Academic journal article Borderlands

Palestinian Children as Tools for 'Legalized' State Violence

Academic journal article Borderlands

Palestinian Children as Tools for 'Legalized' State Violence

Article excerpt


The first time I met Hala, in the summer of 2009, she was sitting in her mother's lap in an encampment outside her family home. Part of an ongoing policy of dispossession of Palestinians in Jerusalem and Judaisation of the city, the family had recently been evicted from the Sheikh-Jarrah home they had lived in for fifty-six years to make way for a family of Jewish settlers. Shrouded in Israeli legal proceedings and ambiguous bureaucracies, the eviction took place at 5:30 in the morning. Israeli soldiers broke down the windows and the door, terrorizing two-year-old Hala, her mother, father and four brothers, and began to throw their furniture and other belongings out into the street.

Now a rambunctious five-year-old, Hala's memory of the event is still clear. She recounts that morning and its aftermath to me while drawing a series of pictures on a notepad. Her voice is strong and raspy, peaking with emotion from time to time. She speaks slowly while concentrating on her drawing:

   The soldiers arrived. Everyone was screaming, my brothers, my
   mother and father, and I was crying with all of them, holding onto
   my mother's training suit. My mother held both of us in her
   arms--my little brother under one arm and me under the other--and
   they dragged us out of the house ... then the settlers came.

'When the settlers kicked us out, we were living in the streets', Suheila, her mother interjects. The family set up a tent just outside the home from which they had just been evicted, and stayed there for six months, hoping that they would be able to return. 'We cooked in the street. We slept in the street. I kept my family in the street, exactly opposite of our house, hoping that the settlers would realize their crimes and give us back our house. But I guess they became more determined to humiliate us, to uproot us'.

'We bathed in the street; I was a little girl', Hala chimes in. She turns the page and begins a new drawing. At the top of the page, she sketches a large sun, with a smiling face. And beside it, a cloud, with raindrops falling all around. Underneath the rain, she begins to sketch the shape of a house. She divides the house into three spaces. On the right side, she draws several circles, and on the left side, a row of five hearts. In the center of the house, she sketches a door, and a large object.

'Can you tell us about the house you're drawing?'

'These are the lemons from the lemon tree', Hala says, while pointing to the circular shapes on the right side of the house. 'The fruits were my favorite part of the house', her mother interjects. Hala continues to describe the drawing, pointing to the left side. 'These are hearts--hearts that are filled with love. And here', she points to the center of the house, 'my swing set. I used to play with my little brother in the swing set. And now they have my swing set ... the settlers have taken everything from us'.

'I always dream of going back to the house, to play on my swing set. I am always upset at the settlers. Why did they take my swing set and the lemon tree?'

What is the meaning of the loss of home for a five-year-old girl? A lemon tree or a swing set perhaps; all of the every day objects and affective ties that provide a sense of safety and security. How can Hala comprehend the radical discontinuity of her own and her family's life and house? While her mother attempts to normalize family life in the aftermath of their eviction, the signs of loss and suffering persist, infiltrating the intimate spaces of Hala's, her family's and community's every day. They are visible in her mother's harkening back to the lemon tree ('I wanted to pickle the olives, but couldn't bring myself to do it this year without a lemon from our lemon tree', she tells me with a heavy sigh), in her brother's inability to concentrate in school, in the extensive arrests and police records of each of her family members, and in her twenty-two-year old brother's inability to find work. …

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