by Brian Barber
The purpose of this article is to provide descriptive information on the current (1998) psychological, social, civic, and political functioning of Palestinians who lived as adolescents during the Intifada. Scores of books and journal articles have described and assessed the Intifada for its historical, economic, political, and international relations implications. However, a highly noteworthy feature of the Intifada — the role of youth — has received much less attention. Despite the frequent media attention during the movement to the young participants in the Intifada, relatively little attention has been given to child and youth experience during this intense and protracted conflict.1 Most of the scientific information that does exist on children’s experience with the Intifada informs on their involvement during the movement itself. This article reports on data collected to understand the longer-term consequences of Intifada involvement.
The information reported on in this study comes from a 1998 survey of 20-27 year-old youth in the Gaza Strip. This age group would have spent at least three years of their adolescence during the movement. The survey was administered in Arabic and was pilot tested three times on appropriate-aged youth in the Gaza Strip. The survey was administered to 702 young adults from two sampling frames: (1) participants in the nine UNDP (United Nations Development Program) training programs operating throughout the Gaza Strip, and (2) random samples of students at Al-Azhar University, the Islamic University, and the College of Education, all located in Gaza City.
The absence of adequate census data prevented a more purely scientific random sample. Nevertheless, every effort was made to include adequate representation of the diversity that exists in the Gaza Strip. Following are some of the key sample characteristics: 99 % Muslim; 59% male; 82% single; average age 22.4; average number of children per family of origin – 7.7; area of residence: camp – 55%, city – 36%, village – 9%; educational attainment: completed high school – 98%, completed university – 20%, currently enrolled in university – 61%; standard of living: “poorer than most” – 17%, “richer than most” – 13%, father employed in 1997 – 42%; youth employment: “never” in 1997 – 48%, “very often” in 1997 – 33%; political affiliation: no affiliation – 41%, Fatah – 33%, Hamas – 13%, PFLP – 7%, Islamic Jihad – 2%, other – 4%.
One of the most distinguishing characteristics of the Intifada was the high level of youth participation. Historically, a small minority of adolescents have participated in social movements. There are not good data available for these other social movements, but the information that has been reported indicates that the prevalence of youth participation in political conflict rarely exceeds 20%. All studies done on the Intifada, however, report substantially higher percentages of youth involvement. These studies have varied in the quality of their design and in the comprehensiveness of coverage of participation. Table 1 presents the percentages of males and females from the current study that participated at least once in 17 forms of activism during the first two years of the Intifada2. These findings reveal that very large majorities of adolescents involved themselves in the uprising. This is particularly the case for males, but female activism was also high, considering their traditionally private role in Palestinian society.
That activism in the Intifada was not just a one-time foray for youth is evident in the data (not reported in the table) that shows that many youth were frequently involved in activist efforts. For example, more than half of the males reported being “often” involved in demonstrating, throwing stones, obeying leaflets, and following instructions from slogans. More than 20% of the females reported being involved “often” in demonstrating, obeying leaflets, protecting someone from Israeli soldiers, following instructions from slogans, and bringing onions to help with tear gas.
Table 2 presents the results for the prevalence of experiencing, at least once, 19 forms of victimization from Israeli soldiers. The findings indicate that a substantial majority of males experienced verbal abuse, physical abuse, being shot at with bullets and tear gas, school closures, school raids, home raids, and humiliation of fathers. Similar majority proportions of females experienced the public forms of victimization, such as school closures, school raids, home raids, and father humiliation.
In terms of frequency of being victimized (not reported in the table), 25% or more of the males and females experienced the following forms of victimization more than 10 times during the first two years of the Intifada: shot at with tear gas, tear gas at school, school raids, and home raids.
Retrospective Feelings about Intifada Experience
The survey asked respondents to rate how much they agreed with 17 statements that described their personal feelings and experience during the Intifada. The items were designed to assess youth feelings about the political goals of the movement, their personal interest in participating, levels of positive and negative emotions, and the degree of personal identity development. Respondents were asked to rate their agreement with these statements separately for the first two years of the Intifada and the last three years of the Intifada. Percentages of youth who marked “agree” or “strongly agree” (the two high scores on the five-point scale) are reported in parentheses in the following paragraphs, with males’ values listed first. Meaningful differences in proportions of agreement on items between the two time periods of the Intifada will be noted.
In terms of political outlook during the Intifada, a minority of respondents agreed that they hoped for autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (23%, 19%). In contrast, a large majority of respondents hoped the Intifada would help achieve an independent Palestinian state (91%, 96%).
In terms of desire for participation in the movement, a minority of youth reported not wanting to participate (23%, 19%), and a smaller minority reported having felt social pressure to fight (12%, 19%). Most of the youth agreed that the Intifada was worth the effort (86%, 87%) and was successful (74%, 80%). The percentage of males reporting the Intifada to be successful dropped to 64% during the last three years of the movement.
As for personal emotions felt during the Intifada, few reported that they felt like giving up the struggle (7%, 10%) or that the struggle was hopeless (15%, 18%). A majority reported feeling that they could carry on the struggle forever (66%, 49%). Minorities of youth reported having felt frightened (11%, 19%) and somewhat more reported feeling depressed during the movement (21%, 29%). The proportion of males reporting having felt depressed increased to 31% during the final three years of the struggle. Just over half the youth reported having felt worried about the future during the struggle (55%, 58%), with similar proportions reporting having felt confident about the future during the struggle (62%, 50%).
In terms of personal identity development during the Intifada, approximately two-thirds of the youth reported feeling that they could accomplish anything during the movement (68%, 67%). Approximately three-quarters of the youth reported discovering who they were as persons during the Intifada (79%, 72%). Sex differences were apparent in the degree to which males and females evaluated the efficacy of their contribution to the movement: 74% of males and 47% of females felt that they were helping to make history, and 53% of males and 32% of females reported feeling like they could make a real difference in the struggle.
Psychological Effects of the Intifada
Respondents were also asked to describe how they see themselves now (1998) as having been affected by Intifada. Consistent majorities of both males and females reported having been positively affected by their involvement. In terms of personal characteristics, youth reported feeling more mature (78%, 72%), more concerned about social issues (75%, 73%), more useful as a person (85%, 72%), and having discovered their identity (78%, 66%) as a result of the Intifada. Fewer reported being happier (55%, 46%). Socially, majorities of youth reported: improved relations with fathers (68%, 59%), improved relations with mothers (73%, 63%), and being more respected by their community (81%, 64%). This higher prominence of males in the community is also reflected in the proportion of those reporting now being more politically involved in society (61%, 34%) as a result of Intifada participation.
In terms of negative effects, a basic majority of youth reported feeling that they lost their childhood because of the Intifada (60%, 52%), with some (40%, 41%) regretting that they lost their childhood. Relatively small minorities of youth reported negative personal effects, such as being more violent (16%, 12%), disrespecting authority (17%, 20%), and feeling more depressed (19%, 20%) as a result of their Intifada participation.
Personal Orientation since the Oslo Accords
In order to capture the attitudes and orientations of Intifada youth since the struggle “officially” ended with the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, respondents were asked to rate their agreement with several items related to their political outlook and their retrospective view of their own involvement in the movement. While two-thirds of the youth reported wanting the peace process to succeed (66%, 66%), many fewer were hopeful about the success of the peace process (20%, 17%). Still a large majority felt that the Intifada had been worth the struggle (75%, 73%), but these percentages were lower than when the youth were reporting on how they had felt during the movement (86%, 87%), as reported earlier. Many had also reconsidered their own role in the struggle, with proportions of those agreeing after the Oslo Accords that they were an important part of history lower (54%, 27%), compared to the same rating during the Intifada (74%, 47%), as reported earlier. Further, though still a minority, substantially more youth reported being disappointed with the results of the Intifada (47%, 40%) after the Oslo Accords than reported feeling the struggle was hopeless during the movement (15%, 18%).
Notwithstanding these shifts in perspectives of the Intifada since 1993, the youth still reported substantial commitment to the struggle. For example, few reported regretting participation in the movement (16%, 7%). Majorities expressed the wish that they had participated more during the Intifada (61%, 61%), and the readiness to participate in another Intifada (54%, 62%). In terms of general future orientation, two-thirds reported being confused about the future (61%, 64%), with fewer reporting being pessimistic about the future (47%, 33%).
Current Personal Identity
Respondents rated the degree to which several statements described their current (1998) perception of their identity development. A small minority of youth reported feeling that they are not getting anywhere or accomplishing anything (13%, 12%). More reported being uncertain what they are going to do with their life (36%, 31%), and about half reported they wished they had lived their life differently (57%, 57%).
Sex differences were apparent for the balance of the identity items, with males consistently reporting higher levels of identity development. Substantial majorities of youth reported: feeling they have matured fully (85%, 74%), considering themselves to be adults (86%, 80%), standing up for what they believe, even in the face of adversity (82%, 66%), and having a clear vision of what they want out of life (71%, 58%). Somewhat fewer reported knowing where they stand on world issues, such as politics and the economy (69%, 40%), being satisfied with their life, work, and accomplishments (51%, 47%), and having found their place in the world (44%, 33%).
Linking Participation with Personal Development
So far, this article has described the psychological, social, political, and civic orientation of Intifada adolescents. These data have given a basic view on how these youth are functioning several years after the Intifada. In this section, analyses are reported that attempt to explain this functioning by way of youth experience with activism and victimization during the struggle. The basic question driving these analyses was: to what degree can current levels of functioning be attributed to the youth’s experience with activism and victimization during the conflict several years?
Structural equation analysis was used to test the correlation between activism and victimization during the Intifada with levels of psychological, social, and civic functioning five years after the end of the Intifada in 1998.3 Females, but not males, were more likely to report depression in 1998 the more they had been victimized during the movement. Of a variety of types of antisocial behavior measured (vandalism, theft, assault, alcohol use, tobacco use, and attending parties with female dancers at the beach), only tobacco use was related to Intifada experience, such that the more males (and not females) were involved in activist efforts during the struggle, the more likely they are to smoke tobacco now.
The more both males and females reported being victimized during the struggle, the lower were the scores on psychosocial competence (e.g., personal maturity, identity achievement, and social initiative). Yet, for males, the higher their levels of activism, the higher were their scores on psychosocial competence. The more both males and females participated in activist efforts, the higher were their current scores on civic involvement (e.g., participating in political meetings and volunteering to help and teach). Also, the more both males and females were activists, the more positive are their current reflections on the Intifada and their participation in it.
This article briefly described the results of a 1998 survey of several hundred Gaza young adults who had spent at least half of their adolescence during the Intifada. The survey confirmed earlier anecdotal and empirical data that participation rates for the adolescent population were very high — far higher than any other known social movement. The survey provided detail on numerous specific forms of activism and victimization, offering a more comprehensive view of adolescent experience during the conflict.
The findings further described a cohort of adolescents who were highly committed to the political goals of the movement, willing to participate, and were hopeful for the success of the movement. Participants in the survey reported feeling substantial personal growth through participation, with a relatively small minority reporting negative personal and social consequences from their participation.
Not surprisingly, given the absence of tangible progress politically or economically since the end of the Intifada — especially in the Gaza Strip — there has been a decline in feelings about the value of their struggle and their self-perceptions of the efficacy of their involvement. Nevertheless, still majorities of youth feel positively about their role in the struggle and about themselves personally. Regarding the long-term effects of their Intifada experience, it was evident from the data that having been victimized by soldiers during the movement was associated with later depression (females) and lower psychosocial development (males and females). Activism, on the other hand, was associated with higher levels of psychosocial competence, civic involvement, and was not predictive of antisocial behavior.
No one has the ability or insight to accurately predict the future functioning of the “children of the stone,” particularly since their future is so inexorably tied to a complex of local and international economic and political interests over which they have no control. They appear, however, to be a cohort of individuals who, as children, sacrificed and gave substantially of themselves to the cause of their people, an effort about which they generally feel positive and enhanced personally and socially. For the most part, they appear to be a generation whose maturity and future orientations have been forged through a long, difficult struggle, and who await opportunity to express it.
Table 1. Percent Who Ever Participated During the First Two Years of the Intifada
|2. Distributed leaflets||59||10|
|3. Obeyed leaflets||80||67|
|4. Protected someone from Israeli soldiers||60||50|
|5. Wrote slogans on a wall||59||10|
|6. Followed instructions from slogans||87||80|
|7. Burned tires||72||9|
|8. Erected barricades||78||19|
|9. Threw stones||88||51|
|10. Erected a Palestinian flag||78||40|
|11. Threw Molotov cocktails||29||5|
|12. Wore a mask||58||4|
|13. Delivered supplies||80||57|
|14. Cared for the wounded||71||36|
|15. Tried to distract soldiers||70||50|
|16. Brought onions to help with tear gas||79||72|
|17. Visited the family of a martyr||83||46|
Table 2 Percent Who Were Ever Victimized by Soldiers During the First Two Years of the Intifada
|1. Verbally abused you||73||38|
|2. Hit or kicked you||66||19|
|3. Broke one or more of your bones||20||24|
|4. Shot at you with bullets||63||20|
|5. Hit you with bullets||28||6|
|6. Shot at you with tear gas||63||20|
|7. Shot tear gas into your school||93||88|
|8. Closed your school||85||71|
|9. Raided your school||89||76|
|10. Imprisoned you||23||3|
|11. Tortured you||46||6|
|12. Raided the home of your neighbor||92||89|
|13. Raided your home||89||80|
|14. Demolished the home of your neighbor||29||22|
|15. Demolished your home||5||4|
|16. Beat or humiliated the father of your|
neighbor in front of you
|17. Beat or humiliated your father in front of you||42||34|
|18. Killed one of your neighbors||63||49|
|19. Killed one of your family members||20||18|
Barber, B. K. (2000). “Political Violence, Social Integration, and Youth Functioning: Palestinian Youth from the Intifada.” Journal of Community Psychology, xx.
------. (1999). “Youth Experience in the Palestinian Intifada: Intensity, Complexity, Paradox, and Competence,” in M. Yates and J. Younis (Eds.), Roots of Civic Identity: International Perspectives on Community Service and Activism in Youth. New York: Cambridge University Press.
------. (1999). “Political Violence, Family Relations, and Palestinian Child Functioning.” Journal of Adolescent Research, 14, pp. 206-230.
------. (1998, October). “Deeper inside a Youth Social Movement: Gaza’s ‘Children of the Stone.’” Invited paper presented to the post-graduate training program, Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Palestine.
1. See Barber (1999a, 1999b, 2000) for reviews of the extant empirical research on children and youth from the Intifada.
2. Data on the first two years of the Intifada is reported to provide a conservative estimate of involvement. Percentages of reported activism during the last three years of the Intifada are consistently higher.
3. Full results of these analyses can be found in Barber (1998), “Deeper inside a Youth Social Movement: Gaza’s ‘Children of the Stone.’” Paper presented to the post-graduate training program, Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Palestine, October 31, 1998.