"We Want Peace!"
The air is thick with smoke from the many water pipes. Arab music is interspersed with the latest news reports from Tunisia. The situation in the North African nation is a major talking point today at this popular youth club in a beach café in Gaza City.
Tarek, a young Palestinian, says people here feel a profound empathy with their contemporaries in Tunisia. Even though the situation in Gaza is quite different, a place where life is paralysed by the Israeli blockade, where people are cut off from the outside world and caught up in the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah.
Ask these youngsters about their future prospects, and many are at a loss as to what to say. "Well, if I think about my future, to be honest, not much occurs to me," says Mohammed, visibly resigned. He's just completed his studies and has so far had no luck finding a job. Youssef is similarly pessimistic: "Every day is like the last, the only difference is that the next one is even worse. I can't go anywhere, we can't travel. Future, what's that?" says the young man.
Faced with the realisation that instead of getting better, their future prospects are looking increasingly gloomy, a group of young students have given vent to their anxiety, their frustration and their anger in the form of a written manifesto. Enough, they write, we've had enough of it all. The students use Facebook as their platform, their link to the outside world. In their "Youth Manifesto" they leave no doubt as to their sense of hopelessness:
"Fuck Hamas. Fuck Israel. Fuck Fatah. We, the youth in Gaza, are so fed up with Israel, Hamas, the occupation, the violations of human rights and the indifference of the international community!"
Cut off from the outside world
Extreme sentiments, expressed by five young men and women all in their early 20s. Abu George and Abu Aoun are among them. They only agreed to be interviewed after long consideration. And there were conditions: no real names, no photos. They know their views aren't going to be popular with everyone in Gaza and want to remain anonymous.
The group calls itself GYBO, which stands for "Gaza Youth Breaks Out". Their Facebook page has already attracted 18,000 followers, a resonance that surprised even the writers of the manifesto. Abu George explains that they opted to use explicit language as it's the only way to get a message across these days. He says it's important to him that the young generation is heard, that it has a voice.
Fenced in by Israel, and cut off from the outside world since Hamas assumed power in 2006, young people like Abu George and Abu Aoun feel cheated of a future. "We're frustrated about the situation with Israel, with the blockade. But we're also badly affected by the psychological isolation in which we're trapped," says one. The Hamas government cracks down on the activities of NGOs and young people, thereby robbing them of their voice.
"Being a young person in Gaza," says Abu George, "doesn't just mean having no job prospects. It also means having no chance right from the outset and being marginalised by a difficult social and political environment." And then there's the generation gap. "The older generation no longer has a clue what we young people think," says Abu George.
Abu George is a student. Like all young people in Gaza, he has grown up in politically turbulent times. Like all young people here, he has lived through the intifada and the Israeli military offensives. He and his friend Abu Aoun have given up making plans for the future, as contemporaries in other countries might do. More than half the population here is under 18 years old. It's hard for young people in Gaza to shape their future lives.
"I'm 24 years old and to this day, I've never been able to leave Gaza. That's absurd," says Abu Aoun. Most people can't even travel to the West Bank without a permit from the Israeli authorities.
Sick and tired of political strife
People are talking about the Youth Manifesto in Gaza, not everyone has read it, but many are aware of it. "The frustration described here is especially tangible within this generation," says Palestinian psychoanalyst Eyad Sarraj. "It's grown into an even greater problem because of the Israeli blockade. Youngsters are communicating online, or watching television. They know there's another world out there. But it's a world that remains off-limits to them. This is a cause of stress and frustration."
Aside from the sense of incarceration and hopelessness, there is the violence, which occurs on an almost daily basis. Every militant Palestinian rocket is answered with an Israeli air attack. Barely a night goes by without unrest. The writers of the youth manifesto feel abandoned, caught up in the battle being waged by political groups for rights and power in the Gaza Strip.
"We are sick of being caught in this political struggle; sick of the wall of shame that separates us from the rest of our country and keeps us imprisoned in a stamp-sized piece of land; sick of the indifference we meet from the international community; we are sick and tired of living a shitty life."
Power games at the expense of young people
The cyber activists say they do not belong to any political organisation. Abu George and Abu Aoun want to make this quite clear. They are deliberately cautious, because after all, anyone doling out criticism like this can rapidly expect to become a target himself.
The power games between Fatah and Hamas are conducted at the expense of our future, they say. The fact that the Hamas government controls all aspects of daily life doesn't make things any easier, say the two young men. Hamas has declared 2011 to be "The Year for the Youth", but this elicits nothing but a jaded smile from the GYBO activists. For them, the last straw was when authorities ordered the temporary closure of a large youth organisation in Gaza.
There is also criticism aimed at the international community, which the young men and women of GYBO say responds with indifference to the situation in Gaza. The fact that the United Nations wants to turn Gaza into a humanitarian case is doing nothing to ease matters: "We need more than just food," says Abu George. "People send us food, but we're not sheep. We need more than food aid. We need sincere support and people out there who understand us."
Normality is something that's hard to find in Gaza. But the youngsters want to retain a small nugget of optimism. This is why they took the courageous step of writing and posting this manifesto. To show people "outside" that Gaza is not just a home to terrorists. And to show the older generation that the young also have something to say. Finally, all they want is something that many people take for granted, and end their manifesto with three simple demands:
"We want to be free, we want to live, we want peace." Is that really too much to ask?
© Deutsche Welle 2011
Translated from the German by Nina Coon
Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/Qantara.de