I was ecstatic as I read an email sent by a manager at a Canadian toy company. The company donates a large number of toys each year to inner city kids throughout North America, using various NGOs. A few years ago, they decided to ship several thousand toys to Palestinian children. They asked for my help.
The feeling of joy that I felt that day was unparalleled. Rarely do I experience in my job as a writer, whose main focus is war and conflict, this overpowering sense of elation. I had to tell someone that 11,000 toys would be shipped to Palestinian refugee camps before the Muslim holiday. This will certainly be a memorable Eid for so many children denied the simple pleasure of holding a teddy bear, or watching a toy police car running in circles with blazing sirens. My friend, Mohammed, a reporter from Egypt, however, was not very impressed.
“Toys?” he asked with an irritated tone. “What Palestinian children need is weapons, to defend themselves,” he exultantly explained, as various colleagues nodded their head with agreement.
His statement mixed truth with bizarre logic. True, Palestinian children needed to be protected, but to expect a child to further abandon his childhood and to carry a weapon was most cruel, insensitive.
I revisited the subject with my friend an hour later, this time armed with all sorts of print outs. “The Convention on the Rights of the Child,” I lectured, asserted that “every child has the inherent right to life…survival and development,” that “children must be protected from ‘injury or abuse, that “a child who is seeking refugee status or who is…a refugee … [shall] receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance.” He seemed equally unimpressed. Later that evening I found my friend with a shopping cart, loaded with toys, candies, and all the rest, as he and his entire family were cheerfully finishing their shopping for the Muslim holiday. His children were eagerly pointing at every dazzling toy they find, and he, happily obliged.
I still wonder if he had ever figured out the irony in denying Palestinian children toys for the holiday and hauling, on the very same day, every toy his kids requested?
This episode took place several years ago, but I am still as resentful as ever, resentful of the notion that Palestinians, mostly in refugee camps, are entrusted with the daunting task of withstanding the awesome military might of Israel, entirely alone. While some Arab media are tirelessly singing the praise of heroic Palestinians, the governments of these same countries are ensuring that the siege of Gaza is complete, that the ‘punishment’ of Palestinians is perfected, that starvation, misery and despair continue to prevail. This decade-long hypocrisy is symptomatic, and is inherit in the relationship between many Arab states and Palestinians: the ‘guardians’ of the Holy Land, those who resist, suffer and often die alone.
But even a child, in a most atrocious war zone is still a child. No matter how much fear and grief prevail in her life, she still longs for a toy monkey that flips around on the push of a button.
In fact, that was one of very a few toys that I have ever received growing up as a child in Gaza. The bond that grew between me and the flipping monkey was legendary. I often checked on him, tucked neatly into a drawer in my mom’s closet following every Israeli raid, before I left for school and when I came back. It gave me a sense of comfort amid a dreadful and terrifying life.
In Gaza, parents hardly worry themselves with such minor subjects as buying toys. When flour and sugar are missing, rubber ducks and water guns can wait. For children however, even those who survive the most appalling violence, or even those who sustain an injury or a lifetime disability, only a teddy bear can bring a smile, only a toy monkey can somehow restore the sense of loss.
Palestinian children deserve to enjoy the edicts of UN conventions. Palestinian children don’t need rhetoric nor wish to be designated as anyone’s ‘guardians’ and ‘heroes’; they need safety, security, protection and a promise for a better future.
When Playgrounds for Palestine - http://www.playgroundsforpalestine.org - was first founded by activist and writer, Susan Abulhawa, I remember thinking: this is the most thoughtful idea I have heard in a long, long time. When Abulhawa led a group of activists to the refugee camp of Jenin in 2002 and organized play workshops for the devastated camp’s children, the organization and its founder grew in my eyes immeasurably. It’s easy to theorize endlessly about the ‘violent tendencies’ of Palestinian children, and sermonize incessantly of the need to send weapons to children, already battered by war and violence. But, thankfully, there are those with the passion to understand that what Palestinian children need the most is their freedom, their milk, their school uniforms and supplies, their innocence, their giggles as they go down the slide of a jungle gym.
On November 23, Susan Abulhawa and I, joined by a few others, will be running the Philadelphia Marathon. Our goal is to raise 12,000 dollars to build a playground for Palestinian children. The organization has already erected several playgrounds throughout the Occupied Territories (it’s also building three playgrounds in Lebanon’s refugee camps and sending 152 soccer balls) that has served thousands of children. But more is needed, and we need your help.
Please visit this link (http://playgroundsforpalestine.com/support_runners.php) and contribute. You can also join us, or run your own race to raise awareness and funds for Palestinian children and Playgrounds for Palestine. Palestinian children deserve more than words of sympathy. They deserve their childhood back.
Thank you for your help.
September 26, 2008 Ramzy Baroud is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book, 'The Second Palestinian Intifada': A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London), is available from Amazon and other book venues. Visit his website: http://www.ramzybaroud.net.