My Safe Child
I am thirty-three years old, and I am so happy that I am not a mother. I do not hear a biological clock ticking, only the nerve wrecking ticks of bombs yet to explode. My friends are leaping whenever their cell phones ring. “Where are you? No, you can’t go out. No, I don’t care if all the other children are going”. How na?ve children are when they tell lies. What mother in Israel now would believe that “all the children are going” anywhere?
And where are the children going? Where will their fears take them? In many places in the world children are afraid of the unknown, of the unreal. You know that you live in a war zone when you realize that the greatest fears of the children are of what they know only too well.
Two years ago, when my younger brother was ten, he came home from school, and as he opened the door he heard the familiar sound of explosion rising from the street he just left behind him. Sitting in front of the television five minutes later, he could see his friend wandering blindly in the street, which was covered with body parts and injured people. The friend’s father, who picked him up from school and took him for a pizza, was killed in front of his eyes. My brother refused to talk about it. “This kid wasn’t really a friend of mine,” is all he would say, “I don’t really know him that well”. That evening he told my father that he is afraid of Freddy Kruger, a monstrous murderer from a common horror film. My father didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I suspect he felt some relief. How good it is to caress your child’s hair and to tell him that Kruger doesn’t really exist.
But the man who exploded himself in the centre of a busy street did exist. And the man who will explode himself in another one of our busy streets in a few years is now my brother’s age. His mother doesn’t have to worry about the dangers which lurk on the way to school. There are no schools anymore. We have demolished them all, when we crushed the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority. His younger brother was killed when our soldiers exploded their home. Our soldiers exploded their home because his older brother was a “wanted person”. Exploding his family’s home was our way to insure that he will soon turn from a wanted person into an unwanted body, torn to a thousand pieces, surrounded by his victims.
The young terrorist to be sleeps now in a tent provided by UNRWA. What is he afraid of? Not much to fear anymore. The worst already took place. But the bulldozers are still around, demolishing the neighbours’ homes. Every day a few new tents join the raw. His mother tells him how they were deported from their home in Latrun in 1967. His grandmother tells him it was nothing compared to what she had to go through when she was driven away from Jaffa in 1948, carrying his screaming mother, then a newborn, in her arms.
My grandmother doesn’t understand her plight. It had never occurred to her to go back to her home in Poland, which she had to flee as a refugee, haunted by the rise of Nazism in Europe. The fact that the Palestinians still talk about Jaffa, she says, just proves that they want to exterminate us. Whenever a suicide bombing strikes our cities, my grandmother calls me and tells me of her secret plan. “I am an old woman, and I have nothing to loose,” she says in a conspiratorial tone. “I will wear rags like their women, and go and explode myself in the centre of Nablus. This will teach them a lesson. I will show them what it’s like.” I am trying to tell her that they already know what it is like, that the number of their dead is three times bigger than ours, that the fear and terror we spread in their lives is much bigger than ours. But my grandmother doesn’t hear me, because she is crying. “They are not human beings,” she says. “What people can do such things, kill children like this?” De-humanised people, I want to answer, but I keep my mouth shut, and think about the child that I don’t want to have.
The child I won’t have will never feel the guilt of being an occupier, or the fear of becoming a victim. I will never tell him not to be scared, when fear is the only rational thing to feel. I will not have to teach him that the Palestinian child is a human being just like him, while everybody else will tell him that it is not so. The child I won’t have will keep sleeping, curled in a secret corner of my mind. The child I will never have is going to be the only safe child in the Middle East.