“On one hand, I cry for the death of each Palestinian and on the other hand,
as a leader, I have to constantly consider how I communicate my feelings…
I cannot preach God’s peace one day, and advocate violence another.”
In our February 9 prayer letter, we shared about the challenges Palestinian Christian youth leaders encounter during this intense and violent time in the Holy Land. The first part addressed our youth’s reaction to the cycle of violence. This part presents the youth leaders’ own experiences and responses to the influence of violence and media on their youth.
Youth Leaders and Violence
When the youth leaders shared their youth’s reactions, some of them also shared their personal anxieties and fears. One leader recalled, “As we were on a break playing with the children in the outside courtyard, an army jeep entered looking for kids who had thrown stones at the checkpoint nearby. They barged in asking, ‘Who threw stones?’ As leaders, we rushed inside with the kids. I was nervous, angry and afraid about what just happened.”
As youth leaders, we too live in this context, and the discussion shifted to how we confront and deal with this cycle of violence. Another leader expressed his inner struggles, “I feel oppressed and humiliated as a Palestinian. On the other hand, I am a youth leader and I must consider my position as one.”
Social Media and Violence
“When the videos started circulating on social media, it was easy for me as an adult to be objective about it. I fail to see how a 12-year-old boy or girl can come to the same conclusion.”
The first source of news for Palestinian young people is Facebook. When videos and pictures of the violence appear in our youth’s newsfeeds, seeing these casualties and accompanying messages endorsing violence increases anger, frustration and the desire for revenge.
At the same time, we cannot blame the media as the main instigator of violent behavior among youth. This generation, born in the late 1990s, has lived through wars, occupation and violence their whole childhood. One study shows that the prolonged exposure of political violence on Palestinians affects their psychological functions in daily life. These young people exhibit a higher sense of personal insecurity, anxiety, emotional fatigue, depression and PTSD.
We reflected on some of these findings, and realized that many of these influences are larger than us. At the same time, we still need to create a safe place for our youth, and try to provide them with biblical responses to the world around us.
Ways to Help Our Youth
In our discussions, we shared ways to help our youth during this difficult time. It was helpful for us to hear how other leaders are addressing the situation and we all had something to contribute to and learn from one another.
Be aware of how we express our feelings and frustrations online. While we mourn the loss of our fellow Palestinians, we must be careful that our expressions of pain and frustration do not heighten our youth’s sense of hopelessness.
Be vulnerable with our youth. One leader said, “I don’t try to maintain a superman image to my youth. At times I don’t know how to answer; I am honest with them. Some topics embarrass me; I am honest with them. Others challenge me.” Sometimes, we do not have good answers, and instead of brushing it off, we need to address it. The leader continued, “I am motivated to study further some of their questions at home, and then share some of the answers I found.”
Pray. Another leader shared her approach, “I feel that my role with the youth is to make change. Some people throw stones and I believe that we resist through prayer. Let us pray for other youth in our city; let us join in with our prayers for our conflict.”
Help our youth to look at the situation from a spiritual perspective. Another youth leader shared that we need to remind our young people that God’s word is full of examples of people who did not have an easy life. In spite of these challenges, “God worked with them. Being a follower is not about having an easy life, but learning how to prevail despite the difficulties.”
Overcome a victim mentality by encouraging our youth to think of others. “I encourage my youth to increase their compassion for others in their city. I encourage them to give clothes to those who have suffered as a result of violence and to clean the gas canisters from the street.”
While much of what we shared expressed hopelessness, we left our meeting hopeful. We are not here just to give our youth information, but we join them in their life journey and help them find answers. We want to help them think critically, carefully, and in a Christian manner about their choices and the consequences that accompany them. In this way, we give them tools to seek and find answers themselves. This group of youth leaders returned home with new ideas to implement with our youth, and with the knowledge that our fellow youth leaders walk beside us to equip Palestinian young people to live as Christians in the midst of any situation.
Musalaha Youth Coordinator