Explaining the Occupation
I’ve taught my children to love Israel. This summer, I tried to start a more complicated conversation.
I employed all sorts of exaggerated metaphors. I told them to conjure up the image of their elementary-school principal’s office. I then “occupied” that office, pushing Mr. Denny Boger and his Christmas ties and his messy desk into the corner, disconnecting his phone line, hauling in my own sleek gunmetal-gray desk, with my electronics and their 3G capabilities, and instead of his snarky secretary, I installed three sullen college students guarding the door and the hallway and checking everyone’s backpacks as they walked to the cafeteria.
They didn’t know if they should like this story. They giggled at the image of me in the principal’s office, with him shoved into the corner, and laughed when I took the fish tank off his desk and put it on my own. There, I said. These are my fish now. I will even rename them. And if they become a bother, I will dispose of them. The 6-year-old stopped laughing.
Our 9-year-old demanded to know if people are angry. “Yes,” said his younger sister, the one who prefers to suck her thumb and tuck behind my leg and quietly observe the world. “They’re mad. But they’re also sad.” She paused and looked up at me. “Right, Mama?”
We walked by their favorite smoothie shop on Dizengoff, but they didn’t even seem to notice because my son was making big sweeping statements about the injustice of people being moved around from place to place without their consent: Aren’t there Palestinians and Israelis who want to make their own decisions? And go where they want to go? And work where they want to work? Doesn’t this wall keep people from moving around? In his world, people go where they want to go. Those checkpoints with their long lines—well, he said, they should be dismantled. He tried that new word out several times. Dismantled. There. Wouldn’t that be better? He asked to see this separation wall with his own eyes, and I promised him that he would. Maybe next year.
If the kids were older, they might have pushed back at me with questions from the Israelis’ perspective, trying to see the other side of the issue, but for now, the injustices I laid out are the injustices they wanted to right. People sometimes ask me: If you’re going to talk about the occupation, why start with the Palestinians? You should be starting with us.
This is my biggest problem. Us. Them. Us. Them. I don’t want my kids starting their Jewish lives with Us and Them. Or worse, not even knowing about the existence of them. Believing that the land of Israel is our sole birthright and nobody else has ever laid claim to these sacred spaces. Am I crazy for thinking that the key to all of this is how we raise the next generation of Jews? And Palestinians? But since I’m not raising two Palestinian kids, I’m raising Jewish kids, I can only hope to do my part. I want my kids to grow up believing that they can dismantle that damn separation wall. I want my kids to believe that it will be in their lifetime that Jerusalem becomes a city of shared pleasure instead of shared conflict. I want them to have the language now—yes, as a 6-year-old and a 9-year-old—to fight this fight that isn’t getting any easier and will likely last well into their adulthood.
The evening after we discussed the occupation, they asked to take one of their favorite nighttime walks, down Ibn G’virol to Rabin Square, to say hello to the fish in the new pond; they’re so docile that the 9-year-old can catch them in his hands. His sister bent over him and laughed as he’d catch and release, catch and release. Last year, each time we came here, my son would stop in front of the Rabin memorial and ask about the square with the jagged rocks and the tiny tea lights and why people are always clustered there taking pictures. Intimidated by the effort it would take to explain, I ignored his questions until he stopped asking.
That was last year. This year, our walk that night took us by the Rabin memorial once again, and this time I paused there and thought that with all this new language—occupation, suicide bombings, annexation—maybe next summer, there’ll be a way to start to tell this story, too, if not all the others.
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