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No jobs, no leader, no hope: Why Palestinian youth refuse to surrender

Many have spent half of their lives besieged, without consistent electricity or steady jobs. Meet the Palestinian protesters in Gaza
Palestinians carry a demonstrator injured by Israeli forces near the Gaza border on Monday (AFP)

GAZA CITY – Ahmed Abu Taweel remembers vividly when 12-year-old Muhamed al-Durra, crouched behind his father during a protest in Gaza City in 2000, was fatally shot by Israeli soldiers. It was the second day of the Second Intifada and Taweel was eight.

“We were children at that time,” said Taweel. “We grew older, trying to find meaning in our life, but we found nothing.”

We protest to express the anger that has been inside of us for years. The occupiers have no mercy

- Ahmed Abu Taweel, 26

Now 26, Taweel holds a university degree in accounting, but can’t find a job. He can’t travel outside of Gaza – which is the size of Detroit or Philadelphia – as a result of the siege that started in 2007.

Instead, he lives in Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp with his eight family members, including his two sisters who are also unemployed and his father, a civil service employee for the Palestinian Authority who receives only 50 percent of his salary. Many days are spent half in the dark when electricity runs out.

And like so many of the young protesters who have been demonstrating at Gaza’s border with Israel and spoke with Middle East Eye this week, Taweel said he returns, week after week, because he believes protesting is the best chance he has to change his life, even if he risks it entirely in the process.

“They killed our dreams, environment, and the sea by allowing us only nine miles in it, and now they speak of improving our lives?” he said, mocking a leaflet that Israeli drones dropped earlier this week.

Asking protesters not to approach the border, the leaflet imagines Gaza in 2025 with bright lights, healthy trees and high-rise buildings.

'Gaza 2025?' the leaflet says (MEE/Amjad Ayman)
“We protest to express the anger that has been inside of us for years,” he said. “The occupiers have no mercy.”

'When basic rights become dreams'

Every Friday and also on Thursdays, Taweel and his friends participate in the protest. Each has a story of relative or a friend killed by Israelis and a childhood dotted with memories of political crises – the Second Intifada, the occupation of Gaza and three destructive wars.

One is Ahmed Madi, 23, who is also from Jabalia camp. Last month, at one of the Friday protests at the border, his 15-year-old cousin, Hussein Madi, was killed.

Hussein Madi, 15, a day before he was killed by Israeli forces (MEE/Mohammed al-Hajjar)
“Hussein was a teenager. However, he was very aware of our difficult life; he dreamed of a house that has no electricity cuts, his biggest dream was to travel with his volleyball team,” he said.

“I myself wish to have a job, a house that secures a decent life for me. It is very sarcastic when basic rights become dreams.”

Madi was working in a big shop in Jabalia market, but four months ago, he lost his job as Gaza’s economy deteriorated even further.

He has tried to find another job opportunity without success. His father has been without work for 10 years, and his two older brothers are also unemployed.

I myself wish to have a job, a house that secures a decent life for me. It is very sarcastic when basic rights become dreams

- Ahmed Madi, 23 

Madi said he hopes the protests will give the Palestinian cause momentum. Negotiations with the Israelis, he said, have been fruitless. The Israelis wanted Jerusalem to be their capital, regardless of the 1993 Oslo agreement – negotiated before Madi was born - which left Jerusalem as a topic for future final-status agreements. Now the US has recognised the city as Israel's capital anyway.

“We are peaceful people. It is true that we suffer from the Palestinian rift, but we do not harm anyone. We do not pose any danger on the Israeli forces that kill us, that think this (violence) will make us retreat,” he said.

“We are here to defend our rights and dream. We suffer because we are besieged, but we will create the hope above their weapons and guns.”

'An expensive price'

After many protests, demonstrators often gather at tents near the Al Bureij refugee camp to socialise and support one another. Iyad Abu Oweini, a 27-year-old university student focused on history, stays at the tents long after the sunsets to discuss the latest incidents.

He said he doesn’t trust Palestinian leaders or political parties any longer, only the voice of the youth.

We are Palestinians and everyone has his own political beliefs. Hamas controls Gaza, but it does not mean that the protesters are Hamas

- Mo'men Muteir, 26

“Throughout history, it was proved that freedom and dignity are gained by scarifying to achieve the people’s demands. I know that this is a harsh reality, since we will lose dear ones, but freedom has an expensive price in Palestine,” Oweini said.

He added: “We were occupied since the British mandate, and now we are occupied by Israel.”

Oweini believes that Israel has tried to manipulate the narrative about the border protests by saying that young people are affiliated with political parties or are terrorists following Hamas. a narrative, He added that the US has adopted Israel's account, but the truth is much simpler.

“We are peaceful protesters. All the demonstrations around the world are not faced by live ammunition, but we are met by excessive weapons while we are all unarmed,” said Oweini.

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli forces in December 2017 near Gaza City (AFP)
His friend, 26-year-old, Mo’men Muteir, also unemployed, echoed his remarks.

“Israel tries to tell the world the people in Gaza are Hamas, which is wrong. We are Palestinians and everyone has his own political beliefs. Hamas controls Gaza, but it does not mean that the protesters are Hamas,” Muteir said.

"We are here to have our say and to call for our rights to end the humanitarian crisis we suffer from."

On Tuesday, as Nakba protests were underway in Gaza, Muteir was mourning the loss of his friend Amed Al-Odeini, 30, who was killed by Israeli forces on Monday in the protest at the Gaza border.

Trump does not know that every young man has a dream and great ambitions killed by Israeli violations

- Ahmed al-Rawagh, 28

Odeini, Muteir said, was an organiser behind major protests in the West Bank and Gaza in March 2011 calling for the end of fighting between Hamas and Fatah. Odeini also helped lead demonstrations against the Prawer Plan, which called for the destruction of Bedouin villages and displacement of their residents before it was halted in 2013. His friend, he said, never held back on efforts to support the rights of young people.

Ahmed al-Rawagh, 28, another protester from Al-Bureij refugee camp, said he and others have been misjudged.

"Trump does not know that every young man has a dream and great ambitions killed by the Israeli violations," Rawagh said.

He added: “We want to have a decent life and a job, we are in the 21st century, no can believe that these are still dreams. But we will continue (to protest) to have our lands and dignity back.”   

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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