A Play Date at Al-Aqsa

Sayed Kashua messes up his kid's first play date, and wonders how come people still don't understand why kids throw stones in Jerusalem.

Sayed Kashua
Sayed Kashua
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Dome of the Rock Mosque.
Dome of the Rock Mosque.Credit: AP
Sayed Kashua
Sayed Kashua

This week we gave an American family a real scare. My younger son has a good friend in preschool, Jeremy. My son talks about this friend all the time, and the teacher often mentions how close they are – how they are never apart for a minute, the way they do everything together.

“Can I invite Jeremy home so he can see my toys?” my younger son asked. We told him we would gladly invite Jeremy to our place, but here the thing about inviting friends home is a little different; we can’t just pick the kid up from school the way we could in Jerusalem after calling his parents that same day. Americans call such encounters a “play date,” and somehow we’ve finally understood that they are supposed to be coordinated a few days, if not a few weeks, ahead of time.

So in the first stage we asked the teacher for Jeremy’s parents’ phone number. We waited a week and finally got the number. Then my wife talked to Jeremy’s mother, who said she would be happy to organize a play date, but she didn’t understand at first. “What do you mean,” she asked, ‘to go over to your place’?”

It took several more days of consultation, but finally she accepted the invitation on behalf of Jeremy. She said she would bring him over a week after receiving the invitation to play with our son at our place. Apparently, she ultimately agreed to our indecent proposal because she grasped that we are strangers who belong to some sort of inferior culture in which people customarily invite small children of preschool age to play with their children in the house.

We thought we had fulfilled all the rules of the play-date ritual. We called, we set up a time in advance, it took something like a month for the transaction to come to fruition from the moment the decision was made to invite Jeremy to come and play – and in the end we discovered that it wasn’t a play date at all. Jeremy’s mother said that a play date usually involves a group of children who meet in a park or at some other site, but not in the familial framework of any of the children involved.

We tried to understand from Jeremy’s mother what to call what we had arranged: what to call it when my son and Jeremy play Lego together in my son’s room while looking over-the-moon happy. But she didn’t have an answer, or maybe it wasn’t nice for her to say that from her perspective it was some sort of perversion.

Actually, I’m telling you about play dates because of the stone throwing in Jerusalem. Because, as far as I could glean from the Israeli newscasts that I followed about the recent events in that city – as far as I could gather from our finest commentators, reporters and anchormen – these children from the neighborhoods of Jabal Mukaber and Silwan are simply conscienceless brats who are throwing rocks and firebombs instead of setting play dates and going to a park together. “They have to be shot,” a senior security affairs correspondent said, inciting to murder. The parents have to be punished, too, they added on the news. And they’re right.

The government is suggesting that National Insurance payments to the parents of these young persons be slashed, knowing full well that National Insurance is one of the major sources of income for many residents of East Jerusalem. But that’s how it is for irresponsible parents whose children throw stones – instead of organizing play dates for their kids like civilized people or taking them with their friends after school to a local swimming pool, to a public library or just to see a movie.

“So who is behind all this?” the anchor of a major TV news program asked, as he, his correspondents, his commentators and his interviewees kept repeating the same phrases: stone-throwing terror, firebomb terror, waves of murderous terror, the terror of Islamic rioters. You really don’t know who’s behind it?

Have you been to Jabal Mukaber lately? Have you ever been to Silwan? Have you wandered through the alleys, visited the schools there? Have you seen the homes of the settlers and the buildings of their not-for-profit associations? Did you ask what the parents do, what their income level is, or about future development plans and the number of demolition orders that have been issued?

And now they want to take Al-Aqsa away from the children of the eastern part of the city, too? And people ask what’s behind it?

I will not talk about Al-Aqsa in any religious sense; call it the Temple Mount, or whatever you want. I will talk about it as the only place where the children of the Old City and the adjacent neighborhoods have to play. The only venue for which a play date can be set. I will talk about it as a garden, as the only place in the Old City that is not choked with buildings, dirt and the distress of everyday life.

I used to walk a great deal in the plaza outside the mosque there when I lived in Jerusalem. I never prayed there. I also took my kids there, until they started to ask my daughter to cover her head. Many children go there, because they have nowhere else to go to. It’s a beautiful, magical plaza, far from the overcrowding and duress that lurk behind every Arab door in the Old City. Every child knows that it’s the loveliest place in the Arab part of the city. That you can play there, dream and imagine a different reality there – one with a bit of hope. And even though Israeli police are present at the entrances, the compound is free of direct Israeli rule. But now you won’t even leave that small area to the Arab children, whether in the name of the Temple or in the name of Israeli sovereignty, freedom of worship, archaeology and Israeli security?

“Stones kill,” almost everyone agrees, and it’s necessary to torture and imprison people and to prove who the master here is. There’s no argument about that, about the fact that Israel is the strong side and capable of doing whatever it pleases – with that I agree. But please, without feigned naivete, without questions about “who’s behind it.” Because with questions like that, no one will invite you to a play date.

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