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Young people reshaping the Palestine-Israel conflict

Reality Check


Editor's note: Why are young people in the West showing substantially more support towards Palestine than the elders do? We need to understand this trend as the young people reshape this conflict and the future of Palestine-Israel relations. Take a look at this episode of Reality Check.

America is seeing something few imagined could happen: The rise of opposition to Israel, specifically, among its young people. According to an Economist/YouGov poll from January 21 to 23, among people who are 65 years old or above, 56 percent sympathize more with the Israelis. Merely 8 percent say the same about the Palestinians. In the age group of 18 to 29 years old, 22 percent sympathize more with the Israelis. But 30 percent sympathize more with the Palestinians. So why is this happening? Why do young Americans in particular favor Palestinians more?

We talked to one of these young Americans. And the answer he gave us was what's going on in Gaza reminded him of what he experienced in America's South.

Joseph Fisher, a senior at the University of Michigan, told us that "It's a moral responsibility of all people in the world to stand with oppressed people when oppression is going on in the world. But I think on a more personal note, me specifically, a Black and mixed race, and I grew up in the American South. So, I grew up in an environment very much plagued by injustice and plagued by violence." He said that "I definitely do see a personal connection between like my own life experiences, my own struggle, and also the decades-long struggle of the Palestinian people against their oppressor as well."

This connection is not a novel take on the issue. According to the Palestinian-Lebanese writer Joey Ayoub, 2014 was the year that really shaped young Americans' understanding of Israel-Palestine relations. Between July and August in 2014, a conflict between Israel and Palestine led to the death of roughly 2,250 Palestinians and 73 Israelis. And while the conflict was ongoing, in Ferguson, Missouri, an unarmed 18-year-old African American was shot dead by a white police officer. Protests erupted as a result. Palestinians tweeted advice on how to deal with tear gas to the protesters in Ferguson.

According to Professor Eitan Hersh at Tufts University, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is seen by young people as "a people of color – that is, the Palestinians, rising against a White oppressor."

Fisher said that "to me, Palestine is one piece of a very large struggle against imperialism, racism, set of colonialism. And I think historically, the American youth have been very active in this fight, too, like especially fights where America is directly involved with the violence being perpetrated. Like in my own campus, there is a huge movement against Vietnam, anti-war; in the 1970s, against South African Apartheid; against the war in Iraq. So, I don't think that Palestine is any different from these movements in America. It's just that people are now starting to wake up, I think."

Social media has been instrumental in this "wake up." One month after the conflict started, the Washington Post did a study on popular social media apps like TikTok, Facebook and Instagram. It finds that across the spectrum, pro-Palestine hashtags significantly outnumbered pro-Israel ones. On Facebook, #freepalestine hashtag was found in more than 11 million posts, 39 times more than #standwithisrael. On Instagram, pro-Palestine hashtags were used 26 times more than the pro-Israel ones. In the U.S., in 30 days, #freepalestine appeared 38 times more than #standwithisrael on TikTok. The Jerusalem Post stated that Israel was "badly losing on social media."

A number of them found a target for criticism – the U.S. government. According to NewsNation's report, whats hurting U.S. President Joe Biden the most among young voters is this conflict. According to the poll, 70 percent of voters aged 18 to 34 disapprove his handling of it. Executive Vice-President at the Center for International Policy Matthew Duss said that "this is not going to be fixed by dispatching a few administration officials to certain neighborhoods in Michigan or elsewhere. This is going to be fixed, if it can be fixed at all, by changing policy and ending support for this massacre."

When we talked to Joseph about his view on the administration's support for Israel, we asked him what would he say to Biden if he had the chance to meet him. Joseph told us that it was hard for him to find the words because he wants to have the hope that Biden carries some humanity towards the Palestinians, but his actions are showing he knows exactly the violence that's been perpetrated. So far, the United States vetoed four UN resolution demanding ceasefires. The most recent one was on February 20. The U.S. was the only country voted against it. And while the U.S. wielded its veto power around, Israeli forces have bombarded Gaza on the same day, leading to at least 51 deaths.

To Joseph, it seems like, other than Israel, America is also sinned. He said that the U.S. is the largest military and financial supplier to Israel and that "It's almost instrumental to me that like without America, there would be no Israeli violence because America is the one supplying Israel with the weapons in the first place."

Young Americans are not alone in this. In Germany, university students have protested against the government's support for Israel and accused the U.S. and Germany of benefiting from the "genocide" in Gaza. In the UK, people aged 18-24 were three times more likely to sympathize more with Palestinians than those over age 65. In Cape Town, South Africa, young activists have shut down its local government headquarters in a call for the city's leadership to speak out against Israel's bombing of Gaza.

Young people are reshaping the Palestine-Israel conflict. Their voices might not be a deciding factor right now, but they are putting the politicians under pressure and advocating for a position that has been long in the minority. And if the future, literally the future, is asking for peace in a louder and louder voice, there's no reason for those in power now to ignore them.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.)

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