Many in the crowd were young people, who are becoming increasingly active in voicing their frustration, inspired by events happening elsewhere in the Arab world. The rally was the first large public demonstration since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 and was believed to have drawn around 100,000 people.
According to United Nations estimates, people under the age of 25 make up around 65 per cent of Gaza’s 1.6 million citizens and many are frustrated by high unemployment and limited prospects; two-thirds of 20-24 year olds are unemployed in the region, as jobs have dwindled following the Israeli blockade. A ban on travel has also restricted the movement of young Gazans, who used to make up over a third of students at the West Bank universities, but are now virtually absent there. This has lead to a restriction in the choices of courses and qualifications available to Gazan students. Financial hardship in families also means that many young people are having to postpone their studies or drop out of courses. IRIN spoke to the president of the Islamic University, who reported that half his students were unable to meet their tuition fees this semester. The university was also having difficulties hiring qualified teachers.
Schools in Gaza are also suffering. Because of damage caused to buildings during the Israeli offensive which ended in January 2010, around 100 new schools are needed to cope with the number of pupils. With serious overcrowding in classrooms, Gaza’s public schools currently operate double shifts. The quality of education has also suffered from a deficiency in books and learning materials such as laboratory equipment.
UN officials in the region express their worries that the continued isolation of Gazan young people will have serious effects on their psychology and may also encourage extremism. In a survey of school and university students, authors of a report published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported that two thirds of students said they didn’t feel safe on their journeys to and from school or college and over 70 per cent worried there would be another war. While younger children mostly said they were hopeful about the future, over 70 per cent of university students were not. It is therefore little wonder that many young people feel the need to demonstrate publicly and if given the opportunity, said they would leave and take their skills abroad.