In Shatela, one of the two camps in Lebanon where Phalangists massacred Palestinians last September, an 11-year-old boy who escaped now wants vengeance.
The boy is the only male survivor of his family, said Dr. Rona M. Fields, an Alexandria psychologist. "When I said, 'What do you expect to do when you grow up?' he said, 'I will be a Palestinian guerrilla, and I will kill those who killed my family. I will fight to get back my homeland,'" she recalled.
The boy is not unusual. In Ireland, Israel and Lebanon, children are learning to fear, hate and carry on the fighting, Fields said.
The author of five books on violence and social change, Fields returned last week from a three-month trip to the three countries, where she studied the effects of violence on children. She has studied children there for 13 years.
Fields said children in these countries are being "socialized to terrorism" and are not developing the capacity for political action. In Northern Ireland, there is a new development, she said: "Kids are saying the violence doesn't bother me, that violence just happens and it's a fact of life." If, she said, "you see violence as an acceptable part of everyday life, you don't make the changes necessary to change it."
In all three countries, sectarianism has been institutionalized and politicized, she said. Opposing groups "identify themselves on the basis of religion, and they live in societies that segregate them and place them on the basis of religion."
Fields said the children on both sides see themselves as part of a threatened minority group. They have incorporated into their psyche not only the violence they have witnessed, but experiences of their entire group, even in other places and past generations, she said.
"The fear, the lack of trust, the hatred, the isolation, the regression--all of those are symptoms that forecast ongoing strife, continued sectarian warfare," she said.
"It doesn't matter in the long run whether they've personally seen a bomb explode as much as it does that they feel themselves a part of a threatened group and identify with members of their group who are being destroyed. That's what makes for sectarian fighters in violent countries."
Palestinian children in West Bank camps, for example, identified with the massacres in Sabra and Shatela and "suffered the effects vicariously. Their identity is tied up with Palestinians everywhere," she said.
"Children of Jewish concentration camp survivors identify with their parents' concentration camp suffering and translate threats against Jews into the prospect of their own holocaust, in other words, the obliteration of Israel."
Among the psychological tests Fields gave was a test using ambiguous pictures. The children were asked what they saw in them.
In a Palestinian camp on the West Bank, one boy, in a typical response, saw a girl leaving to join the Palestine Liberation Organization to fight the Israelis. A common response by children in nonviolent countries is that a girl is going off to school, Fields said.
Another picture often is described by children elsewhere as a peaceful scene of a woman sleeping in bed with a man about to join her. It was interpreted by a typical child in Northern Ireland as a picture of a murdered woman and a man leaving to find the murderer. He never does find the murderer, she said.
Another picture may be commonly interpreted elsewhere as a boy seeing into his future as a doctor in a field hospital. In Northern Ireland, children often saw a murdered man and themselves running to hide, she said.
"There's no expectation of anything good happening," Fields said. "They think in terms of these helpless, hopeless situations."
Fields said she found two exceptions: Jewish children living in kibbutzim, where they feel "effectual," and children at a Greek Catholic convent outside of Sidon, Lebanon, which has taken in 152 Christian and Muslim war orphans.
,Usually, Christian and Muslim orphans in Lebanon are housed in separate orphanages. At the convent, she said, there is no proselytizing of the Arab children to become Christian, and there is no separation of the children.
The children at the convent, she said, were "free of the sectarian hatred that keeps fueling the fight."