How To Talk to a 10-Year-Old About Gaza

Explaining 'Collateral Damage,' 'Holocaust,' and 'History'

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By Leigh Shulman

Published August 12, 2014.

I was recently sitting at a hotel when my 10-year-old daughter Lila called my attention to the television. As part of the coverage of Israel’s incursion into Gaza, the news showed a child covered in bandages, limbs missing. It was one of the boys who had been caught in bombings on the beach.

“He’s just like me,” she said.

The look on her face killed me. How do you explain this conflict to a child?

Normally, I’m really good at responses. Like when Lila asked “Mama, what’s porn?” She saw the word on a blog post I was reading about dessert food porn. My method? Step one: break a topic into the most straightforward components. Step two: Answer as simply as possible, coloring my descriptions with as little of my opinion as possible.

The pornography question was easier.

The events happening between Gaza and Israel aren’t easily broken into components. History, politics, even basic facts polarize people to extremes. You cannot both believe Israel to be an aggressive force perpetrating a Holocaust and still describe those fighting as peace loving.

I, too, am not immune to the sway of personal opinion. I grew up Orthodox Jewish, learned Jewish history. I have family and friends who live in Israel now. In my personal history, Israel is the only place in the world that unequivocally accepts Jews. Even though I am no longer practicing Orthodox, Israel still represents home and safety. I want to believe that Israel acts morally and with conscience. Thus, Hamas must be wrong.

It is often the natural inclination of parents to want our children to mirror ourselves, but I do not want Lila to adopt my beliefs simply because I believe them. Nor do I want to censor what she sees, hears and reads. Far better she can turn to me when she has questions so I can help her process and understand. In turn, her honest and pure reactions force me to rethink my preconceived notions about how I see news and history related to Gaza and Israel.

“What is Gaza?” she begins. An apropos first question. It’s a piece of land… Where? In Israel? Beside Israel? Is Gaza it’s own country? I tell her it’s a place between Israel and Egypt where people are fighting. We look at a map together.

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