personal reflections on human rights...and other stuff

You can’t hold a gun while you’re dancing

A friend sent me a link to an article the other day about a shooting range in the West Bank that offers tourists the opportunity to “shoot” terrorists. The camp is apparently a fun outing for the whole family. One man from the US brought his family there for the experience, wanting to “teach them values.” The article goes on to write “Upon entering the range, his five-year-old daughter, Tamara, bursts into tears. A half hour later, she is holding a gun and shooting clay bullets like a pro.” That’s so touching.

I don’t know what kind of values that man is trying to teach his daughter. The shooting range’s website helps clarify: “At our program we combine together the values of Zionism with the excitement and enjoyment of shooting which makes the activity more meaningful.”

Proof that you can have fun without a gun.
The tourist part of the shooting range is absurd, particularly when it becomes part of a family vacation with young children (OK, shooting ranges in general don’t get my vote of approval either). As I write these words, I am sitting in an office in Amman at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a UN agency responsible for providing Palestine refugees with access to education, among other services. The office is spacious and sparsely decorated, with two laminated posters of children’s drawings on the walls. Behind me is an old photograph of Palestinian girls performing a traditional dance near a tent. It’s a beautiful image that reminds me of the many workshops I have facilitated in the Middle East where the participants – all adults – at some point during the workshop pull out a mobile phone, play traditional music, prop the phone next to a microphone and all break out in dance.  A bond between individuals is strengthened, hands are held, smiles erupt, and it’s easy to sense the importance that dance plays in the lives of the people present. Those are values I can get behind.

If we talk of values to instill in our children, I cannot even begin to understand the motives behind the man at the shooting range who brought his five year-old daughter. He is quite simply insensitive, mindless, and is probably holding on to a profoundly skewed conviction that he’s doing the right thing by exposing his children to guns. And not just for target practice (which is bad), but to “shoot” terrorists (which is nuts).

Parents have a responsibility to teach their children values. A guiding principle of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is that of the child’s “best interests.” Essentially that means that all decisions related to a child’s development, all actions by parents and others responsible for such development like teachers, must act in the child’s best interests, not their own. I’ve got two boys, now nine and 11. When each one was five years old, my wife and I decided that their best interests were having a safe and secure home, being kind and respectful, having fun and being loved. I may have missed a thing or two but “holding a gun” wasn’t on the list, and it never will be.

Let kids be kids. I’ll get back to my work now, writing a toolkit for Palestinian teachers on how to teach about human rights. Respect, equality, non-discrimination, inclusion, and tolerance – nothing you will ever learn by pulling a trigger.



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