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Beautiful Young Faces

The morning after two young boys out walking in the clean air of Judea, were taken, their skulls smashed, their bright, young faces crushed with stones so that even their mothers could not recognize them; the morning after that happened, I took a bus to downtown Jerusalem.

I sat there. The voice of the radio blared. It was an Israeli newscaster interviewing someone. I was in the back of the bus, and all I heard was the word “peace”. Again and again, questions began and ended. Peace, peace, peace. While Yasir Arafat hadn’t condemned the boys’ deaths, an interviewer or interviewee pointed out, (a leftist Israeli politician? A leftist reporter? Who can say? And, frankly, who cares?) one of his deputies had.

Yes, I thought. A real humanist, to condemn that.

The bus was one of the older, smaller ones Egged has replaced recently and so it was crowded. Many bearded men holding holy books. Many religious women in their modest clothing reading Psalms. I watched them, the way their lips moved over the words, silently, in that bus, as the reporter talked and talked and talked of peace. Outside, a strange rain began to fall. Rain in May, unheard of in Israel. It rolled down the face of the glass in large, uneven drops.

A bus pulled up beside us filled with children on their way to school. From the blue, long-sleeved shirts I could see they were from Beit Yaakov, a haredi girls seminary. And there were boys too. Young boys in payot who pressed their faces against the glass. They were so beautiful, those faces — animated, expressive — as they chatted over notebooks or recited passages from prayer books.

Beautiful, young faces. And I thought of the journey we were taking together, this morning, the morning after two young Jewish boys out walking were found in a cave, their faces smashed by adults who had come upon them by chance, as they strolled, playing hooky from school, having an adventure.

When I returned home, I turned on the CNN broadcast. It was surprisingly subdued and even-handed. Pictures of the boys when they still had faces. The funerals. And then, the pictures of a Palestinian baby, injured, they said (admitting it was denied) by Israeli tank fire.

It hurts me to see an injured baby. Any injured child. But it is not the same, not the same. A child injured in the middle of a battle, is not the same as two young boys out for a stroll overpowered by adults, who see who they are, who grab them, because they have adult strength and these are only children. Grab them and smash their skulls and take away their faces.

There is no symmetry here, none at all. Children on your side, children on ours, these people, our enemies, the enemies of all mankind, all civilized, good-hearted people, try to say. Children sent to crematoria, children killed in the Allied bombing of Berlin. Not the same, not the same, to fire at the enemy and accidentally injure a child, and to grab a child’s young arms, hold him down and smash his skull with so many rocks it takes several men hours to bury them, the blood- stained rocks.

Not the same. No symmetry. You know what you are doing, and it is not an act of self-defense. You know what you are doing, and the world knows who you are, whatever your ideological cover.

I shut off the television and my son came down. He is a year older than the boys who were out taking a stroll. But like them. Knitted skullcap. Beautiful young face. My son, my son.

He took out his guitar and began to play, and I watched him. I watched his face.

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