Palestinians in the West Bank Crave the Simple Pleasures of Peace

by | Sep 5, 2016

Ramallah, West Bank — The West Bank and Gaza territories are home to 4.6 million Palestinians, more than half under the age of 24. These millions of young people are coming of age against the backdrop of one of the most enduring and contentious conflicts in the world. Their experience growing up in the territories occupied by Israel is different from most of the youth of the world. Much of the time the occupation by Israeli security forces is less visible, particularly inside the towns and cities in the Palestinian Territories (places like Hebron where there is a settler presence inside the town are an exception). But as soon as Palestinians move out of those towns and cities they say the reality of occupation becomes invasive. Israel built a wall separating parts of the West Bank following the Second Intifada which saw 73 suicide bombings carried out inside Israel in the three years to July 2003.  The Israelis call it a security barrier against terrorism, while Palestinians call it a racial segregation or apartheid wall. 

Palestinians in the West Bank face checkpoints, roadblocks, random stop and searches by the Israeli Defence Forces and Israeli border police, settlers and highways connecting settlements that Palestinians are prohibited from using. There is anger, but most of all they voice frustration—the feeling of being trapped in an ever-smaller stretch of land.

Yet in numerous interviews with Palestinians conveyed that beyond the strong emotions of national pride and resentment towards the occupation and the State of Israel, there seemed to be a fundamental desire for peace. This desire came not from idealism, but from a more visceral place. Peace means space, peace means freedom of movement, peace means feeling at home in the land in which one lives.

A Day In The Life of A Palestinian Man:
Many Palestinian men living in Ramallah say that although the conflict in Israel/Palestine is currently in remission, it’s not a matter of if it will reconvene, it’s a matter of when. Three express their feeling toward Israeli authorities and also the Palestinians who have attacked Israeli’s, saying their hope is to find a safer, more permanent solution. One man says of his son, “My wish is that the things I saw, my son doesn’t see. We saw the occupation, I hope he sees peace.” Tatiana Flowers/CUNY J

It’s a hot day in Ramallah, and Noor Faqahad, 23, is resting in the shade of the vestibule of small building, right off Al-Manara Square, crossroads of the city, famous for its lions and the Instagram-friendly Stars and Bucks café. The building’s white gate is open, leading to marble steps and a few closed shops. Faqahad is sitting on the cool marble with two friends by his side.

Faqahad works in a candy store in Ramallah owned by his father. He graduated from high school but says he hasn’t been able to go to college because he’s had to stay and work in his family’s small business.

Noor Faqahad, 23, stands outside a building in Ramallah as he discusses life in the West Bank. Lisa Thomson/CUNY J

Small family-owned businesses are uncommon in the West Bank where the Palestinian National Authority, the self-government body responsible for parts of the West Bank and Gaza, is the primary employer.

“You wake up early, you go to work, you work very late and sometimes you see your family and friends. But mostly life here is work, but sometimes if you have a lose hour or two you can see your friends in a café,” said Faqahad.

Faqahad says his generation is in a difficult situation, “sometimes there are protests, but a lot of people are not aware and they don’t think and that’s when you have things like stabbing attacks and violence and it doesn’t accomplish anything. So you have to, it’s on us to think big, to think more to the future, to try and find a permanent solution.”

Data, CIA World Factbook. Map by: Lisa Thomson/CUNY J

In a region of the world where civil wars, revolutions, wars and sanctions have shaped the state of politics and economics, young people have been among some of the hardest hit. Faqahad is one of the lucky young men who has escaped the West Bank and Gaza’s 43 percent youth unemployment rate, a rate that is one of the highest among the territories’ neighbors.

Arami is in car passing through Al-Manara Square when the car suddenly stops. He waves at us and motions us over. He opens the door and steps out with his son, Nadir. As soon as his feet hit the ground Nadir begins to dash up and down the street as fast as his two-year-old legs can carry him. Nadir bounces back and forth between his father, a group of young men in front of a local barbershop and his father’s friend, seemingly without a care in the world.

But his father, Rami Arami, isn’t as carefree as his son. Arami is raising a family in the West Bank. Unemployed and in debt, Arami is not alone in his struggle to find a job. According to World Bank data from the end of 2015 the general unemployment rate in the West Bank was 20 percent, and nearly double that in Gaza. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that personal debt in the form of mortgages and consumer credit doubled to $750 million between 2008 and 2011. Arami and his wife took on a loan to finance their wedding.

Arami is positive, affectionate and has a contagious smile. He welcomes us generously, like many people in the neighborhood, who honk as they drive past, or who stop to shake our hands and say “welcome to Palestine.”

Like the younger men, he wants peace. Not just peace as the absence of violence, but the cessation of everything that surrounds it: uncertainty, restricted movement, tension and fear.

Arami says he hopes his son will have a different experience growing up and living in the West Bank. “My wish is that the things that I saw, he does not see. We saw the occupation. I wish that he sees peace.”

An elderly couple looks attentively as they stand outside their home in Ramallah in the West Bank. Gustavo Martinez Contreras/CUNY J

Amnah Hijaz, 30, speaks over the phone from her home in a town mid-way between Nabalus and Ramallah. It’s nearly 10:30 p.m. in the West Bank and Hijaz’s three children can be heard scurrying around in the background. Her son, 8, mimics his mother as she spells-out the name of her town. “A-L-L-U-P-A-N.”

The children, 8, 6 and 2 months old, are awake and buzzing with energy. It’s Ramadan, and while the children don’t fast, they do get to stay up later than normal – often not going to bed until 2 a.m.

Hijaz says that during the evening the children play in the yard, but that her son and his friends also like to play the video game Counter-Strike, a popular game with over half a million users worldwide.

She says the boys often play the game because there’s not much else for them to do. She says, “The school’s on the main street and it’s not safe so they can’t go play soccer. It’s not safe, and because they are men, you know, the soldiers don’t let them go and play, so they stay inside.

Data, CIA World Factbook. Chart by Lisa Thomson

Access to the school and its facilities is not always easy for Hijaz and her family. She says that her children’s school is on the main street, and that at anytime solderies can go and set up checkpoints,  which she says they often do whenever there’s a problem in the Palestinian Territories. “Sometimes it takes hours to pick up the kids from school,” she said.

Hijaz says the presence of soldiers is business as usual for her children and that while her children still find the soldiers scary, they’re not as afraid as they once were. “They look at them now as normal, but not normal, they’re just scared not like they used to be.”

“We hope that one time in the future they have better life than we have and we hope that everybody says Palestine get freed one day,” said Hijaz.

Top Photo: Rami Arami and his son Nadir, 2, stand outside a barber shop in Ramallah. Arami said that he wanted peace because that would bring restrictions to an end and would create a better future for his son. Gustavo Martínez Contreras/CUNY J