A negative trend
By Ghassan Khatib
August 01, 2007

Understanding the trends among the younger generation is an important way of predicting the future opinions and direction of any nation. It also gives us an early warning capability of negative trends that may be dealt with before it is too late.

Palestinian youths are different from most nations' youths. They are especially vulnerable to political factors affecting their reality, including their social and economic situations. Indeed, education and later job opportunities, access to decent health and social services, in addition to access to the special needs of youth like places of entertainment and sports, all depend on the political situation. This explains why Palestinian youths are so political.

There are many reasons to believe that the political opinions of Palestinian youths are not average but rather veer to the relatively hard line. First, cross tabulation of poll results conducted in the Palestinian territories since the peace process began show that age is a significant factor in determining answers to political questions such as attitudes to the political process, signed agreements and means of struggle.

Second are the results of the frequently conducted student council elections, which have shown steadily growing student support for political factions and groups that oppose the peace process and signed agreements, support violent means of resistance and promote fanatic ideologies.

We should take these indicators seriously as predictions of a trend of future radicalization in Palestinian society. Half the population, due to high population growth, is at age 16 and below. The question is what can be done in order to counter such trends and change them into more positive ones?

The key word in any answer is "hope". After finishing high school, which is free and compulsory, young Palestinians face great difficulties in finding higher education places because local universities are limited to a few specialties as well as in terms of capacity. Opportunities to study abroad are even more limited, not least because of the expense.

At the same time, job opportunities are even more difficult to come by for both school and university graduates, leaving young people at this critical age unemployed, helpless and hopeless. If we add to this the effect of the humiliation resulting from the treatment meted out to them by Israeli soldiers--mostly of the same age--waiting at checkpoints, seeing Israeli bulldozers uproot trees or demolish houses, having family members thrown in prison and hearing horrible tales of torture, it all adds up to an inevitable radicalization of those youths.

To reverse these trends requires reversing both the practices and consolidation of the occupation and the dire socio-economic situation. The one will not happen without the other. To improve educational and professional opportunities requires a parallel lessening of the impact of the occupation and ultimately its end. Only then can Palestinian youths busy themselves with the normal preoccupations of their counterparts elsewhere, building careers and families.