Talking of 1948 unifies Gazan families as they live under siege…
Photograph by stefano.
In Gaza more than 60 percent of the population is under the age of twenty-five, and it is among the young that the deepest despair often takes root. Some are turning to radical Islam, others to drugs. As many as eighty suicides are reported in Gaza each month, according to local aid groups, many among the young. Most of Gaza’s younger generation have nevertheless remained remarkably resilient, preparing against the odds for a better future, while also making an effort to learn about their past.
Earlier this year I encountered this resilience at a Gaza girls’ school, where I met with a class of seventeen-year-olds preparing for final exams. All had plans to study further in order to become doctors, social workers, journalists, and lawyers—“anything that helps free Gaza,” as one said. I asked how many had lost family in the war, and at least ten hands shot up.
“Why did Balfour give away our land?” asked one girl, referring to the declaration made in 1917 by Arthur Balfour, then British foreign secretary, pledging to create in Palestine a Jewish homeland. “Why did the world not implement UN Resolution 194 [the Palestinian right of return]?” “Why should I be a refugee when my land is one kilometer away?”
Their teacher explained to me that schools were placing more emphasis than ever on teaching history, studying the pre-1948 villages and the Nakba, since it helped the children understand the present. “They have lived through three wars”—in 2008, 2012, and 2014. “They want to understand how this can be. Their parents don’t have answers but if they can learn their story from the beginning they can make their own minds up and find connections to the present.” The teacher herself had lost her father in the most recent war. “He survived 1948 but was killed in 2014,” she said.
Many of the young are profoundly disillusioned with Palestinian politics, openly scorning the “old men,” as they call leaders of both Hamas and Fatah who have failed to find solutions for their generation, preoccupied instead with internal squabbles. Despite the unity displayed on Arafat Day, few young Gazans believe the reconciliation agreement will hold, saying that the only way to bring Palestinians together is around the issue of 1948. “At a popular level Palestinians everywhere including citizens of Israel are resurrecting these ’48 values in response to divisions of their leadership. It is an issue that unifies everyone,” said Ramzy Baroud.