Children of the intifadah. What effect is West Bank uprising having on them?

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

WITH smudged face, untied Adidas sneakers, and torn shirt half tucked in, a 10-year-old fiercely drags old tires to the dusty road that winds into his West Bank village. Sweaty from the labor and the heat, he turns to his friends and laughs as he strikes the match that will make the rubber burn in the desert heat.

Twelve miles away a 19-year-old is braced for action, his face covered by a kaffiyeh. With a band of enraged mothers and other teen-agers, he stands a safe distance away with a slingshot aimed at an advancing Israeli soldier.

After missing his target, he flees through the alleys of his village to avoid another beating by Israeli soldiers, tired of being targets for slingshots and curses.

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These are the scenes that twist the imaginations of Jewish children sitting safely in Tel Aviv watching the evening news. They're the scenes feared by Jewish children who live in West Bank settlements surrounded by Arab villages.

But for Palestinian children, many of them already hardened street fighters at 12 years of age, this is daily life. Their childhoods have been swallowed up by the intifadah (uprising).

In the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's old city, three- and four-year-olds playfully throw stones at bewildered tourists, solemnly passing the stations of the cross.

In the village of Bet Sahour near Bethlehem, six- and seven-year-olds chase each other with sticks. They're playing the game of Israeli soldiers against the Palestinians - the West Bank version of cops and robbers. Issa, a scrawny little boy, insists on being a soldier. He says, ``I like them because they carry guns.''

George Ghenev, 6, doesn't like the soldiers. A month ago his 17-year-old brother was crushed by a cement block. Despite military denials, Bet Sahour villagers maintain that an Israeli soldier flung the block off a rooftop. And that is the version of the story George learned.

In his one-room home, with furniture well worn from cleaning, George is surrounded by his talkative uncle and painfully bereaved parents. George's face is pinched in anger. His small right hand opens and closes into a tight fist. Occasionally he looks up at a photo of his brother, the same smiling pose that lines the streets of the village.

Running his hand through George's soft brown hair, his uncle asks, ``Who killed your brother?'' When George answers softly, ``The Israelis,'' he's hugged warmly.

Still in a silky voice, his uncle asks, ``What would you like to do to these Israelis when you grow up?'' George screws up his face and whines, ``Hit them.''

His uncle peers into his face and asks, ``Wouldn't you like to kill them?''

After an Israeli soldier was killed in Bethlehem [Moshe Katz, 28, on March 20 - the only Israeli soldier lost so far in the intifadah], Daoud, 12, was held for two days of interrogation in the local jail. This murder occurred shortly after Daoud saw his friend shot to death at close range on a dusty Bethlehem alley.

The sight of blood has not stopped Daoud from playing a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with soldiers, who chase him with American M-16s, clubs, and riot gear.

Before today's chase, Daoud, wiry and with a premature black mustache, stands in the rubble with his friends and quickly gathers large stones.

He says, ``I'm not afraid of soldiers. This is my city, not theirs.'' While puffing up an undeveloped chest, he repeats over and over, ``I want my rights, I want my rights, I want my rights...'' The soldiers, who can now be heard advancing, are met with a barrage of stones.

Daoud, the last to flee, disappears into the narrow, winding dirt streets.

But his final words hang in the hostile air: ``I'll fight with anything I can - rocks, glass, bottles - I'll fight until I win - or until I die.''

If Daoud survives, chances are that his way of life won't. According to psychologists, the Palestinian family structure is changing. The fathers bowed before Israeli authority, but the children rebelled and became leaders.

Hanoch Yerushalmi, a psychologist at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, reports that it's a double-edged sword for Palestinian children. He says, ``On the one hand, they're gaining a sense of dignity. On the other hand, they no longer have adults to identify with.''

But at least the Palestinian view of the world is consistent - the lines are drawn between the good guys and the bad guys!

Dr. Yerushalmi comments that in the long run Jewish children may suffer more from confusion and depression than Palestinian children do. He says that Jewish parents are often guilty of silence or of sending double messages.

He explains, ``Children are being told not to hate Arabs, and then they hear their parents cursing Arabs. They're taught that aggression is bad, and then they're watching condoned aggression every night on the news.

``This situation is complicated. It isn't like a war - that's much simpler for a child to understand.''

Very young Jewish and Palestinian children are experiencing their own private terrors. Rami Bar Giora, another psychologist, has treated both Arab and Jewish children at the Ilan Child Guidance Clinic in Jerusalem. He says that children tend to have difficulty separating fantasy from reality.

``But,'' he comments, ``in other countries when children imagine horrible things, they can be assured that they're not real. Here, the most terrible things happen right before your eyes...the nightmare is reality.''

Vered, 7, lives in Maale Adummim, a Jewish West Bank settlement near Jerusalem. She has recurring dreams of Arabs breaking into her house and pushing her out. Her mother says that Vered has never actually seen a riot and that the settlement has good relations with their Arab neighbors.

Looking angelic in a pink dress with matching shoes and hair ribbons, Vered, unprompted, makes a slashing action with her chubby arm and says, ``That's what Arabs do to Jews. They stick knives in them.''

Later she says that she's frightened of Arabs because they want to steal her country. She adds, ``They're not people. They don't believe in anything.''

Startled and embarrassed, her mother quickly interjects that she has never heard her daughter say such things before.

Up to Army age, at 18, most Israeli youths reflect their parents' political views. A child at a progressive Jerusalem grammar school asked his teacher how he could tell the good from the bad soldiers.

Some high school students have endured the wrath of friends and teachers alike by stating that they'll opt for jail rather than serve in the occupied West Bank for their Army duty.

But psychologist Liora Lurie has seen teen-agers who grew up in the left-wing Peace Now movement change drastically when confronted with the clash of family and Army values. She reports that some deal with the conflict by becoming right wing.

Dr. Shafiq Masalha, an Israeli-Arab psychologist, says these recruits are locked in a dilemma, where it's all right to treat Jews one way - and Palestinians another.

He says, ``They're also given the green light to be aggressive. There is no taboo against harming people when it isn't necessary. Confronting a 10-year-old just isn't the same as fighting in war.''

If Israeli 18-year-olds are going to be emotionally damaged from attacking children, then an entire generation of Palestinians may be crippled by their lives of violence. Psychologists agree that Palestinian children risk never learning how to control aggression.

Despite this, Dr. Lurie sounds a note of optimism when she says that peace can heal the now-open wounds for all the children.

Maybe.

Daoud might be appeased if he got his ``rights.''

But George and Vered can't even explain what the intifadah is.

They've learned other lessons...

George says that there are no good Israelis, because all Israelis kill.

Vered says that there are no good Arabs. To her they all kill.

Political rights aside, the children of the occupied West Bank - both Arab and Jewish - may be the real time bombs of the intifadah generation.

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