Encountering Peace: Young Palestinians

The young generation of Palestinians, in general, are very different from my generation when we were young.

A Palestinian girl looks out of a classroom window as she attends a lesson on the first day of a new school year, at a United Nations-run school in Khan Young in the southern Gaza Strip (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
A Palestinian girl looks out of a classroom window as she attends a lesson on the first day of a new school year, at a United Nations-run school in Khan Young in the southern Gaza Strip
Hezi Siman Tov, the Channel 13 Arab affairs correspondent, is presenting a series this week on the youths of Palestine. It is a fascinating series that exposes Israelis to the youth scene in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. I spend a lot of my time with young Palestinians, which allows me to be exposed to their lives and their families and friends while being much less of an outsider with a camera.
The young generation of Palestinians, in general, are very different from my generation when we were young. I suppose the same is true of the young generation of Israelis – those of my own kids’ ages. There are many similarities between the young generation in Israel and Palestine, but there are also many differences.
My observations and insights here are not based on formal research or opinion polls. I am sharing my impressions from the past years up to the present. The young Palestinians I meet are the most non-political generation of Palestinians since the beginning of the Palestinian national movement. This is probably a result of lost hopes, failed peace processes and unfulfilled promises.
The Oslo peace process resulted from a generation of high political activism that came out of the Palestinian universities and the Israeli prisons. The first decade of the peace process carried with it a generation of hope – of young Palestinians who were dedicated to building a new state, a new economy, a new government and a new civil society. The failure of the peace process led to the Second Intifada and to the crushing of their dreams, society and economy, while creating a lot of pain and destruction.
The period of the Second Intifada was a time of a lost generation. Schools were closed and Palestinian society was broken. The Palestinian Authority was crushed, political Islam was on the rise and the ideology of building a new state was replaced by a lot of anger, hatred and a loss of hope.
The rebirth of the Palestinian dream of statehood came with the state-building realism led by Salam Fayyad, and was ushered in following the death of Yasser Arafat and the rise of Mahmoud Abbas to leadership. Abbas’s dismay with the violence and militarization of the Intifada was not met with a positive response in Israel, which was then led by Ariel Sharon.
Negotiations were out, Israeli unilateralism and disengagement ensued, and Hamas won the parliamentary elections. It carried a lot of support among the youth, mainly as a protest vote and not primarily out of a new found commitment to politically extremist Islam. Fatah and the national movement disappointed many, and a large number of young people wanted to punish Fatah for its failures. Hamas became especially popular on university campuses, but the 12-year split between Fatah and Hamas has left what seems to be a majority of today’s young people not supporting either of the two main movements.
The long divided Palestinian political home, with an aging, unpopular – and what they say an undemocratic leadership, as well as the 10-year rule of Netanyahu with increased settlement building on Palestinian land, have left the young generation without any illusion about the creation of a Palestinian mini-state next to Israel.
THERE IS little belief that peace is on the horizon. The youth have little confidence in their own political leaders, and no confidence that the Arab world even cares about them. This is the generation that was witness to the rise and the fall of the Arab Spring, and the rise and death of ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood.
In this age, the young generation are focusing on themselves. It is not that they have forgotten Palestine or that they are less nationalistic, they just don’t see the value in fighting for something which seems so remote at this time. Focusing on themselves means, first and foremost, having a good job and career – which means education.
The university and college population is constantly growing. The young Palestinians are focusing, like their Israeli cousins, on practical studies – engineering, math, science, computers, etc. The dream of a good-paying job in Israel is still very present, but no one dreams of washing Israeli cars or working in Rami Levy. Those are perhaps short-term dreams – but no young Palestinian goes to bed at night saying, “I want to work in an Israeli supermarket.” Many dream of leaving, of getting a job in Europe, America or the Gulf, but most know that will not happen.
Everyone is connected today – on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, LinkedIn and Twitter. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have at least one smartphone. There is free wi-fi in every coffee shop and nargila bar. All young people in Palestine spend a good part of their days with their faces glued to their smartphone screens. They are connected to each other, but they are also connected to the world outside. There are phone shops everywhere. 
Fashion is also big time all over the West Bank, and much cheaper than in Israel. You can find shops in downtown Ramallah or anywhere in the West Bank that sell designer labels.
The most interesting thing that I see is what is happening to the young Palestinian women. The new generation of Palestinian women do not want to marry young, and they do not want to have a lot of children: they want to be educated and they want careers.
They want to succeed and to excel.
I am amazed by the rapidly growing number of young Palestinian women engineers and how savvy they are on computers. I think I have hundreds of them connected to me in LinkedIn. These young women are seeking and achieving their economic independence through their education. This is the most exciting thing happening in Palestinian society. 
I see the same thing in Egypt, Jordan and other parts of the Arab world. The achievement of economic independence by young Palestinian women is going to have a deep impact on all of Palestinian society. I already see that the role that they see for themselves in their society puts them way ahead of the young Palestinian men in ability and the positive changes they will make.
It is a pity that the new Palestinian government sworn into office only last week has only two women ministers. I have no doubt that we will see increasing numbers of Palestinian women in politics and in all roles within the Palestinian leadership and society. 
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and its neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press.