Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Palestine’s youths stand tall

Violent acts of resistance to the Israeli occupation by teenaged Palestinians are a symptom of the society they are struggling to survive in, writes Samah Jabr

Israeli soldier
Israeli soldier
Al-Ahram Weekly

The participation of young people who have no political affiliation, acting on their own volition and independent of any movement, is a remarkable phenomenon of the current uprising in the Occupied Territories. These are minors who were born after the Oslo Accords and who watched from a distance the three wars against Gaza.

They witnessed the worsening violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinian villagers in the West Bank, and they see clearly the Israeli expansion that is now taking over all that is Palestinian in Jerusalem.

These boys are neither desperate nor suicidal, nor are they delinquent or immoral offenders. On the contrary, the biographies of many of them display an ambitious striving for excellence and achievement. They see themselves as being capable, altruistic and protective of the Palestinian people, and they are willing to endure extreme sacrifices to realise their goals.

Ahmed Manasra, 13, was injured by Israeli individuals and left bleeding on public transit, amid accusations that he had stabbed an Israeli youth. Israeli passersby shouted, obscenely, “Give him a bullet in the head.” Manasra was a student in Al-Nayzak, enrolled in an extracurricular programme for students talented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Mustafa Al-Khatib, 17, was a popular and distinguished student at the Al-Ibrahimeyeh School. The childhoods of these children are completely unacknowledged by the Israelis, whose media reported one day after the violence that a “13-year-old terrorist stabbed a 13-year-old boy.”

I do not seek to encourage violence, but I am driven to understand and to explain its origins and to call for an adult response to it. Adolescence is a developmental phase normally characterised by impulsivity, emotional liability and a search for identity. Our adolescents do not pass through this phase peacefully, however.

“We will take you to Room Number Four. Do you know what that is? You enter it on two legs but come out on all fours.” Such testimony has been reported frequently following the Israeli interrogation of minors in the Russian compound in Jerusalem over recent years and well before the current clashes.

This is the Israelis’ strategic goal for Palestinians living under occupation — to objectify and exploit them as animals on all fours, gazing at the ground, and not daring to stand up for their rights.

“The only good Arab is a dead Arab” is a slogan often repeated by Israelis expressing the majority’s sentiments towards the Palestinians.

Today, we are seeing these “dead Arabs” and “Palestinians on all fours” standing up against the on-going violation and intimidation of their people. They are attacking their oppressors with primitive weapons.

In so doing, they are reasserting in extreme form the fact that they have will and agency, that they are capable of making choices, and that they are willing to risk death by standing up to the enemy. What they are not willing to do is to live “on all fours.”

Over the years, the Israeli occupation has undermined the structure of Palestinian families and disorganised the community. Palestinian fathers have been weakened and are unable to provide for their families or to protect them from injury.

Eighty per cent of Jerusalem residents live below the poverty line in poor housing and with a “temporary residency” status that can be revoked for the slightest defiance of the occupation. Drug addiction is a growing problem.

There are dramatically visible discrepancies in lifestyle and opportunities between East and West Jerusalem. The more they breathe freely in West Jerusalem, they more we choke in East Jerusalem.

Many Palestinian fathers have been killed or made psychologically absent by imprisonment or the trauma of torture. One third of all Palestinian men have been in Israeli detention at one time or another since 1967.

Many of these fathers, released after long years in prison, have become shadows of their previous selves. These fathers observe that their eldest sons, although in fact mere adolescents, have become “fathers” in their place.

Our children also often experience the arrest of a child in their homes. They witness their fathers standing helpless as masked Israeli soldiers burst into their homes with military dogs, shouting at the family in Hebrew as a young sibling is snatched from his bed.

In some cases, fathers have been forced to hand over their children to soldiers. They have witnessed their mothers being beaten and humiliated when they too have tried to defend their children and seen their paralysed fathers unable to protect them. Falah Abu Maria, from Beit Ummar, was killed when he tried to defend his son from Israeli soldiers in July, for example.

In addition, these children have only ever experienced an abusive and unsuccessful Palestinian leadership. After the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, the Palestinian president rationalised his rejection of its outcome by saying, “If we have to choose between bread and democracy, we choose bread.”

Just before last summer’s war in Gaza, this same president informed the Palestinians that “security coordination with Israel is sacred.” More recently, at the opening session of the Palestinian National Council, he made an outrageous assertion, saying, “We have nothing to do with Jerusalem.”

The Palestinian leadership has permitted the suffocating siege in Gaza and worked to flood the tunnels surrounding it. Recently, the Palestinian leadership arrested every Palestinian who possessed the potential to stand up to the Israeli settlers in the West Bank and brutally repressed peaceful demonstrations opposing the Israeli attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Israel has deliberately attacked and discredited anyone who could play the role of a positive father figure in the eyes of Palestinians. Many Palestinian leaders have been simply assassinated by Israeli forces: a Palestinian minister, Zeyad Abu Ein, died in a violent confrontation with Israeli soldiers; a Palestinian judge was killed at a checkpoint under disputed circumstances; and the entire Israeli Arab leadership has been intimidated and threatened with expulsion.

Israel has detained dozens of members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and has gone so far as to propose body searches of Arab Knesset members before they enter the Israeli Knesset in order to further debase the image of the Palestinian leadership.

Palestinian youth know very well that they have an extremely limited personal future under the occupation, with its forced imposition of desperate economic, political and social conditions. But it is the promise of the future that helps developing children and youths postpone their natural impulsiveness and submit to the guidance of their parents.

Foreseeing nothing but wasted potential ahead of them, Palestinian teenagers are being robbed of the incentive to rein in the age-appropriate recklessness and impulsiveness of adolescence. Perceiving themselves as having nothing to lose and no one to look up to they are vulnerable to a concrete identification with the massive trauma, violence, bereavement and death all around them.

The occupation both magnifies and masks all other forms of youthful aspiration and suffering. The violent involvement in resistance to the occupation by these youths is a symptom of the disorganisation of the society they are struggling to survive in.

And Palestinian adults, often having succumbed to humiliation, fear and learned helplessness, have failed to meet these fearless but fatherless children half way. By failing to rise to the challenge of our responsibilities, we have left behind a void.

The confrontation between the occupied and the occupier is the natural outcome of Palestinian reality, far more so than a typically false submission to the Israelis punctuated by occasional outbursts against them.

Our leadership has failed to set an agenda and a national strategy for liberation. It has avoided and feared the process of raising Palestinian awareness and prohibited the development of both an authentic discourse and the provision of genuine tools for liberation.

Our leadership has failed to promote education as a vehicle for our dignity and neglected the task of healing the trauma of humiliation. Instead, our leaders have encouraged factional chauvinism, polarisation, corruption and nepotism, and they have distributed favours on the basis of compliance and political affiliation.

The acts of our youth express a valid and legitimate yearning for freedom and dignity, and this yearning needs our support and nurturing. We must protect our youth from a recklessness that could end their lives and their goals, as could happen in the absence of the positive boundaries, limit-setting, and social values that fatherly leadership provides.

The spontaneous reaction of our children to the Israeli occupation should be a warning of the need for fundamental political reform in Palestine, alerting us to the need to survive as individuals and to thrive as a nation. Their actions should be a wake-up call for us as adults and a catalyst to organise a truly meaningful project to end the occupation.


The writer is a Jerusalem psychotherapist.

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