Palestinian Christian Reactions to Hopelessness
Part 1 of 2

“Our conversations in church youth group revolve around fear and anxiety. Youth are afraid to go about their daily lives because the streets they walk everyday have had casualties and they are afraid to be mistaken as a perpetrator and to become a casualty themselves.”

Over the past few months, we have experienced an intense cycle of violence, often referred to as the “Knives’ Intifada.” Palestinian youth[1] as young as 11-year-old boys and 13-year-old girls are perpetrators of some of the attacks.[2] Many of the Palestinian attacks on Israelis have taken place in areas where Israeli Jews live in close proximity with marginalized Palestinians; specifically in and around Jerusalem and in or near Jewish settlements in the West Bank. At the same time, continuous clashes with the Israeli military in major Palestinian cities in the West Bank have occurred, and the violence does not seem to be coming to an end. Sources indicate that at least 17 Israelis[3] and 99 Palestinians[4] have died since early October; more than 100 Israelis and 2000 Palestinians have been injured.[5]

In spite of the ongoing instability, 25 courageous leaders from Jerusalem and the West Bank met in Ramallah for a recent Musalaha youth leadership training where we addressed the effects of recent violence on Palestinian Christian teenagers. This is a complex and emotionally-charged topic, but it is important for church youth leaders to have a forum to express their challenges during this time. Together, we discussed how our youth perceive and react to the violence, and we shared ways to support them and one another.

The training addressed two major areas of our work. First, we discussed leaders’ observations about their youth, the media, and violence. Second, we shared our personal experiences as leaders, and ways that we can respond to our youth’s challenges.

Palestinian Youth and the Violence

A Jerusalemite leader commented, “My youth are afraid to go on a bus, on a train or anything else in public. Even though my youth have not witnessed any attacks, they have been exposed to the violence through social media.”

A leader from the West Bank lamented that the situation is distancing young people from the church and spirituality; they feel they cannot leave their homes due to the situation. They ask, “Where is God in the midst of the conflict?” He continued, “The youth increasingly doubt the church and God’s justice. They cry out, ‘If God exists, we wouldn’t be in this situation. Look at where we are, 67 years of occupation and there is no end to it. How long will this continue?’”

“Youth used to think mostly of themselves and their selfish needs, but now they are more concerned with the headline news and the deteriorating political situation,” a leader from Zababde noted.

“The conflict used to be between the Israeli army and the Palestinians. Now it has become a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, as Israeli civilians are committing violence against Palestinians as well. In Jerusalem, the Palestinian youth are afraid of Israeli civilians because of the loose use of weapons. Some Israelis are allowed to carry arms, and have been encouraged to do so by the current government. An Israeli Jew is allowed to fire their weapon even if they only suspect a Palestinian,” said another Jerusalemite leader.

It was clear through our conversations that youth are facing a spiritual crisis due to the political injustice and violence around them. Their limited freedom of movement has been further restricted due to personal anxiety and the unstable political situation, and their fear of being wrongly implicated by Israeli Jews.

Youth, Violence and Social Media

Palestinian youth are influenced by the conflict, whether through direct contact or social media. They use social media both as a form to receive updates about the current situation and to inform their friends and family of their own whereabouts and opinions regarding the situation.

A youth leader from the Bethlehem area shared, “My youth do not leave home before checking the news and asking if it is safe to come to a church meeting. I thought they only cared about their hair and makeup. Their social media newsfeeds have become a means to update family and friends about current events.”

Another said, “This wave of violence does not resemble past ones. Hatred, fear, anger, and racism are reaching me and my youth without the need to physically leave our homes. All one needs to do is watch videos on social media. There is no need to look for such videos because they are already in our newsfeeds.” In other words, during previous bouts of violence, hatred, fear, and anger resulted from negative personal experiences with the army, while today these feelings are evoked through media.

Addressing Challenges

Youth leaders realize that their youth are caught in the current violence, be it physically or emotionally, and they all voiced the need to address these challenges. They are also aware of their position as influential adults in the lives of their youth and they know that they can help these young people process the emotions provoked from the conflict in a safe, healthy and non-violent way. As youth leaders, we have to provide answers, at times when we ourselves also have questions. We brainstormed together about ways to support one another and meet our youth’s needs. The fact that we were together, empathizing with one another’s struggles, and seeking to meet one another’s needs was very encouraging. We came up with a number of important ways to help our youth, which I look forward to sharing with you in Part 2 (to be published March 8).

 

Shadia Qubti
Musalaha Youth Department

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[1] ‘Youth’ refers to young people under the age of 21.
[2] This article specifically addresses violence coming from the Palestinian side. We have also witnessed an upsurge in violence among Israeli Jewish youth (for example, the religious-nationalist “Hilltop Youth”). Other media outlets detail the rise in Israeli extremism and violence, but this topic is not the focus of this article, therefore it will not be discussed here.
[3] Jewish Virtual Library, “Terrorism against Israel: Comprehensive Listing of Fatalities,” http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Terrorism/victims.html
[4] Basma Atassi, “Mapping the dead in latest Israeli-Palestinian violence: Tracking the human toll of the wave of violence in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel,” Al Jazeera Online, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2015/10/mapping-dead-latest-israeli-palestinian-violence-151013142015577.html
[5] Ibid.