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.
General Themes

Palestinian Patriotism

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 Homeland
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.

My Nation

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 exiled...
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 revolutionaries.
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 underground army:
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.

Palestinian Self-Reliance

At the outbreak of the Intifada, self-reliance, independence and defiance, as well as steadfastness and determination, characterized the image of the new Palestinian.
Be Prepared
Be prepared
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

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 Bank.
Strike! Strike!
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 stones,
and the following rhyme pays homage to them. It also simultaneously
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 the Negev)
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 men.

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 return.
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
Palestine yes!

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.

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.

My Country

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 all of
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,
Occupied territories
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 schools:

The Jasmines
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
We challenged
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:
Khaibar, Khaibar,
0 Jews,
Muhammad's army
Will return.


Palestinian Patriotism

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 also politicized.

Mother's Day
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 surroundings.
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.