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The Sick Children of Palestine By: Ali Daraghmeh
Associated Press | Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Palestinian children are collecting cards showing gunmen and soldiers the way American kids trade baseball cards, and some educators are concerned that the uprising hobby is helping to breed a new generation of militants.

The cards are an enormous hit, according to Majdi Taher, who makes them. He said that 6 million cards have been sold over two years and 32,000 albums this month alone in the two main population centers of the northern West Bank - huge numbers in a territory about 1 million Palestinians live, and he plans to expand his business.

The card craze reflects reality in the West Bank, where three years of Palestinian-Israeli violence has become the dominant reality for children. Israeli soldiers enforce curfews, confining residents to their homes, and often carry out raids in towns and villages, looking for militants.

Sometimes children throw rocks at Israeli soldiers or are caught up in exchanges of gunfire. At least 319 Palestinian children under the age of 18 have been killed in the conflict.

In the West Bank, Palestinian militants carry their weapons openly on the streets and gain the adulation of the young. More than 100 Palestinian suicide bombers have carried out attacks against Israelis, becoming folk heroes in their home towns.

The collectable cards depict real-life Middle East action figures familiar to the children: An Israeli soldier shooting a large gun, a soldier forcing Palestinians off their land, a small Palestinian child dressed in militant's clothing holding a toy gun and Palestinian boys throwing stones.

The albums are sold in cardboard boxes shaped like Israeli tanks and include a dedication from Nablus governor Mahmoud Alul. A child who fills an album with all 129 pictures can win a computer, a bicycle, a watch or a hat.

Some teachers and parents are concerned about the new fad, trying to forbid their children from buying the pictures, saying they are teaching children violence and forcing them to grow up too quickly.

"I take hundreds of these pictures from children every day and burn them," said Saher Hindi, 28, a teach at a Nablus elementary school. "They turn children into extremists."

The desire to fill the albums has captivated children in Nablus and Ramallah, teachers say, keeping them from their homework as they spend all their money cent on the cards.

It's a business success for Taher, who said he plans to expand the sale of the cards and albums to other West Bank towns.

The former candy salesman said he means for the album and pictures to be a history lesson. Children who are now seven cannot remember incidents from the start of the fighting three years ago, Taher said.

"I am writing the history of the intefadeh (uprising) in pictures," Taher said. "I collected these pictures from journalists, and I want people to remember this all their lives."

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