Young Palestinians face bleak future two decades on from second intifada

Young Palestinians face bleak future two decades on from second intifada
Two decades after the second Palestinian intifada began, a new generation has grown up while hopes for a Palestinian state and freedom from Israeli occupation have failed to materialize.
6 min read
27 September, 2020
A new generation of Palestinians has grown up since the second intifada [AFP File Photo]
Two decades on from the second intifada, Palestinians who grew up in the shadow of the uprising find themselves surrounded by physical and political barriers with little hope for the future.

In Jenin refugee camp, in the north of the occupied West Bank, the walls are plastered with posters showing young Palestinian men wearing keffiyeh scarfs around their necks and clutching AK-47 assault rifles.

Whether killed by Israeli forces or jailed, their images have faded over the years.

"When I walk through the camp, I try to reconcile my memory with what I see today," said Nidal Naghnaghyeh Turkeman, 48, who spent 17 years in prison for his role in the uprising.

Nidal fought in the ranks of the main Palestinian faction Fatah in the first intifada (1987 to 1993) which preceded a brief optimistic period when the Oslo peace accords brought ephemeral hope of a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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But by the turn of the century disillusionment had set in and the second intifada broke out after right-wing Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in occupied east Jerusalem on September 28, 2000.

The move was seen as a provocation by Palestinians and violent clashes between them and Israeli forces followed.

The second intifada lasted five years, during which Israeli forces killed hundreds of Palestinians and Palestinian militants launched suicide attacks inside Israel.

Israel reoccupied much of the West Bank and began building a separation barrier deep inside the West Bank, cutting off many Palestinian communities from their land.

Jenin refugee camp was caught up in the fighting and in 2002 was besieged by Israeli forces for more than a month.

Turkeman, who lost two brothers in the fighting, was jailed for his role in an attack shortly after the siege which killed six Israelis.

'Emigration or fighting'

While reminders of the uprising can be seen on the streets of Jenin, such as a former fighter selling grapes in a wheelchair, daily life has changed significantly over the past two decades.

Israel built the West Bank security barrier – which Palestinians call the ‘apartheid wall’ - deep inside Palestinian territory, claiming it was necessary to prevent attacks. Palestinians point out that it separates them from Jerusalem and allows Israel to grab huge swathes of their land.

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In Gaza, the Islamist group Hamas took power and the impoverished and densely-populated coastal enclave has been under a crippling Israeli siege since 2007.

In December 2017, US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital, going against international consensus that the city's status can only be defined as part of a peace accord. Israel illegally occupied the Palestinian eastern half of the city in 1967.

Turkeman's twin daughters, Yara and Sara, were born just weeks before the siege of Jenin and saw little of their father growing up.

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"At the start we rejected him. We couldn't find a place for him in our hearts," said Sara, an 18-year-old studying IT at university.

Despite having no memories of the second intifada, the twins say their father is still viewed as a hero by young Palestinians in Jenin.

"Today, we are still in the intifada, there are attacks every day, people wounded and nothing has been solved," said Sara, her sister nodding her head in agreement.

"There is no future here, the only two options are emigration or fighting."

Palestinian youth began to understand that neither the peace process nor armed combat worked, this led to a loss of hope
- Ghassan Khatib, political analyst

'Loss of hope'

The Israeli military controls 60 percent of the West Bank and many Palestinians lament how the occupation has been normalised over the decades following the unrealised Oslo accords.

The Palestinian leadership has slammed agreements Israel signed with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain at a September 15 White House ceremony hosted by Trump.

But their calls for protest have largely fallen flat with young Palestinians who, according to analyst Ghassan Khatib, "feel really isolated and deprived" of any role in politics.

"There haven't been elections for 15 years and with the economic crisis... young people think more about trying to find a job," said the Palestinian expert.

There is a marked generational gap between the 60 percent of the Palestinian population who are under 30 and the leadership of 84-year-old Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

"The crisis of this generation really started during the second intifada," said Khatib.

"Palestinian youth began to understand that neither the peace process nor armed combat worked, this led to a loss of hope," he added.

In the streets of Jenin, 20-year-old barber Oday says his priority is to earn money to support his family and then get married.

"We talk more about what the Israeli army does, the (house) demolitions, attacks, those wounded," said Oday, who spends his free time playing video games.

The Israeli army regularly demolishes Palestinian homes built without permits - which are almost impossible to obtain - or those belonging to people suspected of carrying out attacks.

In Abu Dis, which is on the outskirts of occupied east Jerusalem and  cut off from the city centre by the barrier, fallout from the uprising looms large.

"Life must have been better for the previous generation, because there were no walls, checkpoints, and there were job opportunities," said 18-year-old Aya.

Studying to become a carer, Aya must pass through an Israeli checkpoint to travel from her home to the nearby Al-Quds University.

Gazing at the high concrete wall, Muayed, a 22-year-old law student, said it represented the "biggest example" of the challenges young Palestinians face.

'We have no future'

In Gaza, Palestinians are facing considerably worse conditions, with the Israeli siege leading to perennial power cuts, a lack of clean water, and a youth unemployment rate hitting 65 percent, according to World Bank data.

"Here, we have no future," said Saja Emad, a 20-year-old Gazan.

"There's the blockade, we can't travel, Hamas and Fatah are divided, and there's no work for young people. We are frustrated and don't have hope anymore of seeing a Palestinian state in the near future."

Since Hamas took over the enclave in 2007 after a bitter conflict with Abbas's Fatah, it has fought three wars with Israel, while thousands of Gazans have been shot by Israeli forces during protests at the border fence.

The protests at the fence started in March 2018 and ended late last year without significant Israeli concessions, causing many young Palestinians to lose hope for political change.

But while many Palestinians are focusing on just getting by, in Jenin, Turkeman believes a third "and bigger" intifada will erupt one day.

"I'm still trying to get to know my daughters, to build bridges with them, and like me, they think that the fight must continue because they are suffering," he said.

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