The Children’s Jihad

MJ Santos
22 min readMar 1, 2024

This story exists because Aaron Bushnell said to let our “thoughts run wild with idealistic dreams of what the world should look like.” Refaat Alareer asked us to tell his story “let it be a tale.” And children in Rafah protested last week on behalf of starving kids in the north.

Maria couldn’t stop staring at her little brother. He was gobbling pieces of buttered bread at the dinner table and making happy sounds. She was imagining what he might look like if he lived in Gaza instead of Porto. He would be a lot thinner, she thought. His skin would be stretched tight over his skull like the photo she saw of a dead child who starved to death.

She looked at her mom who was laughing while on the phone. She waved a knife to punctuate her words, having stopped in the middle of buttering bread to answer the call. Maria’s dad was hunched over his screen, frowning. She leaned closer and saw he was staring at an email. It was probably work.

She sighed. In the rare moment when she had their full attention, she’d been telling them about Palestine. How she wanted to do something to help the children in Gaza. Then her aunt called and her mom answered. And her dad took advantage of the lull to get on his phone, too.

Her plate was still half-full. It was difficult for her to eat although she felt very grateful for the food. It’s not like she could send it to the people in Gaza. The best she could do was donate money. That was her plan — to sell her Playstation and give the money to aid organizations. But she needed her parents’ help. She was only twelve years old and she had to be at least 18 to sell it.

Her mom was nibbling and chatting and trying to give João more food. He liked the soft, cooked carrots and grabbed them with both hands. Her dad was scrolling and still frowning. So, Maria forced herself to clear her plate to not waste anything. Then she quietly excused herself and took her dishes to the kitchen.

She went to her room and picked up her ancient iPhone that once belonged to her dad. She didn’t feel like she could handle looking at Instagram anymore today. Her feed was full of photos of other kids at school who were playing soccer or on vacation with their families. It felt so weird that people could live perfectly normal lives in Portugal while families in Gaza were hiding from snipers and drones and trying to find enough clean water to drink.

She was tempted to view her TikTok account that her parents didn’t know she had. But that feed contained the videos created by tearful, angry, and starving Palestinian teens. She felt bad about ignoring them. After all, they couldn’t escape their lives, but she could avoid trauma by simply not opening an app.

Somehow, just donating money didn’t seem like enough.

The next morning, Maria met up with Joana as their parents dropped them off at school. Joana was Maria’s closest friend.

“Nobody cares!” Joana exclaimed. “Not really. It’s all for show. Sure, they put watermelons in their profiles and they share a few videos but it’s because it’s fashionable.”

Maria nodded.

Joana continued, “I have to do something! Something big! Something that really helps! I hate being a witness to genocide!” She halted and the students flowed around her to enter the school.

Maria stopped, too. A kid bumped into her and she moved closer to Joana.

“They’re going to kill everyone!” Joana shouted. A few kids looked over and then continued on their way. Then softly, “They’re all going to die.”

Maria felt so helpless. Too young to make a difference. Too far away to help. The leaders of countries much more powerful than hers were supporting Israel and giving them the means to keep killing children. It didn’t matter what she said or did. The best she could do was donate and hope Israel didn’t destroy the food and medical supplies or murder the people seeking help when the stuff arrived.

Was she supposed to understand anguish at only twelve years of age?

The girls locked gazes. Joana, always the empathic one, threw her arms around Maria. A tear overflowed from Maria’s eye, then another. Something broke inside her.

The bell rang while they were still crying together outside the door. No teacher came to bother them.

There was a concrete bench nearby and they sat. Maria, always prepared for contingencies, pulled out a packet of tissues. Birds sang in the trees just outside the fence. The weather was warmer than usual for February and it was shaping up to be a beautiful day.

Joana looked up at the clearing clouds. “Ahmed said they hate sunny days because the drones can find them easier.”

Maria looked up at the blue sky. Across the street, she could see the top of the Church of Our Lady of Hope. She knew the story — Mary appeared in a French village during wartime. She told the people that the conflict would soon end.

“What would make them end the war?” she asked Joana.

“All the people are dead, or they leave Palestine.”

“Besides that. What else would make the Israelis stop?”

“They run out of money?” She paused, then said, “I don’t think the UN will stop them. People from Yemen are trying.”

Maria nodded. She was young but not dumb. She knew that South Africa did their best in the International Court of Justice, but the UN wasn’t going to act, or they already would have. Individual countries were donating or even airdropping aid, but no nation was defending Palestinians with anything but words.

Someone had to stand up to the bully.

A memory surfaced from history class. She pulled out her phone and went to Wikipedia. She showed Joana “The Children’s Crusade.”

“But that was a disaster.”

“But the intention was good.”

Joana clucked her tongue. “You want to convert the people in Palestine to be good Catholics and then Papa Francisco will protect them?”

“No! I’m saying we should lead a Children’s Crusade! To guard them. To save them in a not religious way.”

There was a pause. Joana narrowed her eyes. “Like human shields?”

“Yes!”

“Do you honestly think we could get enough kids together for that? Or that we could get that far before someone stopped us?”

“Shouldn’t we try? If we have kids from all over the world, maybe our countries will step up to stop Israel from killing us and that will protect the Palestinians, too.”

“Or we could die.”

“Climate change will kill us anyway.”

“You have a point.” Joana grabbed her phone. “I only have 237 followers on Instagram. You have 43. We’re going to need an influencer to help us.”

Maria smiled. “I know someone.”

The girls spent the rest of the morning planning in the sunshine and slipped away into the crowd at lunchtime.

By evening, they were ready. Maria’s fourteen-year-old cousin Tomás, a superstar on the soccer field and celebrity Twitch streamer, was happy to help spread the word. He even offered to go with them, which pleased Maria immensely as she had a crush on him. He was sure that his presence would help further the cause.

“Your cousin has a big head,” Joana whispered to Maria. “But he’s cute and useful.”

Maria shushed her. Tomás was recording the video that would set events in motion. He was standing in front of a graffitied wall that read, “Free Palestine!”

He was finishing up, “Share this video with everyone and I mean everyone! Come be a part of history when we save Gaza! Check my bio for details on where and when to meet.”

“See you tomorrow,” he said as he kissed their cheeks and rode off on his bike.

“You are blushing,” Joana told Maria, who shushed her again.

A boy holds a handwritten sign that says “Save Palestine.”
Photo by Hurrah suhail

The next morning, neither of them wanted to attend class. But they were shocked by how far the video had spread. Their classmates could talk of little else. They were excited to have something to do at last. A few argued against it, but the majority were in favor and eager to go.

At lunchtime, Joana announced to Maria that they had a problem. The original plan was for every kid to pair up and travel by any means possible toward Palestine. They would meet in Turkey where Maria’s family had a vacation rental. Then they would arrange transport south.

But so many kids were interested in going that they needed better organization. They knew that as soon as adults heard about the Children’s Crusade, they would try to stop it.

“You have a problem,” announced Catarina as she sat down at their lunch table.

Maria and Joana stared at her. In all their years at school, they had barely spoken to Catarina. She was the most popular, wealthiest, and prettiest girl in their class. Rumors said her dad had been in the Russian mafia. When the Ukraine war began, her popularity took a hit, but soon recovered when her dad took a stand against Putin.

“Hello? Did you not hear me?”

“Um, yes?” replied Maria.

“You can’t have children roaming the countryside by themselves! This is so disorganized! A disaster waiting to happen! And Turkey is too far from our goal!” Catarina had a slight Russian accent on her Portuguese that disappeared when she sang.

That was a random thought, Maria told herself. She made herself focus instead of staring at Catarina’s perfect curls. Joana seemed dumbstruck, so she replied. “Are you going to tell on us?”

“No, you idiot! I want to help! My father has a ship to take us to Palestine.”

“Wait — your father will take us there?”

“No! Listen! There is a cruise ship, you know, for tourists. It’s in dry dock in Lisbon for repairs but will sail again in three days. My uncle is the captain, and he uses it to smuggle things. I am going to blackmail him to take us to Lebanon. The ship can hold 3000 passengers.”

Maria’s mouth dropped open. She glanced at Joana and raised her eyebrows.

Joana spoke up, “Wait a minute. How can we trust you?”

Catarina frowned. Then she looked at Maria. “Do you remember the hermit crabs? In second grade?”

Maria blinked then smiled. “Yes.”

“I owe you. You saved me from being beaten. My dad…he was not well back then. But he won’t beat me now for this. He will consider it showing initiative!”

Maria grinned. She hadn’t thought about those class pet crabs for a long time. It was Catarina’s turn to care for them one day and they escaped. Maria helped her find them and put them back unharmed into the aquarium. She felt like Catarina could be trusted even though this new plan was outrageous.

“So now we’ll sail with pirates?” she asked Catarina.

“Heigh-ho!” Catarina smiled. She handed her phone to Maria. “Add your contact, please, and we will plan. You, too,” she motioned at Joana.

That evening after dinner, they had a video conference. At Catarina’s request, they included Tomás, which made Maria feel jealous. But she wasn’t sure if it was because of her request or his sudden interest.

Mid-call, someone tapped on Maria’s door. She muted her phone and her mom entered.

“Hi, am I interrupting something?”

“Uh, no, just a homework assignment,” she felt bad for lying.

“Okay, just wanted to know if you still want to sell your Playstation?”

“Yes, please.”

“Then I’ll do that tomorrow on my lunch break.” Her mom leaned over and kissed her forehead.

“Thanks, Mom.” She could use the money for the trip.

When her mother left, Maria waited a moment before rejoining the call. A guilty wave swept over her. She might not see her family ever again after Friday. She decided to write them a letter before bed so that they might understand what she did.

Friday evening and Saturday morning before dawn, children across Portugal used any excuse they could to travel to Lisbon’s port. Some claimed sleepovers and covered for each other. Many pretended to have early morning Scout activities or soccer practice. By noon, 2,843 had slipped onboard the Nossa Senhora de Aventura and the ship set sail. Captain Ushkuynik insisted that the children stay below deck until they were out on the open sea. Some kids were seasick but overall, there was a buzz of excitement. It was a miracle that no adults had stopped them yet. The religious ones claimed it was a sign that they would succeed.

Later in the afternoon, Catarina led Maria, Joana, and Tomás to meet her uncle on the bridge.

“Captain Ushkuynik, we are grateful for your help,” Joana declared.

He replied with a harsh word in Russian and rolled his eyes. He reeked of wine but seemed alert and steady on his feet. “You kids will get me jail time for kidnapping.”

Maria started to protest that they wouldn’t testify against him, but he waved her off and pointed at Catarina. “You are a schemer like your father. I am angry with you. But I think you are right. Someone must help Palestine.”

He took in all of them and sighed. “Just keep the kids out of the way of my crew, please. This is a pleasure ship but not a pleasure cruise.”

“Yes, sir,” they replied.

He turned his back to check a monitor and they filed out.

“We’re going to have to get people organized,” said Tomás. “We need to divide into teams with captains. We’ve still got a week on this boat.”

The girls agreed. Maria hated meeting new people, but she had a higher purpose now. The trio started with the kids they knew from school and began the process. Lucky for them, most of the children had come with honest intentions to help, not just to have fun, and the first two days went smoothly.

A few kids were the designated contacts with the outside world. They kept track of the news and reported back on how many more children were planning on joining the group in Lebanon. The rest of the children agreed to keep their phones off to prevent parents from tracking them or pleading with them to return home.

To pass the time, they created protest posters and enjoyed some of the ship’s amenities like the games. Captain Ushkuynik refused them the use of the pool as he said he didn’t have a lifeguard and didn’t want murder charges on top of kidnapping.

Old relief map of the Mediterranean Sea showing the countries bordering it.
Mediterranean Sea

On the third day as they steamed through the Mediterranean, José, a fifth grader from Coimbra ran up to Maria. “The Italian kids want a ride. Can we pick them up?”

Maria was shocked that the word had spread so far. She knew a handful of Portuguese kids living in Spain, France, Germany, and Belgium were planning on showing up with some of their friends. But they all had enough money to take a train or fly. José explained that his Italian cousins lived in the south and they were too poor to travel but they were anxious to come.

She watched as Captain Ushkuynik turned purplish red while he struggled to keep his mouth closed and not swear. He made grunting noises, rolled his eyes, and blew out a huge breath. It made her want to laugh because he looked like Homer Simpson burping.

Catarina stomped her foot. “Well?”

With gritted teeth, the captain replied, “Fine. But the fuel for this is extra.”

“Fine,” she replied. “I’ll transfer you the money.”

“Good.” The captain veered away to consult with his first officer. “Three hours.”

Without another word, the kids hurried off the bridge. José was waiting for them.

Catarina told him, “Tell your contacts to be ready for pickup in three hours. We won’t dock for long.”

José whooped and texted a message.

Before the sun set on Calabria, 211 more children from ages ten to seventeen had boarded. Maria and Joana decided the cutoff age was ten and this made some younger folks unhappy. One nine-year-old had snuck onboard in Lisbon but they let it slide. It wasn’t like they could drop him off anyway.

The ship was sailing a little over capacity now, but since the passengers were children, they made it work.

Then, in Athens at the port of Piraeus, they had to stop again. One kid had developed appendicitis and two of his classmates went with him to the hospital. They pretended to be on vacation with their families and accidentally separated from their parents. Meanwhile, 181 more children from Albania, Macedonia, and Greece came aboard. Captain Ushkuynik complained that the food was going to run out, but the Greeks presented a solution. Each kid brought as much food as they could carry to contribute.

Maria loved the honey-filled baklava fresh from a bakery. But the newness and excitement and sense of noble purpose wasn’t enough to drown her worries. She went back to the room she shared with Joana and Catarina and turned on her phone. She had dozens of texts and video messages and missed calls from her parents. She saw enough of them to realize her family had discovered their plan and authorities were planning to stop the cruise ship before it reached Lebanon. She ran to find her friends and speak to the captain.

Soon, everyone was trying to shout over one another on the bridge. Maria plugged her ears and gave up. It was perfect timing as a crew member shrilled a whistle. The argument paused.

“Excuse me, sir. A Qatari tanker captain wishes to speak to you.”

Captain Ushkuynik raised his eyebrows and stepped away to take the phone. “Yes?” He listened for a bit, then said, “We have a helipad. Permission granted.” He handed the phone to the crew member and issued an order in a language Maria didn’t recognize.

“Well, children, there may be hope. You three come with me and someone go fetch that soccer star who twitches.” He pointed to Maria, Joana, and Catarina who followed him through the ship to a deck marked by a cross in a large circle. Tomás came jogging up soon after.

The sound of a helicopter grew louder as the captain explained. “Qatar wants to help you, unofficially, of course. They have some hard feelings toward Israel. Listen to what they say and maybe there is a way to make this work.”

A small black chopper landed and a teen hopped out, tossing a headset on the seat he’d left. He signaled with his hand and the helicopter lifted off. Once the noise died down, he addressed them.

“I am Ismail al Thani.” He paused as if expecting a reaction, but the name meant nothing to the Portuguese kids. The captain blinked but said nothing.

“I want to help the Crusade. I was waiting in Beirut for you to arrive. But I hear that the Americans are coming to stop you. A warship is traveling through the Suez Canal and will cut you off within a day.”

The kids looked at each other. They were so close to their goal but how could they escape a warship?

Ismail continued, “A storm is moving in within a few hours. Under cover of the storm, all the children can transfer to the tanker and convoy that brought me here. We can still reach Lebanon or go to Port Said in Egypt instead. It would be safer and we could meet up with the others.”

Tomás asked, “What others?”

“The kids from South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Ukraine, Korea, and many other places.”

Maria’s jaw dropped.

Joana interjected, “We have 3232 children on this ship. Can you take them all?”

“Yes! It will be dangerous crossing between ships in the storm but those who die will be honored as martyrs!”

“Um…” began Maria.

“Just kidding! We will begin the transfer as soon as the satellites are blinded by the clouds. It will not be so scary!”

For the next few hours, several tender boats transferred groups of children to various ships in the convoy. The waves were tall and rough when Catarina hugged her uncle and climbed into the last boat with Maria and Joana. Tomás had left earlier to help maintain order.

Many of the children were frightened and seasick but no one wanted to go home. The convoy sailed toward Port Said where they hoped they could find safe harbor. Ismail assured them that his country was putting plenty of pressure on Egyptian authorities that might be tempted to cave to the Americans.

But the problem was that Port Said was still a long way from Gaza. It was at least a four-hour drive to Rafah on the border of Palestine and the border crossing was closed. Ismail insisted that it would all work out, inshallah.

Camera crews and journalists mobbed the Egyptian docks when they arrived shortly after sunrise. Private security kept them from clambering onboard, but they couldn’t stop the camera drones from hovering.

Joana huffed and blamed Ismail. “Why’d you tell them we were coming?”

“I didn’t!”

“Now what do we do?”

Maria had been pondering that question. “We talk to them. We tell them what we’re doing. We insist on a live interview so they don’t edit us, and we ask for every child that hears to come help us.”

Catarina spoke up, “That’s a good idea. They will want to silence us. We will not go quietly!”

Maria smiled her thanks.

Tomás asked, “How will we get from here to Gaza?”

Ismail replied, “We have friends.”

The four children arranged for an interview with Al Jazeera. Ismail offered to translate just to be sure no one twisted their words. The reporter and camera crew were polite but somewhat overwhelmed when they realized they were faced with over three thousand children united in a single cause. Only 800 were on the ship with Maria, Joana, Catarina, and the boys, but they filled the empty deck and hushed each other in the background. The ship’s crew were clearly amused.

Maria’s legs trembled but she stood proudly next to her friends. “We are going to Gaza to stop the war because no one else will. We will do what is right and we are not afraid.”

The reporter asked, “Aren’t you afraid to get caught in the crossfire? You could die.”

“No, because someone has to stand up to bullies or they will never stop.”

Joana chimed in, “Thousands of children have already died because the adults failed to act. Our lives are not worth more than theirs. If we must die with them to stop this war, we will!”

The kids around them started to cheer, “Free Palestine!” The chant grew louder, and the ship rocked slightly as hundreds of feet stamped in rhythm. The camera scanned the crowd, taking it all in and broadcasting it live.

After the journalists left, the planning continued. Ismail’s contacts who had gathered in the city had rented or borrowed buses, vans, and cars to drive across the desert to the border to the Salah al-Din Gate. They would leave in the middle of the night to drive most of the way in the dark.

As they ate, Ismail told them about Saladin, the namesake of the border crossing. He united and commanded Muslim troops that defended Arab lands against the crusaders. He explained that Saladin was very focused on jihad.

Catarina interrupted, “A holy war?”

“Not exactly. Jihad means ‘exerted effort’ like changing yourself for the better. We are often our own worst enemies. It also means physically taking a stand against oppressors to uphold justice.”

Joana jumped in, “Then we aren’t on a crusade. We’re on a jihad!”

Ismail nodded.

The word spread about “jihad.” What was once a fearful term became the right word. Children redesigned the protest posters, carefully transported with them all this way, to reflect the change.

Maria got Tomás to help spread a final message before they attempted to rest before leaving. “There is no shame if you choose to stay behind. We will arrange for you to get home safely. Those who will continue onward, we leave at 3am. Rest well.”

Every single child of the 3232 filed off the ship and filled the transport vehicles. Some kids were sleepy and others hyper. Maria stood on the deck with tears rolling down her cheeks. She watched as the Qatari security and port police kept the media back and spoke kindly to the children. Some of them distributed snacks and bottles of water. Many children took extras. Maria understood — it wasn’t for them, but for the children in Gaza.

Catarina came up beside her and wrapped an arm around Maria’s shoulders.

There was a commotion at the edge of the crowd. “Maria! Maria!” A woman waved frantically.

Maria recognized her mom and hurried down the gangplank to hug her. “Mom!”

“Honey, don’t do this! Come home!”

Maria pulled back from the hug. “No, mom. I can’t go home.” She waved her arms to encompass the masses of children still entering vehicles. “The children in Palestine are dying. You had your chance to stop it. Now it’s our turn.” She grabbed her mom tightly, then ran back toward Catarina waiting by a bus. She imagined she heard her mom crying, but she didn’t turn around. Catarina took her hand and they joined their friends inside.

She dozed off on the ride but awoke when the sun beamed in the windows. The other kids who were awake were talking in hushed voices. Ismail came back to their seat and squeezed in beside them.

“The driver says about twenty more minutes. Look out the window.” He pointed to the east where the sun highlighted a dark mass on the horizon.

Maria squinted. Dozens of cars and trucks and even camels were headed their way. By the time the bus halted near the crossing, there were more vehicles and people than she’d ever seen in her life. It made a Benfica game in the stadium look like a family picnic.

Maria, Joana, Catarina, Tomás, and Ismail left the bus and headed toward the entry point. The Egyptian guards put their hands over their hearts and bowed their heads. They waved the children through.

Ismail told them, “Shukraan, thank you,” and some of them smiled. One was crying.

The five friends joined hands and passed through the crossing. The children from across the world followed. Some had already unfurled their posters and were chanting, “Free Palestine!” Media drones buzzed and cameras flashed. Some ambitious reporters were broadcasting commentary.

Soon, the children were face to face with a large group of heavily armed Israeli border guards.

One shouted at them over all the noise. “Go home! You cannot cross here!” He shooed them with a hand and repeated the message.

Maria and the others up front had already discussed what they would do in this moment. She squeezed the other’s hands and they moved as one to hug the guards. The idea was to keep them immobilized so they couldn’t harm the other children. More kids caught on and went to help. One guard got his rifle free but before he could shoot, he went down under a pile of ten-year-olds.

With their path clear, the children surged past the guards and the barriers. More soldiers appeared, then a tank. Maria had wiggled free once a group of teens had used the guards’ own wrist restraints on them. The tank was terrifying as it raised its barrel.

But the kids were running straight at it. The soldiers raised their weapons — they had shot plenty of Palestinian children so why should this be any different? But the media drones zoomed closer, a helicopter hovered nearby, and the officer motioned for them to stand down.

The kids cheered. Some climbed right over the tank while others streamed past it. They ran into the crowded streets of Rafah as the sun shone down on the cobbled together shelters. The Palestinian children ran to meet them. Maria lost sight of her friends, but she wasn’t afraid. Kids hugged her and cried with her. She handed out all the food and water she’d brought and felt sorry she didn’t bring more.

Eventually, Catarina and Joana found her. Tomás had started a game of soccer with local kids. Ismail had disappeared but Maria wasn’t worried because he could speak the language. She’d also looked him up and realized he was from the most powerful family in Qatar. She figured he would be okay.

The girls were elated and exhausted. The plan was for them to spend the night camping with the Palestinians to stop Israel from bombing them. Maria was worried about the food and water situation, but Catarina had an answer. They were on the beach, and she pointed out to sea.

“See that ship? Do you recognize it? It’s my uncle! He’s bringing supplies.”

“Wait — I thought he said the ship was low on food?”

“No, he just didn’t want us opening the aid packages.”

Maria suspected that the aid packages probably contained more than edible items, but she kept quiet. She was furious with the Israelis. If the local people ended up with weapons to defend themselves, all the better.

A couple of women approached them and offered them rice. The girls declined as gracefully as they could. But then Ismail appeared and explained it would be rude to refuse. So, Maria and the others accepted the food and thanked the women profusely.

When the women left, Ismail gave them an update. “The children are gathering near where mosque was. Come on.”

He led them through the streets while occasionally checking his phone. They arrived at the edge of the crowd. A part of Maria knew it was dangerous to gather like this and make themselves an easy target. But she was in awe, too. More children and adults than she could hope to count were kneeling or seated together amongst rubble lit by candles and the occasional flashlight from a phone. Many were praying or reciting something together.

In the distance, she heard planes, and closer, a buzzing whine. Some people murmured nervously. Others seem determined to ignore the noises.

Maria’s heart was racing. She looked skyward but didn’t see anything. Would this be it? Would a bomb end her and her friends?

Someone turned up a radio. An excited voice was shouting in Arabic. The message repeated but then it was drowned out by a jet fighter’s roar. People screamed and ducked. Ismail laughed.

“What!?” Joana screamed at him as she tugged him down to the ground. “Why are you laughing?”

The jets roared past again. More people shouted. Then some cheered.

Maria looked up. Fighter jets in formation, lights ablaze, streaked toward the north. Once they passed, people cheered and hugged each other. The buzzing drones faded away.

Ismail laughed again. “We did it! The UN declared a no-fly zone over Palestine! Those were the Egyptian jets enforcing it. Israel agreed to a ceasefire!”

Whoever had the radio connected it to speakers. Ismail continued to translate.

“The northern border crossings into Gaza were overrun by Israelis protesting their own government and more airdrops are incoming with food and medical supplies.”

Joana whooped loudly and bounced up and down with Catarina. Maria sat down abruptly on the ground and her friends gathered around her.

“Are you okay?”

Through blurry eyes, she looked at their faces in the flickering light. “I’m so relieved.” They laughed together. Then, they helped her up and put her on their shoulders to march through the streets and celebrate.

Some time later back at home in Porto, Maria still felt awed when she watched the videos of the Children’s Jihad. They estimated over twelve thousand children participated from all over the world. It was like one kid to represent each Palestinian child that had been murdered.

The Jihad shook people up. Parents harassed their governments to do something at last. And finally, there was peace.

Palestine, especially Gaza, was in ruins, however. Negotiations were still ongoing to make Palestine and Israel one nation and there was a mountain of anger and injustice to deal with. There would be no rebuilding for a while yet. With climate change threatening to make the planet uninhabitable, people argued that it wasn’t even worth trying.

Maria felt that as long as people were still here on the planet, they needed to try to make the best of things. Her family had taken in orphan siblings from Gaza. Maria was learning Arabic from them and teaching them Portuguese. She was going to keep helping Palestinians and any others who needed someone to stand up for them.

She finished dressing and left to meet her friends for the first formal meeting of the Children’s Jihad Crew. They had a lot of planning to do.

I appreciate you reading this tale that lifted my anguish for a few hours. I wish it were true.

It’s a rough draft and I’m rusty. I welcome constructive feedback.

I’ve written a few other things, including commentary on current events, short fiction, and my experience being autistic.

UPDATE: APRIL 2024 My story sort of becomes reality. The Freedom Flotilla will soon leave Turkey and set sail for Gaza with hundreds of activists, water, food, and medical supplies!

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MJ Santos

Trying to improve or at least distract the world one story at a time. 🏳️‍🌈Autistic immigrant in 🇵🇹