For Gaza’s youth, Palestinian national identity is under siege

In the minds of many young people in Gaza, Palestine is no longer a place. Instead it has become a vestige formed by history books, grandparents' stories, news, photos and old songs.

Palestinian children dressed in the colors of the Palestinian flag, at the protest encampment in Gaza east of Shujaiya

Salsabeel H. Hamdan writes in +972 Magazine:

A few years ago, Nour Hamdan, a 22 year-old Palestinian refugee from one of the Gulf states, moved to Gaza with her family. Raised in the diaspora on a robust narrative about her people and their history, she expected to find in Gaza a proud community with a strong, grounded national identity. But instead, Nour said, she found “Arabs who wish to free a piece of land to which they no longer have any true connection.”

Gaza society, Nour discovered, is deeply divided along political-ideological lines that have come to supersede the Palestinian struggle writ large. For the younger generation in particular — and 50 percent of Gaza’s population is younger than 15 — divisions based on political affiliation have distorted their Palestinian identity. Loyalty to a political party, whether it is Fatah, Hamas, or Islamic Jihad, takes precedence over their Palestinian identity and their commitment to the struggle for Palestinian freedom writ large. The result is that most of the young people in Gaza now base their national identity on politics and the military struggle against Israel.

Those who seek an identity not linked to partisan politics are now looking abroad.

Malak Al-Mughari, 17, says she feels more connected to Turkey, though she has never visited, than to Gaza, where she lives. On the day we chatted, she wore a Turkish dress and draped her headscarf in the Turkish style.

“I’m fascinated with Turkey! I love that country, the culture, the language, the music … everything! I wish I could live there,” Malak said. She explained that Palestinian identity is too political, and overly focused on “war and religious-patriotic songs about Al Aqsa” and the past.

Still, the pressure to be patriotic remains strong, with schools and families instilling the importance of Palestinian history and identity. The very reason all these political parties came into being was, and remains, the Israeli occupation.

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