Interview 17

(Sderot is a small city in Israel very close to the Gaza Strip.  I was there during a relatively quiet time, yet there really is no quiet time.   Rockets from Gaza frequently land near or in the streets, and the air raid warnings are a daily feature for the people there.  I met Y and his family when I was there.

Y. 12

We are Orthodox Jews.  We try to live according to the Torah.  My favorite things are to study English, math and the Torah.

My father came to Israel from India in l967.  The Jews of India are one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

We live in Sderot, very close to the Gaza Strip.  The Palestinians send bombs over to us all the time.  Every day, almost.  The bombs land on the street, in the fields, everywhere.

When a rocket is coming, we get a 15 second warning.  That means we have 15 seconds to get to a safe place before the rocket hits us.

You don't want to be in the shower when a rocket is coming!  A rocket hit a house once when someone was in the shower.  Nobody would want that  Problem is, you never know when they are coming.  Could be the morning.  Could be the afternoon.  Could be the middle of the night.  You never know.

It's not a siren that we hear.  It's a woman's voice coming over the loudspeakers all over town.  She says, "Seva-a-dome!"  That means Code Red.  That means Take Cover.  "Seva-a-dome, seva-a-dome."  I can hear it in my sleep even when it is not happening.  I can hear it in my thoughts.  And noises make me jump, like a door slams or a car makes noise, I think it could be a bomb or a gun.

When I'm not quite asleep and not quite awake, and if I dream that I hear her voice, I'll jump up out of bed and it takes me a moment to think, did I hear the voice or not?

There are lots of bombs.  Qassem rockets, they are called.  The Palestinians make them in Gaza and they shoot them over here to kill us.  It is especially scary when I'm walking along the street.  When I'm more than 15 seconds from a bomb shelter, I start to worry that a rocket may come and I won't get out of the way in time.  Eleven people in this town have been killed by these rockets.

There are bomb shelters all over the town.  The bus shelters are also bomb shelters, so if the warning comes while you are waiting for a bus you will be safe.  The school yards have bomb shelters instead of playgrounds.  The parks for small children have bomb shelters that look like animals - one looks like a big worm, painted with lots of colors.  All the homes have bomb shelters.

The government paid for them and did the work.  We live on the second floor, so our bomb shelter is on our floor.  They cut a hole in the back of our building and put the bomb shelter there, so that it looks like a regular room but the walls and ceiling are very thick.  Everyone has one.  Every home.

When the warning comes, we go into the shelter and wait for the rockets to come.  Sometimes we stay there for a few minutes, sometimes longer, until the danger has passed.  While we wait, we pray.  My father brings in a book of Psalms and we read them and pray.

And we sing Hallellulia - lots of singing and praising.  That's what we are taught to do, as Jews.  Even in difficult times, we give thanks.

The Palestinians bomb us to make us afraid.  They want us to stop our lives.

It helps to pray when you are afraid.  Being afraid makes me feel small, than things can hurt me.  Praying makes me feel safer.

During the war in Gaza two months ago (late in 2012) so many rockets were falling!  So many times we heard the warnings.

Israel now has the Iron Dome.  It shoots down rockets that Gaza shoots at us, but only some of the rockets.  If it things the rockets will land in a field, it does not shoot.  So some of the rockets still hit the ground.  The Palestinians send rockets to us and don't care where they land, if they land on a school or a playground or an old-age home, they don't care.  When Israel sends bombs to Gaza, it is only to kill terrorists.

We can see the Gaza Strip from the edge of town.  When the war was going on, people from Sderot took chairs out to one of the hills that looks out over Gaza and watched our army destroy the rockets.  There were a lot of television cameras, too, from all over.

Dad used to into Gaza all the time.  We all did.  We would go to see the dentist in Gaza City and shop and do many things over there.  We were good to the people of Gaza and they were good to us.  But then they got stupid because if they did not shoot at us we would not need to shoot at them.

I thought about the kids in Gaza during the war.  I know how scared I get, and I think they were probably feeling the same way.  But I don't think about them often because there is no point.  How could I be friends with kids who want to kill us?  The only thing we have in common is that in a big war, we would all die.




interview 16

(A. is a young teen man who lives in a youth village in Bethlehem.)

A.  16 years old.

I came to the youth village in 2006, when I was ten, because my parents were not able to properly care for me.  My family comes from Hebron.  My three brothers and my one sister are also with this youth village.  My favorite movies are Egyptian comic movies.  My favorite subject is math, and I hope to study accounting in university.

I generally go back to Hebron to see my family every Thursday and Friday.  There are no settlers around where my family is, so we don't have a problem with them, but I do have to go through two checkpoints to get there from Bethlehem.  They always give us a hard time at the checkpoints.  They check everything.  It's hard, every week.

Until I was thirteen I lived at this center, in one of the houses.  The homes have children of all ages in them, boys and girls, like a regular family, and there are no children with the same name.  You wouldn't have two brothers with the same name, so the homes are like that, too.  There is a house mother who lives with us.  She's always there, like a mother would be.  the homes are named from stories, like Ali Baba.

When I turned thirteen, I went to a youth house.  This is all boys.  The girls live in another youth house.  Two youth leaders live with us.  The houses are in different neighborhoods in Bethlehem, away from the youth village, so that we become part of the city.  We are in a higher level of education, so there is less time for fun, and we are learning responsibility and self-reliance.  I'm enjoying it, and surviving!

I'm a member of the Youth Parliament.  I love it.  I love to be a leader, to exchange knowledge with others.  I give what I know and take away what I don't know.  A call was put out for youth leaders to stand for election, and I was one who did, and I was lucky to be one of the people elected.

The first action we decided to do was to send some of us to visit children with cancer at Beit Jala hospital.  It was a really good day.  Before going, we met with the Basma Smile organization, which supports the children, to learn more about the children we would be meeting and what we could do.  Seven youth and two of our leaders went to the hospital.  We chose to do this action because they are children and we are children.  Most of the children in the hospital are not from Bethlehem, so their parents are not with them.  We wanted them to know someone is thinking of them.

We have a lot of workshops to increase our knowledge.  We've had workshops on leadership, on how to make goals, on the dangers of drugs and smoking, how to communicate with others, good nutrition.

There is a youth village like this in Israel, too.  I have never met those children, but I imagine that they are the same as us.  They are in the village for reasons that have nothing to do with them.  They are there because of their parents, just like we are.  So we are the same.

For all of us, I hope there will be peace in the future.  We want a peaceful land without checkpoints.  Now that Palestine has a seat at the United Nations, we can maybe take a big step forward.



Another interview

(There are between nine and eleven million people today who identify themselves as Palestinians.  More than half of them live outside of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.  Nearly three million live in Jordan, six hundred thousand in Syria, four hundred thousand in Lebanon, five hundred thousand in Chile, two hundred and fifty thousand in the United States, and fifty thousand in Canada, among other places.  Over two hundred thousand live in Saudi Arabia.

I met the boy below in Ramallah.)

Boy, 17

I used to live in Saudi Arabia.  My family is still there.  I can't go back to see them but I don't want to say why.  Now I am here in Ramallah.

The Arab world always says, "Don't worry, Palestine will get her freedom."  But they just say that to keep us quiet.  I think they gain a lot from our suffering.  They can use it to say that Israel should not exist, and that makes no sense.  Israel DOES exist, and we have to deal with it.  We also exist, and Israel has to deal with us.  So we have to find a way to gain our freedom and dignity without becoming the sort of people who have oppressed us all this time.  It must be possible.  We can't keep going like we are.

A lot of Arab leaders just want their people to be quiet and do what they're told.  In Saudia Arabia the jails are full of people who tried to speak up for their rights.  People are tortured there, put to death.  So they have no business criticizing Israel when Israel puts children in prison.  They should both stop it.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Inside Israel go to school.  They read a lot and know their rights.  In Israel they can vote and even be in the government, the Knesset.  Saudia Arabia doesn't want a free Palestine because then their own people might start thinking of fighting for a free Saudi Arabia.

Another reason the Arab world doesn't want a free Palestinian is because the rulers are afraid of women.  Palestinian women are strong.  They are educated.  They take part in resistance and in building the society.  Some Arab men think they're better than women, and they treat them very badly.  They don't want all these strong Palestinian women running a country and showing what women can do.  Their own women might start to think their men should not be bossing them around so much.

I have lots of time to think about these things.  It is hard to find a job, and I don't like to stay at home in the place where I am living.  So I leave early in the morning and am out until very late at night.  I walk around, I see things, I talk to people.  When I have money I go to internet cafes and go on Facebook.

Everyone on Facebook says the Arabs used to really be something special, than in ancient days we made wonderful discoveries in math and science.  They don't believe that we are still something special, something really special. We are smart people who can do things.  We need more confidence.  We need more self respect.

Palestinians are really tired of being treated like we are a Third World country.  We don't want tears or foreign aid or help.  We don't want pity.  We are fed up with people pitying us, with foreigners coming over here because they think we can't fight for ourselves.  We just want the Israelis to get out of our way.  We just want to live.

The Israelis don't scare me.  What can they do to me?  Take my life?  What is my life good for?  I am more afraid of getting scuff marks on my shoes when I walk down the street than I am of the Israelis.

Really, I think the Israelis are afraid of us.  They don't bother us as much now as they used to.  They know they can only do so much.  When one or two soldiers goes into a neighborhood and three or four little kids come out and start throwing rocks, the soldiers just leave, even if the kids are small.

The throwing of rocks, it becomes like a game.  Like you can be a man, you can be a radical if you throw a rock.  Everyone is so extreme in their talk.  Nothing gets better that way.  Maybe the radical thing to do is to go up to an Israeli soldier and say, "So, what kind of music do you like?"

But that would be a mess, too.  First, you would need to learn Hebrew, and everyone would be asking, "Why are you learning Hebrew, the language of the people who are oppressing us?"  And if they see you talking to a soldier, it would be, "Why are you talking to that soldier?  Are you informing on your neighbor?"  Because, of course, the Israelis try to get all the Palestinians to turn on each other.

And even if none of that happened, and we talk about music and find out that we like the same music - so what?  He's still walking around my town with a gun, and I still can't get through the checkpoint to swim in the Mediterranean Sea - which I have as much right to do as the Israelis.

So, we're left with throwing stones.  And nothing gets better.

If the Israelis were really smart, they would give every Palestinian a computer with internet, a television and an X-Box.  We would spend all our time playing computer games and chatting on Facebook and never bother to revolt.

Some say that on Judgement Day, all the rocks and trees will talk to the Palestinians and say, "There is an Israeli hiding behind me.  Come and kill him."  But I want to believe that by the time Judgement Day comes, we will have been able to figure this out in a better way.




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Israeli-Palestinian interviews

(I met J. in Jerusalem, twenty minutes walk from the Old City.  He lives in East Jerusalem.)

J. 14

I live in Wadi Joz.  I've lived there for ten years.  I live there with my mother.  She and my father are divorced.  He lives with his new wife.  They have four children.  My mother has just me and my younger brother.  My mother's mother died when she was just five years old, and her father died before I was born.  Her ancestors are from Iraq.  My father's family is from Hebron, way back, but he lives near Ramallah now.  Many Palestinians who had to leave Hebron went to Ramallah.

My favorite part of Jerusalem is probably the movie theatre.  My favorite movie is Suckerpunch.

My father has a car repair shop just on the Israel side of the barrier.  He has lots of Jewish customers.  There is a big sign that says it is illegal for Israeli citizens to give their cars over to Palestinian mechanics, but lots of Israelis ignore it because the work is good and the prices are good.  I don't know really why the sign is there.  All I can think is that the Israeli government things that Palestinian mechanics will turn Israeli cars into bombs.  Luckily for my father, a lot of Israelis don't buy that way of thinking.  They just want to get their cars repaired.

My mother is a teacher.  She teaches kids with learning disabilities.

My parents have Jewish friends.  I have Jewish friends.  It's not a big deal to me to have friends that are Arab and that are Jewish.  I play sports, so I meet all kinds of kids through that.  Some kids are friendly, some are not nice, some are good players, some try hard but you know they will never be professional athletes.  In sports what your religion is or your background is, it doesn't matter.  Can you kick the ball?  That matters.

Ramallah is a great city.  It's a city that never sleeps, a very busy place.  And they have great shwarma there.  The checkpoints are crazy, though.  The Israeli soldiers think all Arabs are bad.  They check ids, they ask crazy questions, they make you open the trunk of your car and go through every single thing.

The Israelis also demolish homes if they want to.  They say, 'Oh, your house is nowin a military zone, so get out because we're going to knock it down.'  And the family has to take what they can and get out  before the giant bulldozers come.

Sometimes the Israelis act like Americans, all confident and like they can do and get whatever they want.  Israelis take over people's homes, too, to live in, if they want to.  Where I live, the Israelis decided to take over the house of this family, and they put all the family's belongings into the yard - couches, mattresses, everything.  The family decided that they were not going to go anywhere, so they just stayed in the yard with their belongings!  The Israeli family had to walk by them every time they went into the house.  They stayed there for a long time, but of course eventually they had to go somewhere else because it was winter and they were not getting any justice.

The fact that my parents are divorced is something I find very hard.  I am always having to sleep in different places.  My mother is in Jerusalem and my father is in Ramallah.  I am usually with my mother.  She is happy now because she loves a good man and he loves her back.  I like to see her happy.

I spent the Christmas holidays in Jordan with my family.  It was great. We stayed at my sister's house - there are a lot of Palestinians in Jordan.  Christmas is very special there.  We went out on Christmas Eve and there was a big Christmas tree outside - we stood around it and sang songs.

I love singing.  People say I have a good voice. In the future I'd like to be an international singer, an actor and a doctor.  Music means a lot to both me and my mother.  We sing around the house all the time.  Music is different from talking, more honest, I think, because it goes to the truth of the emotion.  I love singing this song by Adele.  She writes about feelings she was going through, feelings that were just too big to just be spoken.  When I sing it I can have the same feelings.

I consider myself to be religious, but I don't look at people in a way that has to do with religion.  If someone is kind to me, I'll be kind to them.  At the bottom of it, we are all human beings.  Whatever you think of God, if you believe in a god or however you see it, we're all here and we have to make the best of it.  Religion can sometimes help us to do that, if we don't use it against each other.  We have brains, so we should be able to figure out how to do that.


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more of the Israeli-Palestinian interviews

(As Israel was being created, many people lived in Kibbutz, a way of life that collectively combined people's energies, talents and resources.  A moshav is a collective of farms, sort of a cross between the collectivity of a kibbutz and the singularity of a private family farm..  I met O, a young woman, at the YMCA in Jerusalem.)

O.   14

My family lives on a moshav, and I attend a boarding school in Jerusalem.  My mother works in the office of the moshav and my father works in the winery.  We grow grapes on the moshav, and tomatoes and peppers, flowers, lots of things.

Our moshav is just west of Hebron.  The security barrier is only 500 meters away.  There is a Palestinian village on the other side of it.  I've never met any of the people from there.

There used to be Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, but a couple of years ago the Israeli government decided to close them down because it was getting so dangerous in Gaza.  Some of the people from two of the settlements lived in caravans on our moshav until a new village was built for them.

It's really beautiful there.  It's part of the area known as the Land of a Thousand Caves.  The moshav has a guest house, very fancy, more like a spa.

There used to be Arabs working on the moshav, a long time ago, but that stopped when a guard was murdered by an Arab during the first intifada.  Then everyone voted to never let Arabs on the land again, and it's been like that since.  There was another Arab village a short distance away.  During the second intifada (uprising) it was really dangerous, and children who had bedrooms facing the village would sleep with their parents so that they wouldn't be killed during the night.

My mother was born in Israel.  My father comes from Iran.  Both went to university in Israel and studied agriculture there.  That's how they met.  My father's parents were Zionists from Iran.

Boarding school is like being at home with friends.  At home there are only 4 people my age, and if you live in such a small community, and the people are not your friends, it can be very lonely.  So I came to boarding school.  Plus, it is fun to live in Jerusalem.

There are differences between me and the other kids at the moshav.  For instance, I have different views on people.  Like, I support the gay community.  I stand for equality and for treating everyone as human and believe they should have human rights.  That puts me in opposition to a lot of people who don't like gays or people who are different.

I love everything about Jerusalem.  I love the way it snowed yesterday.  Roads were closed.  My parents love Canada.  I love Canada, too.  If a gay couple gets married in Canada, they are considered to be married in Israel, and get most of the rights of married people.  So Canada is a good country.

Before coming to Jerusalem, I never met Arab kids.  I joined a choir that has both Jewish kids and Arab kids in it.  At my first rehearsal, when I saw all the Arab kids, I wasn't sure it was a good idea for me to have joined.  It was all so new to me.  I felt sort of shy and not sure.  But by the second rehearsal, it seemed normal.  Now I don't even think about it.  One thing I like about the Arab kids I know is that they tell me about Christmas and Ramadan and all the holidays they celebrate, which are different holidays from the ones I celebrate.

Where my old school was, we had no school during the recent war in Gaza.  We ourselves were not hit by rockets, but others in my area were.  It was a bad time.

When I am done school, I would like to be an actor or a singer or a lawyer or something in politics, something to make a change.