Young voices from Galilee. PALESTINIAN CHILDREN IN ISRAEL
THE village of Jish (alternately known as Gush Chalav) sits high in the hills of Upper Galilee, northwest of the town of Safed, northeast of the peak of Mt. Meron. Inhabited since the Canaanite era, the site housed a thriving community in Roman times and was the home of St. Paul's parents before they moved to Tarsus.
Today the population of 1,800 is divided equally between Christian and Muslim families, who have lived there for the past 300 years. The main street, which twists its way up through the village to the summit, crowned by Maronite and Roman Catholic churches and a mosque, is filled with the chatter of schoolchildren.
Palestinian citizens of Israel, these children feel from an early age that the ``promise'' of the Promised Land does not always fully extend to them.
These neatly dressed girls in blouses and boys in polo shirts believe that Jewish youth regard Arabs as ``primitive.'' They feel a weight of discrimination.
There is no formal discussion about the intifadah (uprising) or Palestinian identity of the village elementary and high school. Parents are reluctant to discuss these issues.
So, on a warm fall afternoon a group of Christian and Muslim eighth- and ninth-graders gathers at the popular kiosk of Atef and Odette Zarka to sip soda and discuss subjects that are not readily encouraged.
``On the West Bank and Gaza, people feel discriminated against. They feel the time has come to get their rights,'' says 14-year-old Lima.
``Even here, there's discrimination between Jews and Arabs in entrance to university, in finding a good job. Why? We're citizens here. This is our homeland.''
``And the West Bank is the homeland of the Palestinians who live there,'' says 15-year-old Peter.
``They deserve their independence.''
Nellie, who seems to have thought more about these issues than her friends have, says, ``The desire to defend one's homeland is intrinsic to every person.
``They don't throw stones just because they hate Jews. They believe they must protect their homeland.''
An undercurrent of sadness runs through their animated conversation. In their schools, they say, the word ``Palestinian'' is seldom, if ever, mentioned. Arab literature is read, but not Palestinian. Israeli history is taught, but not Palestinian.
``It's as if a part of history is skipped over,'' Nellie says with a sigh.
Empathy for the embattled Palestinian youth on the West Bank comes easily to them, but disagreement about the outcome of the intifadah is as prevalent as in any sector of Israeli society.
Eighth-grader Katey believes it will lead to a Palestinian state.
Her friend Caroline disagrees: ``The Jews are the majority here, and they won't allow it.''
``If the intifadah becomes strong, Israel will put it down with greater force,'' says Lima.
But Peter disagrees with her: ``For sure there'll be a state, because they'll keep on fighting until in the end - there's no choice.''
``No,'' says Taylor, 15. ``The Israelis will continue to dominate them.'' The only way to solve the problem, they decide, is through talks - or war.
``It is a war,'' Nellie comments with feeling.
``The intifadah has been going on for 10 months,'' Lima's sister Rim retorts. ``If they don't get frustrated and give up, it must lead to something.''
Peter believes that what was taken by force will be taken back by force.
``How will it be taken by force,'' Nellie asks, ``if all they have are stones?''
The sun is lower now over Mt. Meron, and the group strolls up the street past the Maronite convent and a new church still under construction, which will house the village's first community center.
They turn a corner and head toward an old gristmill, converted into a house by Nellie's cousins.
There in the garden amid half a dozen small children busy at play, they reassemble on the grass and continue their deliberations.
Unlike Palestinians in the Triangle (northern region of Israel), these young people have no relatives on the West Bank.
But they are aware that the Palestinians in the territories aren't happy with the Palestinians of Israel because ``we don't give them enough moral support.''
Peter thinks the existence of a Palestinian state would help the Israeli Palestinians ``achieve our rights here.''
His friends agree, but they aren't certain how such a thing could come about.
``A state would help our situation here,'' one says, ``because we'd have a country with which to identify.''
``Anyone who wants to live in a Palestinian state could go there,'' says Rim, smiling. ``Although personally I will stay here. I was born here. This is my home.''
Images of wounded Palestinian youngsters are not easy for Israeli Palestinian youths to look at.
The longer the intifadah continues, the more likely the pride they feel for youngsters defending their homeland may turn into nationalism and radicalism.
On this late afternoon in a garden in Upper Galilee, as the six friends rise from the grass to head for home, a voice comes from the group, almost as an aside, over the recorded chant of a muezzin echoing through the village:
``We pity the youth who are throwing stones.''