CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 16 . . . . April 15, 2005
After the successful Breadwinner trilogy featuring children in war-torn Afghanistan, Ellis turns her award-winning literary skills to non-fiction with 20 interviews conducted with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim children aged 8 to 18 during "some weeks" she spent in "Israel and the Palestinian territories in November and December of 2002." Ellis asked the children to speak about their lives, about what made them happy, what made them afraid, and how the war affected them. Some spoke of their hopes for the future, others of the despair of their daily lives. The interviews underscore the enormous toll war takes on the children caught in the unrelenting constancy of the conflict.
Ellis begins by citing disturbing statistics: "In World War I, 15 percent of all causalities were civilians. In World War II, 50 percent of all causalities were civilians. In 2004, 90 percent of causalities in war are civilians." Between September 29, 2000 and March 7, 2003, 3,399 died in this Middle East conflict, and Ellis lists six pages of the names and ages of 429 victims under the age of 18. A balanced historical Introduction provides background for the interviews in which children talk about "how the choices other people have made have affected their lives." Ellis alternates Israeli and Palestinian voices and prefaces each of the accounts by an informative discussion of pertinent issues and a profile of the interviewee and his/her experiences.
The young people reflect the views of their communities and, for those lucky enough to have them, their families. Eleven-year-old Mahmood illustrates the singular lack of contact between Israeli and Palestinian children, insisting, "I don't know any Israeli children. I don't want to know any. They hate me and I hate them." This sentiment is echoed by 13-year-old Merov who lives in one of the Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory: "I don't know any Palestinian children" who "are dangerous and will shoot me if they get a chance." A cooperative effort finds Israelis working beside Palestinians in helping 12-year-old Wafa's family rebuild their demolished house, only to have the Israeli soldiers repeatedly bulldoze the rebuilt structures. Wafa admires the helpers but hates the soldiers "who try to hurt us" and resolves to "turn this hate into action in the future." Talia, 16, wants the war to end so she can "keep living in Israel and raise [her] children" in safety. A siege mentality governs life both for the Israeli and Palestinian children with curfews, checkpoints, soldiers, bombs and guns facts of life.
Fear permeates most accounts; the Palestinian children fear the Israeli soldiers while the Israeli children fear Palestinian suicide bombers. Hakim, 12, speaking from his hospital bed after "Israeli soldiers . . . shot up both [his] legs" insists he will "go back to fighting the Israelis." Twelve-year-old Salaam "would like to become a martyr" like her suicide bomber sister, explaining that "soldiers throw gas bombs, shoot at children, destroy houses, arrest people . . . they just want to kill us all." Elisheva, 18, who has lost friends to suicide bomb attacks, feels "a lot of anger toward the Palestinians," while Yibanel,18, rages, "Palestinians murdered my friends" and believes that when "a terrorist comes out of a village, we should go hurt the whole village."
Among the voices of anger, despair, fear and hatred, however, are more moderate whispers of hope and humanity like those of Asif, 15, who wants to be "a moral voice" during his compulsory military service for Israel. The final interview is with Mai, 18, who attends a Jerusalem vigil "against war and injustice" and organizes a group for young people to talk about armies and war because she believes that protest "helps to influence the way people think."
The children of Three Wishes identify mundane activities that make them happy, like being with family or listening to music as they face the usual childhood/young adult issues ranging from squabbles with siblings and friends to angst and hope about their future. Many of their wishes resonate with the desire for peace and security, freedom from fear and uncertainty. With sensitivity, perception and compassion, Ellis presents an insightful glimpse into the lives of young people living remarkable lives in a dangerous environment.
The candid and passionate voices in these narratives may be used to awaken interest and encourage discussion among young readers.
Ellis concludes the volume with suggestions for “Further Reading” and a list of Organizations "trying to make a difference in the situation in Israel and Palestine." Black and white photographs of each interviewee accompany each account as well as photographs appropriate to the narratives.
Darleen Golke is a librarian "between assignments" living in Abbotsford, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.