Children raised with the sounds of bullets

Conversations with friends in Jerusalem revolve around the latest news from family, friends and colleagues throughout the besieged cities of the West Bank. Words from telephone calls weave a tapestry of horror.

Unconfirmed reports tell of death squads, men being lined up blindfolded and shot in the head; a child being shot in front of his mother; a family living with two corpses in the living room; IDF soldiers telling families to drink sewage. Unconfirmed reports echoing down the phone lines confirming what people see from their windows.

Headlines cry: “In Bethlehem, troops are besieging a church where more than 200 Palestinians have sought refugee,” “Bush calls for a halt; IDF presses ahead,” “Peres talks of Jenin massacre.” Articles tell of houses being bulldozed, refugee camps being rained with missiles, ambulances being denied access at checkpoints, slowly filling with blood.

The Intifada is creeping into my sleep. Dreams are becoming more difficult to escape from; fiction, nightmares and reality are mingling. Weeks ago I dreamt I woke up in my village in Scotland. From my window I could see my cat crouching in the branches of the apple tree at the bottom of the garden. Fur on end, she was hissing at something in the garden. I looked down and there, on the lawn, Israeli tanks and bulldozers were moving across the grass towards the greenhouse.

Another dream: this time it is a house in Ramallah. Israeli soldiers had broken down the door and opened fire. In my dream, I walked over the piles of torn books and broken photographs to peer through a hole in the sitting room wall. Through the hole I could see the kitchen. The tap was dripping onto a heap of dishes. Flies were crawling over cold food laid out, yet untouched, on the table. But there was nobody there; except for the buzzing of the flies, all was eerily quiet.

The phone rings again, a friend in Ramallah. He says the children are just not coping, and parents can no longer conceal their fear from the children. Even if they could, images from the television continually create new fears. They feel the danger but are unable to express their feelings, except through tears. The children in the building gather together trying to understand, to talk about their feelings together. Parents have to cope during the night when they wake up after nightmares, having wet the bed. What are the children dreaming? When the line goes dead, his words ring in my head: “Generation after generation of Palestinians are brought up to the sounds of bullets, to stories of massacres and endless injustices. When will this end?”