Palestinian mothers teach life, not hate

How am I supposed to explain to my six-year-old son the heinous acts he witnesses Israel perpetrating against his people? How do you suggest I explain the violence of your occupation to my kid, Mr. Netanyahu?

By Dalal Erakat

A young Palestinian boy looks through a window at a funeral for family members who were killed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza, August 27, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
A young Palestinian watches a funeral for family members killed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza, August 27, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

In his address to the UN General Assembly last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had the audacity to insinuate that Palestinian mothers teach their children to hate. As a proud Palestinian mother, I must remind him of the life his country — through half a century of occupation and exile — has given our children. As a Palestinian mother, I demand an apology from Mr. Netanyahu, and I call on Israeli mothers to join me.

My oldest son, Sari, was born and raised in Canada until the age of six, at which point my husband and I decided he had the right to grow up in his own country and among his family. So we returned to our homeland. I always looked forward to the moment when I would get to see my parents on the weekends or watch my kids play with their cousins during recess at school.

Our return to Palestine, however, was not what I had expected. I quickly had to try and find explanations so Sari could comprehend what was going on around him.

Our arrival in June 2014 was untimely; it coincided with Mr. Netanyahu launching a military aggression against our people in Gaza. The images of the massive death and destruction were horrific. Sari was traumatized.

I never tried to impose any political beliefs on my family. I have always been supportive of cultural exchanges, of openness, and I never tried to prevent my children from seeing the world around them. In Montreal, my son would celebrate Hanukkah with his Jewish friends; we never told him it wasn’t his to celebrate or that it belonged to a religion different than his own. His Jewish friends adored him and they were buddies. Why would any mother, myself included, destroy a childhood over something they didn’t choose in the first place?

Like everyone else around him, Sari followed the outrageous Israeli onslaught on Gaza, only about 100 kilometers from where we live. Soon, my six-year-old told me he hates Israelis because they were destroying the lives of kids his age in Gaza — leaving them without parents, without schools, without playgrounds or any hope. I realized I had to start dealing with politics in my household.

When my son asked if the Israeli army would bomb our home as well, I told him we would be safe. But he argued that what happened in Gaza could happen here as well. I quietly remembered the Israeli bombardments and military invasions that took place in Ramallah during the Second Intifada, only a few years earlier.

+972 Special Coverage: Children Under Occupation

At school, he heard other children saying Israeli soldiers could harm us at anytime. My little boy tried to convince them otherwise, based on his trusted mother’s anecdote. The question he posed to me that day was: are my classmates right? Can Israeli soldiers enter our city and harm us anytime?

I decided to consult an Israeli licensed social worker. She recommended I tell him the truth because we were no longer in Montreal, and what he was witnessing now is our reality. I realized that as a mother I could not hide reality from my son; being disingenuous would harm our relationship.

At the end of the day, the answer to his question is yes they can, and yes they do. As a mother, I don’t want my son to lose faith in me but at the same time, I can’t stop thinking that he is just a kid and he deserves a descent childhood away from the ongoing conflict.

Palestinian parents whisk their children away from clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian youth at the Qalandiya checkpoint separating Ramallah and Jerusalem, May 15, 2014. (Oren Ziv/
Palestinian parents whisk their children away from clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian youth at the Qalandiya checkpoint separating Ramallah and Jerusalem, May 15, 2014. (Oren Ziv/

That weekend, Sari went to visit his aunt in Jerusalem. On the way back, my six-year-old son was caught in clashes between Palestinian youth and occupying forces at the infamous Qalandiya checkpoint separating Ramallah from Jerusalem. Sari, protected by his father, witnessed Israeli forces shooting bullets and tear gas at civilians. He himself was in danger.

How do you want me to explain this to my kid, Mr. Netanyahu? Could you give me a convincing answer so my son might tolerate these heinous acts against his people?

A few weeks after starting at his new school in Ramallah, my son was invited to a classmate’s birthday party. On the day of, however, I received a text message from the boy’s parents apologizing for having to cancel on short notice; the birthday boy’s uncle had died after suffocating from tear gas Israeli forces shot at him while he was peacefully protesting against the confiscation of land in a village near Ramallah. What do I tell my son? Why should I tell him the birthday party was called off?

I am just one example of a real Palestinian mother who cares about her kids and their mental wellbeing. I am just one example of hundreds of thousands of dedicated Palestinian mothers who want to raise bright, confident Palestinian kids. Motherhood is universal — irrespective of religion, race or national identity. Like all mothers, Palestinian mothers want to make sure their kids are safe. Ask your own mother, or your beloved wife — they will tell you the exact same thing.

The doctor who delivered Sari in Montreal was Jewish, from Kfar Saba in Israel. The doctor who circumcised him was also Jewish. We do not have anything against Jews; our problem is with the occupation, which happens to be carried out by Jews on behalf of an undefined Jewish state. Do not confuse things: the conflict is not religious, it is purely political.

Mr. Netanyahu, you owe an apology to me and every other Palestinian mother you keep dehumanizing.

Dalal Erakat, assistant professor of Diplomacy & Conflict Resolution at the Arab American University and Birzeit University in Palestine. Dalal writes a weekly column with Al-Quds Daily Newspaper. Dalal has a PhD in Public Administration from Paris I Sorbonne, a MA in Diplomatic Studies from Westminster University in London, and a Bachelor of Political Science from the University of Jordan. This post was also published in Hebrew on Local Call.