What Ari Shavit Doesn’t Understand About Palestinian Children and Jews

Dear Ari Shavit,

Despite my bemusement at your demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state 68 years after it was recognized as such by the whole world, I don’t mean to get into that issue. I want to focus on one sentence in your article: “Only when every Palestinian child in Dheisheh and Balata knows that there’s a Jewish people that also has rights in this land will peace begin.” That is because today’s children are tomorrow’s adults.

So, I wanted to tell you something that every Palestinian child knows about the Jewish people. The only Jew that a child in Deheisheh or Balata knows is a soldier, who at best stands across from him with weapon drawn or, less fortuitously, is already firing a gas grenade, or rubber or lead bullet, or waking him in the dead of night and humiliating his parents, all this taking place in an environment ruled by wretched poverty and absent of hope.

A Palestinian child in Qusra, Jalud, Faroun, Burin, Madama or Yanoun will also recognize another sort of Jew – the settler. He’s the one who sets fire to the cars in his village, who uproots trees, tears down fences and casts smoke grenades into houses. Other Palestinian children see the bulldozers of the State of Israel uprooting the olive or almond grove their forefathers cultivated for years, on the ruins of which the land is prepared for expanding the settlement already squatting on their family’s land.

If the Palestinian child is a Bedouin born in the Jordan Valley, he sees how the bulldozer sent by the Jewish State tears down the tent in which he dwells, leaving him exposed to blazing sunlight and 48-degree heat, with no shade. Sometimes, as happened to 6-year-old Ibrahim from Fas’il some weeks ago, he may need medical care after suffering from sunstroke. And when another of the valley’s children grows up and prepares to wed, along comes the Jewish bulldozer and tears down the awning his father built to shelter the guests from the sweltering sun. That very thing happened just a few days ago.

Sometimes the Bedouin child in the valley also knows that he cannot just turn on the faucet and quench his thirst, because there’s no water in the pipeline. If that water tank that his father was gouged for hasn’t arrived, and there’s no bottled water, he will stay thirsty. His father or grandfather probably tell him how they once grew vegetables but now, not only isn’t there water for irrigation – there isn’t any for washing, either.

The Jewish child in the next-door settlement meanwhile plays in the shade of the green trees, or paddles in the swimming pool, even though the family of the Bedouin child lived in the region long years before the Jews arrived.

If the Bedouin child lives in Duma, then every day he passes by the ruins of the home of Sa’ad Dawabsheh, his wide Reham and their baby Ali, and is wracked with anxiety lest some Jewish lad, probably a neighbor living in an illegal outpost, might come in the dead of night and burn him and his family alive, as his friends burned the Dawabsheh family alive.

The parents of the Palestinian child can’t call in soldiers to protect the family home, because they live under occupation. The occupying army that, according to the rules of occupation, should protect that family home, is not fulfilling its duty. That is why the child in Duma feels that even his parents cannot protect him.

And you, Ari Shavit, sit there comfortably in your air-conditioned home and demand that the Palestinian child, denied basic human rights in his own land, you demand that child, whose day-to-day encounters with the Jewish people are as described, you demand that he knows “that there’s a Jewish people that also has rights in this land.” Not only does the regime in your country not acknowledge the national rights of this child, de facto; many, including in government, don’t even acknowledge him to be human.

Few Palestinian children meet Jews under positive circumstances – as far as they’re concerned, Jews who bring a smidgen of light to their lives. People like the bereaved father Buma Inbar (his son Yotam was killed in Lebanon in 1995), whose good deeds include bringing clothes to children in Deheisheh and driving children to hospital; or people like the members of “Fighters for Peace,” who help by building shaded areas for children to play in the heat of the valley (which the Jewish bulldozers also raze often enough). Or like the Parents Circle – Families Forum, which knows the pain of both the peoples, or like the women of Machsom Watch, which takes Palestinian children for a day of fun at the beach – a matter of routine for Jewish children and a rare experience for Palestinian ones.

The author is a member of Machsom Watch and a retired lecturer at the Seminar Hakibbutzim Teachers College