I have applied to host an AMA (Ask Me Anything) event on Reddit.com this September. Details coming soon.
(There was some violence along the Syrian-Israeli border recently. A teenaged boy in Israel was killed, and some targets in Syria have been hit. I was in the Golan Heights on my last trip to Israel. Below is an interview I did with a 9 year old girl. She is part of the Druze people. The Druze are an off-shoot of Islam, separating from mainstream Islam around 1000 years ago in response to what they saw as corruption in the Islamic leadership at the time. They share some beliefs. Other beliefs are very different. There are roughly 700,000 Druze around the world. 600,000 of the are in the Middle East. Many live in the mountains of Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Jordan. They believe in reincarnation, that good people are reborn into good situations and those who are not good are reborn into something more difficult.)
Y. aged 9
I live with my mother, father and brother. My father is a doctor and runs a clinic. My mother is a nurse. We are Druze. We believe that after our body dies, our soul keeps living in a new body. So we call each other brother and sister because in a former life, we may have been brothers or sisters. We're not supposed to be afraid of dying, so I guess if I'm afraid of anything it's bad dreams.
One of the things I like best to do is walk around outside, looking at rocks and collecting the most interesting ones. When you look at rocks you often find animals, too, like lizards.
My mother likes animals, too. There are so many stray dogs and cats here who need a home. She takes some in and feeds others who are too stray to live in house. One of her dogs was bitten by a poisonous snake and died.
We live in a house that is right beside the Syrian border. We can see the fence from our windows. The Israeli patrols go back and forth along the fence, all day long. When my father was a boy, he would go to Syria to sell apples, and many of his customers were Jews who lived in Syria.
Usually it is quiet, but sometimes there are bad things that happen.
There are a lot of Palestinians in Syria. My father says they live in refugee camps and are not happy. They want to come here. One day hundreds and hundreds of Palestinians came running down the hill, running from Syria to the fence. They started to cut through the fence. The Israelis came to stop them, but a lot of them broke through and ran in the village.
It was very bad. I heard screaming and shouting and shooting. Mom told us to stay in the house and she went outside to see if she could help anyone. Many people got hurt, some even got killed. She was afraid she would be arrested just for being there.
It went on for a long time. It ended when people from the village stood in two long lines and protected the Palestinians as the Palestinians walked back through the fence and back to their refugee camp in Syria.
The fence is bigger now. And I think it has electricity in it, although I'm not going to touch it to find out!
I want to be a teacher and a businesswoman when I grow up. I would like to have my own toy store.
I see Israelis in town. They are friendly to me. Settlers come here, too, and I see them. They seem nice. They act like us, just normal. But I am busy and they are busy, so we don't talk.
(The Golan Heights is a range of mountains and high hills that borders Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. During the war after the creation of Israel in l948, Syria used the Golan Heights to send bombs and missiles down on Israel. Israel captured the territory, it was fought over in l967 and again in l973. During the fighting many of the people who lived in the Golan fled to Syria and Lebanon. Israel put the remaining people into six villages, then later turned one of those six into a military camp. Majdal Shams is the largest of the remaining villages, and it is where I met S., the young woman whose story appears below.)
S. 15 I'm a member of a theatre company. We've been training for a few months. At first it was really hard. Now it's getting easier, but we are still doing easy things. I'm sure it will get hard again.
This theatre workshop is made up of teenagers from the Occupied Golan Heights. We are occupied by Israel. We really belong to Syria, but Israel took the area from Syria in the Six Day War in l967 and they have refused to give it back.
I know the history. We all know it. Our parents tell it to us. We were under military rule until l981. We could not hold demonstrations, could not fight for our rights. It was just not allowed. Even now, we don't have Israeli citizenship. It was offered to us. The Israelis tried to make the occupation look attractive so that we would forget we were occupied and think being Israeli was normal. But there was a big meeting and everyone decided to shun anyone who accepted this citizenship. No one would take to them, no one would buy from them. This was in l980. I know the history.
I know that there used to be 139 villages in the Golan. All but six of them were destroyed. There was a photo exhibition here. People took photos of the destroyed villages. Most of the villagers ran into Syria when the Israelis came in l967. When the war ended, they were not allowed to go home. So they stayed in Syria or went to Lebanon.
In the October War or l973 (the Israelis call it the Yom Kippur War) Syria and Egypt attacked Israel. People in Israel were with their families, it was a holy day, even the soldiers were at home with their families. So Syria and Egypt should have won. But they didn't. The Israelis were only 40 km from Damascus when the war ended. Then the United Nations came in and created the DMZ (demilitarized zone). The UN keeps one thousand soldiers there. I don't know what good they think they can do if there is another war.
There are landmines all over the Golan. Every field, almost, you will see the landmine signs. Cows use these fields Many Golani people have been killed by stepping on a landmine.
I know so many people who have resisted the occupation. My brother spent two years in an Israeli prison for going to a demonstration This was a long time ago, when I was first born. Others don't have their whole families with them because some are in Syria.
I think my life would be easier now if the occupation hadn't happened because then I would have the identity of belonging to Syria. I think it would be easier to be part of Syria instead of being occupied by Israel, even thought there is a war going on in Syria now. Some say that when the government changes in Syria, Israel will give the Golan back to them, and we will be Syrian again. But I don't think that will happen.
Some of my friends think we would find life harder in Syria because we are used to freedom here in Israel. And it's true. Even under occupation, we can be who we want to be here. We can dress like we want, think what we want, speak what we want. But I don't care if my life is hard in Syria as long as I have an identity.
I meet many Israelis. They are good people. I don't have any problem with the Israeli people, only their government. And I don't like that the Arab villages were destroyed while Israelis built settlements in the area. But I see Israelis all the time. They come here to ski. They live here. It's normal for us to have friends among the Israelis. I don't hate Israelis. I hate Hitler and the Nazis and what they did to the Jewish people.
We will always fight against the occupation, but we won't use violence, because that fixes nothing.
I don't like to take it easy. I like to dream big because dreams are supposed to be big. I know I won't have an easy life, but it will be a hard life for a huge reward.
(Women make up 30% of the Israeli Defense Force, and make up three per cent of those in combat positions. Several combat roles are open to women - artillery, field intelligence, home front search and rescue, and infantry along the Egyptian border. They can also serve in the Oketz, a special unit that trains and manages search dogs. Israeli women, just like men, are subject to conscription between the ages of 18 to 26. Women who are married, pregnant or already mothers may be exempted. Women may choose alternative service if they feel their involvement with the military is contrary to her religious beliefs.
E. is a 16 year old girl who is thinking about the service contribution she will make)
E. My father is from Minnesota and my mother is from New York. They made aliya 18 years ago, so I was born in Israel. One of the things I love about living in Israel is that the Jewish holidays are actual holidays. In the US, where my parents grew up, Christian holidays are the only ones people get time off work and school for. And there are a lot of Jewish holidays, all of them important.
I've been singing my whole life. I'm in the choir at school. My mother is very musical, so I guess I got my abilities from her. I do a lot of theatre, too.
Israel has a lot of opportunities for people who love the performing arts. There are theatres all over the country, and a film industry, too.
My family is in the Conservative branch of Judaism. People who don't know any better try to put all the Jews into one group, but of course there are differences between us, just like there are differences in how Christians practice Christianity and how Muslims practice their religion.
My sister just finished her time in the army, and my brother is in the middle of his military service. I think it will be awesome to be in the army. I want to serve in a combat brigade, right in the heart of whatever is going on. I always loved seeing the soldiers, especially the women soldiers. They always look so strong and confident, and I would like to be like that, too. You would feel as if you were involved in something important, surrounded by others who felt that way. I'm sure there will be challenges.
I'd like to learn more about Arabs but there aren't a lot of opportunities that come up and it isn't easy to create the chances. It would be good to hear their side of things. I grew up hearing they were all bad and wanted to kill us, but I don't think that can be true. How can a whole group of people hate another whole group of people that they don't even know? But maybe they have the same stigma about us? Maybe they are raised to think that all Israeli Jews hate all Arabs, and that of course is not true.
I have to be honest, though, that I am afraid of going out a lot by myself, especially at night, because of men. Arab or Jewish men, you never know what can happen. I grew up during the Second Intifada, when the Arabs were so busy blowing up things, including themselves in suicide bombs. Mom never let us go on buses because she was afraid an Arab would come on and blow everything up. We could only go in certain taxis because they were the cabs that had been checked out, the drivers cleared to make sure they weren't terrorists, so Mom felt the taxis would be safe. And we had to be careful in markets and restaurants because you never knew when they would blow up. So we were raised and scared. Generally, though, I feel safe now. There is a barrier now between Israel and the Occupied Territories, and that has cut down on the bombings. But as a girl, I still have to be careful. I watch how I dress and always walk with an awareness of who is around me. But still, men and boys can give girls problems, no matter how we dress or behave.
I'd like to have the whole problem solved between Jews and Arabs. We are neighbours and should act like it instead of acting like enemies. I guess we need the right people to be in power for that to happen. In these times it is hard to always know who the right people are.
It will be a couple of years before I can go into the army, and I would be foolish to believe that the problems with the Arabs will be solved by then. I like to think about going into the army, but I guess I don't really like to think about what I might be called upon to do. It's been pretty quiet around here for a while, most of the time. There are a lot of bombs that come to Israel from the Gaza Strip. So Israel went over there to bomb the bomb-making factories last month. One of the Arab missiles landed near Jerusalem. But it landed on an Arab neighbourhood, not a Jewish one, so you can imagine how mad the people in that village were!
I hope that when I'm in the army, nothing happens to make my parents worry - but if it does, I hope I can do my job and not let anyone down. I think that's why we were put here, on this earth, to do our best and to not let others down when they need us.
(I met J in a library in Ramallah in the West Bank)
J. I am 12 years old, and in the sixth class in school. I have two sisters, one brother and I would like to be a doctor. I would like to talk to you about going to see my father in prison. This is what it is like.
There are many soldiers around the prison. We go there in a car and the soldiers make the car stop. Everyone has to get out and stand to one side. The soldiers look in the car, all over. They look in the trunk, they look in the engine, they look in the seats. I don't know why they look so much. I'm not going to ask. We aren't taking the car into the prison, but I don't ask and I don't stop them from looking. I just stand where they tell me.
Then we get back in the car and drive a little ways then park and get out of the car. We go inside and show our ID. The soldiers will take it and look at it and type something and turn away and have a conversation with another soldier. You don't know if they are talking about you - they talk in Hebrew - and you don't know when it will end. You wait. You just wait. What can I do? I want to see my father.
Then we are searched. They search us all over. They search my mother, too. They search our clothes, our bodies. They search my hair. They have a want that they swab through my hair, they look through it and I have to let them.
When I finally see m father he is behind glass. I can't hug him. I can't take his hand. I can't cry because I want him to think I am strong and can take care of things. I want to cry but I think I can hide it. I can see by his face that he wants to cry sometimes, too, but he hides it, so we are both hiding and looking strong.
One time the soldier left my Dad alone and the door behind him was open. I told my father, "Look, the cell is open, just go, no one is watching, go through the door and come out!" But he didn't and then it was too late. The soldier came back and the door closed.
A lot of kids I know have fathers or uncles or brothers in Israeli prisons. It's common. The Israelis put people in prison for - I don't know. My father never hurt anyone. He never stole anything. So I don't know why he is in prison.
It is very hard. We miss our parents' kindness. We miss - everything! Your father is supposed to be in your house. He is supposed to tell you to do your homework and do your chores and take you to the mosque. He is supposed to be with you.
I don't like to talk about it, so I won't say much more.
I like very much to come to the library. With books, we can learn from our mistakes, because people wrote down what they did in the past and we can see now if what they did was the right thing or the wrong thing, and then we can maybe do better. It also helps us create new things in our minds.
My family is originally from Hebron. Many families who come to this library used to live there. The violence is bad there. The settlers and the soldiers make life difficult. So we left.
I like a lot of things. I like the singer named Adele. I like Palestinian folk songs. I like studying the Koran and celebrating the holidays.