February PhotoBox

One day, of many long days exploring the Old City of Jerusalem, I turned down an empty street. Not far along my way, I heard voices behind me. But no one had been there. I turned in surprise. High above me looking out a window were these two children, laughing playfully at me. I returned the laughter, and waved.

Who are these children? I could find out, check through my film slides for a time and place, determine which quarter of the city I was walking through. But I don’t want to. The children could be Sephardic Jews, Armenian Christians, Christian or Moslem Palestinians … What does it matter? They are children. What does it matter, their background?

What do we do to our children? You’ll note the gun in the photo. Beautiful children. Delightful children. Innocent –for any child, no matter their background. For me, this image represents both innocence and learned hatred. Entwined with the delightful, playful laughter of the children is the sadness for what humans will do to each other, what we do to the children. Put a gun in their hand, and a gun to their head…..and for what?

Every empire across that region over thousands of years has ravaged its way through these ancient streets of Jerusalem, the streets these children play in. Reports tell of many times how blood flowed literally like a river down the streets of Jerusalem. No doubt this very street.

I often wonder what happened to these children. They would be in their late 40s, early 50s now. They may have their own families, their own children. If Israeli, they would, as every citizen (barring the ultra-orthodox) be conscripted to the military for two years after high school graduation. Before the rest of their lives could take place. And each year they are called back for military service until they are 50. 

I have seen the difference in the eyes of the young people who have completed their military training, and those who have yet to. I saw what was lost. For the eyes I looked into, those who had been through the training, the innocence seen in this photo is gone, forever I would think. The goal of Israeli military training, out of necessity, was and likely still is, to be an experience worse than war.

If Palestinian, these children might have gone to live elsewhere in the West Bank, possibly to Gaza. No chance for them at any time in the last 40 years to realize any of their big dreams. They would be fortunate to have survived. The children in this photo, and their children, might even now be dead, the whole family killed in the last four months, and if not, then living in great terror of being killed, of starving, or dying of horrible disease.

O my dear, dear children. I cry out for you. I love you. 

I am grateful for this image: to have preserved for me that moment of innocence, the children telling me how to live life; to be able to share that photo and experience with you, for I shall never forget the brief moment the children and I shared that sunny afternoon. The shy little girl playing with me. Her gaze, looking at me through the bars. This I will take to my grave. The last sound in this life I hope to hear is their laughter, and to weep for them, and weep for us.

January PhotoBox