Palestinian youth see little hope in upcoming summit
IN THE town of Anata, bordering Jerusalem in the Judean desert hills, Palestinian youths can summon scant enthusiasm for the upcoming Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland.
“We are like birds in a cage,” says Ahmad Dawahik, 19, who was released from prison eight months ago.
What is taking place around their home town does not inspire faith in President Mahmoud Abbas’s declarations that Palestinians may be on the brink of a historic opportunity to gain independence.
In a valley beneath the town, Israel is completing a controversial highway with a five-metre-high wall in the middle to separate Israeli and Palestinian traffic, with the latter having no exits to Jerusalem. There are also plans to expand the nearby Alon settlement on land expropriated from Anata residents.
The grey concrete separation barrier, which Israel says is essential to thwart suicide bombings, already separates most of the town’s residents from Jerusalem, once their employment and economic mainstay.
Mr Dawahik is worried about where his family’s next meal is coming from. “We have no livelihood, no work, no nothing,” says the teenager, who was jailed for eight months for throwing stones at soldiers.
He claims the soldiers were firing tear gas towards schoolchildren. “They were shooting tear gas at small children. We can bear tear gas, but the small children cannot.”
The court also handed his father a NIS 10,000 (£1,250) fine.
Mr Dawahik’s 13-year-old brother Muawiya was killed in 2000 while throwing stones at Israeli security forces at the Al-Aksa mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount at the start of the second intifada.
“He was shot in the chest and died on the spot,” he said.
But having what Palestinians view as a martyr in the family does not put bread on the table. His father is disabled and he has four younger sisters. When he does get a day’s work, the pay is only NIS 40 (£5) for 12 hours of lifting cement blocks, he says.
“I am responsible for my family but there is no chance to support them,” he says. He applied for a permit to be able to work in Israel, but was refused because of his conviction for stonethrowing, he says.
“Whether it is Annapolis or anything else, there is no chance to lift the suffering of the Palestinian people,” Mr Dawahik says.
“America and Israel are brothers so there will be positive things for Israel but there will be nothing to advance Palestinian interests. It would be better if Abu Mazen [Mr Abbas] does not go to this meeting,” he adds.
Mr Dawahik’s friend, Ihab Shawamre, 18, manager of a local rap group, disagrees.
“I have a little bit of hope for this meeting, God willing it will improve things. There is a small chance that Abu Mazen can do something,” says Mr Shawamre. His brother Nidal’s house has been demolished repeatedly by the Israeli army for being built without a permit — and rebuilt repeatedly with the help of the Israel Committee Against Home Demolitions.
A fresh demolition order was issued two weeks ago, Mr Shawamre says. Asked what basis he has for his hopes, Mr Shawamre responds: “I am an optimist by nature.”
Dawahik ( left) and Shawamre on the rubble of Shawamre’s brother’s house