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Palestinian mothers teach life, not hate

How am I supposed to explain to my six-year-old son the heinous acts he witnesses Israel perpetrating against his people? How do you suggest I explain the violence of your occupation to my kid, Mr. Netanyahu?

By Dalal Erakat

A young Palestinian boy looks through a window at a funeral for family members who were killed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza, August 27, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

A young Palestinian watches a funeral for family members killed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza, August 27, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

In his address to the UN General Assembly last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had the audacity to insinuate that Palestinian mothers teach their children to hate. As a proud Palestinian mother, I must remind him of the life his country — through half a century of occupation and exile — has given our children. As a Palestinian mother, I demand an apology from Mr. Netanyahu, and I call on Israeli mothers to join me.

My oldest son, Sari, was born and raised in Canada until the age of six, at which point my husband and I decided he had the right to grow up in his own country and among his family. So we returned to our homeland. I always looked forward to the moment when I would get to see my parents on the weekends or watch my kids play with their cousins during recess at school.

Our return to Palestine, however, was not what I had expected. I quickly had to try and find explanations so Sari could comprehend what was going on around him.

Our arrival in June 2014 was untimely; it coincided with Mr. Netanyahu launching a military aggression against our people in Gaza. The images of the massive death and destruction were horrific. Sari was traumatized.

I never tried to impose any political beliefs on my family. I have always been supportive of cultural exchanges, of openness, and I never tried to prevent my children from seeing the world around them. In Montreal, my son would celebrate Hanukkah with his Jewish friends; we never told him it wasn’t his to celebrate or that it belonged to a religion different than his own. His Jewish friends adored him and they were buddies. Why would any mother, myself included, destroy a childhood over something they didn’t choose in the first place?

Like everyone else around him, Sari followed the outrageous Israeli onslaught on Gaza, only about 100 kilometers from where we live. Soon, my six-year-old told me he hates Israelis because they were destroying the lives of kids his age in Gaza — leaving them without parents, without schools, without playgrounds or any hope. I realized I had to start dealing with politics in my household.

When my son asked if the Israeli army would bomb our home as well, I told him we would be safe. But he argued that what happened in Gaza could happen here as well. I quietly remembered the Israeli bombardments and military invasions that took place in Ramallah during the Second Intifada, only a few years earlier.

+972 Special Coverage: Children Under Occupation

At school, he heard other children saying Israeli soldiers could harm us at anytime. My little boy tried to convince them otherwise, based on his trusted mother’s anecdote. The question he posed to me that day was: are my classmates right? Can Israeli soldiers enter our city and harm us anytime?

I decided to consult an Israeli licensed social worker. She recommended I tell him the truth because we were no longer in Montreal, and what he was witnessing now is our reality. I realized that as a mother I could not hide reality from my son; being disingenuous would harm our relationship.

At the end of the day, the answer to his question is yes they can, and yes they do. As a mother, I don’t want my son to lose faith in me but at the same time, I can’t stop thinking that he is just a kid and he deserves a descent childhood away from the ongoing conflict.

Palestinian parents whisk their children away from clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian youth at the Qalandiya checkpoint separating Ramallah and Jerusalem, May 15, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian parents whisk their children away from clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian youth at the Qalandiya checkpoint separating Ramallah and Jerusalem, May 15, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

That weekend, Sari went to visit his aunt in Jerusalem. On the way back, my six-year-old son was caught in clashes between Palestinian youth and occupying forces at the infamous Qalandiya checkpoint separating Ramallah from Jerusalem. Sari, protected by his father, witnessed Israeli forces shooting bullets and tear gas at civilians. He himself was in danger.

How do you want me to explain this to my kid, Mr. Netanyahu? Could you give me a convincing answer so my son might tolerate these heinous acts against his people?

A few weeks after starting at his new school in Ramallah, my son was invited to a classmate’s birthday party. On the day of, however, I received a text message from the boy’s parents apologizing for having to cancel on short notice; the birthday boy’s uncle had died after suffocating from tear gas Israeli forces shot at him while he was peacefully protesting against the confiscation of land in a village near Ramallah. What do I tell my son? Why should I tell him the birthday party was called off?

I am just one example of a real Palestinian mother who cares about her kids and their mental wellbeing. I am just one example of hundreds of thousands of dedicated Palestinian mothers who want to raise bright, confident Palestinian kids. Motherhood is universal — irrespective of religion, race or national identity. Like all mothers, Palestinian mothers want to make sure their kids are safe. Ask your own mother, or your beloved wife — they will tell you the exact same thing.

The doctor who delivered Sari in Montreal was Jewish, from Kfar Saba in Israel. The doctor who circumcised him was also Jewish. We do not have anything against Jews; our problem is with the occupation, which happens to be carried out by Jews on behalf of an undefined Jewish state. Do not confuse things: the conflict is not religious, it is purely political.

Mr. Netanyahu, you owe an apology to me and every other Palestinian mother you keep dehumanizing.

Dalal Erakat, assistant professor of Diplomacy & Conflict Resolution at the Arab American University and Birzeit University in Palestine. Dalal writes a weekly column with Al-Quds Daily Newspaper. Dalal has a PhD in Public Administration from Paris I Sorbonne, a MA in Diplomatic Studies from Westminster University in London, and a Bachelor of Political Science from the University of Jordan. This post was also published in Hebrew on Local Call.

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    1. Henry

      If you wanted your kid to grow up without conflict. You should of never gone back to Palestine. How can you say you keeping your kid safe by doing that ?

      Reply to Comment
      • i_like_ike52

        Because, Henry, things were less safe elsewhere. In case you haven’t noticed, virtually every one of the old Jewish “diaspora” communities in Europe and the Middle East were liquidated in just a 20-year period, between 1939 and 1959. I suggest you real a little Jewish history of the 20th century.

        Reply to Comment
        • David


          Bottom line: Foreign Jews had the same right to Palestine as Irish Catholics and Mexican atheists, i.e., none whatsoever. Therein lies the root of the conflict.

          Reply to Comment
          • i_like_ike52

            Well, David, I presume then that you would tell the Muslim Arabs living in the Palestinian territories to go back to the Arabia they came from before they carried out one of the biggest acts of imperialist aggression and ethnic cleansing in the Middle East during the 7th century when they harrassed and forced the flight of much of the indigenous Jewish and non-Jewish population from the country (even though a Jewish remnant remained down to modern times).

            Reply to Comment
    2. Bus189

      And then there are the celebrations all over the West Bank when a child goes out to kill Jews. The mothers that say that they are happy that their children are martyrs and who offer their other children for martyrdom. The grandmothers handing out candies when their grandchildren kill Jews and die in the process. The heroes’ funerals for suicide bombers. The squares named for murderers of Israeli civilians. The computer games for children where they murder Jews. The salaries paid to terrorists in Israeli prisons. The heroes’ welcomes for terrorists released from prison. The comfortable jobs provided to terrorists upon release.

      You and your society deserve no apology. Netanyahu is right. A majority in your society supports the murder of Jews and treat children that do so as heroes. I presume that this includes a rather large percentage of mothers.

      When the mothers of Palestinians start condemning the actions of other people’s children when they go out to murder Jews then, and only then, can you make a collective claim that you do not teach your children hate.

      And until that day comes we will continue to defend ourselves by any means necessary.

      Reply to Comment
      • Carmen

        “And until that day comes we will continue to defend ourselves by any means necessary.”

        You aren’t defending yourself. Demolishing homes, shooting children in the back, kidnapping, burning families alive, etc., etc., etc., are the actions of monsters. The Palestinians have no army, no weapons but their bodies and that drives you all nuts – they have no fear and have nothing to lose and that’s what zionism has done. And now you’re scared shitless of them and you have the army and all the weapons you could possibly want and you’re scared to death of a defenseless populace.


        Reply to Comment
        • Bus189

          Yep. We are defending ourselves. The Palestinians are sending their children with knives to kill our children. They drive their cars into bus stations to kill our civilians. They manufacture home-made guns so that they can shoot at us. They shoot rockets at our cities. They kidnap our teenagers and murder them in fields. They have fewer weapons, but the one they do have is the hatred that they keep teaching their children and the belief that killing Jews is an honorable act. As long as they place no moral/ethical constraint on their own actions we shall have no compunction for whatever acts we need to do in order to defend ourselves.

          When they have killed a Jew, they celebrate. They give out candy to their children. They tell their children that murdering Jews is a heroic act. They name squares after those that murder Jews. They teach their children where and how to stab Jews so as to kill them. They bury the murderers of Jews in official state ceremonies.

          To deal with such monsters we will continue to defend ourselves by any means necessary. That includes shooting Palestinians with knives in the front, in the back, in the head, and anywhere else we need to. If they are not afraid of death, then we will destroy their houses and make sure all their families have no jobs. If they celebrate the murder of Jews or promote it then we will arrest them and we will shut down their radio stations. We will do whatever it takes, and we shall apologize for none of it. Those that come to kill us or celebrate our murder will be dealt with absolutely mercilessly. If the Palestinians want peace, they can have it. If not, then we will keep doing what we are doing for as long as we need to.

          Reply to Comment
          • mika

            Bus, you have truly sucked in that propaganda wholly. Good job, i just hope speedy recovery and return to normal life.

            Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            That’s your brain on a diet of xenophobia, racism and ethnocentric supremacism. Not a pretty sight.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Ben Zion


      You want to take care if your kid. Teach him to be better then his friends in school.

      Reply to Comment
    4. So damn powerful!

      Reply to Comment
    5. Haala

      I stand humbled in front of every palestinian mother who has to juggle with living and giving life under occupation! A big thank you Dr Erakat for coming forward and expressing a human view that very few people have the courage of nourishing their brain with. Palestinian Compassion , resilience and humanity will win in the end .

      Reply to Comment
    6. Bruce Gould

      If you read a professional history of Israel – I recommend Ilan Pappe’s “The Idea of Israel” – you will discover that almost as soon as the Jewish immigrants from Europe got off the boat in the late 19th and early 20th century they started to describe the Palestinians as violent savages, using language similar to that used by the Europeans as they moved to the Americas, Africa and Australia. It’s a language meme that hasn’t gone away and which can be seen in the contemporary Israeli discourse.

      Reply to Comment
    7. i_like_ike52

      Yes, Dalal, you like the rest of your Arab/Muslims “have nothing against Jews”, just “the occupation”. Then please explain to me why virtually all the Jews living in the Arab/Muslim states of the Middle East either fled or were forced out of those countries. These Jews were not “Zionists” or “occupiers” yet it was made clear to them that they were not wanted in spite of having these good qualities.

      Reply to Comment
      • David

        To quote Yehouda Shenhav, of Iraqi Jewish heritage and professor of sociology and anthropology at Tel Aviv University: “Any reasonable person, Zionist or non-Zionist, must acknowledge that the analogy drawn between Palestinians and Mizrahi [Arab] Jews is unfounded. Palestinian refugees did not want to leave Palestine….Those who left did not do so of their own volition. In contrast, Jews from Arab lands came to this country under the initiative of the State of Israel and Jewish organizations.” (Ha’aretz, 8 October 2004.)

        (1) Avi Shlaim, born into an affluent and influential family in Baghdad: “We are not refugees, nobody expelled us from Iraq, nobody told us that we were unwanted. But we are the victims of the Israeli-Arab conflict.” (Ha’aretz, August 11, 2005)

        Apart from the negative effects on Arab Jews due to the mass expulsion of Palestinians and Israel’s subsequent territorial expansionism, Shlaim is probably referring to the well documented acts of terror, including bombings of synagogues and Jewish owned businesses, carried out by “The Movement,” a Jewish/Zionist terrorist group controlled by Israel, whose purpose was to instil fear in Iraqi Jews and motivate them to immigrate to Israel. Several books and articles have been written by Jews of Iraqi origin about this little known chapter of history and an award winning documentary has also been produced and viewed around the world. Throughout the Arab world, especially in the Magreb, recruiters from Israel pressured Arab Jews to immigrate to Israel. This is a long and complicated story that has long since been documented, but not publicized in Israel or the West.

        (2) The late Yisrael Yeshayahu, speaker of the Knesset: “We are not refugees…. We had messianic aspirations.”

        (3) Shlomo Hillel, former minister and speaker of the Knesset: “I don’t regard the departure of Jews from Arab lands as that of refugees. They came here because they wanted to, as Zionists.”

        (4) During a Knesset hearing into the matter, Ran Cohen, member of the Knesset: “I am not a refugee….I came at the behest of Zionism, due to the pull that this land exerts, and due to the idea of redemption. Nobody is going to define me as a refugee.” (Ha’aretz, October 8, 2004)

        BTW, unable to bear their circumstances and the blatant racism directed towards them by the Ashkenazi/white European Jewish establishment, about 5,000 Moroccan Jews promptly returned to Morocco after arriving in Israel in the late 1940s. In recent years thousands more have returned home and continue to do in order to live a meaningful, peaceful and prosperous life among their Arab/Muslim/Christian brothers and sisters. Morocco is benefitting greatly from their return.

        It should not be forgotten that after being rejected twice, Israel signed the 1949 Lausanne Peace Conference Protocol and declared before the UN General Assembly at the same time that it would comply with UN Resolution 194 (which calls for the repatriation of and/or compensation for the then near 800,000 Palestinian refugees dispossessed and expelled before and during the 1948 war) as a precondition for gaining UN admittance (see UNGA Resolution 273, 11 May 1949.) Israel has refused to comply with its pledge.

        Also, given its implications for Palestinian refugees who numbered well over one million following the IDF’s expulsion of a further about 25,000 before and during Israel’s first invasion of Egypt in 1956 (in collusion with Britain and France) and an additional approximately 250,000 during and after the war it launched on 5 June 1967, Israel is opposed to its citizens of Arab origin being referred to as “refugees.”

        Needless to say, any Jew of Arab origin who feels he or she has a legitimate grievance against an Arab country should pursue it through international law. For obvious reasons, Palestinian refugees would heartily welcome such an initiative. The bottom line, however, is that while Palestinians were expelled from their homeland by Jewish militias and the IDF, they played no role whatsoever in the emigration of or any ill treatment and or loss of assets that Jews of Arab origin experienced in their former homelands. The two cases are separate and distinct, i.e., apples and oranges.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Carmen

      Deflect, distract and whataboutery. That’s the entire hasbara syllabus isn’t it? Why do you all consistently conflate Judaism and zionism? Why do you insist that a land you’ve never lived on yourself, is your land? That’s the craziest claim in the world and no different than europeans believing they ‘discovered’ america when it was the home to millions of native people, will to share, but murdered, tortured, raped and run off by so called ‘civilized’ men. Why do you paint all Jews with the same damn brush of racism and xenophobia? It must be a case of misery loves company. Outside the zionist bubble is a powerful movement lead by young and old Jewish women and men who want their religion back, free of the shackles of zionism, nationalism and incitement that has been championed by netanyahoo, liberman, bennett, shaked, regev, et al, ad nauseum. These thugs are doing all they can to silence the voices of Palestinian MKs from the Joint List and Balad. It will take more than that to stop them and actually, you never will be able to stop them as long as they’re breathing. This criminal enterprise is going to rot from the inside out.

      Reply to Comment
      • Mark

        It’s possible to be Jewish and anti-Zionist, but it’s not possible to be a religious Jew and have no connection to the Land of Israel, or a part of the Jewish collective.

        Reply to Comment
    9. decisive

      The safest place on this earth for Jews Arabs Christians the Baha’i Muslims palestinians and what have you is in Israel no other place on this planet is any safer or even comes remotely close…If only it were possible most citizens of the Arab and Muslim world would gladly move to live in the Democratic State of Israel…….

      Reply to Comment
    10. Mark

      “a real Palestinian mother who cares about her kids and their mental wellbeing”

      This story sounds like child cruelty to me.

      Reply to Comment
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