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Via Dolorosa:A monologue about the Middle East written and performed by David Hare.
A Daring Time to be Young
Over the past month, television news has shown images of brutal fighting in the Middle East. You dont have to look closely to see the faces of the fighters are young.
More than 130 people have been killed and more than 2,000 injured in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Most of the dead were Palestinian, and more than 30 were teenagers like 12-year old Mohammed Aldura who was killed by Israeli troops in a gun battle captured on tape by a TV news crew.
Most of these young Palestinians died in spontaneous clashes with Israeli soldiers. In many cases, loosely organized bands of teens and young adults gathered for a funeral and ended up throwing rocks and homemade firebombs at Israeli troops and Israelis who have built homes in Palestinian territory.
Amnesty International, an international human rights group, says Palestinian schools gave students time off to go fight.
There are no uniforms, no official maneuvers, and few clear leaders. Some of the young fighters bought guns on the black market, but most rely on rocks, slingshots and more primitive forms of guerilla warfare. The Palestinians call it "intifada," uprising.
Many of the Palestinians died knowing their friends and family would remember them as martyrs -- brave fighters who gave their lives for freedom. Many were like Nabil al-Arair, 24, who on Oct. 26, blew himself up on a bicycle outside an Israeli army post in Gaza, wounding one soldier.
"What can I say? I am very proud of him," his father told an Associated Press reporter.
Nabil's 27-year-old brother said the suicide was an honor for the family. "This is an honor to the Palestinian people and I wish to follow in his footsteps," he said, his eyes welling with tears.
The combination of poor future opportunities and the possibility of becoming a martyr makes Palestinian youth more likely to take risks, adding to the deadliness of the conflict.
Mandatory military service
On the other side are Israeli soldiers. Many have just turned 18 and recently reported for mandatory military service. All Israeli men must serve three years in the Army. Women must serve two years.
In contrast with the Palestinians, the Israeli soldiers are highly organized, well trained, and superbly equipped. But that doesn't make the situation easy.
For example Hagai Bibi, 21, has stood guard outside a Palestinian refugee camp for 26 days in a row. In an tension-filled atmosphere of deafening noise and sporadic gunfights, Hagai protects 18 soldiers in a tin roof bunker with an M-16 automatic.
He rarely sleeps and hardly eats. He lives off "bamba"--peanut puffs, chocolate wafers and Ramen noodles. His days are filled with boredom interrupted by terror.
"I would never want to kill a 4-year-old child. It's not fun. Sometimes you see someone shooting from a window, and you see women and children at home. But what the world sees is us shooting at kids. Soldiers appear in a negative light. The world sees a soldier pointing at 300 people. But what the world doesn't see is that among those 300 people one of them is carrying a gun and starts to shoot," Hagai told a reporter from the Washington Post.
Leaders try to end the violence
While Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat try to find a way to restart the peace process, people in the streets are fighting and dying.
Israelis charge Palestinians are more interested in damaging Israel's image than in finding a peaceful solution. Palestinians point out that President Barak is thinking of forming a coalition with former political opponents who favor ending the peace process. For now, the violence continues.
For background on the Middle East Conflict- click here.
On the other side of the Middle East, in a country called Yemen, 17 U.S. sailors were recently killed in a terrorist attack on the U.S.S. Cole. Ten of the victims were under the age of 23. Many sailors on the ship graduated from high school in June.
Yemen is a small country, about twice the size of Wisconsin. It's located just south of Saudi Arabia, just a few miles from the coast of Africa. (Click for map.)
On Oct. 12 the Navy ship docked at the port city of Aden to refuel. A small boat, loaded with explosives, pulled up next to the ship and exploded. The blast left a hole in the side of the ship 20 feet high and 40 feet wide.
An investigation into the Cole explosion is being headed by the FBI. It appears the two men on the small boat were willing to die to carry out the attack.
In a memorial service for the slain U.S. sailors, President Clinton did not forget their youth. He quoted words from American poet Archibald Macleish:
"Not only a tribute to the young we lost, but a summons to those of us left behind.
Listen to them. The young no longer speak, but, they have a silence that speaks for them at night. They say: we were young, remember us.
They say: we have done what we could, but until it is finished, it is not done.
They say: our deaths are not ours; they are yours; they will mean what you make them.
They say: whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope, we cannot say; it is you who must say this.
They say: we leave your our deaths. Give them their meaning."
For more on the U.S.S. Cole attack - click here.
Youth Shaping the World
Not all fights for freedom are violent. As Palestinian and Israeli teens battled for peace and independence, young Yugoslavians participated in strikes and demonstrations that led to the overthrow of dictator Slobodan Milosevic.
So whenever you feel that nobody listens to young people, keep in mind that teens are on the front lines of confrontations that are shaping the future of the planet.
What do you think? Are teens too young to fight in military battles? Are there any causes you would risk your life for?
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