The Politicization of Palestinian Children: an Analysis of Nursery Rhymes
The process of political socialization of Palestinian children in
the West Bank is a consequence of the war-like situation that has
prevailed since 1967. It is rooted in a number of factors: direct
contact with the Israeli occupational forces; the closure of
kindergartens, schools and universities; the media, especially the
daily airing on television of confrontations between Palestinian
youths and Israeli soldiers; the graffiti on walls used to
communicate messages to the public; and conversations in homes and
schools revolving around arrests, deportations, injuries, blowing
up of homes, and the killing of neighbors or relatives.
Nursery schools in the West Bank have served as an institutional
system that has reinforced this politicization of Palestinian
children. Teachers and peers have acted as significant socializing
agents, instilling political norms through the teaching of rhymes
from pamphlets, books and tapes distributed by the Palestinian
underground leadership. By constant repetition of a few stanzas
over a period of two or three weeks, the children memorized them.
Accompanying the rhymes, usually half-chanted, half-spoken, were
gestures such as the victory sign, a clenched fist, a commando
posture, the pointing to an imaginary flag, or the upright stance
of a soldier marching in the underground popular army. Constant
reiteration of the rhymes became part of the daily routine in
schools. When a teacher had to leave the classroom for one reason
or another, the tape recorder was left on, with a tape repeating
the rhymes to the children.
The purpose of this study is to analyze the content of rhymes
taught to three- to six-year old Palestinian children in West Bank
schools during the Intifada. The rhymes are categorized according
to themes and type of school.
Pride in being Palestinian is fuelled by the resistance to the
Israeli Occupation of the territories since 1967, and particularly
by the mtifada which began in 1987. Children grew up with stories
and anecdotes of homes left behind, and of lush and fertile fields
taken by the Israelis when the Palestinians were driven out of
Palestine in 1948. The rhymes express a con¬sistent, almost
obsessive longing for a homeland and a flag that flutters in the
sky. Everything is viewed from the perspective of fighting and
acquir¬ing a country and a homeland. In the rhymes, the
homeland is idealized as free and liberated, where the Palestinians
are reunited with their families.
My country, my country
How pretty it is
My family and my home
Under its sky
My country, my country,
We are its protectors
The land of plenty,
We are its liberators.
The flowers of the valley,
Their fragrance disseminates throughout the land.
Liberation through Rebellion
Because the land of Palestine was lost through wars, revolution as
the only means to freedom and to regaining the lost land is another
common theme. In the rhymes, those who struggle to regain their
land would be blessed; thus, militarism becomes synonymous with
heroism. Underlying the hope that victory is near is a challenge to
the Israelis that, despite all that they do to the Palestinians,
the latter will not give up and will eventually prevail. This gives
purpose to their lives and helps them overcome their despair.
I sang my song
In my country, on my holiday.
I am but a child,
But I have a mature mind...
With determination and precision,
I listed all the victories
I, in the love of my country
All my strength and struggle,
I see my country in my heart
A picture of greatness indeed.
Yearning for Freedom from Oppression
As a result of Israeli oppression, many Palestinians were
incarcerated in Israeli jails. Even those who were not in prison
suffered from the daily vio¬lations and infringements on human
rights. In the following rhyme, a bird is envied because of its
freedom, and it is extolled to inform the world of the oppression
of the Palestinians who have lived under Occupation for the past 27
years. The following rhyme is an ode under Israeli Occupation and a
catalogue of Israel's injustices:
I Envy You, 0 Bird
I envy you, 0 bird
You are free, unhampered
And I am an oppressed prisoner.
I envy you, 0 bird Rescue me, 0 bird.
They took away my father in the middle of the night
And imprisoned him.
They humiliated him and beat him,
From his home they deported him...
My grandfather's house they destroyed, And bulldozed it with its
furniture And my people, they scattered From their lands, they
My brother stoned them and lighted a fire To drive them away from
the house, To protect his younger brothers...
My sister is among the walls Protecting the Aqsa with fire To
return the oppression of the cunning With her brothers, the
I envy you, 0 bird Rescue me, 0 bird.
Go and tell, 0 bird
Inform all the houses.
Tell the people and all the birds.
What you saw of oppression,
Tell them, 0 bird.
Loss of Identity
Another theme which laments the Palestinian predicament of
statelessness revolves around the question of identity. The
identity card that all Palestinians must present at checkpoints or
whenever they are stopped by Israelis, is symbolic of their loss of
identity. The worst thing that could happen to a person is to have
his identity card confiscated by the Israelis. The identity cards
achieved a particular significance during the Intifada:
They stopped me at the border
And they asked for my identity card.
I told them it's in Jaffa
Hidden with my grandmother.
The words I said
Divided them into two groups One group asking the "whys"
The other asking "where."
I cried, "Palestine"
They divided me into two halvs
One half on the border
The other half in my grandmother's lap
My grandmother, who is hiding
In a house I don't know where
My identity card put away, hidden in some place
They want to burn it
And to erase it from the world....
Rebellion and Resistance
The Palestinians attempted to resolve the pivotal matter of
identity by por¬traying themselves as commandos or freedom
fighters. The Intifada saw the emergence of new idealized
characters, such as the vigilante-hero, who was often portrayed as
the Robin Hood of the Palestinians. These vigi¬lantes-heroes
were masked teenagers who had taken upon themselves the task of
harassing and executing collaborators, patrolling Palestinian roads
and towns, extracting "taxes" from Palestinian industrialists and
collect¬ing contributions from the masses to aid the needy
Palestinians. The aspi¬ration of young Palestinians in the
Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) was to serve in this popular
Papa bought me a gift,
An automatic machine gun and rifle.
When I grow up
I'll enter the army of liberation.
The army of liberation taught us
How to liberate our homeland.
At the outbreak of the Intifada, self-reliance, independence and
defiance, as well as steadfastness and determination, characterized
the image of the new Palestinian.
And be lions
And die martyrs
For the sake of the nation
Palestine is my land
My soul, my obligations
I sacrifice my child
For the liberation of my nation
Be prepared, be prepared
My country, my country
I am sounding the trumpet of war
I am prepared.
Strike days became the backbone of the Intifada. These were
observed throughout the OPT and varied from a three-day period to
honor a mar¬tyr, to a one-day general strike in protest
against the establishment of a Jewish settlement in the West
In Gaza and the West Bank Strike! Strike!
Today, and tomorrow strike We have legitimate demands
We want a homeland and freedom
Freedom through revolution
The revolution needs burning coals of fire…
The rain is coming, coming
It carries a tale and a narrative
It tells of children
Who ignite the revolution with stones.
It was the children of Palestine who instigated the revolution of
and the following rhyme pays homage to them. It also
threatens collaborators accused of working for Israel:
Stones here and stones there
The night goes and the day comes
The children are fearless in the face of the Israelis.
We do not fear
The tents of the desert (this is a reference to Ketziot prison in
Nor the shooting of live ammunition
Nor the breaking of bones
Nor the demolition of homes
The United Command adopted a resolution
To eliminate the collaborators, the traitors and all evil
Normalization of the Abnormal
Throughout the rhymes taught to West Bank children/ runs the theme
that violent death is common and normal. Thus it became commonplace
to expect and be proud of the fact that family members died for the
liberation of the land. Blood and violence were explainable and
justified in the strag¬gle to regain one's country. They were
part of the Palestinians' daily life, and martyrdom became an
important dimension of the uprising. The shahid, or martyr, who
died in the struggle against the Israelis was glorified and
revered. The funeral was celebrated as a wedding, and instead of
the cus¬tomary tears and wailing, there were the ululations of
happiness. The anniversary of the death was commemorated annually.
Those who became handicapped, as so many did during the Intifada,
were hailed as heroes. The handicap became a badge for having
fought for the homeland. The rhyme that follows rationalizes death
and simultaneously makes sense of it:
0 mother, don't cry for me
I am leaving to fight,
Bring me those to whom I will bid farewell.
My tender mother encourage me. I ask God to allow me to
My brothers and I are commandos.
I hear the cannon balls in the port,
Like the music of the 'ude and the kamanja.
Revolution was created for the brave
And my ancestors were commandos.
Hatred of Jews
We also found rhymes expressing hatred of Jews. For a child whose
house had been demolished, hatred and killing became revenge for
the fact that he was now homeless, that his family's belongings
were stacked in a couple of Red Cross tents. But underlying all
this, is fear of the Jews as represented by Israeli soldiers.
Negative traits characterize the Jews who are seen as the
victimizers, the culprits who stole Palestinian land and
established their Jewish state on it.
The hatred is presented in blatant dehumanizing and derogatory
terms. In some rhymes, they are referred to as "son of a dog" or
"like a dog." References to animals is common in Arabic-Islamic
culture, but it is pertinent to point out that there is a
stratification in the animal kingdom. The dog is the lowest; the
camel and the lion are the highest, because the former is noted for
its utility among the Bedouins in the desert, and the lat¬ter
for its ferociousness and courage:
Palestine is our country
The Jews our dogs
Put one branch on top of another
May Allah break the Jews,
Put one bag on top of another bag
May Allah release the prisoners
PLO yes, Israel no
Thematic Differences in the Rhymes
Since the outbreak of the Intifada in 1987, different political
factions estab¬lished nursery schools on the West Bank to
promote and garner support for their ideology. Thematic differences
in the contents of the rhymes reflected the particular ideology of
the faction. For example, rhymes taught in nursery schools that
identified with the Islamic trend empha¬sized liberation
through Islam, the Prophet Muhammad's confrontation with the Jews
in Medina, protection of Al-Aqsa Mosque and nostalgia for the
victories of the Islamic past. The PLO nationalist rhymes make
ref¬erence to religion, but quantitatively, there is more
stress on Palestinian nationalism, love of the land, the role of
women in the struggle and commemoration of the date of
establishment of the various factions.
A. ISLAMIC NURSERY SCHOOLS The Revolution Must Be Islamic
The Islamist movements Hamas - the Islamic Resistance Movement, the
Muslim Brothers and Islamic Jihad - believe that Islam is the only
unify¬ing element for the people in the Middle East. States
and leaders come and go and are constantly changing. Islam is the
only means to achieving the solidarity and unity needed for the
liberation of Palestine. Moreover, to be successful, the revolution
must be led by an Islamic army.
Revolt, revolt and let the revolution be Islamic
Revolt, revolt and live free for eternity.
The rhymes taught to children in the religious schools claim that
Palestine is an Islamic Waqf. Accordingly, all of Palestine,
and not just the West Bank and Gaza Strip, should be liberated from
the Jews and declared
an Islamic state. The following illustrates this:
The West Bank, Gaza Strip,
1967 plus 1948
Equals all of Palestine,
Our Islamic identity
From the river to the sea.
Protection of Al-Aqsa
Many of the rhymes also call for the protection of Al-Aqsa Mosque,
a sym¬bol of Islamic identity. The fighting of the Holy War
(Jihad) to liberate all the holy places from the infidels is a
prime objective in the rhymes of reli¬gious nursery
We are the buds of the jasmine
In the nursery of Muslims
With forgiveness, purity and solidarity
And in the morrow, we will creep as armies,
To challenge the occupiers
And if Al-Aqsa calls us
To reconquer it from the occupiers
We will reconquer what we have lost.
Nostalgia for Past Islamic History
Another theme taught by Islamic-supported nurseries is the
nostalgic ref¬erence to historical Muslim heroes and famous
battles. Not only were these important battles sung about, but they
were also commemorated by the different Islamic factions that
called for strikes on these days:
In the vicinity of Al-Aqsa, we sprouted
We, the bunches of lily
And with justice, we affirmed
They led us to conquest once
Khalid, Sa'ad and Tareq.
A particular reference is made to Khaibar, a Jewish tribe that
dwelled out¬side of Medina, whom Muhammad and his followers
attacked, because they thought they were conspiring against them.
The connotation was that the Muslims succeeded in defeating the
Jews once, and they would repeat that victory:
B. NATIONALIST NURSERY SCHOOLS
The rhymes taught at nursery schools supported by the different PLO
political factions (PFLP, DFLP and Fatah) deal with national and
secular issues. The following rhyme reflects the love of land and
identity, a major theme taught to Palestinian children:
They ask me who I am
I am a child of Palestine
They ask me, "'Where do you live?"
I live in the land of my ancestors.
They ask me, "How can you live in humiliation and be patient?
Why not leave and emigrate to the West?"
I answer, "The countries of the West are not for me."
Palestine is my homeland
Home to all of my hopes.
The Role of Women in the Struggle
What stands out in the nationalist and secularist schools is the
role of women fighting alongside men and doing their part to
liberate the land from oppression:
Prepare my people,
The revolutionaries have emerged
Enough dispersion, enough exile
You will return
The sons of the nation are lined up to protect the land
Young men and women, teenagers and all.
Special events, such as Mothers' Day which falls on March 21, were
Your holiday, 0 mother
The holiday of sacrifice,
Giving and persevering.
The holiday of meeting
My Palestinian mother of our land.
May every year be filled with
Thousands and thousands of blessings upon you.
Rhymes taught in West Bank nursery schools during the Intifada
became a means of socializing the children politically, of raising
their political con¬sciousness, and ensuring the transmission
of the political culture across generations. The learning of rhymes
reinforced the children's ability to internalize such political
issues as nationality, identity and resistance to the Israeli
Occupation. To the children, these rhymes were not fictional or
imaginative, but were valid and consistent with their everyday
normal reality, and were reflective of their experiences and
The rhymes also served as catharsis, a sort of release for the
continued tension that the children witnessed. They attempted to
make sense of the Palestinian children's world in order to
alleviate the daily distress of their lives. They allowed them to
come to terms with the political turmoil sur¬rounding them.
and helped turn the abnormal situation into a normal and acceptable
one. As blood and violent death became part of the children's
lives, they had no qualms about reciting or chanting a rhyme about
dri¬ving Jews from their land. Hatred and revenge were
reactions to the fact that now they had no home, or that a parent
or sibling limped, or was killed. The rhymes rationalized all this
violence, explained the brutality and gave purpose to their lives,
helping them overcome their desperation under Israeli Occupation.