[Reader-list] Fwd: children's games in the west bank

zehra rizvi fatimazehrarizvi at hotmail.com
Tue Feb 19 03:36:12 IST 2002

i apologize in advance for the poor formatting of this piece
again, not sure what the source is.
interesting observation on the history of stone throwing...


Duck, Duck, Goose and the Launching of the Palestinian Air Force

by Adam Shapiro

One week ago, internationals living in Ramallah decided to establish a 
solidarity tent near the invading Israeli tanks in order to send a message 
to the Palestinian people that they were not alone and message to the world 
that the Palestinian people are suffering as a result of the Israeli war 
upon them. As one of the organizers, I spent much of my time over the next 
three days and nights at the tent, interacting with the Palestinians who 
were brave enough to venture within 200 meters of the tanks to sit and join 
us in the tent. But the one group that fascinated me the most – and the 
individuals with whom I made the greatest connection – were the kids (shabab 
in Arabic) who come everyday to throw stones at the tanks, armored personnel 
carriers (APCs) and jeeps.

These youth (all boys save one girl) show up after school, without their 
parents' knowledge, and gather about 250 meters away from the military 
vehicles to catch up and talk before taking their positions. To give you a 
complete picture, you must keep in mind that this is occurring right outside 
President Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah, which have become his virtual 
prison since December. There is a main gate to the compound, which is 
guarded at all times by Palestinian security men. They are too scared these 
days with the tanks pointed at the compound to step beyond the shielding 
wall. But the kids are out in the streets and moving forward constantly to 
"fight" their battle for their land against the superior military of Israel.

In the preparations for the tent, we internationals discussed this issue of 
the stone-throwers and what we could do in the likely event that the Israeli 
soldiers used force and violence to "repel" these youth. For, after all, our 
tent was going to be in the way of teargas, rubber bullets and potentially 
more lethal projectiles. We decided that we could not interfere with the 
youth, as this was their form of resistance and that they had every right to 
"defend" their land in this way. Our role would be to protest the presence 
of the Israeli military in Palestinian land, and to maintain a presence for 
three days and three nights.

The first day of the action, we marched to the tanks with signs and read a 
message to the soldiers via megaphone. The soldiers greeted us with teargas 
and sound grenades. They were clearly disturbed by our attempt to hand them 
pamphlets from an Israeli group Y'esh Gvul (There Is A Limit) which 
encourages soldiers to refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories and 
explains why doing so is against international law and the Fourth Geneva 
Conventions. Eventually we pulled back and went to set up the tent.  By one 
o'clock we were set up – just in time to greet the youth who were arriving 
from school. They asked what we were doing, why we were there and if we were 
at all crazy. But they were very thankful and quite happy that in our 
presence and determination to stay we proved that they (the Palestinian 
people) were not alone.

The kids then organized and went down closer to the tanks and soldiers to 
throw stones. They managed to throw stones for about ten minutes before they 
were set upon with teargas, sound grenades and rubber bullets.

Mind you, they were throwing from a distance of over 75 meters. The stones 
were falling helplessly short of their targets, even when the kids were 
using their stone-launching slingshots. Not one stone managed to reach a 
tank, an APC, a jeep or a soldier. But the gas and bullets certainly reached 
the kids, and also us. We internationals maintained our position and talked 
with the other Palestinians who were sitting with us. A couple of times we 
were dispersed by gas, and more than once we heard a bullet whiz by.  That 
night, at a campfire, we talked with Palestinian young men (older than the 
youth, but not older than thirty) about whether it was possible to organize 
to do something different with the youth in front of the tanks and soldiers 
instead of throwing stones. While we were cognizant of our earlier 
commitment in principle to not interfere with the youth, we wanted to know 
if the Palestinians themselves felt that they could organize something with 
our support. It was agreed that something else could be done, at least for a 
period of time, and ideas ranged from creating a sculpture to playing games 
to having silent protests.

Now, I divert at this point from the story to offer an explanation of the 
popularity and the meaning of stone-throwing in the Palestinian context. As 
you may know, stone-throwing did not start with this Intifada,    nor did it 
start with the first Intifada. Perhaps the first recorded case of 
stone-throwing in this region as a means of defense by a weaker party is the 
Biblical case of David against Goliath. Also, in Islam, one of the rituals 
in which pilgrims participate during the haj to Mecca is the stoning of the 
devil – when Muslims symbolically throw stones at the devil represented by 
three stone pillars. During the Intifada from 1987 to 1993, the images of 
Palestinian children throwing stones against occupying Israeli soldiers were 
captured and disseminated around the world. The children had no other 
recourse, no other weapons, other than the stones. Back then, with Israeli 
soldiers in every city, on every street of Palestinian areas, the stones 
would often find their mark and many Israeli soldiers suffered injuries – 
overwhelmingly minor – as a result. Most importantly, however, the stones 
and the stone-throwers were mythified in Palestinian national folklore and 
given a status of national liberators for the result of that Intifada was 
the end of that phase of Israeli occupation. Stone-throwing remains largely 
a symbolic act – an act carried out by a weaker side whose only option is to 
pick up what is lying beside it (stones) and offer these as resistance. 
Stones do not cause damage to tanks or APCs or jeeps, and likely do not find 
their target 99% of the time. Stone-throwing kids are relatively easily 
dispersed by teargas – bullets are not needed. If a kid is close enough to 
hit the tank or jeep, then teargas will get rid of him; if he is far enough 
away that his stones are not even hitting their targets, then there is 
really no reason to shoot. The logic is fairly simple and yet Israeli 
soldiers repeatedly open fire on these youth. This then feeds the mythology 
of the stone-throwers – it makes them bigger heroes, and causes the 
Palestinians to think that stone-throwing is a real threat to Israel as 
justified by the response of the soldiers. This current Intifada started as 
a popular movement, with hundreds of youth out throwing stones against 
Israeli soldiers and military vehicles. It did not start with guns and 
bombs. But the situation was different than the earlier Intifada, for the 
soldiers were not in the cities and so the kids had to go to places on the 
outskirts of the cities to find the soldiers. In defense, the Israeli forces 
fired at the crowds of youth from great distances – too far for any stone to 
reach a soldier, but not far enough for the army's bullets to be 
ineffective. This is why the rate of Palestinians killed during the first 
couple of weeks of the Intifada was greater and why so many youth were 
killed then. Unnecessary and massive force was used against an unarmed, 
largely symbolic resistance of youth angered by very real problems create by 
the failures of the peace process and the specific instigation by Ariel 
Sharon's forceful visit to the Haram Al-Sharif (Temple Mount). Now, again, 
Israeli soldiers and tanks are in Palestinian cities and again 
stone-throwers are out in force. And again, Israeli soldiers are firing 

On our second day at the tent, we greeted the youth as they arrived after 
school, and asked them to sit with us for a meeting. Present were some of 
the Palestinian young men who joined us the evening before. We talked about 
possibilities of resistance other than stone-throwing to organize for some 
time, such as playing football (soccer) in front of the tanks. The kids were 
open to the suggestion and showed a high degree of sophistication and 
political maturity when they discussed among themselves why playing football 
would be a better image to show to the world via the media in terms of 
showing the real face of occupation. So off I ran to get a soccer ball from 
a local store and returned to organize a game. We met quickly to decide what 
we would do in case the soldiers reacted with violence, and the kids were 
determined to maintain discipline and to accomplish the objective. As we 
walked out into the street from near the tent, I carried the ball above my 
head, and the kids followed. Almost immediately we heard in the distance a 
pop and then the bullet flying over my head, over the ball. And then again, 
same location. I yelled to the soldiers, "It's just a ball, it won't hurt," 
and we continued down the street. Another bullet was shot, and then teargas. 
We moved out of the way, regrouped and continued forward,  We finally 
reached our destination, about 40 meters from the soldier and started to 
play. But the soldiers would not allow this act of protest, and shortly 
thereafter fired sound grenades, teargas and rubber bullets – the standard 
menu. We were forced back, and met with the kids at the tent. They 
understood that this form of resistance was threatening to the soldiers and 
they were proud of their accomplishment. Most of the kids came back and 
joined us near the tent for some more discussion and amusement, but some 
others decided to throw stones, now that the football game was over for the 
day. This time the soldiers did not wait, and immediately set about firing 
rubber bullets at the kids and at the tent. At least 10 times the tent was 
hit, and two bullets hit two of the internationals present. Finally, the 
kids stopped and went home, but all agreed to come back the next day to 
protest and to play football in front of the soldiers.

The third day of the tent, we started the day with a march – internationals 
and Palestinians together. The point was to deliver the same message that we 
delivered the first day, but this time some of the Palestinian youth were 
going to join us. As an added form of protest, the kids decided to deliver 
their own messages to the soldiers – an important empowering element of the 
action for the Palestinian youth. The idea was for the kids to write their 
messages on sheets of paper and then to make paper airplanes – if the 
Israeli's were going to use F-16s to express themselves, then Palestinian 
kids would use paper airplanes to deliver theirs. And thus, the Palestinian 
Air Force was created in a matter of minutes. When the planes were fueled 
with their messages and ready for takeoff, we marched together, 
hand-in-hand, internationals and Palestinian youth, in a nonviolent march to 
deliver our messages to the soldiers. At about a distance of 100 meters, we 
were met with teargas and sound grenades, stopping the march in it tracks. 
We waited a few minutes and then tried to move forward again. More gas from 
the soldiers. Given that we were marching with kids, and that the soldiers 
seemed very aggressive despite our verbal communication outlining our 
intention via megaphone, we decided to halt the march at this distance and 
deliver the messages verbally. First, though, the kids released their paper 
planes – a symbolic gesture that was not lost on the media. Then one 
international read our message over the megaphone before we gave the stage 
to one of the Palestinian kids. A ten-year old, he spoke clearly, with 
determination in Arabic, which we translated into English and Hebrew for the 
soldiers. He spoke two sentences, but in those sentences explained the 
despair of his people and the oppression that they suffer. He said, "You 
must leave our lands. We are children who want to be free, just like your 
children are free." The soldiers heard the message and responded with more 
teargas. But our message was delivered and the action was a success. We 
moved back to the tent to prepare for the rest of the day's activities.

For the next two hours, we organized, discussed and prepared for what we 
would do. In the meantime, a group from the Palestinian worker's union in 
Ramallah showed up at Arafat's headquarters to show their solidarity with 
their president. Representatives from the group came to the tent to share 
with us in the spirit of resistance and to thank us for our presence.

In the early afternoon, we again headed out with the soccer ball and walked 
down to the area in front of the tanks. This time the soldiers did not use 
violence and we made it to the area where we wanted to play. The soldiers 
came out of their vehicles and pointed their guns, but refrained from 
shooting. The kids played and genuinely felt that they were resisting.  
Every now and then the ball would be kicked towards the soldiers, and each 
time the kids pushed and shoved each other to be the one to retrieve it – to 
be the one who got closest to the soldiers. The kids even told the soldiers 
if they put their guns away and get rid of the tanks they could also play.  
After playing football for a while, the kids wanted a new game. The only 
thing I could think of that would involve so many kids, that was active, was 
Duck, Duck, Goose. Silly, but I figured that this was a new game here, and 
that they might like it, so we explained the rules. To give a local flavor, 
we replaced "Duck" with "Palestinian" and "Goose" with "Israeli."  The kids 
took to it immediately and we had a lively game. Perhaps the most ridiculous 
moments were when kids started raising their hands and demanding "Ana 
Israeli" (I am Israeli) so that they would be the ones to give chase. And 
they shouted the words for the soldiers to hear. The soldiers were 
absolutely baffled. The media was present also, and many kids came up to me 
and to each other and pointed out that they were going to be on television 
and that this was a great picture to show the world. In playing these 
children's games, these heroes of the stone were again heroes.

The next day we took the tent down, despite the wishes of the local 
community – we did not have enough manpower among the internationals to 
maintain it. However, we talked with the kids and they agreed to meet with 
us to discuss more alternative means of resistance and more strategic ways 
to get the story out to the world of their suffering. Later that evening, 
one of the internationals who had stayed behind called to inform us that one 
of the kids had been shot in the head and was in the hospital. Yes, he had 
been throwing stones, and was apparently hit from a distance of no more than 
20 meters – a distance at which rubber bullets are lethal if fired at the 
head. We rushed over the emergency room and found Mousa with his head 
wrapped in bandages. He said he was throwing stones, and that the soldiers 
did not give any warning and just shot him. Luckily the bullet did not hit 
directly, but it did create a minor crack in his skull, which required minor 
surgery. He would spend the next two nights in the hospital.

A couple of days later, on Saturday, we went down to the area to meet with 
the kids again, and to discuss a plan for meeting. It was agreed that we 
would meet two days later to play football. I showed up on Monday, as Israel 
was bombing security installations in Gaza. I was warned that the 
headquarters in Ramallah were likely to be hit that day and that I should 
leave. But I promised the kids and waited for them to arrive after school. I 
had the ball and was ready to organize the game. The kids came and 
immediately set out to throw stones. Unlike before they were not met with 
teargas and bullets and were able to get with in a few meters of the tanks. 
Omar (a Palestinian-American guy) and I headed down to organize th kids, but 
now their stones were hitting the tanks. Even though we talked about the 
importance of sending a different image to the world, particularly when 
warplanes were striking and injuring civilians in Gaza, the kids were too 
angered by the events of the day and really felt that it was their duty to 
defend their land – even with stones. Clearly football was not going to be a 
viable alternative. Stones rained on the tanks, not causing any damage, but 
eventually the soldiers started firing teargas and rubber bullets. The kids 
retreated and soon the rain came, effectively ending the resistance for the 
day and possibly averting a bombing run on Arafat's headquarters.

The kids still want to learn about alternative forms of resistance, though 
stone-throwing remains the most popular. It is audacious and heroic to the 
kids, and they are certainly encouraged by the stories from the earlier 
Intifada that they all know so well. There are many arguments about whether 
stone-throwing is nonviolent resistance. I think it depends on the situation 
and the intention. In the cases of stone-throwing that I have witnessed, I 
would agree that it is nonviolent and a symbolic gesture of resistance and 
defiance of an oppressive, occupying force that has overwhelming violent 
power. It is the stone-throwing that will be the last form of resistance 
that will fade from the scene, and will be the first to emerge in future 
uprisings. Its mythology is guaranteed, both by those engaging in this form 
of resistance and by the absurd use of violence by Israeli soldiers in 
"combating" these Palestinian freedom fighters, youthful as they are.

My little friend Mousa, who is now home recovering from his wound, will 
certainly be back. And my other friends, Muhammad, Abu Ali and others will 
be there day after day as long as the tanks are there. But they have learned 
something from our experiment with games, and they are willing to try more. 
Not to replace the stone-throwing, but to do something in addition. All 
forms of resistance are welcome, they tell me. Perhaps it is time for the 
leaders of the Palestinian people to develop more alternativ forms of 
resistance, so that the message of occupation is not simply that of a dead 
or injured stone-throwing kid, and so that the world can no longer look upon 
these would-be freedom fighters as combatants but rather as the kids they 
are – kids suffering oppression and occupation, who are unable to play in 
their streets because there are tanks, APCs and soldiers in the way who 
shoot at them.

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