Occupying time: Israeli soldiers and Palestinian
youths

Annie C. Higgins

21 December 2002


 


Nicole Gaouette recently presented a view of soldiers
seeking healing after serving time in the occupied
Palestinian territories [Where Israeli soldiers go to
heal, The Christian Science Monitor, December 17,
2002]. On very rare occasions, they make attempts to
begin the healing while they are on site with
Palestinians, as happened in Jenin last month,
November 2002.
 

“I am not going to shoot them; I didn’t come here to
shoot children,” the earnest young soldier with
sensitive eyes told me, as a crowd of schoolchildren
temporarily stopped throwing stones. However, his
colleague, a sniper poised in the window of the house
the Army had occupied, had just shot one child and
positioned his M16 rifle for another.
 

The first soldier had joined a highly unusual
spontaneous coming-together a few days earlier on this
site across from Jenin Refugee Camp: with the
accompaniment of international volunteers, soldiers
and children unclutched guns and stones, and engaged
in dialogue. The children listened to statements like
the one above from individual soldiers who do not want
to perpetrate violence against civilians. The soldiers
listened to the children tell why they were reacting
against the Army’s presence. One bashful boy showed a
picture of his little brother whom the Army killed
during the April invasion. He spoke softly of how they
made his mother bleed to death by preventing
ambulances from reaching her after they shot her.
During the conversation, some of the children and
soldiers shook hands.
 

Now, a few days later, they were shaking hands again,
as they felt this particular soldier was a friend. He
asked me plaintively why some of them were still
throwing stones. I said it was a reaction to the
continual violence of the occupation, not to his
individual outreach. I asked the children, all of whom
were under twelve, if they would like to be in school.
The resounding response was, “YES!” The Army’s
tank-enforced curfew had already prevented them from
as many school days as they had attended since the
start of the year. The window sniper began shooting
again but the children left the friendly soldier
alone, turned away, and responded excitedly to my idea
of meeting together to perform story-telling later in
the day. We did not know that the Army’s activities
would obstruct this little window of creativity.
 

I had encountered these soldiers a few days earlier
when they chased boys across a field near the same
occupied house, bringing them to the wall encircling
the Palestine Red Crescent Society. Safely inside the
wall, I had been making a phonecall when a shout
punctuated the evening calm. “Don’t shoot!” cried out
a tall international, jumping onto a bench to grasp
the boy caught in the iron spikes at the top. Another
boy had successfully scaled the wall, but his
companion was caught in a soldier’s grip, pulling his
shoulder out of joint. I dashed over, accompanied by
ambulance workers, and a jangle of words spilled over
the wall where the boy was balancing precariously.
 

One soldier was a human bomb. It seemed that his white
rage alone could destroy all within his range,
including himself. “Don’t touch him or I’ll shoot!” he
exploded. The international spoke reassuringly, urging
him to hold his fire. The dialoging soldier provided
some balance, but implored the international to let
him have just five minutes with the boy to teach him a
lesson. “I want to make him an example to show the
boys that we can catch them. I won’t hurt him. I just
want to give an example.” The international took this
up, and reminded him of another kind of example, when
the boys and soldiers had been talking together a few
days before. “Yes, I was there, but today they are
throwing stones again. I won’t hurt him. I just want
to show him and his friends them we can catch them.”
 

The human bomb had a different idea and cocked his
rifle to shoot. The ambulance worker said he would
talk with the boy. A range of emotions formed a
tempestuous symphony: one soldier’s violent rage,
another soldier’s heartfelt desire for benign
punishment, the third soldier’s silent confusion, and
the calmness of those fighting for the boy’s safety.
The boy, seeking refuge, leaned back onto the
international and both fell six feet to the ground
with a solid thud. I kept my eye on the soldiers, and
moments later was surprised to see man and boy
standing up without harm. Later the man confided that,
considering the fall, he felt it was a miracle that he
got up at all.
 

Now the sniper was threatening that he would shoot the
ambulance, where the workers had placed the boy to
transport him to the hospital for treatment. With a
little more coaxing, the tempest subsided and the
soldiers backed off as the ambulance closed its doors
with the boy safely inside. That evening, we saw the
boy at the hospital, and the international who saved
him greeted him warmly with wishes of peace and
health. The boy stared at him and hardly responded. He
was not ungrateful, just shaken up over the incident.
I saw him several weeks later with his arm still
bandaged, and he was exuberant with thanks for the
tall, kind man.
 

I feel profoundly privileged to have witnessed these
transformations of enmity into dialogue, sparks of
hope that go unreported but that are working changes
in hearts.
 

At the same time, I cannot ignore the fact that the
Israeli Army has continued to kill children at an
unprecedented rate. Since the time of these hopeful
dialogues, the Army has killed sixteen minors in the
West Bank and Gaza, three of them from Jenin.

They killed ten-year-old Muhammad Bilalo on the same
day they killed the UN’s Iain Hook, November 22. They
killed Ibrahim Sa`di on November 16, and Mu`tazz `Awde
on December 2. They continue to wound children at
their homes, mosques, and schools, including the boy
who spoke shyly with the soldiers about losing his
mother and brother.
 

Where do soldiers go for healing? Imagine that the
soldiers seeking healing would refrain from shooting
civilians, save the two thousand dollars for trauma
treatment, and donate it to a creative arts program
for children in the areas where their Army has planted
violence.
 

Soldiers and children have already demonstrated a
capacity for dialogue. This pattern has only to be
practiced.

Dr. Annie C. Higgins specializes in Arabic and Islamic
studies, and is currently doing research in Jenin
Refugee Camp.

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Annie Higgins in Jenin

tel: + 972-67-540-298