In December, a new round of Middle East peace talks ground to a halt, leaving the US Secretary of State no choice but to change policy and return to indirect talks with the two sides. This is hardly the result Hilary Clinton was hoping for as 2011 begins. But then, if asked what they would wish for in this New Year, few Palestinians would have formal peace negotiations on their list; there is little faith among ordinary people that the politicians can solve anything.
Now a group of students have vented their frustration and anger with all those in authority on every side of the conflict. Retaining their anonymity for fear of reprisals and calling themselves ‘Gaza Youth Breaks Out’, the group of 8/9 young Palestinian activists have published a ‘Manifesto for Change’ on the internet. It is an angry document, written in a blunt and aggressive style and with much swearing. But though colloquially written, the text eloquently highlights the everyday humiliations and frustrations experienced by young people in the Gaza Strip.
“Here in Gaza, we are scared of being incarcerated, interrogated, hit, tortured, bombed, killed,” say the group of cyber activists, who talk of being “afraid of living, because.... we cannot move as we want, say what we want, do what we want ....and it makes us want to shed endless tears of frustration and rage!” The text ends with three demands which sound simple, but represent almost impossible wishes for young people living in the territory today – “We want to be free. We want to be able to live a normal life. We want peace.”
The group’s Manifesto was written three weeks ago, but already the posted text has caused a huge stir, particularly among students and young people. More than half of Gaza’s 1.5 million population is under 18 years and the text of the Manifesto speaks directly to them. Already, the impassioned cry has garnered thousands of supporters online and the Facebook page of Gaza Youth Breaks Out has thousands of friends.
With high unemployment in Gaza and restrictions on travel still in place, many young people feel that with the end of their studies, they come to a dead end in their lives. The “last straw” for one of the group who composed the Manifesto was last year when the internationally financed Sharek organisation, which organised training and summer activities for young people, was closed by the authorities.
Government officials in Gaza have declared 2011 will be ‘Year for the Youth’, but it remains to be seen whether the authorities can offer anything which manages to reduce the kind of anger and frustration expressed so eloquently by the young people online, who say - “ENOUGH! Enough pain, enough tears, enough suffering, enough control......WE SAY STOP! This is not the future we want!”