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Israel and Palestine: Toddlers in a Sandbox

I first posted about Israel and the Palestinians back in February 2010. Here is my original post, with some comments afterwards:

Two toddlers are playing in a sandbox, while their mothers sit on a park bench, enjoying the sun, catching up on each other’s lives.

All of a sudden, the mothers hear a howl, then quickly a second howl, and look up to see the toddlers both tugging on the same bucket.

I took this picture of the wall between the West Bank and Israel proper back in 2006.

I took this picture of the wall between the West Bank and Israel proper back in 2006.

“It’s mine!”

“No, it’s mine!”

“Mommy, he hit me!”

“He hit me first!”

“He started it!”

“No, he did!”

Both boys are in tears by now, desperately pulling on the bucket with one hand while swinging the other hand wildly in an attempt to hit the other. Some of the punches miss, but some hit home, leading to renewed howls and even wilder swings.

By this time the mothers have arrived, and forcibly tear their children away from each other. “I don’t care who started it,” one of them yells. “It’s not okay to hit!”

The other mother nods in agreement, “You know that!”

The bucket is deposited back in the sandbox and the two toddlers are quickly distracted by another activity: exploring the climbing structure.

Seems a familiar scene, doesn’t it? Something you see every day in every playground, right? You can picture it clearly, can’t you?

Now think of the situation in Israel. The toddlers are the Israelis and the Palestinians. The mothers are the rest of the world. The sandbox is Israel and the Palestinian Territory.

Every time I hear an Israeli or Palestinian being interviewed on the radio, this is the image that pops into my mind: they’re just like the two toddlers.

DCF 1.0

The gold dome on the left is the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim holy place. The wall in front is the Western (“Wailing”) Wall, a Jewish holy place. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other Christian holy places are very nearby.

The interviewer will ask something about possibilities for a peace settlement in the future. Without fail, the person being interviewed, no matter if he is an Israeli or a Palestinian, instead of answering the question about the future, will launch into his version of “He started it!” The Palestinian will go on about how he was there and the Israelis took his land and the Israelis attacked him first, justifying his violence against the Israelis. The Israeli will go on about how he was there even before the Palestinians and how the Palestinians attacked him first, justifying his violence against the Palestinians.

The interviewer will make a few vain efforts to get the interviewee to answer questions about the future, but this litany of reproaches will just continue until the interviewer, despairing, runs out of time and ends the interview.

Am I the only one who sees this analogy? Doesn’t anyone there in Israel/Palestine see how childish they’re being? Can’t they see how completely pointless it is to spend all your time dwelling on being a victim, rather than trying to find solutions?

The difference, of course, is that we can teach the toddlers, as they grow older, to share the bucket and not to hit. They grow up, and, with our guidance, figure out that violence isn’t the answer. The Israelis and the Palestinians don’t seem to be able to learn. They’re what the child psychologists might call “developmentally disabled” or “developmentally challenged.” In other words, they just need to grow up, but can’t.

Maybe what we need to help them move toward a solution is child psychologists rather than diplomats

Two and a half years later, and it’s still pretty much the same story, but now the hitting has become more violent.

One is much bigger and stronger than the other, so his punches, kicks and scratches hurt the other more, but both of them are firmly convinced that the other one threw the first punch, and they’re both focused on revenge.

And with every punch that either one delivers, the other’s hatred grows. Where’s a child psychologist when we need one?

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