Young people aged 15-29 comprise 30% of the Palestinian population and despite representing a significant and growing segment of the population, youth remain disempowered, disenfranchised and disenchanted in Palestinian society. Life under protracted occupation, all what this generation has known, and the extraordinary situation by which their families lost their homes, lands and future.
This is a determining factor in their daily choices hold great sway over the manner in which they are able to dictate their own lives.
Fifty-two years of grave violations of international law greatly affects the lives of Palestinians, governing such fundamental choices as where one is allowed to live, where one can move and even where one "belongs."
Although Palestinian society is labeled as young, this puts a great deal of pressure on its youth, as they are considered the seeds of much sought-after challenging change. Palestinian society – compared to other societies – should be one of the most productive with especially good abilities, especially when one considers the fact that the productivity of members in any society is at its highest between the ages of 18 and 40.
For a number of reasons, varying from the political and security situation to economic and social conditions, Palestinian youth are in a complicated situation, stuck between two norms. On one hand, like other young people around the world, they are full of energy and motivation to pursue their endeavors and shape their future – and that of their own country, too. On the other hand, they are subject to constantly changing situations on the ground, due to continued Israeli occupation of their land.
These counterproductive conditions that surround Palestinian youth operate simultaneously, undermining their chances of having an actual, real and tangible role. It is a very complicated, yet incomplete image of the real difficulties that these young members of society endure as part of their daily political struggle.
Palestinian youth deal with reality that is contradictory and constantly changing, although they are not willing to engage in a long-term violent confrontation with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF); their aim is to end the conflict and establish their independent Palestinian state.
Palestinian youth are frustrated at seeing their land gradually confiscated, Israeli settlements rapidly growing, the separation wall standing as an open prison and more provoking announcements for extra area annexations.
The lack of vision for a political solution is exemplified by the 24-year anniversary of the Oslo Accords, ostensibly signed in 1995 with the goal of creating a Palestinian state. Instead of creating a Palestinian state, the accords streamlined Israeli occupation, which destroys their dream of independence, state-hood and self-determination thus leading young people to a state of limbo where they hope for one thing but live the exact opposite on the ground.
These young people are politically well-educated, aware and are constantly learning but they are absent from the processes of decision-making, community development and participation in building peace and achieving security. The consequences of this situation has been reflected on society as a whole, with youth being the most affected at all levels, losing a multitude of opportunities to develop and enhance their roles. The unemployment rate among young graduates is over 55%, with fewer educational opportunities, less public participation and little hope for a better future.
Several factors have contributed to insecurity and prevalence of violence, including primarily the ongoing conflict with the Israeli occupation, continuous violent practices against the Palestinians, as well as the dispute between Hamas and Fatah that has evolved into various forms of confrontations and reciprocal violence. This has led to the emergence of anti-democratic practices at the leadership level, the creation of extremist groups, the development of armed conflicts and tribal disputes, leading to multiple forms of community violence.
This new generation, in their teens and early 20s, has grown up experiencing nothing but brutal occupation and an endless cycle of violence.
The challenge today is not simply ending the upsurge of violence that rises every now and then. It is to give people, who are now turning to violence, a different option, to give them a good reason to live. On this matter, the Israeli occupation has offered the majority of youth who have grown up in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza only one option – despair.
Things have reached an apex in recent years: "No expectations, no future and no hope."
Israel refuses to make the choice to live as equals with the Palestinians, or to disengage from its occupation over them.
Young Palestinians who have lived their entire lives under illegal and repressive Israeli military occupation deserve their human rights, freedom and to live in peace similar to any other young person in the world.
* Palestinian author, researcher and freelance journalist, awarded two prizes from the Palestinian Union of Writers