Children of the intifadah. What effect is West Bank uprising having on them?
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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.
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.