Children Still Alive and Abdullah

Dear friends, Here's another update of our peace work. If you've had enough of these, write to me and you'll be off the "updates" list in a flash, no hard feelings. * I know this is going to be "another Har Homa story", but that's where the action is these days. Although it's easy to tire of this tale (the media have relegated it to page zillion by now), the Israeli government is still enormously sensitive to the issue, and it's important to keep up the pressure, to prevent them from creating other settlements.

Since the bulldozers began scarring the land at Jabal Abu Ghaneim [Har Homa], a tiny tent "city" of about a dozen tents has sprung up on the hillside opposite. For the last couple weeks, hundreds of Palestinians and Israelis have come to this site every day (and some have slept there) -- to protest, express solidarity, and make it clear to one another that this is a struggle that we share. Neither side can do it alone.

Last Thursday (yesterday for me), thanks to the wonderful organizing of Rapprochement -- a joint Israeli-Palestinian dialogue group that has persisted through the past 9 years -- hundreds of children, women, and men from many Israeli and Palestinian peace organizations came together on the hillside to call for the bulldozers to stop. The media were there and the speeches were moving: Representatives of a dozen organizations spoke eloquently about ending the bloodshed, creating a Palestinian state, sharing Jerusalem as a capital, finding a way to live together cooperatively on this land cherished by both peoples. Their words seemed so clear and compelling as they carried across the valley, a reflection of the spring flowers pushing their way out of the rocky terrain around us. But perhaps the most encouraging part was the children.

The organizers had set up swings and slides, and set mattresses down so the children would have softer landings. Soon they were playing hide-'n-seek together ("Mommy, count to 10 in Arabic for me"; "Daddy, tell him in Hebrew that it's his turn to hide"). Then it was time to draw pictures of the landscape, and suddenly 50 portraits appeared of the blue skies and green covered hill opposite. The children posed as a group holding their crayoned drawings out in front of them, as the media caught their hopeful perceptions, eclipsing for a moment the harsher political reality behind them.

We adults settled into comfortable conversations, enjoying the balmy weather, the repertoire of a Palestinian children's folk dance troupe, camaraderie, and a break from the intensity. I heard some "un-organized" singing at a distance and went to observe. It was a group of Israeli and Palestinian children, perhaps 8 to 10 years old, sitting on the ground completely mixed up with one another, trying to sing "Heveinu Shalom Aleikhem" together, which the Palestinian children rendered as "Shalom Aleifa". The Hebrew words literally mean "we bring peace to you"; in Israel, the intent is "welcome". When that was over, the Palestinian children sang with gusto "Biladi" -- "my country" -- which has spontaneously become the national anthem of the Palestinians. These children will grow into adulthood creating their own state. It reminded me of the fervor of the Jewish children who helped create their own state of Israel. Too much fervor on both sides to ever extinguish, I thought to myself. The afternoon continued at that shifting pace -- fervor alternating with tranquillity -- and then two small groups of women separated themselves -- Israelis from Bat Shalom and Palestinians from the adjoining village of Beit Sahur. Together we formed a joint delegation to pay a condolence call at the home of the Salah family, whose son Abdallah had been killed last Saturday by Israeli cross-fire in the territories.

We filed into the room and each woman, in turn, spoke a few quiet words to the mother who sat stonily in the corner. We took seats around the room -- by then we were perhaps 40 women there - - and some of the women began to weep. One of them said that the grandparents of the boy were refugees of 1948...from Jerusalem, of course. A man came in and stood at the doorway. "I am the father of Abdallah, the martyr," he announced in fluent Hebrew. "My son, the student," he added. He then made a speech that sounded -- and he said it was -- rehearsed repeatedly in the media over the past five days: "My son was never in trouble with the army a single day of his life. He was a good student and going to be an engineer.

The floor I built over our heads was for him when he would get married." It was a moving eulogy, spoken with much love and tears. One of the women from Bat Shalom said a few words about the sorrow we felt over Abdallah's death, and our prayers that there would be no more violence and bloodshed. That opened a flood of wrath from the mother. "Where are the Israelis when my boy is killed? Where is the world? Why did King Hussein get down on his knees to ask forgiveness in Israel, but Netanyahu does nothing? He is a dog, the son of a dog, and I would kill him with my bare hands, if I could." We sat and listened to her unanswerable questions, responded when she allowed us, listened to her unquenchable fury, offered her words and tears, heard her rage, and one of the Israeli women kept her hand on her arm throughout. The mother would not cry among us, as the father had let himself do. When she drew to an end, the women stood up. "May Allah have mercy on his soul," we each said as we embraced her before parting. As we left the home, each of us was handed a glossy picture of Abdullah: a skinny, serious-looking 21-year-old. He looked like he would have made a fine engineer.

Shalom/Salam from Jerusalem, Gila Svirsky