Trapped in Gaza, young people dream of a better life

Young people in Gaza say the security situation means they have little to do after work and studies

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After spending most of the month-long Gaza war trapped at home watching the news for hours, Palestinian Salam al-Bayid returned to her university for the first time on Thursday to find the administration building with its facade in pieces.

With the ceasefire that started on Tuesday still holding, the 18-year-old architecture student had been looking forward to getting out and meeting her friends, but the damage at the Islamic University campus upset her.

“Even the universities were bombed and targeted - everything is the target of the Israeli army,” she said, a short distance from the building with its windows blown in and upper floors collapsed on one another.

Officials in Gaza say the war has killed 1,874 Palestinians, mostly civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed since fighting began on July 8, after a surge in Palestinian rocket salvoes into Israel.

Apart from the considerable material damage that has been visited on the territory, young people in Gaza say the security situation means they have little to do after work and studies.

Even before the war there were few places for public entertainment so they stay at home, sleep or surf websites like YouTube and Facebook - where they often compare their experiences to others living abroad.

“They have a normal life and none of the suffering of Gaza,” Bayid said.

Some dream of a life outside the impoverished Gaza Strip, where around a third of people are unemployed. With more than half of the population of 1.8 million under 18 years old, the economy will have to cope with even more entrants to the job market.

“People graduated from university and now they have no work. There is no enterprise here, there are no jobs,” said Mohammed al-Shurafa, a 24-year-old dressed in skinny jeans and a black T-shirt.

A university graduate turned market vendor, Shurafa thinks life would be better in a foreign country but he would prefer to improve the situation in Gaza instead, so that he can stay in the place he has grown up in.

“We need work, a life without weapons and maybe a passage to Jerusalem to go to pray,” he said.

Unable to leave

Young people, many of them highly qualified, often complain about how difficult it is to leave the Gaza Strip, a small, densely populated territory that is subject to an Israeli-Egyptian blockade on goods and people.

“My strongest feeling about the future is that the borders should be open, and that we need an airport to get out,” said Hashem

Abu Omar, a 26-year-old who lived in China for seven years but has not been able to return.

Unable to get the travel documents to leave again, he has stayed at home in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

While he was in China he worked as an entrepreneur, running a successful shipping company. Now he spends his days looking for a job in Khan Younis, a mainly rural area which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the Gaza territory.

“In the evening, I just sleep because there is nothing to do,” he said while browsing in the city’s central market.

Areas near Khan Younis suffered from fierce fighting between Israeli forces, Hamas and other Palestinian militants last month and the nearby town of Khuzaa has been reduced to rubble, angering the population.

If the situation does not improve, more young people are going to be drawn to action rather than watch the territory deteriorate further, said Ahmed Ali, a 34-year-old agricultural worker in Khan Younis, which is close to the Israeli border.

“I think young people are finding more and more that they need to take their rights by force, rather than by negotiations,” he said, in a reference to armed Palestinian groups.

“The youth want to decide their future themselves and they think that the resistance is the better way,” Ali said. “All people here support them.”