Sayed Kashua Calls on Every Palestinian: Stop Children's Suicide Attacks

Not every form of struggle is legimate, and even the struggles of people fighting a cruel occupation have moral limits.

An illustration by Amos Biderman showing a Palestinian child approaching an Israeli soldier with a pair of scissors.
Illustration

You can call them terrorists, you can call them heroes. But they are victims. Victims who are not yet 12 years old. That must be stopped – and no, I’m not referring to the iron fist of the Israel Defense Forces, the terrors of the Shin Bet security service or the firearms wielded by civilians. They are not the people I am calling on to stop the acts of suicide by Palestinian children.

The truth is that I don’t know who I am calling on for this end, or whether a mechanism of authority of any sort remains that can act as a compass for the children of East Jerusalem. And no, I am not, heaven forbid, calling for an end to the struggle against Israeli oppression, even if that struggle is purposeless in the absence of Palestinian organizing, Israeli morality, an international conscience and Arab common sense. Sometimes a struggle for the sake of a struggle is of value as part of an effort to give meaning to a life that has lost its value. And no, not every form of struggle is legitimate, and we have the right to pass moral judgment even on nations that are under cruel occupation and are being subjected to a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

“Again child terrorists,” a senior journalist said this week. “What motivates them?” he wonders, knowing the right answer, which lay in the headline below the “Wave of Terror” banner that leaves no room for doubt about the identity of the perpetual victim. “Israeli rule in Judea and Samaria, extremist Islam, or the brainwashing that leads to hatred of Jews as such?” As though 12-year-old children from East Jerusalem are even aware that there is such a thing as Jews who are not Israelis. It’s doubtful whether they know that there are Jews who are not soldiers or settlers. As if a Palestinian kid from the Shuafat refugee camp decides that he hates Jews as such, for anti-Semitic reasons, because of feelings related to their racial superiority.

Still, despite the Israeli denial of the reality that the state is creating, everything must be done to put a stop to this. I don’t know whom the children in the eastern part of Jerusalem listen to, who can influence their behavior. And no, I am definitely not about to adopt the concept of “incitement” of which the prime minister, his cabinet ministers, his soldiers and his journalists are so fond. The only incitement I can point to is that of Israeli policy, in words and in deeds.

Is it really the case that a Palestinian who lives in a refugee camp, for whom soldiers are an integral part of his life, who has been subjected to humiliation and belittlement from the moment he was born, needs someone to finger those who are jailing him, who have taken his land and who are holding a gun over his head? Does a Palestinian child need to read a textbook to understand that Israel is tearing him to shreds?

I don’t know who can influence Palestinian children. I don’t know who the authority figures are in their part of Jerusalem. The offices of organizations there were long since purged by the Israelis; Orient House was shut down years ago by a government order. The cinemas emptied out, the theaters were destroyed and the newspapers’ editorial offices drifted elsewhere. I don’t know whom the children in East Jerusalem listen to. To their parents, though they are in part rebelling against us – we who became shadows of our former selves and lost hope already in the previous round? To a generation of parents most of whom are servants of the masters in the western part of the city?

Do they listen to their teachers, most of whom are controlled by the education department of the Jerusalem Municipality, are appointed by it and teach under its supervision? Which school did the two cousins from Shuafat, who got on the light-rail train with scissors and maybe also a knife, attend? Did they even have a class? Or are they among the thousands of children in the eastern city who don’t have a school or a classroom? I don’t know, I truly don’t know what the children there see and what influences them, other than the reality of their life, which they compare to the reality of the life of the Jews that surrounds them on all sides. I would like to think that, like my children of their age, they watch cartoons and play computer games that are appropriate for them. Do they even have computers?

Even if I don’t know whom they listen to, I do know that everyone who can make his voice heard via every possible medium has the obligation to prevent the children’s deeds. If Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wields any influence, he must come forward filled with shame at the youngsters’ aim of stabbing Israelis and of killing themselves. If Hamas has a say, then its leadership is obligated to do all it can to stop the children’s actions.

I am no authority on the religious precepts, but I have no doubt that enough sources exist that speak in condemnation of sending children to the front line. And I have no doubt that there are enough quotations that condemn adults who stand by helplessly as children fight their war.

Although thousands of Palestinian children have been killed over the years, it is impossible to compare a child who was killed in his home, in his neighborhood, in his city with a child who sets out to commit suicide by trying to stab someone with scissors, a screwdriver or a knife.

It is incumbent on every Palestinian who has a platform and a voice to do all he can to put a stop to this phenomenon. It is incumbent on all of us to tell our children that their life is important, that their life is sacred. It is incumbent on us to teach children that the life of others is sacred. It is not the role of children – nor, indeed, of anyone – to go on a stabbing spree against civilians. If there is a worthy struggle, it must be one that is conducted for the sake of Palestinian children before it is conducted against Israel.