Houses, oranges, checkpoints, guns – kids draw life in Palestine

by Emmi & Zoë, Jayyus/Tulkarm team

Whole Class

A class of 7 & 8 year olds draws life in Palestine.

“What are the things we have here in Azzun Atma?” asks a teacher from her class of second graders. Many hands rise, as children want to tell the visitors about their village. “Trees.” “Shops.” “Oranges.” “School.”

Two weeks ago, we had the pleasure of spending a morning in one of the schools in the village of Azzun Atma. Its trees, shops, schools and around 2,000 people are entirely surrounded by the separation wall and four Israeli settlements. No Palestinians are allowed inside of Azzun Atma unless they have a proper permit saying that they live in the village or go to school there.

Our team goes to Azzun Atma a few times a week to monitor the checkpoint at the entrance of the village, where about 90 children and 40 teachers pass each day to get to school. 

At the school, we asked the children if they would be willing to draw some pictures about their life in Azzun Atma. The photos that follow are some of the drawings we received, pieces of the stories of some 7 and 8 year olds who live and go to school there.

*Download our Azzun Atma Report.

Giving children a positive way to deal with the trauma of conflict

Despite the difficulties facing the neighborhood of Silwan in Jerusalem, the Wadi Hilweh center aims to give kids a creative outlet

by Rasani, Monika, Joyce, and Allan, Jerusalem team

The Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in Jerusalem is located next to the Old City walls. Photo EAPPI.

The Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in Jerusalem is located next to the Old City walls. Photo EAPPI.

Silwan, is a neighborhood of East Jerusalem, just south-east of the Old City of Jerusalem.  Over the years, this neighborhood faces many difficulties. The Jerusalem municipality plans to build green areas on much of the land, means that approximately 65% of the Palestinian homes in the neighborhood are under threat of demolition. Moreover, in several incidents, Israeli settlers took over Palestinian homes, even those where people are currently residing.  Heavy security presence for settlers, the archaeological project of the City of David, ongoing clashes, and arrests of Palestinian children by the Israeli authorities, have created an atmosphere of tension, under which children suffer deeply.

The Wadi Hilwah Centre is located next to the City of David Centre.  We met Ahmad Qaraeen, an active volunteer with the Wadi Hilwah Centre, who along with 14 other members of the community rented a house and developed a creative community center for children and adults.  The Wadi Hilwah Centre aims to find ways to pull children from the street and give them positive experiences.

Former EAs with students in Wadi Hilweh. Photo EAPPI/C. August, August 2013.

Former EAs with students in Wadi Hilweh. Photo EAPPI/C. August, August 2013.

They began with music workshops, sponsored by organizations such as GIZ, War Child Holland, and YMCA. After the Israeli authorities demolished part of the building, however, many of the girls were afraid to participate.  Women of the community also feared leaving their homes.  To target these groups, the Centre now offers Hebrew language classes, sewing and cooking groups, yoga and sports.  The centre is now a place where friendships develop and women are able to sell their creative works to support the center’s programs.

Over the past nine years, the Wad Hilwah centre organized a children’s summer camp, which gives children a way to forget their problems for a while and just be children, which is still difficult for children who have experienced so much trauma.

Ahmad Qaraeen recalled: “Five years ago, I was shot by an Israeli settler in my leg. My young son saw this and ran to me. He screamed out. The settler came back and shot me again in the other leg. The settler told my son, it was his fault because he was shouting. My son started to hate Israelis.  Even today, he asks me, ‘why did the Israeli come back and shoot you again? I answered –it was a settler, not an Israeli.”

Ahmad says that the future of many of the children of Silwan is damaged.  They find contradictions between what they learn in school about treating everyone with love and respect, and what they see outside of school.  They have trouble concentrating on school work, they have anger and depression, and their relationship with parents is sometimes strained.  Some are unable to go to study abroad or find government jobs because they were involved in even minor incidents and have a record.

The film “Childhood Remnants” by Sumer Hussum in cooperation with the Wadi Hilwah Centre shows the impact of the struggles on the children of the community.

When asked why he is still hopeful and not depressed, Ahmad said,We were occupied in the past by Jordan, by Britain, and now by the state of Israel, but the Palestinians still remain here and will always be here.”

Children: what’s the toll of occupation?

Photo EAPPI/M. Schaffluetzel

Photo EAPPI/M. Schaffluetzel

by Jake, Jayyus team

Although children do not choose to participate in conflicts, from an early age they are often caught in the crossfires of hostility, violence, or war. Their loss of innocence and a carefree childhood is an especially tragic part of conflict.

Last Sunday, I was traveling to Nablus with another member of the Jayyus EAPPI team. As we approached the road where we expected to catch a taxi, we noticed the Israeli army detaining two young Palestinian boys across the road from us. The boys leaned against the guardrail with their backpacks at their feet as a soldier kept guard over them. The difference in size between them and the soldier was a striking illustration of the imbalance of power between the boys and the soldiers.

When one of the fathers asked questions of the soldier, he answered very few questions. Eventually, the soldiers led the boys to the back of an army jeep and drove off with them. When the rest of the families arrived shortly afterwards, they wondered where their children were being taken and what would happen to them.

Palestinians who witnessed the scene told us that the boys were picking leftover olives – as many boys do at this time of year for some extra pocket change – in an olive grove that runs alongside the road when they were detained. The Israeli army claimed that the boys were detained because they were in fact throwing stones at Israelis on the road.

That evening, I couldn’t forget what I had seen that afternoon. I don’t know whether they had thrown stones or not, but the reality was that these boys were now in the hands of people whose treatment of Palestinian youth is often dubious. I wondered helplessly what they were going through at that moment and how scared they were.

A few days later, another member of the Jayyus team and I visited the two boys who were detained. Thankfully, they were released the same night. As we sat in their living rooms and drank coffee with their families, they recounted their experiences to us.

They told us about how they were handcuffed and brought to a police station in a settlement. About how they were left to sit out in the cold for two hours. About how they witnessed an Israeli soldier beat another boy being beaten. About how the soldiers knew they did not throw the stones, but kept them for eight hours anyway.

The events of the detention traumatized one of the boys especially. We could tell he was still frightened and in shock. For that reason, his mother did not sent him to school that week.

As I sat there, I could not think of any appropriate questions to ask him or his family. What I really wanted to know could not be answered in that moment. What I wanted to know about this boy and about the Palestinian youth was the toll of occupation. Do these kinds of traumatic events leave imprints that lasts a lifetime? Does living in constant fear of unjustified arrests, detainments, and having the army knock down your door in the middle of the night ever become normal? How can children and their families possibly cope with this fear?

Maybe I cannot answer these questions fully, but they in themselves point to the effects of the Israeli occupation; it is ruthless and relentless and children are suffering because of it. Of that, I’m convinced.