In all societies, youth are the ones who actually fight wars; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no exception. Israeli youth fill the ranks of the IDF; Palestinian youth populate the diverse groups that fought two intifadas and carry out suicide bombings.
Youth also bear the demographic message of the future. In Gaza, for example, the population is heavily weighted in favor of youth, thereby guaranteeing social, economic and political crisis as it doubles roughly every generation. In Israel, ultra-orthodox Jews and Arab citizens will constitute nearly half of all 18 year-olds ten years from now, presenting the disturbing specter of only half the population doing military service and bearing an increasingly heavy security burden unless radical changes are introduced to Israeli society.
Youth also embody idealism and initiative to a far greater extent than most adults. Recently, I came across two very positive examples of this in the context of the Israel-Arab dispute--at least from an Israeli point of view--in two very different forums.
First, at an international convocation that brought together people from all over the Middle East, I was approached by a group of university students from one of the Gulf emirates. They had never met Israelis, they explained breathlessly; this was their first opportunity. They had so much to talk about. Could I arrange for them to meet a similar group of Israeli students? If only, I mused, this sort of initiative could be multiplied a thousand-fold.
Second, at a high school graduation in Israel--a school in the Tel Aviv area where a disturbing percentage of the student body find ways to avoid military service--the valedictorian chose to berate the school's administration and faculty for not doing enough to encourage students to serve and was applauded loudly by his fellow students and their parents.
Here is the place to note that in Israel, military service from age 18 to 21 tends to correspond later in life with social and political involvement of the sort needed if we are ever to reach accommodation with our Palestinian neighbors. Most Israeli youth defend their country willingly and well. True, we also have a fringe of radical youth who are involved with protest movements; a few of them call themselves "anarchists" and demonstrate violently against the security fence.
I don't believe anarchism can contribute to peace. But youth are the only age group really capable of staging a massive ideological rebellion against the ideas represented by the older generation. This doesn't happen to every society or every generation, but when it does it can have a sweeping effect on the course of history. The Zionist movement at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century in many ways represents such a rebellion, whereby members of a young generation of mainly European Jews rejected two thousand years of Jewish teaching and opted for Jewish nationalism in Palestine. The outcome, while profound and vital for the Jewish people, has also manifested itself in seemingly endless Arab-Israel conflict.
The jihadi youth of Sunni Islam who hail from all over the Arab world and sacrifice everything to offer themselves as suicide bombers for groups ranging from Hamas to al-Qaeda also appear to represent such a youth revolt, albeit one that focuses on a death-cult and that should deeply concern their elders. Sadly, in too many areas of today's world and particularly in many Arab and Muslim countries, indoctrination trumps education and, in the words of Karl Popper, ideas are more important than individual people. As a dedicated Zionist myself, I recognize that in some ways I too have to confront this contradiction and find the right balance between the national values I believe in and the rights of individuals swept up in the conflict.
"Individuals" is the definition we must give to most Israeli youth today: they are both more global and less ideological in orientation than their fathers and mothers. What are the obligations of the older generation, represented by this writer, to these youth with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? It seems to me that we are duty bound not only to educate the younger generations; we also owe them a more peaceful and productive world.
Yet we are doing neither. The Israeli education system is in prolonged crisis, brought on by a society that has devalued the formal preparation of coming generations. If we produce dedicated and capable youth it is in many cases despite the system, not thanks to it. We haven't even taught most of our children Arabic, the language they will need if ever we are to live at peace with our neighbors.
As for peace, in my own youth I believed that my efforts and those of similarly dedicated Israelis bespoke the hope that the next generations, my children and grandchildren, would not be so preoccupied with their physical security in a dangerous environment--would not have to fight wars. Sadly, looking at what is transpiring in our neighborhood, I am no longer optimistic in this regard.- Published 30/7/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Understanding the trends among the younger generation is an important way of predicting the future opinions and direction of any nation. It also gives us an early warning capability of negative trends that may be dealt with before it is too late.
Palestinian youths are different from most nations' youths. They are especially vulnerable to political factors affecting their reality, including their social and economic situations. Indeed, education and later job opportunities, access to decent health and social services, in addition to access to the special needs of youth like places of entertainment and sports, all depend on the political situation. This explains why Palestinian youths are so political.
There are many reasons to believe that the political opinions of Palestinian youths are not average but rather veer to the relatively hard line. First, cross tabulation of poll results conducted in the Palestinian territories since the peace process began show that age is a significant factor in determining answers to political questions such as attitudes to the political process, signed agreements and means of struggle.
Second are the results of the frequently conducted student council elections, which have shown steadily growing student support for political factions and groups that oppose the peace process and signed agreements, support violent means of resistance and promote fanatic ideologies.
We should take these indicators seriously as predictions of a trend of future radicalization in Palestinian society. Half the population, due to high population growth, is at age 16 and below. The question is what can be done in order to counter such trends and change them into more positive ones?
The key word in any answer is "hope". After finishing high school, which is free and compulsory, young Palestinians face great difficulties in finding higher education places because local universities are limited to a few specialties as well as in terms of capacity. Opportunities to study abroad are even more limited, not least because of the expense.
At the same time, job opportunities are even more difficult to come by for both school and university graduates, leaving young people at this critical age unemployed, helpless and hopeless. If we add to this the effect of the humiliation resulting from the treatment meted out to them by Israeli soldiers--mostly of the same age--waiting at checkpoints, seeing Israeli bulldozers uproot trees or demolish houses, having family members thrown in prison and hearing horrible tales of torture, it all adds up to an inevitable radicalization of those youths.
To reverse these trends requires reversing both the practices and consolidation of the occupation and the dire socio-economic situation. The one will not happen without the other. To improve educational and professional opportunities requires a parallel lessening of the impact of the occupation and ultimately its end. Only then can Palestinian youths busy themselves with the normal preoccupations of their counterparts elsewhere, building careers and families.- Published 30/7/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
A young route to peace
by Melody Sucharewicz
The young generation's quest for peace should begin with capitals "D" and "C". "D" for "Don't repeat our parents' mistakes". "C" for "Creative, Constructive Cooperation". The peace-quest alphabet would however be incomplete without "I" - for "Identity": a key element we must take into account when discussing the young generation's role in ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Like most other conflicts, this one is based on two entirely contrary narratives: two entirely opposite ways of perceiving the conflict's past and present triggers. Narratives of political conflicts seem harmless. But when their perpetuation becomes an end in itself, peace becomes utopia.
So what determines which collective narrative we believe in? Identity!
Political, religious and ideological identities are stronger than any rational argument, fact or emotion. Rather, they shape arguments, facts and emotions so as to suit the opposing narratives of the conflict--regardless of the geo-political and historical context.
In the best case, it is the political identity absorbed with regular socialization that determines which narrative we carry in our hearts. Best case, because the substance and weight of this identity construct are given to change. In the worst case, it is propaganda and incitement at an age and to an extent that cause irreversible hatred.
Too many Palestinian children--yes, here I point the finger--are incited and instrumentalized to perpetuate this conflict. Half of the children from six to eleven dream of becoming suicide bombers! Formal and informal education mechanisms openly teach these children an identity that is defined by enmity to Israel. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has turned into a vicious circle of destructive blame games, political dilettantism of decision-makers and propaganda, all fed by the power of the media, all instrumentalizing the power of political and ideological identities.
The consequence for the young generation? We must let go of dogmatized narratives and reframe the meaning of political identity within the larger and so much richer mosaic of sub-identities, of which we share so many. We must create and concentrate on a superior, shared identity inspired by common interests: peaceful co-existence, democracy, freedom and economic development. History shows it is possible when political will exists.
In 1910, a good German boy was he who hated the French, and vice versa. Before this, there was the enemy-identification between France and England and before that, between England and Spain. This enmity-image ruled in Europe for centuries--it ruled and broke Europe--again and again. Historically, Europe is the example for disasters, but also for overcoming them. TV snapshots say it all: Merkel hugs Blair, Blair hugs Sarkozy, Sarkozy-Zapatero - one big "shmooze".
Step one for the young generation to contribute to the peace process? Respect and rebel! Respect other identities, because the opposite of respect is identity imperialism, the unforgivable intention to impose one's own identity on others. Always, this has led to war and misery, generation after generation.
Rebel against hate propaganda and instrumentalization. Information applied to brainwashing and for the formation of identity-imperialism must be recognized and denounced as an illegitimate weapon--like a landmine.
This leads to step two: step out of the blame game. Instead, young Israelis and Palestinians should each create internal mechanisms and infrastructures to unite moderate and peace-oriented young voices under a formal or informal, virtual or real entity.
The third step is to open and push channels of dialogue between these two entities. Here, as in the steps before, the young generation should use its big advantage vis-a-vis the "old guard": the "natural" use of the internet. The internet is an incredibly efficient platform for cooperation. Young Palestinians and Israelis should turn it into an impact-rich tool to pressure and inspire decision-makers and foster and institutionalize constructive dialogue among decision-critics.
Enough young, moderate voices are out there to make a significant change but they are not yet loud enough. The internet is a powerful tool to turn up the volume and transform sound-bytes into action. Think, for example, about the idea of a Palestinian-Israeli peace network: a culture- and civil society-oriented meeting point; an exchange of ideas, feelings, hopes, visions, transformed into actions through virtual conferences or informal meetings.
A young Israeli-Palestinian peace network embedded in a powerful pool of bloggers could open our path toward peaceful coexistence. Sounds naive and simplistic? Perhaps, but as a matter of fact, blogs today create opinions, and opinions shape policy-making. Furthermore, without a small dose of naivete and an overdose of good will and optimism, we will make the same mistakes, cope with the same tragedies and live within the same vicious conflict as our parents, and so will our children.
Now is the time to act. Add "O" to our generation's peace-quest alphabet: "O" for "we must be Optimistic".- Published 30/7/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Melody Sucharewicz won Israel's prestigious TV competition "The Ambassador". She works internationally as a speaker and advisor in public diplomacy, promoting dialogue and coexistence.
Member of Knesset Yossi Beilin is chair of the Meretz-Yahad party.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Facing challenges on all fronts
by Maysa Hindaileh
Palestinian youths form one of the largest sectors of Palestinian society, a sector that is often overlooked and requires close attention when trying to solve the challenges facing it.
Broadly speaking, young Palestinians face challenges and conflicts on three fronts: "family" conflicts, "social" conflicts and "political" conflicts.
A subject that is rarely broached in Palestinian society is that of family conflicts. There are enough dysfunctional families in society for this to be an issue of serious concern and there is now also a major problem of families that have been separated, especially in the past seven years and as a result of the difficulties imposed on the movement of Palestinians within and between the Palestinian areas.
Youths from such families become victims as their insecurities at home affect behavior. It is clear that young people who suffer conflict within their families face a lack of motivation in school and at work, can become violent and generally lack confidence in themselves.
Another important challenge Palestinian youth face is the "social" conflict, pitting traditional values against modernity, fundamentalism against liberalism. With developments in technology, youths are very exposed to other cultures and traditions. These new ideas and influences often contradict, or seem to contradict, the values they have been brought up with or that they see around them. Often, young people start to make comparisons and contrasts that don't actually help them realize a transition in their thoughts. Consequently, one of two things is likely to happen: they blindly imitate another culture, leaving them alienated from their surroundings; or they totally reject any outside influence, turning away from new ideas and thoughts.
The final and greatest challenge Palestinian youths face is of course the political conflict with Israel. As in so many areas of Palestinian lives, any resolution or progress toward resolution of the many challenges facing young Palestinians will be extremely limited in the absence of a resolution to the one conflict that all Palestinians have to deal with on a daily basis and that affects so many areas of life.
The suffocating occupation affects young people in a multitude of ways, whether directly and in the short term in the form of the absence of decent employment opportunities, the inability to move freely from area to area let alone country to country, and the lack of control over their own political destinies, or in the long term, where psychological factors may inflict more damage insofar as the occupation instills a deep sense of mistrust toward authority and creates enormous anger. Witness how young people identify with the suicide bombers of the intifada. Look at the disruptions to normal life that they have to suffer on a daily basis, whether in terms of curfews, fear of simply walking the streets should a military incursion be under way or the humiliation of waiting in endless lines at checkpoints with not even a guarantee that one can cross. This anger is real, deep and will not go away overnight.
But the political conflict is evolving now to include more than just Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The growing Palestinian-Palestinian conflict, which started in Gaza, is moving slowly but surely, infiltrating other parts of the land, especially between young people because of their misinterpretation of authority and power.
Palestinian youth, like any nation's youth, plays a key role in the development of the country's culture, politics, economy and education. The PA, interested organizations and individuals should work hard to guarantee a peaceful life for active non-violent youths by building their capacities, training them on issues related to society and communication, opening their horizons to other cultures, reinforcing conflict management training courses on a community level and creating a fruitful basis to enable them to achieve their ambitions and improve their skills.- Published 30/7/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Maysa Hindaileh is administrative assistant for youth and women's projects at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, MIFTAH.
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Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.