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The Real Costs of the Intifada

Guest Column
Michelle Kaufman

Numbers are ultra-convenient in our everyday lives, but when it comes to world catastrophes and tragic events, sheer numbers, a death toll, cannot even come close to describing the devastation. During the Sept. 11 memorial services a few weeks ago, not one person referred to it as the day when such and such people died -- it is, after all, Sept. 11. We must investigate why such an atrocity occurred, how we can prevent it in the future, and what to do to punish the terrorists and etc. Yet somehow the opposite fate befell Israel; instead of analyzing the dire repercussions that the past two years of Intifada have had, we speak of deaths of Israelis and Palestinians merely in terms of numbers.

There was a point last year when I was literally asked, “How many today?” I was to give a concise version of the day’s news in Israel, and it essentially came down to the numbers, as far as that individual was concerned. The actual cost of the current Intifada, two years long this week, is immeasurable, but some aspects must be analyzed if there is any hope at all for the future.

At the end of September 2000, the current Intifada began. The Palestinian resistance started by throwing stones, and the violence quickly escalated. Suicide bombings and shootings of civilians became an almost daily occurrence. As the attacks continued on, Israeli retaliation also became commonplace, and this vicious cycle has continued for two years now.

A society reeling from constant deaths has enough to deal with without the additional burden of unemployment, a falling economy, and rising poverty. But this is exactly what Israelis and Palestinians are grappling with. The Intifada has had a paralyzing effect on tourism, for obvious reasons, and what was once one of the largest industries has been reduced to a shell of its former self.

Israelis and Palestinians alike have lost business -- the tourist appeal of the holy site of the three major religions has diminished in light of the security problems. But the optimist in me wants to focus on improving the future of Israel as opposed to merely crying over the present. The future of every society is the upcoming generation, the children. What has the Intifada taught children? What do children learn about their neighbors? What values are passed on to the children?

Considering that everlasting peace is the common goal, we’d like to believe that this is the message conveyed to the next generation. However, the truth is that Palestinian children are exposed to inhumane propaganda. Children are exposed to messages of hate from every direction: from kids’ TV programs, summer camps, radio, textbooks, cartoons and magazines. For example, a Palestinian children’s TV show called “Children’s Club,” which is similar in style to our “Sesame Street,” uses puppets and fictional characters to encourage a hatred for Jews and the perpetration of violence against them in a jihad, or holy war. In one song, young children are shown singing about wanting to become “suicide warriors,” taking up machine guns against Israelis.

Similar messages are conveyed in school text books, which are prepared by the Palestinian Ministry of Education. In an 8th grade social studies textbook, Al-Mutala’ah Wa’alnussus al-Adabia, Israelis are referred to as the butchers of Jerusalem. But the lessons don’t end in school. Summer camps run by the Islamic jihad offer 8- to 12-year-olds military training to become suicide bombers. The BBC filmed children marching in formation and practicing martial arts.

Rather than stressing peace, violence and murder are emphasized to vulnerable, young children, and seeds of hatred are being planted. Children are manipulated into joining the ranks, and being instructed to throw down their toys and replace them with stones. A very chilling study was released last year, performed on Palestinian children aged 6-11: more than 50 percent dream of becoming “bombers with explosive belts.” Within ten years, it is predicted that a very murderous generation will come of age, and what lessons will they impart to their offspring? We can only wonder.

Michelle Kaufman is a member of the Class of 2006.