Jerusalem’s Palestinian youth face bleak future

First published by the Arab Weekly on 30/7/2017

London – The results of the tawjihi — General Secondary Education Certificate Examination — were re­cently announced across the Palestinian territories to great cheers and celebration in some households and deep disappoint­ment in others.


The future isn’t what it used to be. Palestinian children chat outside a school in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Jabel Mukhaber. (Reuters)

Palestinians see education as a vital asset to their development both as individuals and as a society under occupation.

The next step for those who ex­celled in the tawjihi is to find a place at university. Medicine and engineering continue to be the most sought-after studies for those with a score of 90% or higher.

However, hope that a university education will help Palestinians se­cure a job and go on to build a fam­ily is a pipe dream for most. “Hope” is the operative word here, and is a commodity that is in short supply for Palestinians, particularly the young.

The number of unemployed Pal­estinians totalled 361,000 in 2016, the Palestinian Central Bureau for Statistics said, rising from 21.7% in 2007 to 26.9% in 2016.

The International Labour Organi­sation (ILO) said the unemploy­ment rate for Palestinian youth has reached 40%. The unemployment rate in Gaza is more than 40% and youth unemployment is more than 60% and 85% among young wom­en. Gaza, of course, has suffered from a 10-year siege that has exac­erbated the situation. The unem­ployment rate among men in East Jerusalem is reported to be 12.3% and 26.8% among women.

Palestinians recently marked Is­rael’s 50-year occupation of East Jerusalem, which means anyone born after 1967 has grown up un­der Israeli military rule. The occu­pation has not been a static affair. Israel annexed East Jerusalem shortly after its occupation, claim­ing it as its united eternal capital. It has also actively pursued the con­struction of illegal settlements in the Palestinian areas, for Jews only, in a deliberate attempt to change its demographic makeup or, as the Pal­estinians see it, to Judaise it.

Some 300,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem. Their official status is “resident.” They are nei­ther Israeli citizens nor holders of a Palestinian Authority passport. In 2014, the Israeli Ministry of Interior revoked the permanent residency status of 107 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, including 56 women and 12 minors. Since 1967, the resi­dency status of 14,416 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem has been revoked. In practice, this prevents them from returning to live in their place of birth.

In 2012, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) reported that 78% of Palestinians, including 84% of children, in the district of Jeru­salem live below the poverty line. There are no official statistics col­lected by Israel as to the rate of un­employment among Palestinians. However, the Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem, put out by the Jerusa­lem Institute for Israel Studies, said 40% of males and 85% of females do not participate in the workforce.

Only 41% of Palestinian children are enrolled in municipal schools. There is a shortage of 1,000 class­rooms in the official municipal education system; 194 classrooms were added in these schools from 2009-14 and an additional 211 are planned. More than 40% of class­rooms in the official municipal sys­tem are considered inadequate.

A particularly important statistic is that of school dropout rate. This stands at 26% in 11th grade and 33% in 12th grade; the national average stands at just a few percent. Those who drop out face a bleak future in terms of employment. Opportuni­ties for employment are extremely limited. The jobs that do exist are low-pay and in many cases short-term.

Where youngsters hope to join a family business, particularly in the old city, they see a short, strained attempt by Israel to force them out of business through excessive taxa­tion and other demands.

Many end up working part-time for low wages inside Israel with little hope of saving for a house, rent or to start a family. This forces many to continue living with their parents, resulting in overcrowded conditions.

Even if Palestinian families own land and have the means to ex­tend their homes to accommodate offspring, Israel generally denies building permits. Such permits are not denied for their Jewish neigh­bours. As a result, some Palestin­ians end up working in the West Bank, putting their residency status in Jerusalem at risk.

The occupation also affects their lives by subjecting young Palestin­ians to regular arrests, sometimes for being suspected of throwing stones or being involved in car­rying out what they see as acts of resistance. Cases of young Palestin­ians being mistreated in custody, such as being asked to sign confes­sions in Hebrew, which they do not speak, are well documented.

Young Palestinians have ex­pressed a general sense of humilia­tion and do not see their status quo changing for years to come.

What hope is there for Palestinians?

First published by the Middle East Monitor 

15/7/2016

The situation for Palestinians pursuing freedom, independence and the right of return continues to worsen. The occupation continues unabated, Jerusalem is being Judaised at an alarming rate, the siege on Gaza is as tight as ever and the refugees continue to languish in camps and those in Syria are on the move once again looking for safety and shelter. The Oslo Accords, which were designed to bring peace and independence within five years have not only failed to yield peace but have provided cover for accelerated colonisation of Palestinian lands to the extent that there are now some 650,000 settlers in illegal settlements in the West Bank.

2016 has seen particularly damaging developments.

In the USA, all presidential candidates with the exception of Bernie Sanders swore allegiance to Israel and those that were still in the race made typically nauseating – and in my view irresponsible – speeches, again with the exception of Sanders. The presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump initially indicated he would be “neutral” on Israel-Palestine, but this all changed when he faced the AIPAC audience. He firmly sided with Israel. His Republican opponent Hilary Clinton, a former secretary of State and wife of former President Bill Clinton, confirmed her blind support for Israel and the demonisation of the Palestinians. More recently, the Democratic party refused to include references to the occupation of Palestinian territories in its platform. Not to be outdone, the Republicans removed references to the “occupation” and dropped references to the two-state solution as the way to settle the conflict. This drew criticism even from the pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The Republican platform has effectively handed the future of the Palestinians to Israel leaving it to decide what a solution to the conflict might look like and in the process removing the two-state solution as the “only game in town”.

Internationally, Israel’s new Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon will chair the Legal Affairs Committee of the General Assembly. A state, which is in breach of numerous United Nations resolutions chairing a committee on international law! Bouyed by this, Israel is even seeking membership of the UN Security Council whose key resolutions on the conflict it continues to defy.

In the UK, a new government has been formed with prominent pro-Israelis among its key ministers. The Prime Minister Theresa May is on record as siding with Israel. The new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, whose appointment has raised eyebrows, has a dubious but pro-Israel stance, exemplified by his remarks in Israel back in November 2015, which upset his Palestinian hosts so much that they gave him some BDS treatment, boycotting his visit. The Palestinians can be thankful that Michael Gove, a prominent Brexiter and former justice secretary, is not in the new government. He is a man who banned a Palestinian festival and more recently stated that “BDS is worse than Apartheid” smearing the whole campaign as anti-Semitic.

He will surely find a more prominent home in the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI). CFI’s current Chair, former Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is a notorious apologist for Israel. He pressured Southampton University to cancel an academic conference on Israel in 2015 and more recently requested a review of the Department for International Development’s funding of the Occupied Palestinian Territories insinuating that funds make their way to terrorists. His intervention also suggested that funding should be diverted to coexistence projects as a means of supporting the two-state solution, when in fact projects to help reduce racism and increase coexistence within Israel would potentially be more beneficial to all its citizens. The UK bent the rules to shield former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni from questioning about her possible role in war crimes by the British Police on a recent private visit and tried to stop local authorities from implementing their ethical procurement policies when it came to companies that are suspected in complicity in Israel’s illegal occupation.

To cap it all, the UK plans to mark the centenary of the notorious and shameful Balfour Declaration in 2017. This has already angered Palestinians and supporters of justice who see the declaration as having been instrumental in their dispossession, the creation of a colonialist entity on their lands and the creation of the ongoing refugee problem.

The recent row about anti-Semitism in the Labour party has thankfully subsided with the publication of the Chakrabarti report, which dismissed the existence of a major problem within the party and steered clear of redefining anti-Semitism to include criticism of Israel, which Israel and its supporters wish to conflate, However, this row has served to raise the pressure to silence criticism of Israel and to curtail free speech. The UK’s Chief Rabbi played his own role in this, implying that Zionism and anti-Semitism are indivisible and in the process implying that all Palestinians (as they oppose Zionism) as anti-Semites.

The exit of the UK from the EU raises uncertainty about the direction the EU will take on Palestine without the UK and indeed the UK’s own direction. This is likely to align it more with the American position, which is moving further away from the even unjust two-state solution that it once championed. There is an argument that the EU may be more robust in its approach to the conflict as the influence of the UK is eliminated. However, judging by the recent report of the Quartet, which the Palestinians found to be “disappointing”, there is no real evidence that this shift will take place. The French Initiative to hold a peace conference stutters along, directionless, having been rejected by Israel. Add to this, Israel’s rejection of the Arab Peace Initiative and hope of any move towards peace by the “international community” is fading fast.

To cap it all, Palestinians cannot rely on their Arab brothers. Israel claims its relations with key Arab states have never been better and the Egyptian foreign minister has just been to Israel on a rare and controversial visit. At a recent conference for Iranian dissidents in Paris, Prince Turkey Al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia described Hamas as a terrorist organisation. Add to this Turkey’s recent normalisation agreement with Israel which dropped its long held demand for an end to the siege on Gaza and the noose around the neck of hope for Palestinians has been tightened like never before.

On the ground in occupied Palestine the situation is grim. Israel continues to control every aspect of Palestinian life. Its forces continue to kill Palestinians at the slightest hint of suspicion that they intend to carry out an attack. They then lay siege on their villages and towns, demolish their homes and round up their relatives. Hebron has recently been under such a siege following allegations of a number of such attacks. The old city of Jerusalem continues to be the target of a policy to replace its residents with Jewish settlers and Al-Aqsa mosque is under threat from takeover by Jewish extremists.

With little hope, the Palestinians can be excused for asking: What are we to do? The pursuit of their freedom and independence through resistance, through both military and peaceful means has not succeeded. They are now feeling abandoned. If the international community expects them to behave like a model occupied people and submit, then it has not learnt the lessons of history. The Algerians resisted until they were free.

Professor Kamel Hawwash is a British Palestinian engineering academic based at the University of Birmingham. He is a commentator on Middle East affairs and is Vice Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC). He writes here in a personal capacity.