Reflecting Allowed

Explaining Palestine to a 9 Year Old

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 10 seconds

I spent some time yesterday trying to explain Palestine to people who meant well but understood very little about the Palestinian situation. And then my husband and I discussed whether it’s time to discuss it with our daughter, but it kinda fell on me. It is difficult to know how to start and how far to go, whether to include England’s role or just focus on the relationship between Israel and Palestine. Whether to clarify why Palestine matters to us as Muslims and Egyptians or not.

I kinda did all of that, but the main gist of the abstract concept was this

Palestine is like a family who have been living in a home for generations, but then some other group of people (Zionists) came over and took their homes, claiming their great grandparents used to live there, then they and told them they could basically live in the basement or a small bathroom. Not only that, but Palestinians could not move out of that basement without permission, and the Israeli Zionists controlled when and how the Palestinians could get food and water. They also occasionally banged loudly on their doors or threatened them with violence. They occasionally threw bombs and killed some of them. The Palestinians sometimes tried to get out, but risked their lives each time. Sometimes they threw stones out of anger, but they had few real weapons to defend or attack. If they ever managed to get out, all the way out the front door, they might never be able to get back in again – definitely not without permission from the new owner.

That’s basically the very abstract idea. Missing lots of nuance of course.

The other dimensions I thought were important were why it matters to Muslims and Egyptians.

The Egyptian angle is significant and obvious. Geographically, Palestine is our Eastern neighbor. When Israel took it over, it became our neighbor. A Jewish-only state (discriminating on religion) in the midst of 22 Muslim majority states with significant Christian populations and a small Arab Jewish minority. There is also the not insignificant fact that in 1967 Israel occupied Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. I reminded my daughter of Sharm el Sheikh, one of the most beautiful tourist cities in Egypt, and that Israel had it for some time until we fought back successfully in 1973 and got it back eventually (after the peace treaty with Israel, we eventually had it fully back, all Sinai land, in the 80s). The 1973 story is contentious and the Arabic Wikipedia has a different conclusion than the English one. The Arabic says Egypt won. The English says Egypt initially had military victory but Israel had political victory (after the US intervened). I didn’t tell my kid all this, though. Just that Egypt got back Sinai after 1973.

I also felt the need to mention the role of English colonization in the region and how the English gifted Palestinian land to Zionist Jews. My kid knows already about the Holocaust. It was one of the worst tragedies of human history again Jews. Possibly the worst genocide. But I don’t believe Israel exists because of the Holocaust simply because Zionism predates it, and the Balfour Declaration promising Palestinian land to Jewish people was in 1917! Nearly 40 years before Hitler and the Holocaust.

I also explained to my daughter the parallels between this situation and the colonization of America and Australia. The original inhabitants were killed and eventually relegated to small pieces of land they could control (in the US at least, reservations).

And now… the religious significance of Jerusalem. First, Jesus was born in Palestine. Even though of course many Jewish prophets are also from the region, I think the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem alone and the fact Jerusalem is the site of pilgrimage for Christians is the most significant thing. Moreover, before Muslims took over the Kaaba in Mecca during prophet Muhammad’s time, they prayed by pointing towards what is now the Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. This is the third Holy site in Islam. Eventually the Kaaba became the most Holy site and Muslims pray towards it and do pilgrimage there. But Jerusalem was the first. During prophet Muhammad’s time there was a miracle involving him traveling overnight to Jerusalem (Israa and Mi’raj) and praying with Abraham and other prophets.

The idea is that all 3 monotheistic religions have holy sites in Jerusalem. And yes, Jews have been persecuted for years. Israel is a name for prophet Jacob, son of Isaac son of Abraham. Jacob is the father of Joseph and Benjamin- from whom Moses and Jesus came

Abraham is also the father of Ismail/Ishmael, a great grandfather to prophet Muhammad.

Moses was born in Egypt. At a time Jews were persecuted, but God saved him, and his story is in the Quran many many times from birth to his victory over Pharoah by splitting the sea and much more. The Quran shares stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob Joseph (son of Jacob), and all the Israelites his brothers and their children, Moses and Aaron, Mary and Jesus, it mentions David and Solomon.

And somehow, somehow, our children in Egypt have learned about the Holocaust in year 4 British curriculum and not about Palestine in the Arabic or British curriculum. I need to do something about that!

Just sharing two more things now

First, Trevor Noah on Palestine. Really well said, tackling the power and oppression in the conflict (YouTube algorithms are making it hard to find, so Twitter link!):

Second, this song by Fayrouz on Jerusalem (called Al-Quds in Arabic) which I always listen to during cycles of escalated violence in Palestine, which is roughly like every 4-6 years or so. English subtitles

Finally finally… this even from Jadaliyya yesterday. Holding Palestinian Ground: From Gaza to Sheikh Jarrah

Oh and two more things.

You can donate to Palestinian Red Crescent (equivalent to Red Cross) here

And you can sign a petition to support Palestine here.

Header photo (my edited version of) Palestinian scarf called Keffiyeh (I have one on my desk chair at work as a reminder all the time, for solidarity) from Flickr by Kristof keffiyeh-love CC-BY-NC

9 thoughts on “Explaining Palestine to a 9 Year Old

  1. There are some good kids books that might help .. Three Wishes by Deborah Ellis – she wrote a series of kits books after interviewing kids from Palestine and Israel. For all the complexities, it is a good book. Here is has been criticized as reading pro-palestinian. Looks like she has a lot of new books out. I’ll have to see if I can get them from the library!

  2. So helpful in understanding that I have my own filters through which I was taught to interpret Palestine-Israeli relationships/conflict/oppression. Apt comparison to our colonization of the Americas. As @KimTallBear keeps saying, we could have chosen to be relatives instead.

  3. Thank you for this! Trying to explain the key aspects of this situation to my 8th graders this week was tricky. Around 70% of my students are Jewish- the vast- vast majority think Palestinians should get their land back and the 1949 UN agreement should be upheld. Wishing peace for all in the region!

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