Despair and rage among Gaza's youths By Heather Sharp
BBC News, Gaza
Ten young men sit talking and smoking by the light of a paraffin lamp in a
The flags of militant groups - Hamas, Islamic Jihad - flutter outside
among the densely packed cinder-block houses of Gaza's Jabaliya refugee
The area is a key haunt of the factions behind the
rocket attacks that Israel's recent assault on Gaza was aimed at
Its frustrated, mainly unemployed youths are prime recruitment targets for the
But as the young men, sitting in coats in the unheated room, mull over
Israel's 22-day operation, despair is as common a theme as revenge.
About half of the group say they have been members of armed groups at some
point. Others now say they want to join.
“ I hope an earthquake flattens this place ”
Jihad al-Ajramy, 24, Jabaliya refugee camp
"I used to keep away from military activity," says student Ahmad
al-Khateeb, 21. "I wanted to graduate and leave the country. I was
sometimes afraid of death".
But now, unable to sit his exams because his ID papers
are buried under the rubble of his home, he says his views have
Sports science student Mohammad al-Mukayed, 22, says he
saw three children killed by an airstrike as they played in the street
just meters away from him.
"They were just pieces of flesh. I wanted to help but I
couldn't. I do think of joining a group. I would rather be killed
defending my land than die like these kids, doing nothing."
Hassan Abu al-Jeddian, 23, says says he was not
interested in militant activity before the war, and his views have not
He says his cousin's head was blown off in an air
strike and describes watching three young boys killed as a car in front
of him was hit, but says simply, "I am a civilian".
With the Israeli blockade of Gaza most of the youths are unemployed and unable
to leave the crowded strip of land.
Israel intensified the blockade when Hamas, which it considers a
terrorist organisation, won elections in 2006 and consolidated control
by force a year later.
With few job opportunities even for those who can afford to study, many young
people dream of emigrating.
"We're dead - either by Israeli weapons or as the living dead," says Mohammad
Rabah Mohanna, a political leader with the Popular Front for the
Liberation of Palestine, one of the smaller militant factions, says the
organisation has seen an in increase in the number of people
volunteering to carry out suicide bombings since the conflict.
Many of them are young; most have either lost relatives or homes, or seen it
happen to others, he says.
But in the face of the massive firepower Israel used, and with the
Palestinians riven by bitter internal divisions, there is
Jihad al-Ajramy, 24, still bears a scar on his cheek
from his two years as a militant, which he says ended when open warfare
broke out between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority-linked Fatah.
The workshop he used to work in has long since closed as the flow of raw
materials dried up under the blockade.
"I used to earn 200 shekels ($50) a day, now I even have to borrow
cigarettes. None of these military factions is helping me. Why would I
"During the war, everybody was thinking of fighting, of
revenge, of going back to military action - but what fighting? Fighting
against Israeli F16s?"
Seeking normal life
Dr Iyad Sarraj has worked for 30 years as a psychiatrist in Gaza and carried
out numerous studies.
He says children who have seen their fathers disempowered often adopt
other figures or power and authority - ultimately the militant fighter
Thus, he says, the generation that saw their fathers
beaten by Israeli troops during the stone-throwing of the first
Palestinian intifada grew up to become the suicide bombers of the
In the recent war, he says, "children lost a father twice" - once as a
provider, as the blockade brought massive unemployment, and once as a
"There was no safe place in Gaza at all
fathers were so impotent."
He fears Gaza will end up with "a new generation who are even more militant
than the past ones".
And traumatised young men are particularly hard to treat: "They have
this identity as an Arab, macho, a strong man
expressing pain is
weakness," he says.
But since the conflict he has sensed a change in the way the militant groups
"Some people were hit very hard and have a strong desire for revenge,
but I think more and more people realised that Palestinian violence
will only drag the Israelis into becoming more brutal."
Emad Ali Darweesh is the director of the youth organisation Save Youth Future.
He stresses that Gaza has a young population, with 56% of its 1.5m residents
under the age of 18.
But he believes only a small proportion of them are interested in militant
Even Gazans enraged by personal losses would probably ultimately prefer
peace, he says, pointing out that some polls have shown a drop in
support for Hamas in the wake of the war.
"In the beginning they are upset and calling for
but they will forgive the blood of their sons if there is a
Mahmoud Abuqammar says all he really wants is "to build
a family, to live, like any normal person". Hassan Abu al-Jeddian says
his biggest dream is "to get married".
"We're 24. We don't even have a single shekel to give to the family of a girl
we want to marry," says Jihad al-Ajramy.
"I can't see any hope, any future. I hope an earthquake will flatten this
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/02/27 07:54:23 GMT
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