What preoccupies young Palestinian minds

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The occupation is foremost on Palestinian youth’s mind. This was made clear in the Palestinian village of Beita, near Nablus, at an event held on November 17: the opening of the youth development resource centre, funded by USAID and some private international technical companies.

The audience included US Undersecretary of State James K. Glassman, responsible for public diplomacy and public affairs, Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine, Jean Case, chief executive officer of the Case Foundation (the two are co-chair of the US Palestinian public-private partnership), senior Palestinian officials, town leaders and practically all 8,000 residents of Beita.

After the speeches of the minister of youth, the governor of Nablus and a senior USAID official, Iqab Attari the chair of the youth centre reminded donors of the larger problem facing the Palestinians.

"All your efforts and contributions in building this centre and hooking it with the latest technology, and genuinely helping our youth will all be wiped out the moment a youth from Beita tries to go to Nablus or Ramallah and is stopped and humiliated at an Israeli checkpoint," he said.

The people of Beita should know. According to Wikipedia, 50 of the village’s residents were killed by Israelis. The village was a major news item in June 1998 when a clash between stone-throwing youth and gun-wielding Israeli civilians led to the death of one Israeli and three Palestinians. Following that incident, Rabbi Haim Druckman, of the national religious party, said that the entire village should be wiped from the face of the earth.

The town was not wiped, but the Israeli army punished the villagers quite badly. They demolished 13 houses, damaged 23, killed three Beita residents, injured dozens arrested hundreds, detained and deported six Palestinians.

Now with money from American IT companies and the cooperation of the organisers of the centre Ruwwad – the USAID-funded youth project run by Boston-based Educational Development Centre – a state-of-the-art computer lab was unfolded. Young people from Beita quickly hooked up their computers, got online and told the anticipating audience that they planned to connect with another group of young people. The connection was expected to be with teens from Australia, youth from Chicago or fellow young Muslims from Turkey, yet the youth of Beita had a different group in mind: youths from nearby East Jerusalem.

After the introductions and the greetings came yet another touching moment. The youth from the Nablus area wanted to know how fellow Palestinians in nearby Jerusalem were doing. They wanted to know how Nablusites were doing! No one talked about the wall, no one mentioned occupation, travel restrictions weren’t harped on. Their message, delivered without malice, anger or hatred, was clear. They cared about the occupation.

Soon after the event, the visiting group got into their well-protected SUVs and drove to Ramallah to meet the Palestinian prime minister and other Palestinian business and IT professionals. On the way, they passed a number of illegal (according to international law) Jewish settlements and illegal (according to Israeli law) outposts. By evening, they were back to their comfortable hotels in Jerusalem.

Driving with me to Jerusalem was another American who after seeing the settlements on the Nablus-Jerusalem road said: "I am not sure I am in favour of the two-state solution after seeing all this. Your Palestinian state will look like Swiss cheese with these settlements."

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