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Young Palestinians sound off on current unrest, Israeli occupation

With talk of third intifada, Palestinians under the age of 30 discuss where they see latest violence heading

While media headlines focus on the dramatic stabbing attacks by Palestinians and Israelis on one another in recent weeks, thousands of young Palestinians have at the same time taken to the streets of Israel, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip to demand an end to Israel’s decades-long occupation, protest violence by Israeli forces and settlers, and call for recognition of their human rights.

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The stabbings are a new element, of course, while protests are an old story — except that today they involve a new generation of Palestinians, those who have grown up in the era of the Oslo peace process and its attendant frustrations and failures. Like the protests of the first intifada of 1987, some of today's demonstrations are peaceful, but others have transformed into clashes with Israeli forces. 

As Palestinian veterans and analysts grapple with the question of whether current events bear the hallmarks of a new intifada, Al Jazeera reached out to a number of Palestinians under the age of 30 throughout the region. We asked them two questions:

(1) Where do you see the current unrest headed?

(2) If these protests and clashes continue, how do you expect Israeli forces, settlers and the Palestinian Authority to respond?

Some of their answers were translated from Arabic, others were answered in English but have been edited for grammar.

Lema Nazeeh

27-year-old lawyer in Ramallah, West Bank

This popular uprising is spontaneous and who's leading it is the new generation — mostly university and school students. This time we are taking action in the streets and doubling the resistance everywhere, starting in Jerusalem, to the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians living in the 1948 territories are also participating in it. The message from the new generation is that Palestine will be free and that we are determined to end the occupation and settler terrorism in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

In order to proceed, we need to create a united committee where the people can organize and lead the movement apart from the political establishment.

Palestinians from all over need to be united in resisting the occupation — demonstrating in Gaza City, Jerusalem, Haifa, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Yaffa and Hebron. As long as the occupation continues, we must keep resisting for a life of freedom and dignity.

Israeli forces and the settlers will continue their violence and terrorism against us, but we the people have a voice, that the Israeli government, Zionist groups, and members of the international community complicit with Israel's crimes against Palestinians can never silence. Now is not the time to be afraid.

Fadi Salah Al Shaik Yousef

28-year-old childhood development professional in Gaza City, Gaza

This popular intifada, which is not organized or run by any authority, is a normal reaction to all the years of injustice, crimes and humiliation perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinian people. Considering the large number of Palestinians killed and injured at the hands of Israeli forces, it’s a very normal reaction.

These protests and clashes are occurring because the Palestinian people have lost all hope in their leaders, in humanity even. We’ve found that peaceful solutions are not going to end the occupation — so we have to keep resisting.

People in Gaza have nothing to lose anymore, so we are ready to help the West Bank in any way. We march to the borders with Israel and protest to tell our brothers in the West Bank that we are in solidarity with them and will reject all Israeli attacks against them.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority may try to contain the situation, but they cannot control it. No one can control it. It’s also difficult to predict where it might lead. We’re accustomed to Israel perpetrating crimes and then playing victim. I don’t expect this to change. For its part, the Palestinian Authority must cease all security coordination with the occupier.

How this ends will depend on the people’s will and the level of direct or indirect support we receive from the various Palestinian factions.

Nadine Khoury

16-year-old high school student in Taybeh, West Bank

I'd like to point out that this has not only been happening for a week. I have been living here in Palestine for nearly three and a half years now and I've noticed that these inhuman acts are a very common part of Palestinian life (which doesn't make them any less tragic).

I actually think that the Palestinians are trying to start a third intifada because they are sick and tired of living alongside these people who keep taking their land, murdering their children, and actually having the nerve to try and justify it. However, although I agree that a third uprising may be our only chance of escaping Israeli occupation, I don't think that now is the best time. Palestinians tend not to think and act together as one, so until they can unite as a whole, I personally don't think that the intifada should take place. Living in Palestine, I can see the ruthlessness of both sides so, as of right now, I don't see the situation calming down anytime soon.

If and when these clashes continue, I feel that the Israeli forces and settlers will continue using force, in every way possible, to subdue the idea of a third intifada. Israel just wants to maintain control over the Palestinian people and the limited Palestinian Authority. I know that the Palestinian people will continue to fight passionately for their land, rights and freedom. A Palestinian scarf (hatta) and a rock is nothing compared to a bulletproof vest and a sniper. Unfortunately, it's an unfair fight and the world is watching it happen.

Omar Daraghmeh

27-year-old translator in Tubas, West Bank

The recent violence is a result of the absence of any political horizons between the Palestinians and the Israeli occupation authorities due to the ongoing Israeli (army and settlers) aggression against the Palestinians in general and the desecration of the sacred Al-Aqsa mosque in particular.

The tensions are likely to disappear and calmness will gradually be restored unless the vast and broader majority of the Palestinian population joins the uprising, especially the armed Palestinian gunmen in the refugee camps in the West Bank or in the besieged Gaza Strip.

Israel is expected to wage a war on Gaza while unleashing the settlers and closing in on Jerusalem and the West Bank, and intensifying the arrest campaigns there.

On the other side, the Palestinian Authority will come up with its futile statements, hold some “emergency meetings” and demand an “international protection” for Palestinians while at the same time cracking down on all anti-occupation Palestinian protests.

Tarek Bakri

29-year-old engineer and researcher in Jerusalem

Perhaps what happened at Al-Aqsa mosque motivated many others to be involved in the uprising, but I see it bigger than that. It's about the occupation and it's policies. At a certain point we believe that there's one side that is eliminating the other one. Israelis are carrying out some type of slow ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem through instant executions, and spreading fear in order to make Palestinians flee the city. Israel wants Jerusalem to have a Jewish majority.

We can’t remain silent in the face of these daily humiliations. What will happen is that Palestinians will raise the level of the resistance. Meanwhile, settler violence will grow. But Palestinian Authority security forces will remain an observer.

Raya Shamali

17-year-old high school student in Arraba, Israel

Tensions between both sides have always been high, and every now and then something triggers it, which makes it more noticeable. The current situation is headed toward worse clashes between Zionists and the Palestinians and between Palestinian citizens in Israel and the government.

What’s happening now, Palestinian youth countering the occupation, is similar to what occurred during the second intifada, during which this generation was raised. Sadly, it’s likely to result in many casualties on both sides and affect people in all walks of life.

As the protests continue, I expect Israeli forces to continue in their repression and racism towards Palestinians. I also expect Israeli settlers to take more action.

It’s hard to say what the Palestinian Authority forces will do. They’ll either try to put an end to what the Israeli forces are doing, which could lead us to war, or repress the protesters so that the situation won’t get any worse.

Mustafa Staiti

29-year-old film photographer in Jenin, West Bank

For my generation — that was born in the mid-80s during the first uprising and lived through the second one with all of its details — it makes you have better judgment when it comes to what we call an intifada. A new act could force the world to find a final solution for the Palestinians, or end up with another disaster to add to the Palestinian ethnic cleansing. The ones in the streets today are one generation younger than me. They were born in the height of the violence during the second intifada — they are angry, fearless and don’t care about what ever happens in their lives. They have nothing to lose; their lives were always at war.

The Palestinian Authority is unstable because it’s connected to agreements that might fall through, but it might create division or internal violence. Israel will try to take more land and continue using heavy force. The settlers will be the most pleased if the Israeli army invades the West Bank and heads toward the idea of one state of Israel.

Mariam Barghouti

22-year-old university student in Ramallah, West Bank

I think there is a massive discrepancy between the ongoing debate abroad about whether this is a third intifada or not and the reality on the ground where this debate seems meaningless. Beyond the labels, Palestinian youth are expressing their disgruntlement with Israeli aggression and the failure of Palestinian leadership to provide a tangible solution for the Palestinian people.

A large portion of the youth on the ground are between the ages of 13 and 27. This is important to note because this is the Oslo generation. This is the generation that didn’t know a reality beyond the apartheid wall or the suppressive tactics of the Palestinian Authority. What we are witnessing is not merely random acts of violence, this frustration has been festering within the Palestinian people for years now, we are slowly imploding. Small acts of protests across the West Bank, rockets from Gaza, confrontations in historic Palestine, all of them come arm in arm. We cannot decontextualize the current situation from the past. Every reaction was preceded by an action, whether it is Israeli aggression escalating, or suppression from the Palestinian Authority. This is not only confrontations towards Israeli aggression, but a message to the Palestinian Authority that uproar will come about if they continue to normalize with the occupation, appeasing Israel through security coordination while simultaneously pretending to speak on behalf of the Palestinians.

This is a crucial time where the youth are bringing matters into their own account. The voices that have been absent from Palestinian-Israeli politics are erupting through the sound of chants, stones, stabbings and whatever other methods are available. There is no telling where the end game is, but I don’t think that’s very important right now. The situation may very well die out with the help of Israel’s proxy the Palestinian Authority; or alternatively it may continue to escalate until we form a leadership from the ground which can begin talking demands. However, the clear message is that for every action there is a reaction, and this is the reaction of the Palestinian youth to failed negotiations and continued Israeli aggression.

As confrontations continue from Palestinian youth, Israeli forces will respond in the only way they know how to respond and that is through violence. It is embedded within their colonial fabric to oppress and disavow any Palestinian resistance. It is an institutionalized tactic and not a reaction to Palestinian confrontation. Settler’s lives are being disrupted by Palestinians, they are no longer feeling comfortable in their colonization and that can result in one of two things, they will either escalate their violence towards Palestinians (as we are currently witnessing), or they will begin to realize there is no benefit from their colonization whether economic or social and it may force them to have feelings of wanting to leave their settlements. The difference between the Palestinian youth and Israeli settlers, is that Palestinian youth do not have any back support, they only have one another. Settlers on the other hand, have the support of the Israeli army and of course the Israeli judicial system, which will not charge or convict them as they continue to perpetuate violence towards Palestinians.

As in for the Palestinian Authority forces, they will not act without commands from the Palestinian Authority leadership. They are currently allowing Palestinian youth to continue in their confrontations with Israeli forces not out of genuine support of the Palestinian people, but because they are well aware with the anger in the streets it can turn towards them. Furthermore, I say “allow” the youth, because the Palestinian Authority still possesses the power to tranquilize the wrath of youth on the streets. The silence from the Palestinian Authority can very well be a method to let the youth exhaust themselves in the streets before trying to pacify the masses as they normally do. What is frightful however is the possibility for the Palestinian Authority to use the spirit of the youth on the ground as a bargaining chip with Israel in order to reinforce its legitimacy in the West Bank as the sole authority able to achieve calm and control the Palestinian masses, and force Israel to return to the negotiations table.

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