الاثنين، 25 مايو، 1998

The Youth of Palestine


By: Hania Aswad
Presented at “Promoting a Euro-Arab Dialogue in a Context of Social Deficit” Conference; Rabat, Morocco - May 1998

The Palestinian society is a young one.  Young people between the ages of 15-25 years comprise 38% of the population of approximately 2.6 million living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 1997.  About 17% of the young men and women are found in Gaza Strip, whereas 21% are in the West Bank.  Therefore, it is not strange for youngsters to be the main actors in the political and social life in Palestine. 

The youth's political socialization was manifested during the “Intifada” (Palestinian Uprising 1987-1993), where thousands of youth took off to the streets in an overwhelming revolt against the Israeli Occupation.  They confronted the Israeli Occupation Forces and were beaten, shot and arrested.  Children as young as ten were killed, badly wounded, or permanently handicapped as a result of their involvement in this revolution.  Over 25% of those killed by the Israeli Occupation Forces were under the age of 17 years old and the majority of the thousands wounded were under 20. 

As a result of the “Intifada”, young women and men have been deeply affected by the experiences of that particular period.  Young women were burdened with additional domestic and economic responsibilities.  The closure of schools, the mass arrests of young men and the loss of jobs in Israel for Palestinian men forced young women at an early age to take low paying jobs in order to keep their families.  Moreover, during this time early marriages became more wide spread.  A study by Dr. Rita Gicaman in 1993 showed that 48% of women were married under the age of 18 years, and 11% were married under the age of 15 years.  Closure of educational institutions, extended curfews, confrontations with the military, house demolition, long imprisonment, strikes and the breakthrough of the Palestinian National Authority have all left deep marks on the Palestinian youth's attitudes, perceptions and aspirations.

Such environment has denied the Palestinian youth many of the educational and psychosocial development opportunities enjoyed in more normal circumstances, leading to concern about their future prospects and place in a peaceful society.   

The signing of the Oslo Peace Agreement in 1993 between Israel and the PLO brought about new changes and realities.  Palestinian Institutions and bodies began to operate in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Legislations are being drafted for the first time by the Palestinian Legislative Council based on its own policy choices.  Yet in the meantime, political, economical and social obstacles to development remain.

Now, the Palestinian Youth face new and different types of problems.  Today, the youth of Palestine are once again taking a big responsibility and a leading role to build their country, to re-educate themselves, their pears and community and to bring positive changes into their environment; just as much it is as well the role of young people around the World.  Today, youth from all over the world share very similar problems and dreams which require new information, new ways of thinking and also cooperation and solidarity among themselves and others around them. 

To seriously contribute to providing an enabling environment for the young generation to develop and grow, we need to work with and for them; they need to be encouraged and provided with the space and opportunity to engage in assessing their needs and priorities in order to be able to mobilize themselves and their communities to take a more positive role in all processes that would bring positive development and change to their realities.  To be able to make a real difference, we must not see them as a threat but rather as assets with great potentials and as partners. [ ]