Children of the Palestinian intifada: The lost generation

By Steven Erlanger / International Herald Tribune

NABLUS, West Bank: Their worried parents call them the lost generation of Palestine: its most radical, most accepting of violence, and most despairing.

They are the children of the second intifada that began in 2000, growing up in a territory riven by infighting, seared by violence, occupied by Israel, largely cut off from the world and segmented up by barriers and checkpoints.

To hear these young people talk is to listen in on budding nihilism and a loss of hope.

“Ever since we were little, we see guns and tanks, and little kids wanting little guns to fight against Israel, ” said Raed Debie, 24, a student at An Najah University here.

Issa Khalil, 25, broke in, agitated. “We never see anything good in our lives,” he said. He was arrested for throwing stones in the first intifada, the uprising of mass civil disobedience that began in the late 1980s and led to the 1993 Oslo accord with Israel. He was arrested again in the second uprising as the agreement faltered.

“And for what?” he asked. “I wasted 14 years of my life, we all did. For five years I haven’t left Nablus. Here there’s unemployment and no peace; it retreats, we go backward.”

While generations of young Palestinians have grown up stateless, seething at Israel as the visible agent of oppression, this generation is uniquely stymied.

Israeli checkpoints, barriers and closures, installed by Israelis trying to protect their own citizens from Palestinian suicide bombers, have lowered their horizons, shrunk their Palestine and taken away virtually any informal interaction with outsiders, let alone with ordinary Israelis. The security measures have become even tighter since the election to power a year ago of the Islamist group Hamas, which preaches eternal “resistance” to Israeli occupation and rejects Israel’s right to permanent existence on this land.

During most of the 1980’s and 90’s, as many as 150,000 Palestinians came into Israel daily to work, study and shop. And while they were not treated as equals, many learned Hebrew and established relationships. Now, the only Israelis Palestinians see are armed soldiers and settlers. The West Bank is cut into three parts by checkpoints and permits; Gazan men under 30 are virtually unable to leave their tiny, poor and overcrowded territory. Few talk of peace, only of a lifetime of “resistance.”

Many Israelis agree that the current generation of young Palestinians have been thoroughly radicalized, but say it is the product of Palestinian political and religious leaders who have sanctioned and promoted violence and terrorism against Israel. Palestine is an overwhelmingly youthful place 56.4 percent of Palestinians are under 19, and in Gaza, 75.6 percent of the population is under 30, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

Opinion polls show a generation more supportive of armed struggle and terrorism than their parents, according to Waleed Ladadweh of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. The violence is not only directed toward Israel but toward one another. ” We’re pushed all the time to be more political, more militant, more religious, more extreme,” said Shadi el-Haj, a 20-year-old student at An Najah. “We want to be Palestinians, like the generation of the first intifada. But people push you, are you Fatah or Hamas? All our problems start with, I’m Fatah, I’m Hamas. It wasn’t like that before.”

During the first intifada the young were a symbol of the struggle for statehood, leaders of a popular uprising that focused, at least at first, on resistance over violence. But in the brutal struggle of the second intifada, which has been taken over by the militias, many of them controlled from leaders outside Palestine, “now the youth are irrelevant,” said Nader Said, a political scientist at Birzeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

More importantly, this generation has lost faith in political solutions. “They haven’t lived one moment in a period of real hope for a real state,” he said. “And with this internal fighting, there is more and more a feeling that we don’t deserve a state, that we’re inadequate, which kills the morale of the young.”

Some 58 percent of those under 30, the center’s polls show, expect a more violent struggle with Israel over the next five to 10 years, and only 22 percent believe that there will be a peaceful negotiated solution between Israel and the Palestinians. Some 48 percent believe such an agreement is impossible, and 20 percent more believe it will only come “in a few generations.”

There are no comparable polling figures from the late 1980’s, when the first intifada broke out. But in 2000, according to polling done by the center, only 32 percent of Palestinians between 18 and 30 believed there would be conflict and violence with Israel in the next five to 10 years. Some 21 percent thought there would be more peace, while 16 percent thought there would be less. Those older than 30 expected more peace and less conflict

Female students gathered at a university in Gaza. While generations of young Palestinians have grown up stateless, this generation is uniquely stymied.

A Palestinian teenager gazed at the ruins of his family home in Beit Hanun, northern Gaza. Much of the work available for young people here is in either disorganized security forces or armed militias.

A woman walked by pictures of young men killed fighting Israeli troops in Beit Hanun. “Nobody pays attention to this generation,” said ambulance driver Khader Fayyad, 46, “except to recruit them.”

A boy next to a lowered Palestinian flag at a West Bank school where a girl was killed by Israeli border police in January. Most Palestinian youths say they cannot imagine living in peace next to Israel.

Young Palestinians arrived at a Fatah rally


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