Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

‘I worry my Israeli friends may be ordered to fight my Arab friends’

A 16-year-old who moved home to Ireland this week after a year in Jerusalem reflects on the conflict she has lived through

Ellen O'Rourke: 'Many of the Israeli soldiers have just finished high school. They have probably never met their Palestinian counterparts. They are given guns and told to fight for the Jewish state. '

Sat, Aug 2, 2014, 00:01


Ellen O’Rourke

When my parents told me we were moving to Jerusalem, just over a year ago, I really knew only two things about the place: religion and conflict. It seems in Jerusalem you cannot have one without the other.

Conflict takes a generation to solve. When my parents were growing up in Ireland in the 1970s, there were what many people thought were irreconcilable differences between Catholics and Protestants. But the Belfast Agreement was signed the year I was born, and I was brought up harbouring no ill will against Protestants or people of other faiths. Today in Ireland there is relatively little sectarianism or prejudice.

In Jerusalem, however, it is all around me. After living here for a year it seems clear to me that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be solved by my generation. The conflict is talked about by lots of grown-ups in suits, but it is the young people on the ground who are fighting.

My friends here express their opinions on Facebook and other social media. Everyone supports one side or the other, and both sides are becoming more extreme. It is almost a popularity competition, to see who can be the most provocative, or who can get the most Likes.

During the clashes in Shu’afat, in eastern Jerusalem, teenagers were the ones on the streets throwing rocks – because they were angry. In the past few weeks many young Israelis have taken to the streets in anti-Arab protests. I witnessed many people my age supporting this blatant racism.

I was in Jerusalem city centre, saying goodbye to a friend who was moving to Finland the next morning. I asked if she would ever come back to this crazy place she had grown to love and hate over a period of four years. “I will come back again, to see the separation wall fall,” she told me, “inshallah” (God willing).

Almost as if on cue, the chanting and beating of drums got louder and hundreds of demonstrators made their way down the street we were standing on. The image I remember most from that event, more than any of the pro-war T-shirts or the hordes of riot police, were the groups of teenage girls, dressed in short shorts and crop tops, with enormous black and red stickers plastered across their tanned chests, and down their skinny legs, reading “We demand revenge” in Hebrew. At that moment I lost all hope. I did not even want to think what these girls would be like once they got into the army.

Ellen at the checkpoint at Bethlehem last weekend, with the ‘apartheid wall’ behind, which separates the West Bank from Israel.

Many of the Israeli soldiers have just finished high school. They have probably never met their Palestinian counterparts. They are given guns and told to fight for the Jewish state. When my Israeli friends discuss their excitement to join the army in a few years, I cannot help but worry that someday they may be given orders to confront my Arab friends.

It is the young people who are losing their lives here. From Gilad, Naftali and Eyal, the three Jewish boys kidnapped and killed in the West Bank, and Muhammad Abu Khdeir, the Arab boy kidnapped and killed in apparent revenge, to all the children killed from the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, whose names we will not even hear on television because of their sheer number.

It is heartbreaking, because all of these young people had so much potential. They were growing up in this conflict and they had the potential to do something about it. Any one of these youths could have become a brave and peaceful leader, who could speak out about senseless killings, but instead their deaths have just led to incitement and calls for revenge.

That is how I know the separation wall will not fall in my lifetime. The youths are not acting for peace; conflict and tension are all they have known. If anything, they are more radicalised than their elders. The prejudice and hate of previous wars is being passed down to the generation of today. I can only hope my generation does not make the same mistake.

Ellen O’Rourke moved to Jerusalem after her father was offered a job there. The family moved back to Ireland this week.

This article appears in Weekend Review today.