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Youth of Gaza want freedom and unity

Despite the recent signing of a unity deal between Fatah and Hamas, young Palestinians in Gaza remain sceptical about their future.

For a special Newsnight programme, the BBC’s Tim Whewell travelled to Gaza to see if the Arab Spring had brought any changes to the region. But young Palestinians continue to voice their frustration at political wrangling and the lack of social freedom.

The reporter met with students practicing the traditional dance of debka. Though this dance used to be performed by boys and girls together, since 2007, youngsters have had to dance separately. One of the students said “I feel sad and depressed that I can’t have freedom in my own country,” blaming pressure from the Hamas government which “does not allow us to do what we love”.

Many students in Gaza showed their support for a Facebook page set up last year to express the sense of imprisonment felt by young Palestinians. And in March, students joined a demonstration rally calling on Hamas to end its divisions with Fatah and for both parties to fight together for Palestinian rights. But though the unity deal is a step towards that goal, the two parties have yet to agree on key posts in any unity government. Hamas is also critical of Fatah’s moves to gain recognition for an independent Palestinian state at the United Nations in September.

But though the young people have yet to see any major differences to life inside Gaza, some small signs of change are apparent. Referring to Islamic restrictions, the deputy foreign minister of Hamas conceded “we made mistakes” following the recent activism of Gaza’s youth. And though freedom of movement is still severely limited, the opening of the border crossing with Egypt has been welcomed by Gazans.

However, ordinary life in Gaza remains hard and development slow. Last month, international agencies and the United Nations (UN) warned that the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza was being hampered by the ongoing restrictions of Israel’s blockade, in particular by the difficulty of movement between the Palestinian territories. The UN’s Coordinator for the region said “delays in the movement of staff.....mean delays in implementation and rising costs” affecting the quality of services. Just like the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens in Gaza, aid workers have to pass through checkpoints, roadblocks and security checks in order to go about their business and the consequent delays have been estimated to cost agency and UN staff around 4.5 million dollars annually. The charity Oxfam has also highlighted the additional costs of hiring extra staff in duplicate posts because it cannot obtain permits for West Bank employees to enter Gaza. With such a frank report on the difficulties surrounding life in Gaza, it would seem the region’s young people aren’t the only ones voicing their frustration publicly.

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