The “atfal al-hijara” (children of the stones)
As every Friday in Palestine, many young people including boys and girls, get together, into what became part of their weekly activities. Always, the confrontations with the IDF bring all kinds of trouble. People argue easily that the effect or attainments of these confrontations bring nothing positive onto the Palestinian people, that children get hurt, that it ends up in arrests, that they will never ever be able to defeat the soldiers, because for them all those kids are just like mosquitoes. People wonder -specially jewish mothers, wonder- where are those irresponsible families, that allow this to happen? Why are these kids not playing football instead of being fighting soldiers? But this is just missing the point. It is peculiar how in Israel, Palestinian symbology is highly disregarded, and together with this, they miss the point not only about these actions but anything else regarding their neighbours.
The atfal al-hijara (“children of the stones”) are a strong part of the Palestinian national symbology and of tremendous importance.
The emergence of these children relates to the first Intifada. It was during this time that they reached the mythical status of national signifier. It sets in motion an upheaval of traditional distinctions between the young and old in Palestinian society. It sparked then an internal debate over just how the ideals of struggle and sacrifice should be acted upon. These children belonged to a third generation of Palestinians born and raised under Israeli occupation: the “jil al-intifada” , the intifada generation, composed by teenagers and children (some as young as five-years-old), who confronted Israeli soldiers openly despite the imbalance of power. While some cautious voices warned that Palestinian youth might lose respect for their elders as a result of the phenomenon, the changing political realities were largely embraced by the general population. Patriotic songs and poems glorifying the atfal al-hijara were widely produced. They embodied the spirt that had “shattered the barrier of fear” between Palestinian and Israeli soldiers. Yet, the practical benefits of the atfal al-hijara for the Palestinian national movement were minimal at best and simply resulted in Israel’s notoriously brutal crackdown. The objectives are of defiance alone and not serious confrontation, let alone national liberation. In short, the singular act of throwing stones matters little in any practical sense; like the fallah demonstrating sumud and the feda’i sacrificing himself in battle, the symbolic power of the atfal al-hijara and the potential sacrifice involved is a pregnated national symbol that nourishes an identity.