During one of our first few days in Jalazone, H and I got back from a day trip to Jericho to find that T, who had the key to our apartment, was at a wedding. We got directions to the venue that consisted mostly of orders to go vaguely upwards, and duly set off up the hill find her. As the sun began to set, we reached the top of the hill that looks out over all of Jalazone, where we could see a few sparse houses but nothing resembling a wedding. Walking past a large building, we saw a few young boys, maybe twelve or thirteen years old, appear on the roof. They shouted at us and we ignored them as we tried to decide where to go.
Then rocks started landing in the dirt around us. We quickly decided to get back to a place with people around as soon as possible. As the boys on the roof kept throwing rocks, five or six more came out of the front door and started to follow us, talking to us and taunting us. We tried to walk quickly but they caught up. H tried to form a human connection with them to make them less likely to hurt us, asking them what their names were. I was not on the same page. One asked me my name and I responded, “Shame on you, why are you throwing rocks at girls?”
They didn’t like that. A rock hit my calf and we had finally started to run when we reached some houses with family members outside, where we breathlessly explained what was happening. They sat us down and gave us water, and assigned an elderly man the task of walking us the safe way to get to the wedding. On the way, he explained to us that we shouldn’t take it personally that we were treated this way. These boys feel anger at foreigners indiscriminately. They have nothing else to do, no purposeful activities to undertake, and few role models aside from violent ones. The boys as young as eight or nine that shout dirty words at us as we pass in the street do it, and will continue to as they get older, because they don’t have a positive, productive model of masculinity to emulate. They have nothing else to make them feel powerful, or proud.
We were nervous that, when we started the summer camp, those boys would turn out to be our campers, but luckily all our kids were fantastic. One girl in particular was a doll – she was sweet, cheerful, and eager to please. After camp was over for the day, she would stay behind to help sweep up, and always greeted us with hugs in the morning. On the second day of the camp, during an activity when we asked the campers to write about a difficult experience that had motivated them to do something good, she started to cry and couldn’t finish the activity. On the third morning, when we were giving out shirts, our coordinator came over to me and told me, in a whisper, that the girl’s mother had just come in saying that her father beat her very badly the night before and she was too embarrassed to come to camp that day, but she really wanted a shirt – could we save her one?
The next day, the girl didn’t return. On the last day of the camp, we heard that her grandfather had taken her away to Hebron. We didn’t get any more detail – if her mother and siblings had gone with her, if the move would be permanent, if she would be safe. We were so powerless in this situation, all I could do was regret that I had not given her more attention, hugged her more often, made her feel special. We are in these children’s lives for a few short days or weeks, attempting to help them develop leadership skills, build their self-esteem, and inspire them to make the most of a situation that is beyond challenging. But it’s disheartening to realize that any influence we may have to build a child’s self-worth is fighting against a lifetime of toxic powerlessness and poverty that feed these cycles of violence. It’s humbling to know that the root problem goes beyond any service we have to offer, and can only meaningfully change when the political and economic circumstances that caused it are removed.