For the second straight day, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) conducted airstrikes on Gaza while militants in the strip continued to fire rockets at Tel Aviv in a fight that has claimed more than 47 lives. The images from the exchanges are reminiscent of conflicts past -- women and children in Gaza run from black billowing smoke, men pull their brothers out of bombed-out houses and Israelis flee the beaches of Tel Aviv as sirens blare. Although the conflict today has not been dubbed an intifada, in many ways the pictures circulating mainstream media look just as they did back in 1987 when the first Palestinian uprising began. But this struggle, analysts said, is bound to be different.
Now the conflict seems to have leapfrogged the general, massive uprising of Palestinians, though there is small-scale resistance almost every day in the West Bank, and has headed straight to the bombing stage. The uprising in 1987 began with teenage Palestinian boys throwing rocks at soldiers serving in one of the strongest defense forces in the world -- the IDF. But analysts said that fervor, though still present in some ways, has disseminated into widespread and fractionalized resentment.
“Back then, Palestinians inside and in the diaspora pretty much had unanimous consensus that the PLO (the Palestine Liberation Organization) was the official representative. Today that is not the case. The consensus has broken down,” Khaled Elgindy, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said.
The youth generation that played a major role in the 1987 uprising is unlike Palestinian youth today, analysts said, whose political identities are disjointed. Some, mostly those who are well-off, living in secure homes in places such as Ramallah, are apathetic; others are active in the day-to-day resistance movement against the IDF; while some are so frustrated with the recent security situation that they have begun to protest their own Palestinian leaders, both secular and extremist.
“Fewer young Palestinians identify with the traditional factions, unlike back then,” Elgindy said. “In the first intifada, all the factions were on the same page. They were coordinating their strikes and forced the hand of the leadership to take certain political steps.”
The fragmentation of young Palestinians could change the course of the conflict between the two parties.
“The fact that you have multiple actors acting independently of one another and with no formal constraints or accountability has simultaneously made violent confrontations more likely and more frequent and efforts at conflict-resolution less likely and less effective,” Elgindy said. “Having a Palestinian leadership that is weak, divided, unaccountable and chronically out of touch with its constituents is not just bad for the Palestinians, it is equally bad for Israelis and the U.S.-sponsored peace process.”
Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in March that the current political divisions in Gaza create “a formidable challenge to the viability of any peace agreement signed between Israelis and Palestinians.”
For years, the U.S. and other international leaders tried to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian authorities. Attempts made by former President Bill Clinton fell apart in the long-run and a second intifada, or uprising, bubbled up in 2000. The violence lasted almost five years. Since then, Hamas and Fatah have vied for power in the Israeli-occupied territories and have fought subsequent wars with the IDF.
The latest confrontation began after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank. Israel alleged the killers were affiliated with Hamas. Following the deaths, a Palestinian teenager was murdered. Shortly after, the violence began. There is still no sign of a general uprising against the IDF, mostly because the bombing has already begun, but also because the main instigators of the last intifada, the youth, have remained largely silent.
“There is a shift happening that is parallel with the rest of the region and it is largely generational. These expressions of alienation and dissatisfaction … it is a sign that not only are [the youth] unhappy with Israel but I think there is also an undercurrent of discontent with their own leadership,” Elgindy said.
During the Israeli campaign to search Palestinian homes for the three kidnapped Israeli boys last week, hundreds of Palestinians were arrested by the IDF and nine people were killed, according to Elgindy. As a result, people living in Ramallah turned their anger on the Palestinian police. At that point, he said, Israeli security officers were called in to help stabilize the situation.
Young Palestinians use social media to express their discontent and frustration. Reliance on traditional media is almost nonexistent, according to analysts.
“Back then you were defined by being a member of one of the political factions and that was your social group, your political activism outlet. Today, you don’t need those traditional groupings anymore,” Elgindy said. “It is empowering for young people.”
According to the Palestinian Center for Bureau Statistics (PCBS), at the end of 2012, 38 percent of the Palestinian world population lived in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; 1.4 million lived in Israel. Data gathered by the organization showed that 39 percent of the Palestinian population was under the age of 15.
Gaza, one of the most densely populated places on earth, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, is the epicenter for militant activity in Palestine and serves as the headquarter for Hamas. The population under the age of 15 made up 43.3 percent of the total in Gaza at the end of 2013, whereas the West Bank’s population under that age was 37.7 percent.
The highest unemployment rate was among people between the ages of 15 and 29. A survey conducted by PCBS found that youth labor force participation rate is 38.5 percent and that the transition periods for young people entering the workforce after school are long, averaging 2.5 years. In other words, there is a young generation of Palestinians that is growing in size and has few prospects for building stable lives.
For many living under Palestinian rule, both extremist and secular leaders have failed to deliver on their promises in terms of governing, ending corruption and working toward liberation.
“Whether that comes through the Hamas model of armed struggle or the Abbas struggle of negotiations, the youth see both as a failure,” Elgindy said. “There isn’t really an alternative to that.”