A Palestinian boy with a gun to his head asked if I was OK. I still think about him

The Palestinians have patience because Israhell would prefer they not. Israel would prefer they run away never to return. Palestinian patience is something special, and it’s why they will win in the end.

I really relate to the story below. For an outsider, touring Palestine is a horror show. Going in from Jordan to Palestine with my Palestinian accompanists, the point of entry was a shit show and normally I don’t tolerate such scenarios. But you will be constantly reminded that you are not in your world. In Israhell, all tourists are Palestinian, even if they don’t realize it.

The Palestinians are treated horribly by young Israeli employees who come across like hoodlums. They are the rudest most arrogant cretins I have ever run into.  They are allowing the lesser beings, Americans no exception, onto their planet and they want to see you grovel for it. One kept yelling at one at my comrades and I nearly lost it but all along the way she kept reminding me “auntie, have patience.’

Driving into Ramallah from Jerusalem in 2018. See how easily the cretins can enclose the Palestinians on a whim.

Before our journey she schooled me on what she called “Arab patience”.  Arab patience means patience crossing a bridge of fire just so one can get to the other side. If you lose your patience, anything can happen, the cretins win.

You can see that they would love to mess with you, and would love to see you pissed off. So stiff upper lip and don’t change your face, don’t stumble over the obstacles. Don’t look left or right, look straight ahead. Pretend you see nothing amiss. “Arab patience”. It’s quite a lesson for an American.

On a bus in the West Bank, fearing for our lives, this 13-year-old boy taught me the true power of empathy


In 2014 I found myself travelling along the West Bank on a coach with about 30 young Palestinians. This journey was full of music and dance. Darbukas and dabkes. And I was involved. It was impossible not to be. That is what empathy is. Feeling with others and not for them.

But along this journey, that empathy turned quite suddenly to sympathy. Our bus had to pass a roadblock guarded by Israel Defence Forces soldiers.

Guns were pointed at our driver and he was forced to halt the bus, throwing the younger members of the group 10 feet down the aisle. As we all scrambled to our seats, I immediately sat next to a young Palestinian boy of 13.

One of the IDF soldiers entered the bus and shouted at us for paperwork, permits and identification. As we sat silently, staring down the barrel of his gun, the 13-year-old boy sitting next to me turned and asked if I was all right. I simply nodded. He smiled at me and said: “Don’t worry, it will all be fine.” I suddenly felt rather embarrassed. Embarrassed that a 30-year-old man was being comforted by a child.

The soldier began walking along the bus and at that moment I needed to feel good about myself. So what did I do? I acknowledged my sympathy. I felt for this kid sat next to me. I reminded myself no child should have to stare down the barrel of a gun.

I reminded myself no child should have to feel the fear of death. I reminded myself this was all so wrong. And I ultimately reminded myself that my sympathy did nothing for my 13-year-old companion.

This lad looked to me again and observed that I was nervous. “Smile, it will help!” he said before asking for my passport. I didn’t even question giving my British passport to a 13-year-old child. He placed the passport visibly on my lap and said something that made me realize my sympathy was futile.


“This is Kryptonite, remember that.” The soldier arrived at my seat and pointed his gun in my young friend’s face, while the boy showed a stoicism that I did not know existed in children. The soldier then clocked my passport, and lo and behold, he moved on. Kryptonite.

I am often reminded of that young boy whenever I see news of the destructive events happening in the region. All I can think is: I hope he is still smiling. I thank him for helping me to re-engage my own sense of empathy but also for understanding what it means.

Empathy is the ability to not be able to switch off the news or put down a newspaper when the suffering of others is so prominent. Empathy is not sitting in the political chambers around the world, talking, but rather doing.

Empathy is not turning a blind eye to the destruction of innocence we are seeing in our youth; whether that be a child living in the confines of Gaza, surrounded by nightly airstrikes, or an Israeli child living within the range of Hamas rockets. Empathy forces world leaders to not just condemn with shallow sympathy, but to take action and save our children.

That 13-year-old boy made a choice to feel with me, rather than for me. And that was humiliating for me to acknowledge: that I didn’t have that capacity as an adult. But maybe we need to feel humiliated sometimes. Because if a child already possesses that quality, then we as adults need to re-educate ourselves.

Children exhibit empathy by putting themselves inside the struggles of others and help to find a way out together. Children realise that empathy spurs us into positive action, sympathy doesn’t.

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