Violence Fills Dreams Of Children In Uprising

Posted: September 04, 1988

JERUSALEM — Yochai Meital, a 10-year-old Israeli boy, considered sleeping on the porch during the hot summer night, then realized he shouldn't. The Arab kids might hit him in the head with a rock. They had shattered his house's windows with rocks 10 times since the Palestinian uprising began.

He once talked to Arab children about his Arabic homework. Now he says Arabs are his enemies. His brother, Matan, 7, has fantasies about killing them.

Ola Abu Halimeh, an 8-year-old Palestinian girl, and her 6-year-old sister, Nur, vividly remember the day two months ago when Israeli soldiers burst into their home in the Al Amari refugee camp, searching for the girls' brothers.

Since that night, Ola dreams of Israeli soldiers. In her dreams, Palestinian soldiers are killing the Israelis.

The nine-month-old Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories has done far more than change the political landscape for both Israeli and Palestinian. It has reinforced - for both Arab and Jew - all the stereotypes, fears and hatreds that have made violence a part of life in the Holy Land for generations.

Both Arab and Jewish children, especially those who live in the West Bank and Gaza strip, have witnessed and even participated in the uprising, taking the sides of their parents and grandparents and ancestors. Today, the historic cycle of hatred and violence is passed on to another generation.

Children generally are symbols of hope, but the words of Yochai Meital and the Abu Halimeh girls offer little hope.


Since April, whenever his parents made plans to go out at night, Yochai had asked a new question: "Are you going out again?"

His parents, Marvin and Danby Meital, understand the fears behind the question, they said. Each of the four times Yochai asked, they canceled their

plans and stayed home. Now, at least one of the parents always is home at night, they said.

"I'm only 10 years old," Yochai explained. "Ten years old, you can't stay home with a small brother and protect yourself from Arabs."

Many Jewish children in Israel, particularly those in settlements in the West Bank, live with anxiety and fear for their safety because of the rock- throwing by Palestinian children during the uprising, according to psychologists.

Psychologists also said that many Jewish and Palestinian children now see each other - both children and adults - as oppressors and enemies. As witnesses or participants in the Palestinian uprising, they have had stronger emotional responses than children who simply hear their parents' tales of past injustices, psychologists said. The result of witnessing such events, psychologists said, is often a resolve to seek revenge or to take over the struggle of the parents.

"This is fertile ground for continued anger and continued hostilities through the future," said Ester Buchholz, a clinical psychologist at New York University who has studied the Arab-Israeli conflict's effects on children.

Yochai Meital is thin, with blond hair and blue eyes. His political awakening began at age 5. One afternoon five years ago, he was sitting near the large living room window of his house in the East Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem. He spotted an Arab youth throwing a rock. The rock sailed through the window and hit Yochai in the head. Yochai spent a week in the hospital with a concussion, according to his parents.

To Yochai's parents, the rock-throwing was a terrorist act, a volley in the Palestinians' quest to take Jerusalem - and Israel - away from the Jews. They explained to Yochai that what had happened to him was part of the larger conflict.


Still, Yochai did not carry a grudge against Arabs. He did not think that Arabs hated him. He continued walking through the nearby Palestinian village, Jabal Mukaber, with its one-story houses of gold-colored stone. He continued talking to Arab children. "I'd ask them to help me with my Arabic homework and they'd ask me to help them with their Hebrew homework," Yochai said.

Yochai's attitude began shifting in December, when rocks thrown by Arabs shattered his house's living room window - the same window that had been shattered five years before. Altogether, his house's windows have been broken 10 times during the Palestinian uprising. "Before, I wouldn't make friends with Arabs, but I wouldn't make enemies either," Yochai said. "Now they're our enemies."

Yochai has stopped walking through the nearby Arab village "because I'm afraid to because they hate me so much." When his ball rolled into Jabal Mukaber several months ago, he asked his mother to go with him to get it. When he plays, he rarely does so outside his house. Instead, he takes a bus to a pool or tennis court in another Jewish neighborhood or reads inside.

Yochai's fears extend to the future. "If at this age they're throwing rocks, what will happen when I'm older and in the Army?" Yochai asked. ''Will I come back the way I am or will I be hurt? Or will I come back?"


Meanwhile, Yochai worries about how to respond to the crisis. "If they

throw a rock at me," he asked, "what should I do? Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has said that Israelis should throw rocks back.

"But I don't know if that's really right," Yochai said, "because it'll never finish. Then Jordan will send guns and stuff and they could win."

Yochai's brother, Matan, 7, is less philosophical.

Matan often has nightmares of robbers, who are always Arabs. "One had a knife and an ax and he put it in my heart," Matan said. "I fell into the sea. Then I became a shark."

The Arabs, Matan said, are robbers because "they want Jerusalem back and we have it already so they can't take it back. It's not fair."

In a red bucket, Matan has dozens of fist-sized, golden rocks. He gathered them from his front lawn last month, the last time Arabs smashed his house's

windows. He plans to use them the next time Arabs throw rocks at his house.

"They'll get them in their brains and they'll die," Matan said.

Even now, two months later, the little Palestinian girls speak with fear and anger about the episode. Their mother had gone to a neighbor's, and they were alone. Suddenly, they heard banging on the front door. The banging was heavy, the sound of a club or boot.

"Iftakh bab," yelled a man with an unfamiliar accent. "Open the door."

"Soldiers," the girls whispered to each other as they stood in the courtyard of their house in the Al Amari refugee camp, six miles north of Jerusalem.

"Should we open the door?" asked Nur Abu Halimeh.

"No, we can't," said her sister, Ola. "If we open the door they'll hit us and beat us."

As Ola spoke, the girls heard a crash of glass; both bathroom windows shattered.

The two sisters and their cousin, Areej Hamdan, 8, scurried to the back of the house, near the garbage cans. They crouched next to the cans, hiding their faces against the wall. Within minutes, two soldiers had broken into the house and discovered the girls.

"Where are your brothers?" the soldiers asked, according to the girls.

"We don't know," said Ola, shaking with fright. "No one's here except us."

After searching all four rooms, the soldiers left.

Today, although the soldiers did not harm them, the girls are afraid of soldiers and of being home alone, they said. They point to the bathroom

windows - the glass still missing - as a symbol of their oppression.

Their fears of soldiers were ignited by the stories of their brothers, Ahmad, 11, and Feras, 18, who have scars from beatings because soldiers said they were throwing stones at them. Their fears have been heightened by the smell of tear gas sprayed by the soldiers, the harsh sound of the soldiers' voices announcing - through megaphones - that the camp is under curfew, and previous visits to their house by soldiers. During those visits, the girls and their parents said, the soldiers knocked chairs and tables to the ground and mixed their rice and sugar.

"If they treated us as human persons, we would not hate them," said the girls' sister, Abierd, 23.

The little girls also fear Israelis who are not soldiers. The only Israelis other than soldiers they have seen have been armed settlers who drive by their camp. Their parents warned them that the settlers might kidnap them.

After each of the three days this year that soldiers barged into her house, Ola has had dreams.

"I dreamed that we liberated Palestine," Ola said. "I dreamed that the Jews were starving and were left without food."

Nur also has dreams. "I dreamed that the Palestinian soldiers were dressed just like the Jewish soldiers," Nur said. "The Palestinian soldiers took the Jewish soldiers' weapons and started shooting them."

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