The Oslo Accords’ dashed hopes, the Rabin assassination, the second intifada, and the policy of separation and military reality in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have defined younger Israelis’ outlook.
I recently heard from an Egyptian friend that after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination she and all her classmates in their school in Alexandria stood in a moment of silence in his memory. Another Palestinian friend told me that she remembers the joy and celebration that took over the house as they drew pictures of peace with doves and Israeli and Palestinian flags to celebrate the return of then-Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat from Washington, DC after the Oslo Accords were signed. I also remember myself at the age of 13 sitting on the floor in the school corridor with my classmates, all glued to the TV screen as we watched those famous images on the White House lawn. That evening I wrote in my diary: “Peace has arrived I’m so happy.”
But peace did not arrive. We all know how the story continues…with lost hope, lost opportunities, loss of lives. While this period from the early 1990s until today seems like yet another chapter in an ongoing hundred-year-old conflict, for people my age these developments are what we know as the only reality. It is what shaped our worldview and molded our political perception, through the experiences we had in school, the army, what we fought for politically and the type of discussions we were engaged in. The 20 years that have passed since the signing of the Oslo Accords have not brought about a more peace-loving generation as many had hoped; perhaps, on the contrary, they have created a very disillusioned, skeptical, pessimistic generation.
Take Nibal, for example. In answer to my question about whether the two-state solution was a desirable end in her eyes, Nibal, a woman more or less my age from the Palestinian village of Nabi Salah, answered, “Of course not. Why would I agree to a situation where I cannot go with my children to the sea?” Given the reality of her life since she was born, the Oslo Accords, which represent the two-state solution only brought checkpoints and separation. It is very different from the image I have in my mind for the two-state solution of open borders and peaceful co-existence.
Coming of Age with Rabin’s Assassination and the Second Intifada
For a thirty-something-year-old Israeli, the experiences of the conflict since he or she became politically conscious are: great hope that quickly shifted to lack of trust, rounds of negotiations with no real end, suicide bombings, Rabin’s assassination, the second intifada, the ever-growing policy of separation and military reality in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, the second war in Lebanon, the violent conflict with Gaza, hundreds of thousands of rockets, Israeli military air strikes and, eventually, some calm in recent years . In the same way that the Oslo process for Nibal means less freedom, for Israelis it means terror, rocket attacks and more exposure to an Arab world that hates and does not accept Israel.
These developments, I will argue, left Israeli youth (those who grew up in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s) with a fear of peace, not because it is an unknown that holds uncertainty and possible deterioration — on the contrary, because they feel that they had a taste of it and were not happy with what they got. In understanding the effect of the past 20 years on the mindset of Israelis, especially the young, one should focus on two realities; the rollercoaster in and out of hope and the ever-escalating reality on the ground. I will focus below on three unique experiences that are fundamental in shaping the perception that young Israelis have about peace.