It started as a typical day in the life of a soldier in the hills of Hebron. A few of my teammates and my officer were in a bunker overlooking a road often used by Jews in nearby settlements. Our reason for being there: to watch over the road and to make sure no terrorists get the idea of throwing molotov cocktails or rocks on traveling Israeli vehicles. As part of that mission, we would frequently stand alongside the road for hours on end in the blazing summer sun. It serves as a visible warning to passing Palestinians with hostile intentions that we are here, and we are watching them.
One afternoon, we stood on both sides of the road intentionally in places that kept us protected while simultaneously visible to passing motorists. Now, the June sun in Israel is always brutal. However, that day, it felt particularly oppressive. I am sure wearing fifty pounds of gear and thick bulletproof ceramic plates in my vest had nothing at all to do with it!
On the opposite side of the road from our bunker is a house with a Palestinian family. The children living in the house were busy doing what children do best outside: chasing each other, getting dirt all over themselves, and throwing what seemed to be tennis balls at one another. The mother meanwhile gave me a quick smile and friendly wave as she tended to her small vineyard. Watching this all made me almost stop noticing the small stream of sweat that was accumulating underneath my vest.
Out of the blue, what seemed to be the oldest of the three children walked up to me. Not too close, though. Presumably, he knew that he had to keep some distance, but close enough that it caught my attention.
“What’s going on?” I asked him in English (Palestinians often speak English better than Hebrew). Not knowing what his intentions were, I had to ask, we live in a tragic reality where terrorists regularly take advantage of children and persuade them to carry out attacks on their behalf.
He then sat down where he was standing and spoke to me in broken English. Just asking me how my day was, where I was from, the typical small talk when you first meet someone. We spoke about what felt like for hours about how we both wanted to study nursing when we were older, how we both could not care less for sports, and about our families. Not once did the conflict between our sides or politics ever come up. To any passerby, we were just two guys having a friendly conversation. Then it hit me! This sweet young boy, a boy who, in more ways than not, is just like me. He has no dreams of being a martyr or of wiping my nation off the face of the earth. All that he wants is to make his mother proud of him and how he wants to be successful enough to have a family just like I do!
Multiple times since that day, I found myself praying for this boy. I pray that his parents teach him to love and not to hate. I pray that he is smart enough to see through the brainwashing that is pushed on him in school. I pray that when he grows up, I do not see him on the news being arrested for carrying out a terrorist attack. It would break my heart to see such a smart and sweet boy with a bright future ahead of him throw it all away because he gave into the hatred and false narrative that my only purpose in his life is to oppress his family. Lastly, I pray that the last thing I said to him resounds in his head forever:
“Never let someone else tell you what you should do. Do something now that in ten years you can look back and be proud of.”
No child from any society is born with hatred and anger in their heart. Hate is taught, not passed down in DNA. Children are born with nothing but love. I hope to work with this boy someday when we are both nurses. We can hug one another and prove that although we were both told that the other side is my enemy, coexistence is possible when you push the extremes on both sides out of the equation.
To the boy I spoke to that summer day: If you read this, I want you to remember our conversation and never forget that your life is what you make of it. You can give in to the hate all around you and allow yourself to be used by those who want me killed, or you can tell them that you are no fool. Be the successful man that you promised yourself and me that you would become! You have a loving family and a mind filled with dreams. Make your mother proud and make those dreams a reality! Someday, I hope our paths will cross again, and I can see you grown up with your aspirations of success accomplished.