WE JUST WANT TO LEAD NORMAL LIVES

One of the reasons I wrote Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides was to bring the voices of the silenced majority to light. In this scene I interview three teenage girls at St. Joseph’s High School in Ramallah, West Bank.

 I interviewed three teenage girls in a high school in Ramallah, West Bank. They are intelligent and inquisitive. The speak Arabic, French and English fluently. They are restless and scared. More than anything, they want to lead normal lives

You are almost sixteen years old. You have lived your whole lives under Israeli occupation. How do you feel about this?

“We are always frightened. We live in fear of being bombed, of seeing tanks in our neighborhoods and soldiers roaming our streets imposing curfews.  It’s awful.”

Do you relax when you are around your friends?

“No, all we manage to do is talk about the occupation, about whose house was demolished, or who was wounded. At our age, we are supposed to be enjoying ourselves. We are, after all, still children. I have an eight-year-old sister. She should be growing up in a happy environment. All she knows is war and destruction. All we want is an end to the occupation. We want to be able to travel freely around Palestine, lead normal lives. Right now, we cannot even leave Ramallah. I can’t visit my grandmother in the next village. We missed my uncle’s wedding two weeks ago because we could not get a travel permit. Any time we want to leave, we have to apply for a permit. The Israelis take their time and in the end they deny us permission to leave.

“I know there are many good Israelis who do not think badly of Palestinians. However, there are many who abuse their religion. They think it is all right to kill Palestinians and steal their land. Judaism, like any other religion, is a religion of God, and God said, ‘Thou shall not kill.’ So I have to wonder if those Israelis practice their religion. If they did, they would not act like this toward us. They claim that because they are Jewish, they are entitled to this land. They call themselves the ‘Chosen People,’ but God loves everyone—Muslims, Christians and Jews equally. So, no one is special. We are all equal in His eyes.

“Just yesterday, Israeli settlers attacked some Palestinians in a nearby village and burned all their olive trees. They weren’t punished. No soldiers came and hauled them off to jail. Does the whole world believe they are the Chosen People and can do what they want to us? Why does no one take our side? When we commit acts of violence, we are called terrorists. When they invade our villages and destroy our property, it is called retaliation, for what I don’t know since they were the ones attacking. And if it’s not retaliation, it’s an act of self-defense.”

If the three of you were in charge of the Palestinian Authority, what would you do to implement peace?

“I would forget about Jerusalem, boundaries, the right of return, and just be one nation. We are all brothers and sisters, all from one family.  Forget the leaders, the generals. All they ever want is war

“I am certain many Israeli children have the same feelings, the same imagination of life, as it can and should be. We’ll talk to them. They’ll understand that we can, that it is possible, to live together. Right now, young Israelis live healthy childhoods. They go to sports events, attend parties and play outdoors. All we do is wake up, go to school, return home and listen to machine gun fire, to Apache helicopter gunships firing missiles, and tanks rolling down our streets. We cannot sleep. Our grades are dropping because we cannot concentrate on our studies. This is our life, and it affects us in horrible ways. Most of us have yellow skin and black circles under our eyes. We feel sick all the time. We have been deprived of our childhoods. This is not a happy time for us.”

This book is available for purchase here.

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