You can't just sit there trying to convince me that these martyrs are real people with real emotions, people who can be understood like anyone else. These people are no longer human beings like you or I. They have been used and manipulated by religion and rumour and thus are no longer real. Anything that is manipulated beyond recognition is no longer true. You cannot photoshop a beard onto Britney Spears and then try to convince me that its real and that it was always there. It's not natural. Such religious fanaticism has not always been there. It's not natural. Yes, religious intolerance is not a new phenomena, but this level of indoctrination is. There has not always been this much violence and they have not always had as many toys to play with. Guns. Bombs. Children's lives. In Death in Gaza (2004) young boys of 12 years old bond over pouring dynamite into a home-made grenade and delight in throwing stones at Israeli tanks. Why has this become the norm for school children? Why is this seen as an acceptable activity, enjoyed to delay the completion of homework? Children's minds are like sponges. If you tell them at a young enough age when your 'wisdom' is simply accepted and not questioned that all Jews and Israelis are the scum of the earth, they will believe you until somebody shows or tells them otherwise. Except nobody does; because it's happening in real-time around them. Israelis are bulldozing their houses, the only Israelis the children see are the ones who kill their fathers and so their 'knowledge' of these Jews is cemented from the moment a trigger is pulled.
Like a vaccine, Palestinian children are given a shot (too often literally) of bitterness towards Israel at a very early age whose side effects are violence and a passion to kill or be killed. James Miller and his colleague in Death in Gaza could not understand why the children of Gaza threw rocks at Israeli tanks whilst knowing that they would do no damage to the armoured vehicles and ultimately risked being shot in retaliation. They do it, I suppose, because they just don't care anymore. The rocks they throw potentially were once parts of the walls of their homes, flattened for trivial reasons by Israeli tanks. They throw stones because they can no longer throw their disappointed feelings into the rubble. You or I in the Western world would perhaps go for a spa treatment to alleviate the aches and pains of a stressful working week. A feeling more satisfying and relaxing than that is hard to imagine. Yet for the average Palestinian, that would pail in comparison to the sense of relief they feel to return home in the evening and find their house still standing. Palestine claims to be fighting a War of Independence but as a consequence its children have lost all of theirs. Any child seen briskly and freely roaming the streets of Gaza after dark is not looking for his friends or on his way to youth club, he is the lookout for Palestinian Para militants who call him their “brother” yet spend their evenings teaching him how to hold a rocket launcher correctly and openly tell reporters, in front of the boy, that they are willing to see him martyred. Watching his proud smile fade after hearing this, and for the first time fully understanding without the embellishment of patriotism, is an uncomfortable few seconds of British film.
Children in Gaza hate the Jews. They call them “pigs” and “dogs” but some are not even sure why. Those that are recite an explanatory answer that sounds worryingly rehearsed and passed on from one person to another. I live in India, where people blame terrorism on Pakistan, minutes after incidents with little or no even subtle Pakistani links occur. “Why do you hate Pakistan?” I ask. “Because I should.” I am told by a child living on the street. Pakistan and India were able to acknowledge their diametrically opposing religions and cultures and the Muslims – a minority in India – fought for their own independent nation. Unlike Israel, India, albeit begrudgingly at first, allowed for the birth of Pakistan in order to stop the violence and clear cultural divisions on their shared land. So why is this not possible for Israel and Palestine? Religion? Geography? Political ego? Both want an end to the violence but neither are letting their enemy free. So what happens next? Inevitably more deaths in Gaza.
At the age of sixteen, I discovered over dinner with my Mother that our family has a relatively surface level Jewish bloodline. From then on, I had decided that I was Jewish. Like a lot of teenagers, I was craving an identity of my own – personally and religiously. For five years previously I had attended two weeks of Christian Summer Camp annually, although mainly because its headquarters was the house next door to ours and had previously been in my home, thus making me an instant celebrity. My friends and I saw it predominantly as a way to fend off summer induced boredom, but by the end of every fortnight we always felt more spiritual and inevitably more Christian. All of us, to this day, remember every word to every song and hymn we were ever taught. In a way then, surely that was also religious indoctrination, or is it different, because our parents had chosen for us to participate unlike the Gazan children who were born into Islam and a world of spite. Once I had connected myself superficially to Judaism I felt I finally had an identity. I wasn't a particularly good Jew; I didn't eat pork, but I'd always hated the taste anyway so that was no great sacrifice. I wanted the identity without conformity, which I imagine is what a lot of Gazans wish for – to be able to call themselves Palestinian without having to commit to the necessary slaughter and martyrdom displayed by their national brethren. As my passion for the Middle East grew, my religious identity and feelings waned. I threw myself into politics, but mostly because I fancy David Cameron. I suppose I just have serial commitment issues. As an atheist willing to try everything once, I find it hard to choose who in my mind deserves Gaza. Does anyone have the right to it? What will happen when it is finally allocated to either nation? Peace at last? But it's not my place to decide – who am I? Having never been to Israel or Palestine, I am in not place to comment on how they should be run. But ambivalence is never the answer, and neither is defeat in the minds of the two opponents. Maybe after completing my 4 year degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies I will be more qualified to judge the situation. But what use are qualifications in a religious war-zone? My beloved Theory of Knowledge teacher could preach for hours about that, but it wouldn't change anything. And sadly, neither will 12 year old boys throwing stones at Israeli tanks. But I imagine, as the shot that killed British journalist James Miller rang out on May 2nd 2003, there's nothing Saira Shah wanted to do more than hurl some carnage in disgust.