| Mar 09, 2006

Feature Article - March 9, 2006

Feature Article

March 9, 2006

ThePalestinian/Israeli conflict comes to our schools

Book review by Jeff Green Three wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak is a difficult book to read. It is not long, and the language is not hard to understand, but by interviewing children on both sides of the Palestinian Israeli divide, the human tragedy of the bloody cycle of suicide bombing and Israeli reprisals is brought home in a devastating manner.

The book consists of a series of interviews with children under 18. They talk at times about the normal things children talk about, fighting with their siblings, wanting to be famous singers or artists, etc., but mostly they talk about what they have witnessed as front-line participants in a war that never lets up.


This is what is difficult about the book: how hatred breeds hatred. The number of Palestinian children who say all Israeli children are evil, and the number of Israeli children who say the same about Palestinians, serve to bring the hopelessness of the situation home to the reader in a most upsetting way.

The book’s author, Deborah Ellis, has written other books on the theme of children and war, most notably her Breadwinner trilogy about children in Afghanistan, and with Three Wishes her intentions are clearly to bring out the reality children who live through war face on a day-to-day basis.

The front plate of the book contains the following statement: “In World War I, 15 per cent of all casualties were civilians. In World War II, 50 per cent of all casualties were civilians. In 2004, 90 per cent of all war casualties are civilians.” The book then lists 429 names, the names of the children under the age of 18 who have been killed in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict between September 2000 and March 2003.

The bulk of the book is taken up with a powerful series of statements by children on ether side of the conflict. The children make disturbing observations, about some of the practices of the Israeli military and experiences with suicide bombings that have affected friends and relatives. It is perhaps even more distressing how many of the children said they have never met, and have no interest in meeting children from the other side.

“We, the Israelis, have been trying, but how much can we give? After all, this is our land. I wish all the Jews in the world would come to Israel, and that all the Palestinians would leave and go live in some other Arab country,” said a 17-year-old Israeli girl named Elisheva.

There is a diversity of opinion about Israeli policy among the Israeli children interviewed, which is understandable because Israeli society remains fractured over how to deal with what used to be called “The Palestinian problem”. Some of the older Israeli children are facing imminent decisions about their own military service, which is mandatory at age 18.

While the Palestinian children vary in the intensity of their disdain for Israelis as a whole, they express a universal hatred for the Israeli military. There is little condemnation for the practise of suicide bombing.

One of the final interviews in the book is with a 12-year-old Palestinian girl named Salem, whose sister was a suicide bomber. Salem expressed anger towards her sister, with whom she shared a room, mainly because her sister never told her what she was going to do.

Salem’s final comments are chilling. “I don’t think it would hurt if I blew myself up. I don’t think it hurt my sister. I think she was very brave, not scared at all. I think she was probably very happy. I don’t know if the girl she killed had a sister my age or not. What does it matter? I don’t know any Israeli kids. Why would I want to?”

At the beginning of the book there is a 3 page synopsis of the history of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and there are short explanations of various aspects of the situation before many of the interviews.

These interventions by Deborah Ellis are necessary to help young readers understand what the children are talking about in the book.

These pieces must have been difficult to write, because the intention of the book is to present the children’s opinions on their own terms, with the author not wanting to take sides on this most intractable political dispute. There is no way of talking about the Palestinian/Israeli situation without being subject to criticism for taking one side or another, and this part of the book has been questioned by the Canadian Jewish Congress.

In terms of the controversy that has surrounded Three Wishes in recent weeks, (see article “Book pulled from reading program”) there is some legitimacy to the concern about age-appropriateness for this book. The publisher recommends it for children 11 and older, and that seems reasonable. At the very least, teachers who are giving this book to their students should read it and consider if the child they are giving it to is ready for it.

Three wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak is stiff medicine. The cumulative effect of reading the 20 interviews leads to even more pessimism about the future of Palestine and Israel. Many of the Israeli children who were interviewed for the book in 2002 are now members of the Israeli military. Some of the Palestinian children are late teenagers as well. They are now carrying out the politics that they have been subject to as children.

This is not really a children’s book after all; it’s a book for everyone to read.

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