Yesterday, I realized that I believe in love at first sight. Not the romantic kind, rather the sense of connecting with another human being without ever having to say a word. Indeed, the person I was so enthralled with last night was a five-month-old girl, who smiled at me and then hid her face in shyness. Those few moments of interacting with this baby lifted my spirits, but it also made me reflect in sadness about the fact that many children in this current conflict are robbed of their joy and their childhood.
I often contemplate how mature Palestinian children seem. Sure, they play the childhood games that we all played in our day, but there is wisdom in their words that is eerily sobering. Their age defines them as children, but if you have a conversation with a Palestinian child, you will realize how much awareness she has of the world around her, of suffering in the next village, in Gaza, in Lebanon. She is a child that has empathy and understands that life, by nature, is wrought with all sorts of difficulties.
A Palestinian child knows better; life is not as it is depicted in cartoons, where those who die are miraculously resurrected not once, but several times, where injuries are healed instantaneously, where death is a joke and life is a series of slapstick moments. A Palestinian child escapes into imagination, but she is never far removed from the reality of children and adults alike being indiscriminately shot outside her window, in her classroom, at the local bakery.
Who would have thought that normal things, simply walking down the street to grab a falafel sandwich, could result in your untimely death? Perhaps the Israeli army mistook the falafel stand for a bomb-making factory, or an ammunition shop? Make no mistake about it; the Israeli military have made too many “mistakes” that there is obviously a pattern there, wouldn’t you think?
A child that is robbed of the sense of security, therefore, is a child that is mature beyond her years. She knows that the bullets and the tank shells do not discriminate. Her father can shield her from the neighbor’s vicious dog, from the crazy drivers, he will hold her hand to cross the street, but he will not be able to capture a bullet in his hand like the mythological superheroes in blockbuster movies out this summer in theatres near you. He might be able to take the bullet for her though. But once gone, who will be her protective shield against the harsh reality of life that goes on in what seems the periphery of the conflict? And who will be there to share some of her joyous milestones; graduation, marriage, the birth of a child? Hers is a joy that is always overshadowed by a greater sorrow.
Is it fair that 31 Palestinian children have died in a 31-day period? A child-a-day; is that the new Israeli army mantra? Khaled was just a one-year-old, Aya was seven, Sabreen was only three. What lost potential, what lost promise – who knows what Khaled would have grown up to be? An astronaut? A veterinarian? A philosopher? What about Aya; she could have become a fashion designer, a teacher, a mother. By what right has this promise been so violently plucked and trampled upon cruelly and without a moment’s hesitation on the part of the Israeli soldier, who heartlessly unleashed a fiery rain of bullets and shells on a neighborhood as if he is in a simulated video game and those who die are fictitious and unreal? Perhaps that is what he is made to believe, otherwise, who in clear consciousness is so willing to pull the trigger and with one spray of bullets destroy life, potential and rob joy?
If you can see the smiling face of your own child, then how do you go out and unquestioningly take the life of others? If you value life, then how do you live with the burden of knowing that you have taken it so unjustifiably? Perhaps that is your perpetual punishment; the judgment of a child scorned is the harshest of them all.