I visited Bethlehem at the beginning of the Eid festival in November, when most children receive presents, and are dressed in their best new clothes.
Everywhere the girls were dressed in smart fashionable outfits, but what was most noticeable was that all the boys had toy guns, and new combat fatigues. Of course when I was a child in the 1960s in England we also had toy guns and played war all the time; and most of our fathers had been soldiers. Play has an important role in helping children make sense of the world they are in.
These young boys of Palestine are not play acting a war from the past, but dreaming of a war for the future. This is what Israel has created. The pictures here are from Aida refugee camp, where until this summer the boys could go into the fields and play football, look for turtles or fly kites. But just ten metres from where these scenes were shot the Israelis have built the 8 metre high apartheid wall, cutting these children from the land.
According to the relief workers at the camp many of the children, especially the boys, were traumatised by the construction of a wall that blocked them into their narrow streets and by the nonchalant and impudent brutality of the Israeli soldiers. There is now a high incidence of bed wetting and sleep disorders among the children. Now they cannot go out to play, their fathers and uncles cannot tend their land or harvest their olives, they cannot travel to Jerusalem, just 5 minutes away by car.
In the English language Peace has two meanings. It means absence of conflict, but it also means tranquillity. The apartheid wall is an attempt by the Zionists to create “facts on the ground” that any eventual “peace” settlement will reward them with their colonial land seizure, as they herd the Arabs they see as Untermenschen into ghettos and reservations. But the wall is torture to the souls of these children, and in their hearts they have no peace, nor will they have peace while they are treated like animals. Next year will see the 40th anniversary of the Zionist annexation of Lebensraum in the West Bank and Gaza. Yet through all those years not a solitary Palestinian voice has argued for acceptance of the occupation. Not a single Palestinian has been prepared to kneel at the proud feet of their conquerers.
The children of Palestine deserve a better future than war and hatred and violence. Yet that is the future that the Israeli wall, and the colonisation of the West Bank with half a million Zionist settlers inevitably brings to them.