What Sayed Kashua Wishes for the 3 Kidnapped Boys

The teens’ kidnapping is terrible, but seeing only half the picture is no less terrible.

Sometimes, during difficult periods, I try to ignore what is said on the radio and printed in the newspapers. But somehow, the news in this country is transmitted through the air. Even though I blocked my ears and shut my eyes, I still know that MK Haneen Zoabi kidnapped three settler teenagers. And even though I made a point of listening only to music and of following the games in Brazil – I know that the army is setting up roadblocks, imposing closures, invading homes, embittering lives. And even though I tried to read only the culture news online, I feel that the country’s Arab citizens have been taken hostage again and are being used as a convenient punching bag to vent national nerves.

In such volatile days, when fates are being sealed, it’s very hard to write a column on Wednesday for publication on Friday, but there’s no choice: The Haaretz Hebrew magazine is printed on Wednesday and I’m late. I’ve already received messages from the paper reminding me that I’m late in sending my column, and soon the phone will ring and I’ll get yelled at politely and told in effect that the paper is about to go to press and the illustrator is sitting in his office, waiting only for me to deign to send him something to illustrate.

It’s my fervent hope that by the time this column is published the boys will be back home, safe and sound. Home? I write that and immediately feel a stabbing in the chest. Does the hope that they will return home imply some sort of declaration that the settlements can be considered legitimate?

Okay, I’ll try to reformulate: It’s my fervent hope that by the time this article is published the boys will be back with their families, in the hope that they will not go back to being part of the suppression, plunder and trampling of the freedom of other nations. It’s my fervent hope that the suffering being endured by their parents will end, and that the fathers and mothers will be able to embrace their loved ones.

I would be lying if I say that immediately upon hearing the grim news about the kids, I didn’t think about the parents and wonder what they are feeling now. And whether – somewhere, some place, when no one is listening, and when God, who issued precepts and promised lands, isn’t looking – they feel a bit guilty.

No, not because of the hitchhiking. The problem isn’t the hitchhiking. The problem is a lot more serious, and I know you know that. Or maybe you don’t know? Now, when I play back in my mind what I heard from politicians, army personnel and the media this week, I wonder whether you understand at all.

It’s true, after all, that the prime minister said immediately that the kidnapping isn’t necessarily connected or related to anything in particular: Instead he attributed it to an element of the laws of nature, to an innate trait of a different nation.

The prime minister said that this was simply a bloodthirsty enemy that does not balk at killing children, women and old people. Our prime minister did not say who exactly that enemy is, but I understood what he meant when I heard him on the radio.

My children were in the car, too, and they heard the prime minister and were scared, and my little boy asked, “Daddy, who are ‘they’?” Turning my head to the back seat for a second, I almost said, “Us, you, he’s talking about you, too.” But I didn’t tell the kids the truth – I said nothing.

So, could it be that he really doesn’t understand? Doesn’t he visit the territories and see how the state continues to seize Arabs’ land? How it’s arresting, suffocating, trampling – in a word, occupying? Could it be that he really thinks the Palestinians enjoy freedom just like the settlers?

No, it’s absolutely not because of the hitchhiking. And no, what goes for Hebron does not go for Tel Aviv. Not yet. It depends on you. And by the way, it always depends on you. You are strong, you dictate the rules of behavior and the laws.

Kidnapping is a terrible thing, and if, heaven forbid, it should turn out that something happened to those kids, it will be an unmitigated tragedy. Sorry for the generalization (you started it ...), but you really don’t understand what Arabs feel when they see images of children who were killed and a uniformed army that is whitewashing, setting up commissions, maybe even holding trials – and in the best case saying it’s a mistake, or sometimes, when it’s really serious, apologizing. Apologizing? I don’t remember that anymore.

Sometimes I wonder whether, if the Palestinians were capable of invading homes in Israel, of sending in soldiers to wrest people out of their beds in front of their families; if they had intelligence that was able to come up with the names of perpetrators, planners, instigators and simply people with the potential to be dangerous one day – what would things look like then? If the Palestinians possessed military capability like the Israelis have – sophisticated planes, smart missiles and the ability to strike only at military infrastructure – who would behave a little more humanely in that case?

This kidnapping is a terrible thing, and my heart goes out to the parents, whether they feel a bit guilty or whether they are certain of the rightness of their actions.

I don’t believe I still have to write this, but I no longer know what you believe and what you don’t. So here it is: Harming these children will be a terrible calamity and has no justification whatsoever. Not the occupation, not the settlements, not the condition of the Palestinian prisoners.

What I am trying to say, perhaps, is that I know the Arabs can be terrible and cruel, and, as the prime minister said, maybe they sometimes balk at nothing. I only ask you not to think for a second that you are any loftier than they are.