp David. I don’t think he thinks it is “fun” to harrass the Palestinians. I think he is directing these types of operations because they are necessary under the current circumstances.

      Reply to Comment
    24. Richard SM

      I’d only ever considered the matter of soldiers breaking through walls in terms of the physical damage it caused to the building. The thought that children are in their beds at night when their bedroom walls suddenly erupt and big dark figures emerge is the stuff of nightmares.

      Reply to Comment
    25. AYLA

      Ditto Sinjim. Thank you.

      Reply to Comment
    26. Richard SM

      @ XYZ – what do you think about the perpepuity aspect of the article? That today’s adults are the products of the treatment they experienced when they were young. If present generations are damaged, when do you think would be the right time to change? The violence seems to be at all time low.
      .
      BTW – have you got children? What ages are they? How do you see things for them in the future with all the shifts going on in the world?

      Reply to Comment
    27. AYLA

      @Aaron–nothing “justifies” Israel’s “acts in the territories”. More importantly, why would you *want* to “justify” systematically traumatizing children? I have many Palestinian friends. They all have a long list of stories, as do all Palestinians in the territories; Vicky does not especially seek out special cases. This is the norm.
      *
      Although there has always been conflict here, it wasn’t always like this.
      You, and so many others, are holding on so tightly to defending Israel, and as a result, you, and so many others, are allowing Israel to become exactly what Israel intended to stand against. Yes, we 972-reader-types talk a lot about the Nakba, because we ourselves were shielded from the other side of the story of the founding of the State and feel it’s important to be accountable, and to feel, and to care, and to own. But most Jews fighting the occupation are doing so because they care about Israel, and who we are becoming, or perhaps, tragically, have become. People finding ways to “justify” an occupation that does everything Vicky, Lisa Goldman, and Larry Derfner (a very important point) said are, by my estimation, a bigger threat to Israel, to our moral core as individuals and a People, than anyone or anything. To link exposing the evil of the occupation with hurting Israel is sick and backwards. Because the fact is, Israel, the land, will be here with our without us. And this land will be holy to Jews with or without us. The Holy Land is not threatened by anything we do or don’t do, just as earth herself will live on long after we kill ourselves off. But if we want to be here, living on this land, a certain Book I read every week tells me that we ourselves have to be holy.

      Reply to Comment
    28. paul

      XYZ,
      your starting point is weak before than immoral in respect of these children.
      ..
      In 2000, while the “generous offer” to discuss only what the stronger was ready to discuss, is probably the period of the history of the region in which the settlements activity grew the most: facts on the ground till the end.
      I disliked Arafat, but to blame just him is quite superficial, to say the least.

      The 2008 “offer” was even less than that: Jerusalem, among the other things, was supposed to remain FULLY unified under the EXCLUSIVE Israeli control, so also against the will of the international community. This is the ‘peace of the stronger’ and what it is strange is that you consider natural that whatever Palestininian should give up its rights just because this is what the stronger is ready to deal about.

      THESE ARE SOME OF THE POINTS WHY THE “GENEROUS OFFER” IS A MYTH.
      ….
      1) “the lack of contiguity that the settlement blocs cause for a Palestinian state, lack of trust in the commitment and/or possibility of the Israeli government to evacuate the thousands of non-bloc Israeli settlers in the 15-year timeline,
      ….
      2) limited sovereignty for Palestinians in Jerusalem (the historically important Arab neighborhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan,and At-Tur would remain under Israeli sovereignty, while Palestinians would only have sovereignty over the outer Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem),

      3) the lack of Palestinian sovereignty over holy sites in Jerusalem (Palestinians would only receive “administrative control” over their holy sites, and the Old City’s Muslim and Christian Quarters, however Israel was to receive complete sovereignty over Jewish holy sites, and the Old City’s Jewish and Armenian Quarters).
      ….
      4) “…Barak’s demand to annex large settlement blocs (9% of the West Bank) with no Israeli land given to a proposed Palestinian state in return,

      5) ect….. fot other points consul this:
      http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2001/aug/09/camp-david-the-tragedy-of-errors/?page=3
      ..

      Reply to Comment
    29. XYZ

      What difference does it make if the offer was or was not “generous”? I said clearly that the Palestinian grievances goes far beyond simply “ending the occupation”.

      You have just proved my point….ending the “occupation” is not the main goal of the Palestinian movement. As good a friend of the Palestinians as Avrum Burg once said to them “the success of the Zionist movement was based on the fact that when they were offered something, they took it”. As I said, they are quite willing to have the occupation continue if they can’t get 100% of their demands. No offer by the Israelis will ever be generous enough.

      Reply to Comment
    30. paul

      XYZ,
      you wrote that “This situation will continue as long as the Palestinian leadership refuses to consider a compromise peace”. I explained you that this is just an oversemplification.
      .
      For you a “compromise peace” means what the stronger is ready to discuss: this is immoral from my point of view.
      .
      Moreover this does not explain anything about these children.
      .
      Finally “the success of the Zionist movement was based on the fact that when they were offered something, they took it”: assuming that this is true, it peraphs happened because Zionists have almost nothing in their hands and obtained more than they could ever dream about. The opposite is true for the 9/10 of the indigenous population

      Reply to Comment
    31. Moschops

      XYZWhatever
      Every Israeli offer was meant to be rejected by design. That is the Zionist principle. To offer the Palestinians something so pathetic they will reject it.
      Meantime keep evicting, keep building, keep transfering New Yorkers to the West Bank, keep making Facts on the Ground, keep pushing so they react with a suicide bombing here and there, keep bombing them with F-15s, make them “LIVE LIKE DOGS”, keep the AIPAC propaganda machine working but keep building.
      And if that doesn’t work then roll out the Holocaust card.

      Reply to Comment
    32. Munir

      Great article, extremely important…heartbreaking

      Reply to Comment
    33. AYLA

      XYZ–you know what? I don’t think what you’re saying is *entirely* wrong, which is to say that there are certainly people who want nothing short of there being no Jewish State of Israel, period. I don’t think that anyone here actually denies that; it’s undeniable. And it’s true that Israel accepted what was offered to us back in 47, even though it didn’t include Jerusalem etc. And it’s true that the deal was rejected, by and large, by Palestinians, even though they’d have had a sovereign state for the first time. Okay? Now can you please stop responding to every single 972 post with the attitude of trying to get out these truths, or with the assumption that these truths justify anything Israel does? Everyone knows those things. There are a lot of other, basic truths, too, about our wrongdoings during the transition in 48, and about how Palestinians suffered even for what we did lawfully. Will ending the occupation end the conflict? No. You are right about this: No, it won’t. No one is saying it will. Some suggest it would make us more vulnerable, some suggest it would make us less vulnerable, but anyway, No. Ending the occupation will, however, put us in a much more moral position from which to, well, live, and also from which to have a State worth protecting and improving. And you know what, XYZ? Even if ending the occupation didn’t put us in a better place from which to defend Israel, ending the occupation would mean ending the occupation. Some of us believe that putting an end to 45 years of one group of humans controlling, humiliating, terrifying, and degrading another group of humans is a moral imperative, no matter what.

      Reply to Comment
    34. This was such an important post, Vicky. Thank you for writing it – and for your compassionate, courageous work.

      Reply to Comment
    35. paul

      Ayla,
      “And it’s true that the deal was rejected, by and large, by Palestinians, even though they’d have had a sovereign state for the first time…Everyone knows those things”.
      .
      First, no one asked to reject or to accept anything to the palestinians (ad no one asked them anything in 1917 or 1922), although of course they had all the right to reject such an imposition. To stress that “they’d have had a sovereign state for the first time” is just a westerncentric mindset: “State” was a Western concept and the fact that Palestine was not a state is one of the best arguments of the zionist propaganda.
      ..
      Let’s concentrate on these children, putting aside these “european approaches”

      Reply to Comment
    36. “Just think, had Arafat accepted a peace agreement at Camp David in 2000, this article wouldn’t even have to be written.”
      .
      This didn’t begin in 2000. If you want to go back further, I could talk about my friend in his 40s who as a small child defied a curfew near Nablus in order to go and play with his cousins. Soldiers caught the three of them and made them stand in a pit by the side of the road, without water or toilet facilities, and kept them there all day. It was high summer. Even if what you wrote were 100% correct, it wouldn’t explain what is happening to children now or what happened to their family members before them – on both sides of the Green Line. The injustices predate the occupation and they have never been confined to one particular area. Remember that Palestinians in Israel were also subject to martial law, which wasn’t fully lifted until 1966. That meant restrictions of the sort that are seen in the West Bank (and for the Jaffa residents, it meant two years corralled into ‘Ajami neighbourhood behind barbed wire, a literal ghetto). These past stories are hidden, just as the present-day stories are; if you’re a Jewish Israeli you don’t have to look. Justice for the people who have lived through this means far more than simply removing the troops from the street and granting them a semblance of autonomy in a bantustan, neatly and comfortingly tucked out of Israeli view – it means granting them some dignity by acknowledging what was done to them, and trying to redress it.
      .
      The friend I mention in this comment avoided all contact with Israelis for decades, because his humiliation in the roadside pit was compounded by the resounding silence that followed. This only started to change when he encountered a woman from Machsom Watch at Qalandia. He was startled to find that there are Israelis who haven’t got their faces turned in the other direction, but are personally looking at what goes on and trying to respond. This aspect is necessary, a lot more necessary than the politicians and the negotiating tables – the restoration of dignity takes more than Knesset debates and the signing of a piece of paper. What do those things even mean to a kid like Sahar? No politician can stop her from feeling so ill and frightened, but Orit has a little, just through baking cookies with her and taking her to look for tortoises on the hill. This is the crux of peace work: real and personal concern for the most vulnerable. As Thomas Merton put it, “In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”

      Reply to Comment
    37. XYZ

      Moschops-
      I always find comments like yours implying that most settlers are Americans very interesting. Do you mean that if most settlers were REAL ISRAELIS like Shimon Peres (born in Poland) or Amir Peretz (born in Morocco) you wouldn’t mind them?

      Reply to Comment
    38. XYZ

      Thank you all for your comments. All of you seem to back the view of the Palestinains having endless grievances, which means a need for endless vengeance, endless pursuit of absolute justice, endless confict, endless war and, as I said above, NOTHING Israel can do can ever make things right, short of having ALL JEWS LEAVE THE COUNTRY, even if Israel were to agree to dissolve itself leaving a large, undigested mass of Jews living in the new, large unitary Palestinian state where Israel used to be. This is what sometime-contributor Noa told us one of her fellow Palestinian activists told her to her face.
      If this is the message you want all Israelis to have, and they absorb it, do not be surprised as what the political reaction will be. You won’t like it.

      Reply to Comment
    39. rose

      XYZ, too easy. Start not giving anymore money to new settlers: it would be already something (expecially for the future of these children).

      Reply to Comment
    40. AYLA

      @Paul, you don’t know me very well, here. XYZ knows that I agree with everything you said, and I do: you are right. I just decided, for once, to acknowledge what he’s saying, because I do, and it doesn’t matter.
      *
      XYZ–you’re still insisting on responding to an extreme population, which is what the pro-Israel machine does. There will always be ammunition for your arguments if you do so. However, there are many, many Palestinians protesting not to end Israel, but to live in dignity and sovereignty, and if we end the occupation, we’ll be empowering that population, and at the same time, we ourselves will have a moral leg to stand on. As things are today, it’s very difficult to convince Palestinians that we can fight together for a solution; how can the occupier fight with the occupied? Both governments are worthless in different ways, but there are plenty of individuals on both sides working, essentially, for the same thing who long to come together and can’t right now. I’d point you to some websites to show you all the Palestinians working to work together and to work toward a just peace, but another troll is the last thing they need.

      Reply to Comment
    41. AYLA

      @Paul–p.s.–No, it is *used* as Western, pro-Israel propaganda that the Palestinian state was under occupation by the British, and Jordan, and was to become sovereign when Israel became sovereign. I am saying to XYZ–stop using this as pro-Israel propaganda. Just because something is being twisted via propaganda doesn’t mean there’s no truth in it, and sometimes, to say: yes, there’s some truth in there, adds credibility to one’s argument. And you are right: no one ever asked Palestinians anything.

      Reply to Comment
    42. AYLA

      p.s. XYZ, per what you wrote to @Moschops, of course it’s noteworthy that the majority of settlers are American. America is fueling the occupation.

      Reply to Comment
    43. AYLA

      Vicky wrote, in her comments: “As Thomas Merton put it, “In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”
      *
      YES. And because of the occupation and the corresponding attitude within Israel (schools revoking arabic, etc.), those relationships are less and less prevalent and possible. The less we know of each other, the more we can dehumanize. on both sides. If we concern ourselves with our side, we will become more human to the other.

      Reply to Comment
    44. Tal

      Sad article. Thanks Vicky for your humanist voice.

      Reply to Comment
    45. XYZ, justice doesn’t mean vengeance. The two things are opposites. Nor does it mean Jews leaving the country, and I don’t know how you took that from what I wrote – it seems as though you are resorting to such pronouncements as a further way of inoculating yourself against the situation. After all, if Palestinians want you gone, there is no way you can help them, is there? No need to worry about any of this, no need to think about what might be happening to children in Jenin tonight.
      .
      Do some Palestinians want all Israelis gone? I only encounter this view rarely, but yes, it does exist. The friend I mentioned in the comment above would have said this, once. But not any more. People need time to mend, and it’s going to be sore, but it’s possible.
      .
      In Jonathan Garfinkel’s book ‘Ambivalence’, the story of his travels in Palestine during the Intifada, he writes about an encounter with a ninety-year-old Palestinian refugee. After hearing Zuhdi’s story, Jonathan, a Canadian Jew, asked Zuhdi if he wished that the Jews had never come. Zuhdi replied, “I can’t say that.” Jonathan: “Why not?” Zuhdi: “Because you came, didn’t you?”

      Reply to Comment
    46. Palestinian

      “the success of the Zionist movement was based on the fact that when they were offered something, they took it” …..why wouldnt they ? Why wouldnt a thief accept 55% or 78% of what he was planning to steal?!

      Reply to Comment
    47. XYZ

      Ayla-
      You say “the majority of settlers are American”.
      There are something like 350,000 Jews in the West Bank. You are saying that more than 175,000 of them are Americans? There or only about 150,000 Americans in the whole of Israel.
      I am an Israeli born in the US and I don’t live there. I know many others who don’t. If you are right, all Americans in Israel live in the West Bank settlements and yet I know that is not true. What other mistaken ideas do you have?

      Reply to Comment
    48. XYZ

      Vicky-
      As has been pointed out before, the Palestine National Convenant said any Jew who came to Palestine after 1917 is an illegal immigrant and must leave. Now, you will reply “that document is no longer applicable”. Well, maybe or maybe not. But if there won’t be justice until 1948 is reversed, how can Jews stay? How can the refugees get their property back and go live in the now Jewish cities if the Jews don’t leave. Even if there is full right of return, there will still be grievances, friction, feelings of humiliation and conflict, like there is in Lebanon, Iraq and now Syria. That is why Uri Avnery opposes the “one-state solution”.

      Reply to Comment
    49. AYLA

      XYZ, lastly (I hope…), there are also Israelis, some extreme, some shockingly less so, who want to wipe Palestinians off the map who say things like “They should all go to Jordan and Egypt”. As Noam S. said in one of his eloquent pieces (and I paraphrase), why not be kinder and send them to France? If Palestinians want to find ammunition to prove that all Israelis want them wiped off the map, they can find plenty of true stories to circulate. We all have to stop looking at extreme stories on either side. Energy flows where attention flows. Sadly, much as many of us wish this weren’t true, 972 is not exposing something fringe; they’re exposing the everyday dark side of way things are, today. I can appreciate that it’s hard for many to believe. But that’s not an excuse to close one’s eyes.
      *
      I know we’re off topic–I’m quite good at this ;)–but also, we aren’t. What on earth could stop us, after reading this article, from doing something about it? Desensitization. And that’s what we’re talking about.
      *
      Vicky, I love that anecdote from Zuhdi. Thank you.

      Reply to Comment
    50. XYZ, what happened in 1948 can’t be reversed.
      But just because things can’t be exactly as they were doesn’t mean that they have to stay as they are.
      .
      I have a Gazan friend, Nader Elkhuzundar, who in a recent blog post compared political negotiations to a rape victim negotiating with her rapist. He argues that what was taken by force can only be regained by force. The rape victim analogy was more poignant and accurate than I think he realised, in that once you’ve been raped, there is no way to turn back the clock and banish what happened to you. You simply can’t reclaim your former life, by force or otherwise. Wounds can heal over, but you will never be quite as you were. The experience of violence changes you.
      .
      But this isn’t automatically for the worse. The Gaza doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish demonstrated this with crystal clarity when he wrote his book ‘I Shall Not Hate’ in the aftermath of his daughters’ killing. The charity work he is doing now will never bring his girls back, but in the horrible haunting space left by their absence he is creating a place where children can learn, play, grow up cherished and safe(r). Life for him now is irrevocably different from how it was before, but it does not have to be unjust. This is what I want for the children in my care. It’s firstly about rights, not recreating a particular landscape exactly as it was, with each brick and blade of grass in the same place.
      .
      Even RoR doesn’t mean people getting out a GPS and rebuilding their old house on its precise former co-ordinates, a perfect replica, right down to the kerosene lamps and the gecko-shaped water stain on the kitchen wall. As I pointed out to CBN, home is about more than a flag. Equally, homecoming is something a bit more profound than the co-ordinates on a map. Mahmoud Darwish’s poem ‘A Soldier Dreams of White Lilies’ (written as a dialogue between a Palestinian and a soldier, based on a real-life friendship) ends with, “Homeland for him, he tells me, is to drink my mother’s coffee, to return at nightfall.” There is a deliberate ambiguity over the possessive pronoun there – whose mother is the Jewish soldier discussing, his own, or the Palestinian narrator’s? That poem puts a whole new twist on what it means to go home.
      .
      As far as my children are concerned, place on its own doesn’t have the power to make them feel better – people do. Sahar feels at home with Orit; this is part of the return. As you say, there is a lot of mistrust and friction. But again, it doesn’t have to remain that way, and I believe that care for the most vulnerable victims (namely children, but some others) is a good way to begin the process of reparation.

      Reply to Comment
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+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

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