(More from my research for A Rebel Comes of Age and the role of youth in sparking revolution)
Like the 1976 Soweto uprising, the first Palestinian Intifada in 1987 was instigated by teenagers experiencing a breakdown in family life and parental authority.
From 1967, when Israel first seized the Gaza strip from Egypt, until 1987, Gaza, which has always been much poorer than the West Bank, was little more than a cluster of refugee camps. This meant the only central authority Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers, who maintained order. According to a study by EuroMed Youth, this lack of central authority led to the breakdown of parental authority. With a breakdown in civil society, it was only among young people, who freely intermingled in schools, universities and the streets, that intellectual debate could occur. In 1987, Yasar Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization were still in exile.
The Breakdown of Parental Authority
Demographic factors played a major role in the empowerment of Palestinian youth in the late eighties. Approximately 65% of Palestinians were under 25 (with short life expectancy older age groups are underrepresented). In 1987, this group had a 37% unemployment rate.
As in Soweto, the breakdown of parental authority was a major factor. Although some Palestinian adults crossed into Israel to work, their wages were extremely low. Many children and teenagers worked as street vendors to contribute to family income. In some households, they were the sole source of support. Watching Israeli soldiers routinely humiliate their parents also tended to undermine their authority.
Children take on the Israel Defense Force
The first Palestinian Intifada started spontaneously when Palestinian children, teenagers and college students rioted in response to the IDF murder of six Palestinian students. Initially Palestinian youth were armed only with rocks, bottles and slingshots. The insurrection quickly spread to the West Bank and was joined by underground Palestinian resistance organizations, such as Fatah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. They taught the youths how to make Molotov cocktails and sophisticated tactics, such as burning tires or constructing barricades to protect themselves from retaliation.
The response by the IDF was massive brutality, with random killings, arbitrary detention and torture of Palestinian children and teenagers. By 1989, 13,000 Palestinian teenagers were in Israeli jails.
The Creation of the Palestinian Authority
The first Intifada ended in 1993. Under the Oslo agreement, Israel agreed to establish the Palestinian Authority, and Yasar Arafat and other PLO leaders returned from exile to run it.
In A Rebel Comes of Age, seventeen-year-old Angela Jones and four other homeless teenagers occupy a vacant commercial building owned by Bank of America. The adventure turns deadly serious when the bank obtains a court order evicting them. Ange faces the most serious crisis of her life when the other residents decide to use firearms against the police SWAT team.
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