Generational Splits: The myth that being young means being liberal

I was truly saddened to hear about the terror attacks on Wednesday night, as I have many friends and family residing in Tel Aviv. Curiously though, the two Palestinian shooters were in their 20s. This may surprise some because people say that younger people are more moderate and want to make peace with the other side and it is older people who are more hawkish.

Others might say that it is because of incitement, that Palestinian leaders are inciting their youth to attack Israelis. Perhaps, but after spending much time in the Palestinian Territories last Ramadan I observed another possibility that explains why younger Palestinians are more hawkish. I call it, “generational splits,” which is the idea that peoples’ views are not based on how old they are per se, but rather based on the time and place they live in.

A good example was when I took a bus to Nablus. The Palestinian man sitting next to me, who seemed to be in his 40s or 50s, asked me ‘Me’efoh atah’ (where are you from, in Hebrew?) In our conversation he said he had some Israeli friends and was for a two-state solution. The next time I took a bus to Nablus, however, a twenty-two year old college graduate Palestinian boy told me that he will “delete” Israel!

I was puzzled to find this pattern where the older Palestinians were more moderate, as they had Israeli friends and were willing to recognize Israel, but their kids around my age saw Israel as illegitimate. After discussing about my observation with an AP journalist based in the West Bank, I concluded that it might be because they are from different generations.

Lets call the older Palestinians, in their 40s or 50s, the “Pre-Oslo Generation” and call the younger Palestinian generation, in their 20s, as the “Second Intifada Generation.”

The Pre-Oslo Generation lived during a time when there was more accessibility between Israel proper and the Palestinian Territories. Thus, they were more likely to naturally come across an Israeli who was not an IDF soldier and befriend them. Plus, they witnessed the beginning of the Oslo Accords in the 1990’s, when there was a sense of hope and, therefore, saw the two-state solution as a viable option to achieve self-determination.

On the other hand, the Second Intifada Generations, born around the 1990s, lived and grew up after the peace process collapsed and there were more restrictions and violence. Thus, they were less exposed to common Israeli folk and have not witnessed an as serious set of negotiations as there were in the early 1990’s, so they do not see recognizing Israel as a viable outlet to achieve self-determination.

As we can see, some, though not all (I encountered several young and moderate Palestinians too) of the Palestinian youth are actually more right wing than their parents’ because of the time they were raised in. You can make the same analogy with Israeli society.

In 2009, Benjamin Netanyahu may have become prime minister, but that same year mock elections were held in Israeli high schools and saw Avigdor Lieberman elected as prime minister. So just like in Palestinian society, some of the Israeli youth might actually be further right than their parents are. Why? Because the Israelis in my generation have also lived during a time when the two-state solution has not seemed as appealing. They grew up during the time of the Second Intifada where over 1,000 Israelis were killed in suicide bombings and then saw an increase in rockets fired from Gaza after they disengaged in 2005. From their experiences, they, understandably, feel that giving up land will only lead to more violence.

Now, the purpose of this analogy is not to excuse the terror attack in Tel Aviv. Terrorism is never justified. It is also not to suggest that Israel is at fault for the attack. Palestinian leaders need to step up and not turn the blind eye on such attacks. But it does show us a couple of things.

One, it debunks the myth that being young means being liberal. And two, by discerning another possible explanation as to why younger Palestinians are conforming to violence, other than incitement, it can help us understand how Israel can pursue a political maneuver, that is within its power, to counter the violence.

That being said, Israel must create a similar environment as there was a generation ago. On Thursday, Israel revoked 83,000 permits from Palestinians to visit Israel during Ramadan. Though there certainly are security issues that need to be ensured, this will not be productive in the long run. The Palestinian youth needs to have similar experiences as their parents had before they rise to political power; there needs to be more accessibility between Israel proper and the Palestinian Territories, and I am not suggesting only work permits.

I asked a Palestinian women from Bethlehem what she would like to see from the Israeli government to show her that they want peace, and she said to issue more permits to cross over into Israel, not just to work, but also to have fun at the beaches, for instance. Creating more opportunities for Israelis and Palestinians to encounter each other in natural social settings will allow them to get used to being around each other, reduce hostility and ripen the prospects for peace talks.

About the Author
Jonah Naghi is a double major in psychology and Middle East Studies at Clark University.