The troubled kids of the West Bank

The west bank, where for kids, the challenge is just to stay kids

This Friday, Oct. 23, 2015 photograph shows Palestinians clashing with Israeli troops in front of the Intercontinental hotel in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. The century-old Jacir Palace hotel, with its soaring stone archways and wrought iron balconies, was once a symbol of Bethlehem’s wealth and tourism potential. Today, the property reflects the city’s dour mood ahead of the crucial Christmas season after months of unrest that has taken more than 100 lives, including a Palestinian waiter from the hotel. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

(CNN) – On the streets of Bethlehem, the Israli-Palestinian conflict doesn’t erupt, it repeats. Clashes today echo clashes from past decades. Israelis firing tear gas and rubber bullets, Palestinians throwing stones and wearing masks. But the faces behind those masks appear younger now.

A no man’s land of drifting tear gas and burning trees separates the two sides. Now that separation has all but vanished as some Palestinians – barely teenagers – have put down rocks, and picked up knives. But why? Why would a young teenager carry out a stabbing attack when it could mean they never come home? Reema Sanad, a 37-year-old mother of five from Bethlehem, says it was her recurring nightmare.

Sanad goes onto say “I always saw the children that went for the attacks. They were the same age, like my daughter Sabrin. Some want to be famous and some want to have revenge. They want the curiosity of living the experience of taking part in the intifada.”

Sanad’s nightmare came true on December 1st, caught on cell-phone video. Her daughter, Sabrin, left school and walked to a checkpoint where Israeli soldiers found a knife in her backpack. Sabrin spent a month in military prison, after pleading guilty to carrying a knife. We meet her back at home doing her schoolwork. She has dreams of becoming a journalist. I ask her why she did it.

Sabrin: “I was not concentrating on anything, not playing or even doing homework. I was only watching Al-Aqsa TV. I saw all those guys and girls doing what they do, and i want to do the same for my country.”

Al-Aqsa TV is Hamas TV. It calls for more attacks on Israelis. Hailing the perpetrators as heroes. It’s on during our visit. Her 21-year-old brother doesn’t approve, and turns it off. But the language of hate has seeped into Sabrin’s vocabulary.

Sabrin said, “The hate that we have for them is our motivation. They are killing us everywhere. I can’t accept what is happening to my country. Many guys are killed while walking. No one can accept that, because we love Palestine, and we want to defend it.”

Sabrin will not accept her mother’s explanation in that violence sets back the exact cause she’s trying to support.

Reema goes onto say, “Let’s say that you went out and stabbed a soldier and killed him, do you know what you did? You did nothing. You ruin the situation more. This is exactly what Israel wants. The occupation wants to say to the world, ‘look, they are stabbing us and killing us. We are in danger.’ and suddenly everything is the opposite. Those who are oppressed and under occupation are terrorists, and the occupation, that is actually killing us with the siege every day, is the victim.”

Fadi Alghoul, Palestinian artists, is trying a different approach – a performance mixing in humor and emotion based on his own story. His mother was killed in the Israel-Lebanon war in 1982.

Alghoul explains, “We need to show those children that the resistance has many other ways that I believe in. As a human being, as an artist, and as Fadi the father. I do believe that there are many ways of resistance that we can use.”

Al-ghoul speaks to the memory of his mother. He promises to make her proud. He promised to live.

Alghoul says, “If you really love Palestine take care of yourself. Don’t put yourself in danger. Your soul is so dear to us all. Resist with all the tools you have, but keep yourself safe for your country.”

One young girl in the audience who lost her mother breaks down in tears. Alghoul’s message, he hopes, has gotten through. He reaches out to the young, those most likely to carry out attacks. 70% of Palestinian attackers against Israeli civilians and soldiers have been between the ages of 16 and 25, according to the Israeli military. Another 10% were even younger. Israelis called the wave of attacks ‘terrorism’, Palestinians call it ‘resistance’. It is a cycle which has not yet been broken.

Spokesman Peter Lerner explains, “At the end of the day we are left with a reality on the ground of extreme violence which is encouraged, embraced, and glorified by the society. Whatever reason they feel it be, this is the result.”

Palestinians describe a different reality, one of suspicion and humiliation from Israeli soldiers. Psychologists speak of trauma.

Psychologist Tawfeek Salman goes onto say, “Many of those kids told me, ‘look doctor, now you want to try to help us here in your office. But while we are going back home the Israeli will stop us, will humiliate us again, we will forget your advice, will go home with the last trauma. With the small kids, they have to go to their schools, to go to play, to express themselves, not with the knives, not with the stones. They should be kids.”

The west bank, where for Palestinian children the challenge is just to stay children.

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