Palestinian Child Attackers Are Victims, Not Terrorists

As a mother, I call on you Israelis to see that these children are like your children - innocent and ignorant about what’s best for them - but they don’t see a future. As a Palestinian, I call on the Palestinian leadership to denounce attacks by children and start a non-violent resistance movement that can lead us to freedom.

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Palestinian children have lunch at their family house in Beit Lahiya in Gaza, March 24, 2015.
Palestinian children have lunch at their family house in Beit Lahiya in Gaza, March 24, 2015.Credit: Reuters

One more stabbing of an Israeli. One more bullet shot at an 11-year-old Palestinian. Another stabbing. Why are 11- and 13-year-old Palestinian kids running to hell like that?

I’m not looking for logical reasons or justifications. I can only try to stand in their shoes, try and get an idea of what’s going on inside their heads. I wish they would stop, for their sakes, that they could look for another way to prove to the world that they matter, that they exist.

While reading Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth” this week, all I could think about was the Palestinians and their struggle for freedom. How much are Palestinians willing to pay to achieve this thing called liberation? Why have these children decided to take on the role of freedom fighters now?

Fanon, who predicted the liberation of the Algerians, said that “the violence that was exercised against them was reversed and directed towards the occupiers.” The same violence that was used against the Algerians, eventually led to their freedom. For Fanon and the Algerians, violence was not an end in itself, but the means to overthrowing the occupiers and freeing themselves from the chains of occupation. Have Palestinian children adopted this philosophy naturally, without even hearing of Fanon?

Maybe they just realize that their leadership, their family and their schools are not going to save their future or their present. Maybe they have despaired of seeing that no one is paying for the terror exercised against them by Israeli settlers or security forces. They identify with Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who has become their symbol of the helpless victim, unprotected and failed by the world.

These kids are the real victims of this conflict. They are not terrorists. They have been given no reason to hope. They have been brutalized to a point of no return. What they wish for now is to die at the hands of a fearful soldier or aggressive policeman who will not hesitate to kill them in an instant. They are young but they know the system well. They are aware that they are going to lose this battle, running to their death, knowing no one will save them.

Can you imagine your children reaching these depths of oppression and despair? I would rather die before seeing my 11- and 15-year-olds ever reach such a point.

I lived in Jerusalem for 20 years before deciding to move to another country. I’ve loved this city, its west and east sides, its Arabs and its Jews. But both Arabs and Jews can’t acknowledge the presence of the other side or recognize the existence and humanity of the other. Both are in denial and live according to a deep hatred of the other’s language, culture, religion and habits.

I couldn’t stand seeing the fear and confusion in my kids' eyes when I’d whisper to them not to speak in Arabic when walking through the streets on the west side. I couldn’t stand the idea of seeing them stopped and searched by police or a soldier just because they were practicing their basic right of self-expression. I couldn’t stand the idea of raising them in a racist society that doesn’t accept them for who they are and what they believe in. I also couldn’t stand how they spoke about the “Other” as only the enemy and nothing else. Anger, hate and resentment were part of our daily life although we were lucky enough to live a pretty good life on the east side. I was aware that once these emotions start to grow within a child, they do not go away very easily.

As someone who facilitated hundreds of cooperation meetings between Israelis and Palestinians, I am keenly aware of the power dynamics and the processes that lead to violent conflagration. But even many years of working on this conflict did not prepare me for the depths of my anger and despair at the mounting injustices toward Palestinians. Seeing an old lady kicked out of the house she had been living in for 70 years in front of us by right-wing settlers in Sheikh Jarrah broke our hearts. Witnessing the countless evictions of Palestinians from East Jerusalem neighborhoods (such as Silwan and Ras al-‘Amud) and the Muslim Quarter, and watching how settlers take their place, surrounded by security guards, makes us feel like we were experiencing another Nakba.

The majority of Palestinians feel today that there never was a partner, that Israelis have been manipulating us to sit in silence, under the pretense of peace talks, while the system was taking more lands and lives.

Jewish Israelis live outside of this reality I’m talking about, and will not understand what psychological effect these daily abuses of human beings can lead to. But maybe now you can see and feel what it is — through the eyes and hands of these children. It is fear, it is hatred, but most of all it is hopelessness. They are guided by a deep emotional dislocation that has been with them from the day they were born until the day they decide to die.

This is not another cycle of violence, this is not another intifada and this is not another uprising. This is not led by Fatah, Hamas or ISIS. This is not incitement by schools or families. These kids do not need to be brainwashed. Their reality gives them no reason to hope.

It’s time to shout out the truth. These kids are not terrorists, they are not your target. Have some compassion; don’t treat them as bloodthirsty monsters. As a mother, I call on you Israelis to look beyond your fear and anger and to see these children for what they are. Like your children they are innocent and ignorant about what’s best for them. The only difference is that they don’t see a future.

As a Palestinian, I call on the Palestinian leadership to care about them, to denounce child attacks and announce the start of a nonviolent resistance movement that can lead us to freedom sooner rather than later.

Carol Daniel Kasbari is a conflict transformation specialist, speaker and veteran facilitator for groups in conflict in the Middle East since 1995. She spoke about moving beyond dialogue in a TEDx talk in Jaffa. Born in Nazareth, she holds a Bachelor degree in Sociology and Anthropology, and Masters degree in NGO Administration and Public Policy from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is pursuing Ph.D. studies at George Mason University in Conflict Analysis and Resolution in Washington, D.C.

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