The on-going conflict between Israel and Palestine ebbs and flows in intensity and cruelty. The hardships for children come in the form of bombs from the sky, rocks thrown at car windows, insults at checkpoints and never being sure that the calm of the moment will stretch into the evening.
Kids around the world try to make the best of whatever situation the adult world throws them into. I’ve met kids in refugee camps in Pakistan who make kites from string tied to plastic shopping bags, kids in Zambia who make toys from old tins they find on rubbish tips and kids in prison in Russia who make bracelets from strings torn from their blankets.
The last time I was in Israel and Palestine, in January of 2013, I asked kids what they do to keep themselves feeling as good as possible while the adults around them serve up chaos on a platter for breakfast, lunch and supper.
Yael, a 12 year old Orthodox Jewish boy living in Sderot, next to the Gaza Strip, told me that when the Palestinian bombs rain down on his town, he goes into a shelter and sings psalms, and that helps him feel not so afraid.
A 14 year old Palestinian boy in the southern part of the Gaza Strip told me, “Sometimes we will be out playing football and we’ll hear that the bombs are coming again and we’ll just keep playing. Playing football gives us hope. If we are going to die, we might as well die doing something we love.”
Yaffa, who is nine, is a girl from the Druze community living in the Golan Heights, smack up against the buffer zone between Israel and Syria. She has witnessed large-scale disturbances from refugees breaking through the border and deals with a constant military presence in her town. She chooses to focus on collecting rocks and looking for frogs.
Jabor, a thirteen year old Israeli Arab in Haifa likes to watch Mr. Bean movies when he gets sad, and Jehad, 12, loves to spend time in the children’s library in Ramallah.
All of these children have joys and aspirations that have nothing to do with killing anyone. If left to shape the world on their own, they would make art, play sports, enjoy the natural world and build friendships – all excellent pursuits that would have a lasting positive impact on the world they are going to take over from us.
I wonder what it will take for us to get out of their way and let them get to it.
Deborah Ellis is the author of over twenty beautiful, thought provoking books for young people, including The Breadwinner Trilogy, which has won several literary awards. In her latest work of fiction, The Cat at the Wall, the conflict at the West Bank is told through the eyes of Clare, a young girl who finds herself reincarnated as a cat.
Join Deborah Ellis for a Reddit AMA on Friday, September 19th, at 1pm EST, for a chance to ask her any and all earnest, honest, and provocative questions.