Imagine you’re 14 years old. Imagine that, for as long as you’ve gone to school, you have to go through a checkpoint. Imagine that most days there are lines. Imagine the soldiers are rude to you, sometimes they search you, sometimes they consider your request to have a female guard to be unreasonable. Imagine the soldier’s hands.
Imagine your school was demolished. It didn’t have a permit, but they don’t give Palestinians permits. Imagine having to hold classes in the hot sun. Imagine thinking at least you’re not like your neighbour, who is your age and has to do laborious farm work in a settlement where he is often beaten and subjected to racist abuse.
Imagine coming home to find your mother, who is heavily pregnant, not home. Imagine her stuck behind the checkpoint. Imagine her going into labour. Imagine the soldier laughing and taking his time as she writhes in pain. Imagine her coming home and hearing the word “miscarriage” through her tears.
Imagine being startled right as you fall asleep. Imagine soldiers storming your home. Imagine them breaking your things. Imagine him ripping apart the doll you had since you were 7, a present from an uncle that they shot for protesting the occupation. Imagine them taking your older brother. He is only 16, they won’t tell you where he is being taken. Imagine your mother screaming. Imagine the soldier hitting your father with his rifle butt for the high crime of wanting to rescue his son.
Imagine having to clean up the mess. Everything on the floor. Dishes broken. Your brother gone. You have to go to school tomorrow. Imagine getting dressed in the morning. Imagine going through the checkpoint. Imagine seeing the soldiers.
Imagine coming home. You can’t concentrate. No one knows where your brother is. You can’t sleep, you are afraid they will come back.
Imagine finding out weeks later that your brother has confessed to throwing rocks. You know its not true, you know that day he took you to the city so you could pick out clothes for Eid. You can’t look at them now without crying. Your mother says they will give him four months in prison if he agrees to plead guilty, if he doesn’t, it will be much worse. You aren’t allowed to see him, write him.
Imagine your brother coming home. He is different. He is angry. He won’t leave the house. Sometimes he cries at night. He won’t go to school. You want to help him but you don’t know how, so you give him his distance. A few nights later, the soldiers come again. They destroy your house again. They say he was posting things on Facebook critical of the occupation. Again you are powerless. You won’t see him for months.
Imagine your father cursing in anger at the so-called leaders, corrupt and impotent. Imagine having no choice, no elections.. besides, who would you vote for? All the non-corrupt leaders are sitting in occupation prisons. Imagine the corruption being supported not just by the occupation, but also by countries half-way across the world whose leaders have never seen your village but feel like propping up a bantustan government is important.
Imagine your friend is much like you. Her father is in prison for 10 years, he is a political prisoner but the occupation calls him a “terrorist.” They call everyone that. Even your 6 year old niece. She is a terrorist just for existing. One day you’re at the checkpoint with your friend, the male guard harasses her, she’s had enough, she raises her fist to strike him and is met by a shower of gunfire.
Imagine watching as they shoot her. She is laying on the ground. She is tiny, 90 pounds. She is unarmed. They keep shooting. Imagine blood. Imagine the settlers coming around. Imagine them laughing. They are still shooting. The Israeli medics arrive. They stand around and wait and watch her die. At some point, someone brings over a knife and throws it near her body. The settlers sing. The soldiers make you wait there for hours for “security reasons.” You can see her blood on the ground where they took the body. They will call her a “terrorist.”
Imagine you come home. Later that night your house is raided. And again. And again. The price of being a witness to murder. The settlers threaten to burn your house down, they say they hope your family will be inside when it happens. The soldiers are standing right there, they laugh.
Imagine speaking out only to be called a “terrorist,” to be told that you were raised with hate, to be told that your religion or your ethnicity makes you a liar, to be told that you deserve nothing more than death.
Imagine you’re 14.
This is what a Palestinian childhood looks like.