Three wishes

Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak, by Deborah Ellis

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

“Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak” is a collection of heart wrenching first-person accounts by 20 Israeli and Palestinian youth, ages 8 to 18, interviewed by the author on a visit to the Middle East in 2002.

“I wish the fighting would end, so that we can just make music and have fun and not hate each other,” 14 year old Yanal says in “Three Wishes. ” Yanal lives in a Palestinian territory controlled by the Israeli military. She describes her family, school, Muslim traditions and dreams. And just as we are drawn in to the ‘normalcy’ of Yanal’s life, she jolts the reader with stories of never-ending tensions and violence.

Talia is 16 and lives in West Jerusalem, an Israeli territory. “My best subject is Hebrew literature,” she says. “I’m a good student.” But Talia’s life is not ‘normal’ either because of constant and random violence. She has only one wish, too. “I want the war to end, so I can keep living in Israel and raise my children here.”

Not all the young people interviewed talk of hope and peace. Instead some hold on to hatred and revenge. And many reveal disturbing truths as they describe injustices they have borne or witnessed. The author prefaces each account with information about his or her living conditions, educational system, and government. A map of the region is also included as well as black and white photographs of the interviewees. The final pages of Three Wishes contain suggested readings and a list of non-partisan organizations.

Three Wishes became controversial in early 2006 when it was placed on the Ontario Library Association’s list of recommended readings for the Silver Birch awards. An elementary school teacher in Ontario complained and the Canadian Jewish Congress added its voice in opposition. These critics argue the book demonizes Israeli soldiers and glorifies suicide-bombers. As well, they feel the author fails to describe the coercion used and official support given to self-sacrificing Palestinians. Consequently, some Ontario school libraries have withdrawn Three Wishes from its shelves or limited readers’ access.

Salam, a 12 year old Palestinian, provides an example. She tells of the ‘heroics’ of her 17 year old sister, Aayat, who deliberately detonated a bomb among Israelis, killing herself, two others and wounding twenty-eight people. Ellis does preface Salam’s story stating many Palestinians disagree with suicide bombings and believe lasting progressive change can only come through non-violent means.” Three Wishes gives these children an important forum to speak their truths, and however unpalatable, Salam’s story is a necessary component. Omissions in Ellis’ commentary can be addressed through public dialogue, not censorship.

Reprinted from “Our Schools, Our Selves”, 2007.

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