As dusk falls on the Muslim Quarter, the adhan echoes from the surrounding mosques and a lone kite flits up and down over the sea of steeples, domes, satellite dishes and solar panels. The kite serves as a reminder that children are still at play in this somber city. In fact, right next door two children are kicking a football about, in preparation for their shot at the World Cup.
What separates these two children from the majority of the other children in the Muslim Quarter, and what separates their experiences from those of the majority of children in the world, is a metal fence, eight feet high and barbed.
In the Old City, the rooftops are the children’s domain. Lacking any semblance of garden or play space, the children seek the open air and freedom of the rooftops, each of which is a mere jump away from the next.
These two children are Jews in a neighborhood of Muslims and Christians.* Unlike the rooftops of the rest of the neighborhood children, theirs is furnished with an elaborate wooden jungle gym and a small space for playing ball. Protecting this merry space from the evils of conflict is an eight foot high barbed wire fence, from which a weathered Israeli flag proudly flies, and a rooftop security booth, in which muscled men sit guard 24/7.**
Oftentimes, the children accidentally lose their ball over the fence, and they climb up the rungs as far as security will let them, calling in Hebrew to the neighborhood children to throw it back. Although they live in the Muslim Quarter, they have not learned to speak Arabic. They do not know each other’s names. Instead they use the one Arabic word they have been taught. Waled! Boy!
The neighborhood children obey. Submission is not a novel concept; their lives have known no existence outside of the Israeli occupation. They all speak Hebrew—it is, after all, the national language.
Relations were not always so strained between Jews and Arabs. There was a time—before Israeli policy became a tool for followers of religious fanatic Rabbi Yitzhak Kook, who founded the radical settler movement, Gush Emunim***—when Jews and Arabs lived together in relative peace, while their children played together unhindered by the imposing walls that separate both their homes and territories.
What kind of future can we expect for these children, when they are raised in such conditions—separated, scared and strangely comfortable in their isolation?
An Israeli friend in New York once told me that she had to travel 5,683 miles to the United States in order to meet and discuss politics with a Palestinian. There is little opportunity, she said, for cross-cultural discourse.
Given these circumstances, all of the ceasefire agreements in the world, all of the empty Israeli promises and unfired militant rockets, will not undo the damage that mis-education and isolation continue to inflict on the Palestinian and Israeli populations.
Forget about the adults—they’re a lost cause.
* In order to understand the neighborhood dynamics, remember that the population of Israel is 81% Jewish—the rest of which is made up of Muslims (15%), Christians (2%), Druze (<2%), and others (<1%).
** Several Israeli flags can be found in the Muslim Quarter, donning homes that were purchased by nationalist Israelis, including Ariel Sharon, in an effort to create a strong Jewish presence in non-Jewish areas and further hinder the possibility of a withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders.
*** Founded in 1974, Gush Emunim was a religious-nationalist settler movement that became an enormous social and political force in Israel, leading to the institutionalization of radical (and racist) Zionist policy and the expropriation of 5,839,000 dunums (and increasing every day) of Palestinian land since 1967. A dunam, by the way, is equal to 1,000 square meters.
Posted By Sarah Sachs (Palestine)
Posted Jun 4th, 2006