USC Students for Justice in Palestine

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NY Times: A Generation Lost–the Second Intifada

Posted by uscsjp on March 12, 2007

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

A Palestinian youth threw stones at Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, West Bank, last week. Parents fear that the atmosphere of despair has destroyed their children’s sense of hope.

By STEVEN ERLANGER

Published: March 12, 2007

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, which 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 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 civil disobedience that began in the late 1980s and led to the 1993 Oslo accords 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 to protect Israelis from Palestinian suicide bombers, have lowered these young people’s horizons, shrunk their notion of 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 1980s and ’90s, as many as 150,000 Palestinians came into Israel daily to work, study and shop. While they were not treated as equals, many learned Hebrew and established relationships.

Now, the only Israelis whom Palestinians see are armed — soldiers and settlers. The West Bank is cut into three parts by checkpoints; 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 has been thoroughly radicalized, but say that is the product of Palestinian political and religious leaders who have sanctioned and promoted violence and terrorism against Israel.

The Palestinian territories are 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 directed not only toward Israel, but also 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. But in the brutal struggle of the second intifada, which has been taken over by the militias, many of them controlled from leaders outside the territories, “now the youth are irrelevant,” said Nader Said, a political scientist at Birzeit University in 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 5 to 10 years, and only 22 percent believe that there will be a peaceful negotiated solution between Israel and the Palestinians. About 48 percent believe such an agreement is impossible, and 20 percent more believe it will only come “in a few generations.” (continued)

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