“To restore a smile to the children of Gaza.”
لنعيد البسمة لاطفال غزة
When children grow up with the sound of drones and F-16s overhead, and bombs shaking their homes, and rockets dropping through their bedroom ceiling in the middle of the night, how can their parents help them to be happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults?
I don’t think any parent in the United States can comprehend these challenges, much less offer an answer.
In 2005, the Convention on the Rights of the Child recognized that children around the world have a right to “life, survival and development” among other things. Certainly Israel’s violent occupation of Palestine and the 5+ year siege of the Gaza Strip denies these children this fundamental right, but who is holding Israel accountable? When will the occupation end?
One young man in Nusierat told me:
We don’t need conflict management [in the Middle East], we need conflict transformation.
That thought is profound and requires a shift in everyone’s thinking, but I don’t hear world leaders talking about it. The occupation has become so ingrained in our thinking about the Middle East that we don’t seem capable of imagining a future without it.
The future belongs to the next generation, but the children who live under occupation face fears and trauma that leave life-long, debilitating scars. A program in the Gaza Strip is providing training and instruction to mothers in how to care for their children in this situation.
Yesterday I attended a ceremony recognizing their completion of the program and the accomplishments of these women. A professional psychologist developed the curriculum and was leading the discussion as I entered the room. The women were actively engaged and asking questions about what to do in specific circumstances.
Before the certificates were distributed, I was asked to share a few words.
I am a mother too. I have three children and one granddaughter. I know that you are the strong ones in your families. The love and strength you give your children is so important. We are one!
Raising their certificates over their heads, I could see how much this program affected their self-esteem and confidence.
Following the ceremony, I spoke with staff members (most of them are volunteers) and learned about their work with the children using art and play therapy. One story will stay with me forever.
The play therapist shared how he went to the schools where many families were taking shelter during the last Israeli offensive in November 2012. He wanted to engage the children in some play and asked them to get into a circle. Seeing a very lopsided circle, he asked them to hold hands.
Then one child asked him, “How?” pointing to the child next to him. “He has no hand.”
I am tired of hearing Americans and our politicians say the Middle East conflict is difficult, complex, intractable, unsolvable. During my time in Gaza, the solution has become crystal clear to me. Israel must end the occupation now, today. Conflict transformation, not conflict management. No more talk, no more negotiations, no more truce or ceasefire. Just end the occupation. InshAllah!