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Palestinian Girls Look For Ways To Protest, Without Stones

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In the middle of the night a few weeks ago, 15-year-old Yusra Hammed watched Israeli soldiers arrest her brother Tareq. Two years older than Yusra, Tareq Hammed was among several Palestinian teenagers taken into custody that night, accused of throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers in their village, Silwad, in the occupied West Bank.

While he was being detained, his mother described him as a patriot.

"He wanted so badly to do as same what his father did, to defend his country," Suhaila Hammed said, sitting on a tawny gold couch in their home in Silwad.

Her husband was in Israeli prisons for many years and died 10 years ago, shortly after being released.

"I told [my son] you can help your country by learning, by being good in society," she said. "But he has something in his mind. All his friends think the same."

Yusra, like her brother, is every inch a patriotic Palestinian.

"We deserve freedom," she says emphatically. "We deserve this country."

But she doesn't throw rocks at soldiers.

"I know there is no use of it," she says. "I know I can't free my country with throwing stones."

For many Palestinian boys, throwing stones at Israeli soldiers — and getting arrested — is considered a rite of passage. Palestinian girls rarely take part, though many say they are just as deeply committed to the Palestinian goal of an independent state.

Yusra says a college education will help her help the Palestinian cause. She also has a private way to protest: art. While Tareq was in prison, Yusra covered the wall of her family's staircase with a felt-pen depiction of the Palestinian flag and a fist in chains. Next to it she wrote a phrase that's familiar among Palestinian protesters: The chains must be broken and the night must disappear.

Rand Rimawi, another Palestinian girl in another West Bank village, says she and her friends sometimes join demonstrations to show their opposition to the Israeli military presence.

"We dress alike and march. And in this way, we protest," she says.

Rimawi also doesn't want to get injured.

"When you throw stones, you get hurt," she says.

Some Palestinian girls do throw rocks at Israeli soldiers. Capt. Barak Raz, a spokesman with the Israeli military division in the West Bank, says he has seen them. But it's rare.

He also points out that Palestinians throwing rocks at Israelis have injured soldiers and led to at least one fatal car crash. Last month, there were more than 100 Palestinian minors in prison for throwing rocks, according to the Israeli prison authority. All are teenage boys.

Over time, a few Palestinian women have carried out violent attacks against Israelis, including suicide bombings, but they have been the exception.

Yusra's mother, Suhaila, says culture shapes how Palestinian women protest.

"Our tradition is that girls should not be outside. Families do not allow their daughters out on the street," she says. Plus, she says, girls are afraid of the soldiers.

Yusra snaps at that.

"Why should I be afraid?" she asks vehemently. "I will not be afraid because they have guns. I have my dignity. We should not be afraid."

She goes back to her drawing.

"Doing this means I am strong," she says. "I can do anything."

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