Vera Macht, a peace activist who has been living in Gaza for the last 8 months, met recently with the founders of Gaza Youth Breaks Out. This account was passed along by Dr. Gabriele Weber, a pro-Palestinian activist in Germany.
Abu Yazen is nervous, he hasn’t slept for a while. That everything would become so big, go so fast, that he had no idea of. His name also isn’t Abu Yazen, but giving his real name is no longer an option. Too great is the danger you face when you put your frustration into words at a place like Gaza, your anger at everything and everyone, the governments and the world, which seems to have forgotten young people like him. He is just one of 800,000 young people in Gaza, over half of the population in the small sealed-off coastal strip is under 18. He is one of those born during the first intifada, spending their childhood under Israeli occupation, in the midst of a second intifada, a civil war, and finally the Israeli attack on Gaza in winter 2008 / 9, in which over 1400 people were killed, about 400 of them children. And since 2007 he lives like all adults and children here under a total siege, imposed by Israel, tacitly accepted by the world. His home is a prison in the middle of the daily terror of a now 60-year old conflict.
"I'm young, I want to live my life, but where is my freedom," says Abu Yazen quietly. "Above me is the noise of the F16, a few kilometers in each direction I meet borders guarded by snipers, and on the sea I see the Israeli warships."
Usually Abu Yazen doesn’t speak quietly. Now, perhaps, now he is tired and exhausted, and you never know who is listening, at the next table. But generally Abu Yazen speaks very loud, about what it is that frustrates him here so much, and makes him so desperate. He is a member of Gaza Youth Breaks Out, a group of five young men and three young women who have written a sensational Manifesto. Their Facebook page accumulated 15,000 members within a few days, and the press of the world is standing in line to get an interview with them. But Abu Yazen and his group are cautious, their Facebook page has been temporarily closed for comments, and these days you’d better not criticize those in power in Gaza so openly.
But the group wants to put straight that the most important focus of their anger is not directed against the divided Palestinian factions, especially since the press took their criticism of Hamas as a godsend. For that reason they also rewrote their Manifesto, it doesn’t begin with the provocative statement “Fuck Hamas” any longer. "[We are] sick of being portrayed as terrorists, homemade fanatics with explosives in our pockets and evil in our eyes”, they wrote. Abu Yazen clarifies: "We will not be used as a tool for the western media to demonize the Arab or Islamic world. Israel justifies all its actions toward us with Hamas being in power. But we have been living under occupation for 60 years. The blockade only increased the conflict between the parties, the division of Palestine, and prevents us from finally having our own state.”
They feel abandoned, yes, in the midst of a political conflict over power and who’s right, let down by their government, by the Palestinian parties, and the UN, which here in Gaza is visible everywhere, with their flags, their armored vehicles, talking, but never acting, that’s what they blame them for.
"Our demand is that the siege is at last lifted, and that our fundamental human rights are respected by Israel", one of them makes clear. "When this is fulfilled, then we can address our internal political problems. Then we will by ourselves be able to elect a new government freely and independently."
They wrote their Manifesto because they saw their situation getting worse rather than better, because the occupation became a siege, and violence became war. Because they did not see anyone actively taking sides with them, and because they wanted to take their fate into their own hands.
“We want to scream and break this wall of silence, injustice and indifference like the Israeli F16’s breaking the wall of sound; […]” their Manifesto states with energy and anger. “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 being portrayed as terrorists, homemade fanatics with explosives in our pockets and evil in our eyes; sick of the indifference we meet from the international community, […] we are sick and tired of living a shitty life”.
Gamila is a pretty young woman, and when she speaks, her voice is clear and precise. You realize immediately that she knows what she wants. She is one of the three girls from Gaza Youth Breaks Out, and what she wants is a life in security and freedom for her and her family. She wants to explain why she is a member of this group, where her desperation comes from, so that people “out there” would understand her. The hope that people "out there" will learn the truth is a stated goal of the group. Gamila spent one year in a house without windows. Windows are among those things that have been declared "luxury goods" by Israel, and were not found on the one and half-page list of items and food allowed in by Israel to supply 1.5 million people during the worst time of the blockade.
The richer families of Gaza, for them such things come through the tunnels, but for people like Gamila, that’s of little use. One year she lived with no windows until she closed them in the winter with wood. Her mother had cancer, Gaza's hospitals couldn’t provide her with the radiation therapy she needed. When the doctor told her that she should go to Egypt within one week because her cancer had spread quickly, it took her two months until she received the required permits. At this time there was the war, she traveled across Gaza amid falling bombs.
"The war was the worst thing that ever happened in my life," says Gamila. "I had left my house because it’s near the border, and prayed in a shelter that me and my family would survive."
And now, even though her mother survived, and she completed her studies, she doesn’t find work in the disastrous economic situation of Gaza, where the unemployment rate is over 45 percent since the siege. A situation deliberately intended by Israel, as a wikileaks cable newly revealed:
“As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.”
Gamila has tried to get an exit permit to find a job outside, or to do her masters abroad, in vain, like most other young people of Gaza. But giving up hope is no option for the group. "We have an aim in front of our eyes, and that’s what we fight for," says Abu Yazen, and at that moment you feel the power and strength of will, embodied in the Manifesto. He talks now loud again, forgotten is the exhaustion and threat they feel from all sides.
All eight of them are well-educated, and speak very good English, but they are normal young people, not exceptionally rich or poor, not from exceptional families, they do not demand exceptional things. Exceptionally brave, that they may be. Brave enough to step out into public and demand what every young person in this world is entitled to demand: their basic human rights. They may need active support of the world community and governments to enforce their demands, but they certainly don’t need anyone to talk for them. That’s what Abu Yazen, Gamila and the others can do by themselves very well.
“We want three things. We want to be free. We want to be able to live a normal life. We want peace. Is that too much to ask? We are a peace movement consisting of young people in Gaza and supporters elsewhere that will not rest until the truth about Gaza is known by everybody in this whole world and to such a degree that no more silent consent or loud indifference will be accepted. We will start by destroying the occupation that surrounds ourselves; we will break free from this mental incarceration and regain our dignity and self respect. We will carry our heads high even though we will face resistance. We will work day and night in order to change these miserable conditions we are living under. We will build dreams where we meet walls.“