Israel-Palestine 9

H.   16      I live in Ramallah.  I am involved in a creative writing group.  Human beings have creativity because we have so much curiosity.  We want to live more than one experience at a time because life is so short.  So we are creative in order to be able to live all these things at once.  That is the point of creating.  It is a way to get around the problem of dying.

The occupation changes your personality.  I often wonder who I would be and what I would be like if I had lived my life in a normal way like kids do in a country that is just theirs, without war and the threat of soldiers coming in to boss you around.  Here, you can be a normal child playing in the street one moment and in a second you turn into an angry, stone-throwing child.  You become a man more quickly.  You can't go to the places and cities that you want to go.  You can't act on your dreams.

My father has been in prison four times.  It is never easy when he is in prison.  It is not easy anyway, but it is even harder when he is away from us.  Generally he gets arrested when he goes to pray at the mosque.  Someone, some traitor, points out our house to the Israelis, military jeeps surround the house and when my father comes home, they arrest him.  He's been in prison for six months, nine months, one year.  Once he was a general of the Islamic party at the university, so he is always a target.  One time, in l988, a soldier hit his mother - my grandmother - and so my father hit the soldier in return and that, of course, landed him in prison.

It has impacted my family in a lot of ways, my father being locked up.  When my dad was first sent away, my little brother was quite small and he would sleep in my mother's room.  When my father finally came home, my little brother didn't recognize him.  One of the worst times for me was when I was only 10, maybe younger.  My father was in prison.  My mother was going to have a baby.  She had to eat to keep the baby healthy but we had no food or money.  She was sick, too, so she could not do anything except try to rest.  I had to go to work in the market, carrying vegetables for merchants.  They paid me just a tiny bit of money, sometimes they gave me vegetables that did not sell.  I had to go home and cook and try to get my mother to eat.  We only have running water for some of the time.  One of my friends has had no water in his house for three years - he has to go to the neighbour's house for water.

Overall, we have been lucky.  My friend's father was in prison for 12 years for burning an Israeli flag.

I haven't had a lot to do with Israelis other than the soldiers.  Where would I meet an Israeli?  They don't come here.  It is against the law for them to go through the checkpoints, although I don't know what would happen to them if they did go through.  It's not against the law for them to enter Palestine.  No one checks their ID on the way in.  But when they cross back into Israel, that's when they wold have to explain themselves.  Still, there are lots of ways they could do it.  Israelis can drive on roads that Palestinians can't.  If they were really interested in meeting us, they would come.  But they don't.

The Israeli's I've met have been soldiers.  One soldier stuck his gun right in my face one of the times they arrested my father.  He kept the gun in my face as they took Dad away, so I couldn't say goodbye to him or give him a hug or anything.

Troops go into Nablus and Hebron and Beit Unina down the road.  There is lots of fighting there.  They come into this neighbourhood, too.  A 17 year old boy was arrested just the other day for taking photographs.  They didn't like what he was taking pictures of, or maybe they thought his camera was a gun, who knows what they thought?  They saw him on the street and took him.

There are so many stories about people and the checkpoints.  When my friend's grandmother died, he was waiting on the checkpoint with his family to go to the funeral on the other side of the wall.  His little brother saw a dog and said, "Look, there's a dog."  The Israelis thought he was calling them a dog and there was a big uproar.  Finally they were able to pass, but not before lots of yelling and searching and explanations.

You never know what will make things go really bad, really fast.



Israel-Palestine 7

('Finishing the month' is a term used in Israel that speaks to having enough money to be able to pay an entire month's expenses.  Twenty per cent of Israelis are working families whose income barely reaches to poverty level.

Haifa, on Israel's northern coast, has long been considered an integrated city, where Jews and Arabs have co-existed.  Built around beautiful Mount Carmel, it is home to the Bahai World Headquarters, and one of the central tourist draws is the magnificent Bahai gardens.

The House of Grace was begun as a half-way house for prisoners.  Agnes and Camille Shehad, the founders, set it up in an old church near the port district.  The former inmates lived with the family, worked at jobs and found new places for themselves in the larger community.  Although Camille has passed away, Agnes and her family have continued the work and have expanded it to include youth programs for children of parents living in poverty.  I was lucky enough to visit The House of Grace, and there I met J., who is thirteen years old.)

J.     Today is an Islamic holiday.  I wasn't sure if the Center would be open.  Some of the kids who come here are Muslim.  Some are Christian.  Some are Jewish.  But we have a big football game on Saturday, so it's good that the center is open and we can practice.  Our coach says we need to learn how to win and how to lose - that means losing a game and keeping our temper.  I'm excited because we are getting new uniforms.  They will be black and yellow.  Someone has donated them.

Coming here is good.  We can use the computers, we get help with homework.  There are people who talk with us and tell us the things to watch out for so we won't get into trouble when we are older.

A lot of kids here have problems at home.  Maybe their parents have no job so there's no money.  Maybe their father is using drugs or alcohol.  Maybe there is no food in their house or their father is in jail or the mother is not well in her mind because of her worries.

The war is far from here, but there are lots of problems that happen besides war.  When the war was going on between Lebanon and Israel, we felt it all here because Lebanon is not far.

When people see children who maybe have no good clothes, they think that the children might not be any good.  Some people think that good clothes make good people, and that we are not worth anything if our clothes are old.  Maybe the teachers don't spend as much time with us because they think we are poor and it doesn't matter.  If we feel we are not worth anything, why go to school? Why try?

My father died five years ago.  It's been hard, to be without him.  It is just me, my mother and my broher.  But when I started coming here I learned that I will always be welcome and even if my life is hard, there will always be someone who needs me.  There is a purpose for me.  I am in this life to do something, not to just be someone that richer people just pass by without seeing.

Older teenagers volunteer here and help us with our homework, and we help the younger kids with their.  We pack up food parcels for families that don't have food.

When I come here my mother can relax because she knows I'm safe and in a place where I'm doing good things.  She is easier to be with at home because she is relaxed.

I think the future will be hard because it is hard to find work that pays enough money and life without money is very hard.  I would like to be a veterinarian when I grow up.  It is not good to see animals in pain.  There are many stray dogs and cats in Israel.  Some of them are not healthy.  There are other animals, too, like sheep and horses.  I would like to learn how to take care of them.  My favorite film is Mr. Bean and if I could go anyplace in the world I would go to New York City because it is a very famous place.



Israel-Palestine 6

(Bethlehem is known through the Christian world as the little town where Jesus was born.  Today it is a city in Palestine.  The Separation Barrier here is a very high wall.  The wall cuts Bethlehem off from an Israeli settlement called Gilo.  The wall here is twice the height of the Berlin wall, with cameras everywhere and with soldiers keeping watch from watch towers.  The wall on the Palestinian side is full of art - some of it graffiti, some of it political, some of it just art to try to bring a bit of beauty to a very ugly structure.  One part of the wall has been painted white, into a large movie screen.  Films are shown there and people come out together to watch.

Bethlehem is also home to Palestinian refugee camps.  During the War of Independence in l948, many Palestinians fled Israeli territory to avoid the fighting.  When the war ended, they found themselves on the Jordanian side of the border, unable to return to their homes in Israel.  Refugee camps were set up for these people, managed by the United Nations.

S. is a 12 year old boy who lives in one of these camps.  The original inhabitants of this camp came from 17 different villages in West Jerusalem and West Hebron.  Less than one square kilometer in size, it is home to 4700 people.  There is one school.  It is for girls.  They attend in shifts.  Boys leave the camp to attend school in the nearby town of Beit Jala.)

S.       I'm in the sixth grade.  Today there is no school so I'm helping my father clean rubble off the roof.  He fills up the wheelbarrow, I bring it out here to the wall and dump it on the ground.   I was born in this place.  My family has always been here.  We had another house in another village but we can't go there any more because the Israelis took it over.  This was a long time ago - I have never seen it.  That's the same for all the families here.  Everyone has keys to their house but they have no house.  When you walk into this camp you see a big key over the gate.  The gate is a giant keyhole and there is a big key on top.

I've never met Israeli children.  They don't come here.  I've seen the soldiers a lot but I don't talk to them.  They don't talk.  They yell.  They shoot.  They don't talk.  They go through the alleys at night, break into homes and make people stand outside in the cold.

I see the soldiers a lot.  They're around the gate and they come over there, too.  One of my uncles was killed by them.  Another uncle is in their prison.

There is an Israeli military base by the cemetery.  The soldiers come into the camp most nights.  Last night they came in and shot tear gas.  When you look at houses in the camp you can see bullet holes.  Most houses have bullet holes.  Even the school has bullet holes in the walls.  Three kids were shot there.   People get shot here all the time.  A boy got shot last night.  He was fourteen or fifteen.

There is a big gate at the wall that is always closed except at Christmas and Easter.  They open it then to let the religious parades through.

I hate the wall.  It is like my enemy.  I wish it would go away.  Some people draw on it.  I just want to make it disappear.  I would like to have a park to play in but there is no park.  Mostly I don't lay.  I have to work.  The thing I like best to do is throw stones at the soldiers.  I want my freedom but I don't think I will ever get it.



Israel-Palestine kids 5

(C. is a 15 year old girl who lives in a neighbourhood of Jerusalem founded in l922 as one of six garden villages developed by the British mandate.  The park of the Twenty commemorates the twenty residents who died during Israel's War of Independence, and Denmark Square honours the Danes for rescuing eighty per cent of its Jews during the Holocaust.)

C.    I've always lived in this neighbourhood.  My mother was born in the United States  My grandparents are from Russia, Germany and Italy.  My grandmother studied at Berkley University in California.  My family lost 56 members in the Holocaust.  So the Holocaust museum here is very personal for me.  We learn about the Holocaust from age 5, so it is a part of us, that history is a part of us.

I live in a secular Jewish neighbourhood with a very high economic standard of living.  There is one Arab student and maybe five Ethiopean students at my school - the rest all look like me.  My parents are very politically active.  They have lots of Arab friends.  I'm into politics as well and I want to know who other people are and what their stories are.

I don't like the direction my country is going in.  I am sometimes called a stinking lefty by some of the people at my school.  But you don't have to be left-wing to want to talk to Arabs.  I know a lot of right-wing people who want to talk to Arabs because they know there is no way forward unless we can talk to each other.

Both sides are so extreme now.  And a lot of my friends are afraid of the Arabs, even the Israeli Arabs, who are a part of our nation but not really, if you know what I mean.  A lot of people are not sure if the Arabs are really loyal to Israel.  Girls are especially afraid of Arab neighbourhoods.  The feeling is that Arabs are not modern in their thinking and that they think girls who are not completely covered are like prostitutes and can be abused.  That is the thinking of some of the girls I know, so they don't go into Arab neighbourhoods.  But how will their thinking ever change unless they challenge it by actually talking to some Arabs?

There is a border between Jewish and Arab neighbourhoods.  The border is invisible, but it is there and often we are not at all in contact with each other  Before the intifada the Arabs were more friendly to us.  They used to know more Hebrew and used to look at us, maybe not as friends but at least not as enemies.  They were more like we're in this together.  That's all gone now.  I sometimes get the feeling that all of them would be happy if all of us would just disappear.  But that's not going to happen, so we have to think of something else.

The Barrior wall has made a difference.  Since it was built there have been a lot less attacks, and it has been better for the Arabs, too.  Many of the barriers that were up inside the West Bank have been taken down since the Wall was built, so it is easier for the Arabs to move around their own territory.  But there are problems with the Wall, too.  They did not build it on the 67 border lines, but they put it on land where families are now apart from each other.  Still, I think it is overall better, not perfect, but better than it was.  Before, every time there was a terrorist attack, and there were a lot of them, the IDF would go in a shoot a lot of people.  Now, the terror attacks are down, so the IDF does not have to do so much shooting.  Really, it is better for Israelis when Palestinians are happy.  When they are happy, they are making bombs and are just getting on with their lives instead of attacking us.

I will be going into the army when the time comes.  I have lots of rights and privileges in this country - school, good future.  All this happened because people came here before me to build the country, so it will be me doing my duty and trying to pay a little back.  I am a Zionist and Israel is my country.

After the army, my thinking now is to be a public-defender lawyer and work with kids and families, or a human rights lawyer or a social worker or a teacher.  I know I want to dedicate my life to something that has meaning.



Israel and Palestine 4

(D. is ten years old.  She is a member of the tiny community of Domari who have lived for centuries along an alley of the Old City of Jerusalem.  Most have struggled with generations of poverty and marginalization.  It has been rare for Domari kids to finish high school, due to the need for them to work to contribute to the household, and discrimination against them.  The Domari Society set up a community center to provide tutoring for children, literacy training for adults and programs to keep the Domari culture and language alive.  These are D's words:)

D.       I go to a school for girls in Wadi Al Joze, in East Jerusalem.  It's a Palestinian school, but I am not Palestinian.  I am Dom.  I used to go to another school, but I was not happy there.  The teacher was mean.  She called me bad names, names that mean 'dirty Gypsy'.  She would not help me when I didn't understand something.  So I am now in a different school, and it is good there.  The teachers are kind, and I am learning, although arithmetic is still hard.  I like to study now.  I want to be a doctor.

My father works as a cleaner.  My mother stays at home.  I live in a small house in the Old City, by the Lions Gate.  My father tried to make the house bigger by adding another room, but the government said he should not have done that, so they destroyed it.  I watched them tear it down.  I didn't like seeing it, but I couldn't do anything about it.

There's a path along the top of the wall of the Old City that tourists like to walk on.  The walk right by my house, because my house is right beside the wall.  Tourists always come to my neighborhood because it's very old and very famous. The prophet Jesus was told he would be crucified here, and if you walk a little way up the road you can see his prison.

If you look through the gate to the other way you can see the Mount of Olives, but there are roads to cross.  You can't just leave the gate and go up the hill.  There's a big Jewish cemetery on the side of the hill.  Right outside the Lion's Gate is a big Muslim cemetery.  Sometimes I see funerals walk through here on the way to the cemetery.  Men carry the box with the body inside.

I like living here because the Dom have always lived here, well, for a long time, anyway.  I'm proud to be Dom even though a lot of people don't like us.  We are good people.  We have good food and good music and good families.

In the old days, Dom lived in tents in the same place where I live, by the Lion's Gate.  They would earn money by dancing for people and by playing music.  Some of them had horses that they trained to do tricks.  I don't know if I would like to live in a tent now.  I don't know if I would feel safe.  Sometimes the people would have no job and no money, so they would have to ask strangers to give them money.  I would not like to do that.

It used to be that Dom girls didn't go to school, and that they didn't meet their new husband until their wedding.  The family decided everything.  Now I can decide my life, so I'm really glad to be in a school where the teacher is not mean to me.  I know that Dom girls can be nurses and businesswomen and go to university and do all kinds of jobs.  So I think I will have a good job as a doctor when I am older.