Last week was one of profound tragedy for young Israelis and Palestinians. A 16-year-old boy was killed in a heinous double bombing that rocked Jerusalem; many of those wounded were also children and teens on their way to school. The night before, a 16-year-old boy was killed in Nablus. The night before that, a 17-year-old in Jenin. The body of a 17-year-old Israeli boy was abducted from a West Bank hospital by militants. A school in Masafar Yatta was demolished, while the families and children who relied upon it looked on in horror.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not unique in the vicious way it produces juvenile victims. But trends and studies show that these events are radicalizing young Israelis and Palestinians, and solidifying societal attitudes may do more to determine the course of this conflict than almost any other variable. Disrupting those trends should be the overarching goal for all who care about peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

In Israel, the November election was a wake-up call to the sort of politics now taking root among its youngest voters. The far-right Religious Zionism party’s historic result – finishing third out of all the lists with 14 seats, more than double their previous number –was spurred primarily by the Jewish Power faction led by Kahanist activist Itamar Ben-Gvir, who will soon become a government minister. Where did his support come from? In large part, from a surging youth vote.

The Israel Democracy Institute recently published research showing that about 60 percent of Jewish Israelis identify today as right-wing – an imprecise but reliable corollary for hardline views toward Palestinians. This already makes Israel one of the most right-leaning democracies on Earth. But among Israelis aged 18 to 24, the number tops 70 percent. According to the Israeli Central Elections Committee, 209,000 Israelis became eligible to vote since the previous election in March 2021; their vote is worth about five of the Knesset’s 120 seats, and they will be casting ballots for decades to come.

While the term “right-wing” in Israel has for decades suggested opposition to a two-state solution, something more profound is happening on its farthest fringes. Indeed, Religious Zionism figures have called for expelling citizens who are disloyal to the state, and fomented inter-community violence in mixed cities in 2021. Ben-Gvir was personally called out by the chief of police, who will soon be his subordinate, for being “responsible for this intifada.” Although they netted just six seats in the previous election, Religious Zionism received more than twice as many votes from young people than either Meretz or Labor.

The other side of the Green Line, too, is experiencing a deepening crisis, again with troubling youth dynamics. The United Nations has warned that 2022 is on track to become the deadliest year in the West Bank since they started tallying fatalities in 2005.

Palestinian deaths in clashes with the IDF are on the rise, as is spiraling violence on the part of Israeli settlers. There is also a disturbing growth of new, rogue Palestinian paramilitary groups, including the Lion’s Den, which itself was founded by three men under the age of 25, amid a marked influx of automatic weapons into the area.

As Palestinian society is one of the youngest on Earth – with one of the oldest cohorts of political leaders –these dynamics will likely escalate, especially with what may be the most hardline government in Israel’s history on the other side. With the weakness of the Palestinian Authority and the erosion of many of its civic institutions, there is very little to prevent the next (inevitable) crisis from spiraling out of control.

In order to inform our work as the region’s largest network of grassroots peacebuilders, the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), commissioned a poll in partnership with the United States Institute of Peace. Conducted by Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin and Dr. Khalil Shikaki, it examined the attitudes of Israelis and Palestinians aged 15 to 21 years old.

It found that, more than in previous generations, majorities on both sides reject the others’ historical connection to the land, oppose a two-state solution and believe the other side only understands force. One thing they share is a frustration with the status quo, with less than 13 percent of Israelis and Palestinians favoring the model that many older citizens have been clinging to. With few available routes for change, these young Israelis and Palestinians are prey to the disruptive promise of simple answers, violence and extremist ideologies.

When it comes to the lived experiences of the youths we polled, many were born after the second intifada, and all were born long after the Oslo Accords, its collapse, and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. They came of age in the grim reality of repeated Gaza-Israel wars and non-existent diplomacy. Almost none of them have ever had a meaningful engagement with the “other,” despite each constituting half the population of this tiny sliver of land. The sole chink of light: Only around a third of each cohort are opposed to programs that might bridge that divide and help them collectively determine how to share this land in peace.

There is a growing network of organizations dedicated to providing perhaps the only meaningful context in which this intense separation and increasing radicalization of young Palestinians and Israelis is disrupted. They pursue almost every imaginable avenue – from forming policy and shared education and health initiatives to environmental activism and entrepreneurship – with one common denominator: Israelis and Palestinians coming together and confronting this drive to see each other as enemies.

After years of reduced financial support, $250 million in funding from the United States’ Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (MEPPA) has begun to flow into peacebuilding projects and Palestinian economic development. At a time of political deterioration in both societies, scaling such activity has the power to interrupt these destructive social trends. It can open new political pathways for Israeli and Palestinian youth to engage each other in meaningful numbers, counteracting the echo chambers that have allowed the worst prejudices to fester and extremists to gain ground.

But as significant as MEPPA’s resources are, they are sadly not on the same scale as the problem that has now metastasized. That is one of the reasons why it is necessary to establish an international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace, which would operate multilaterally and dramatically increase and pool the resources, legitimacy and ideas of the whole international donor community, drawing lessons from previous successful interventions such as in Northern Ireland.

The concept has been endorsed by the UK government and opposition and was raised at this summer’s G7 summit in Germany. It could potentially include the Abraham Accords countries, who can now support this work for the very first time. Indeed, it appears to be one of the few realistic pillars that the United States and its allies can build a rapid response around.

If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems irresolvable now, just wait until youth trends in these very young societies fully play themselves out. After three decades of failed top-down diplomacy, now is the time to invest in the bottom-up – and especially in the region’s youth. Doing so can avert a foreseeable and accelerating crisis, make weeks like those we’ve just lived though less likely and, over time, create the foundations that we know true conflict resolution requires.

John Lyndon is the executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), a network of over 160 Israeli/Palestinian organizations engaged in grassroots peacebuilding. Twitter: @JohnLyndon_

QOSHE - How to Halt the Startling Radicalization of Young Israelis and Palestinians - John Lyndon
We use cookies to provide some features and experiences in QOSHE

More information  .  Close
Aa Aa Aa
- A +

How to Halt the Startling Radicalization of Young Israelis and Palestinians

23 50 20
04.12.2022

Last week was one of profound tragedy for young Israelis and Palestinians. A 16-year-old boy was killed in a heinous double bombing that rocked Jerusalem; many of those wounded were also children and teens on their way to school. The night before, a 16-year-old boy was killed in Nablus. The night before that, a 17-year-old in Jenin. The body of a 17-year-old Israeli boy was abducted from a West Bank hospital by militants. A school in Masafar Yatta was demolished, while the families and children who relied upon it looked on in horror.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not unique in the vicious way it produces juvenile victims. But trends and studies show that these events are radicalizing young Israelis and Palestinians, and solidifying societal attitudes may do more to determine the course of this conflict than almost any other variable. Disrupting those trends should be the overarching goal for all who care about peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

In Israel, the November election was a wake-up call to the sort of politics now taking root among its youngest voters. The far-right Religious Zionism party’s historic result – finishing third out of all the lists with 14 seats, more than double their previous number –was spurred primarily by the Jewish Power faction led by Kahanist activist Itamar Ben-Gvir, who will soon become a government minister. Where did his support come from? In large part, from a surging youth vote.

The Israel Democracy Institute recently published research showing that about 60 percent of Jewish Israelis identify today as right-wing – an imprecise but reliable corollary for hardline views toward Palestinians. This already makes Israel one of the most right-leaning democracies on Earth. But among Israelis aged 18 to 24, the number tops 70 percent. According to the Israeli Central Elections Committee, 209,000 Israelis became eligible to vote since the previous election in March 2021; their vote is worth about five of the........

© Haaretz


Get it on Google Play