GAZA CITY — Their world doesn't extend much beyond this piece of sidewalk that never seems to change. Glued to their white plastic chairs, Khaled, Mohammed and Abdel Rahman spend their time talking about everything and nothing while fiddling with their smartphones. There's no 3G coverage, so their only connection to the rest of the world depends on a router powered by a portable battery. The hairdresser's salon down the street, which is forced to turn on its generator whenever a client comes, lets them charge up during power shortages, which is most of the time. This is daily life for these three young men in the poor neighborhood of Shuja'iyya, on the east side of Gaza City: closed and dull.
"The world out there is like the future: I don't think about it," jokes the 20-year-old Khaled Sukkar, who gets by selling second-hand clothes.
Abdel Rahman says he and his friends are part of a "lost generation," and looks back on the past as if talking about a golden age. "When they were our age, our fathers and grandfathers would earn 10 times more by working for the Israelis," he says.
More than half of Gaza is under 25.
The same complaint echoes all along the narrow strip of land. More than half of the 2 million people crammed in Gaza are under 25, and most of them have never set foot outside the territory. They have been isolated by the Israeli blockade since the Islamist group Hamas prevailed in its military conflict against Fatah, in June 2007, as well as by the almost permanent closing by the Egyptian authorities of the Rafah Border Crossing, after the summer of 2013. The young here know little more than the repetition of wars, the restriction of freedoms and a shrinking economy.
Despite a remarkably high level of education, unemployment among that age group reaches a record high of 60%, with a peak of 73% for recent graduates. "With such a pool of skilled labor and a slowing birth rate, all the ingredients are there for strong economic growth in the Gaza Strip," says Anders Thomsen, the United Nations Population Fund's representative to Palestine. "But the many constraints hindering its development threaten to turn these assets into a burden."
Shayma al-Naji, 24, has her own perspective. Unlike Khaled and his friends, the young woman looked as if she was holding all the keys to a successful career. The daughter of a former high-ranking police officer, she obtained her architecture certificate from the Islamic University of Gaza in the spring of 2015, and immediately started looking for a job.
"That's when things got complicated," she says. "In Gaza, too many people have been raised with the strong belief that a woman shouldn't work — or in a low-ranking job. So the few internships I was offered all led nowhere."
Her classmates haven't been much luckier. Shayma says that most of them are unemployed, and many have resorted to work as taxi drivers so as not to be a financial burden on their families. "Being young in Gaza means first and foremost feeling useless," she says. "I wake up every morning asking myself what I could do with my day. We clean the house. We spend hours on Facebook. Then I go out with my friends and we dwell on our depression together ..."
Unlike some of her friends, who she says are hoping to bring meaning to their lives by getting married, Shayma dreams only of leaving Gaza. Coming from a rather open-minded family, it was easy for her to convince her parents to let her — successfully — apply for a grant to go and study in Hungary. "They can see that there's no future here for me," she says.
Two of her older sisters already moved to Britain. For Shayma, however, the battle isn't over yet. The Hungarian embassy in Tel Aviv recently approved her visa application, but the Israeli authorities are slow in granting her the required paperwork to leave the territory. "Unfortunately, I don't have good connections, and without that, things are very complicated here," Shamya explains.
Many young people share this urge to flee Gaza, but for the vast majority it's far out of reach. After the summer 2014 war, dozens of them risked their lives by climbing the fence that separates them from Israel, or spent all their savings to sneak into Egypt through the few smuggling tunnels still in use, in the hope of being then able to go to Europe.
People from my generation, unlike our parents, don't think the situation is going to improve.
"People from my generation, unlike our parents, don't think the situation is going to improve for Palestinians," says Ahmed Kraia, 22. He is freshly graduated from the Al-Azhar University but hasn't found a job yet. He hopes to obtain a grant to be able to continue his studies in France. In the meantime, he spends hours on Facebook, chatting with people he vaguely knows who took the plunge and moved to Europe.
"They're traveling from city to city, going to the cinema or to concerts and nothing seems to stand in their way," the young man says with a sigh. In Gaza, the last cinema closed down in 1998 and the Hamas takes a dim view of the rare concerts organized by local rap bands.
Anywhere else, such malaise might have led to a youth rebellion. Will that happen here in Gaza? Jouman Abou Jazar, 28, gives a faint, wry smile. In January, he took part in a rare demonstration to protest against power shortages. "There were more than 3,000 of us, but Hamas quickly dispersed us with their truncheons."
The violence of that reaction was enough to quiet the rebellious instincts, at least momentarily. But the despair is now expressed out loud in the streets of Gaza. "We are already dead, so to speak. What have we got to lose?" Jouman asks. "Everybody would accept to go and work in Israel without hesitation, including some members of Hamas who can't make ends meet," he adds.
Like so many other people here, Jouman started to work when he was 12 and until just a few years ago, he would earn a very decent living working in the smuggling tunnels to Egypt built by Hamas. He would dig, bring out the sand, transport flour or cigarettes ... until their sudden destruction in 2013 by the Egyptian army ruined this business. The city at the Egyptian border, Rafah is "a dead city now," he adds.
Barbed wire at the Rafah crossing — Photo: Hatem Omar/Quds Net News/ZUMA
Hamza Redouan, a 24-year-old journalist who works for a radio station affiliated with Hamas, says he dreams of studying in France, but only for a while. Afterwards he'd want to come back home. "The situation is undoubtedly more difficult now than it was 10 years ago," he says. "I remember the spirit of hope after the Israelis left. The only thing people we were thinking about then was to build a free and prosperous Palestine, liberated from the corruption of the Palestinian National Authority. But in hindsight, I wonder whether Hamas hasn't made a mistake in taking control of the government and locking itself into a fruitless power struggle with the Palestinian National Authority, rather than focusing on resisting occupation."
Negotiations in recent weeks between Hamas and the Fatah leaders of the Palestinian Authority offer signs of reconciliation on a political level, but long-term questions about the society and the economy will not go away. "According to our forecasts, a million working-age youths will enter the Palestinian job market by 2030," says Thomsen of the United Nations Population Fund. He warns that the situation could turn into a "humanitarian catastrophe" if the constraints hindering the economy in Gaza aren't removed until then.
On the sidewalk in Shuja'iyya, Khaled, Mohammed and Adel Rahman shrug. "We're sinking so quickly," one of them states matter of factly. "Why would we even look toward the future?"
Welcome to Thursday, where leaked documents show how some countries are lobbying to change a key report on climate change, Moscow announces new full lockdown and the world's first robot artist is arrested over spying allegations. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the rapprochement between two leaders currently at odds with Europe: UK's BoJo and Turkey's Erdogan.[*Bodo - India, Nepal and Bengal]
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Documents reveal countries lobbying against climate action: Leaked documents have revealed that some of the world's biggest fossil fuel and meat producing countries, including Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are trying to water down a UN scientific report on climate change and pushing back on its recommendations for action, less than one month before the COP26 climate summit.
• COVID update: The city of Moscow plans to reintroduce lockdown measures next week, closing nearly all shops, bars and restaurants, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a nationwide seven-day workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to combat the country's record surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Meanwhile, India has crossed the 1 billion vaccinations milestone.
• India and Nepal floods death toll passes 180: Devastating floods in Nepal and the two Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala have killed at least 180 people, following record-breaking rainfall.
• Barbados elects first ever president: Governor general Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first president as the Caribbean island prepares to become a republic after voting to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.
• Trump to launch social media platform: After being banned from several social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would launch his own app called TRUTH Social in a bid "to fight back against Big Tech." The app is scheduled for release early next year.
• Human remains found in hunt for Gabby Petito's fiance: Suspected human remains and items belonging to Brian Laundrie were found in a Florida park, more than one month after his disappearance. Laundrie was a person of interest in the murder of his fiancee Gabby Petito, who was found dead by strangulation last month.
• Artist robot detained in Egypt over spying fear: Ai-Da, the world's ultra-realistic robot artist, was detained for 10 days by authorities in Egypt where it was due to present its latest art works, over fears the robot was part of an espionage plot. Ai-Da was eventually cleared through customs, hours before the exhibition was due to start.
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
"Nine crimes and a tragedy," titles Brazilian daily Extra, after a report from Brazil's Senate concluded that President Jair Bolsonaro and his government had failed to act quickly to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of crimes against humanity.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
Erdogan and Boris Johnson: A new global power duo?
As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too, write Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung in German daily Die Welt.
🇹🇷🇬🇧 According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey. The country has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.
⚠️ Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey. She never supported French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU. But now that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.
🤝 At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense. The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life."
— David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter, following the announcement that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders. Navalny, who survived a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, is praised for his "immense personal bravery" in fighting Putin's regime. The European Parliament called for his immediate release from jail, as Russian authorities opened a new criminal case against the activist that could see him stay in jail for another decade.
Chinese video platform Youku is under fire after announcing it is launching a new variety show called in Mandarin Squid's Victory (Yóuyú de shènglì) on social media, through a poster that also bears striking similarities with the visual identity of Netflix's current South Korean hit series Squid Game. Youku apologized by saying it was just a "draft" poster.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
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