Generation Palestine: Growing up Palestinian in East Jerusalem

Growing up amid systematic discrimination and pervasive Israeli military and settler violence, Palestinian children in occupied East Jerusalem experience a host of challenges to their health and wellbeing. Despite these obstacles, many children and young people have found hope and support at the Saraya Centre, supported by Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) in occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City.

“I always seek to develop myself. This is why I am here at the Saraya Centre,” says 16-year-old Ghada, who lives in Aqabat El-Mawlawiyeh in East Jerusalem’s Old City. Ghada has been coming to the Saraya Centre, a youth centre in the heart of the Old City, for almost 10 years. “The activities here contribute to my development and help me expand my connections.”

When Ghada was eight years old, her mother noticed that she was unsociable and underperforming academically. Like so many children in East Jerusalem, Ghada has been robbed of a normal childhood by the daily trauma of violence, instability and discrimination that she has experienced growing up as a Palestinian in East Jerusalem.

“The difference between me and any Jewish Israeli girl is that she is considered a citizen with rights and privileges, and I am not. They have more opportunities and easy access to enroll at universities. Many of us face difficulties that they do not,” says Ghada.

From a young age, Ghada has witnessed the violence and aggression that come with living under military occupation, as Israeli soldiers patrol the streets and settlers harass, intimidate and attack residents. “I see soldiers on my way to school every morning,” says Ghada. “We are denied human rights as Palestinians. No settler who attacks or even kills us is held to account. I hate it the most when I see how [Palestinian] youth are stopped, searched and assaulted. We are made to see it every day in Jerusalem.”

To help her find an escape from this oppressive context, Ghada’s mother took her to the Saraya Centre. The centre provides a safe and supportive space where young people can freely express themselves and develop their confidence and resilience. It also offers mental health and psychosocial support services for young people and their parents.

Ghada began her involvement by joining their summer camp which aimed to enhance children’s academic skills. At the camp, she struggled to engage with her peers and avoided joining ceremonies and open days with large numbers of people.

“My hope is for us all to have equal citizenship, freedom of movement and freedom from fear of violence.”

When the camp ended, Ghada joined the centre’s life skills sessions to develop her self-confidence and personal growth. Her social skills quickly improved, and she joined more summer camps and career programmes. As she grew more confident, Ghada built a circle of friends and became a very active participant in the centre’s activities.

“My daughter has a unique personality today,” says Ghada’s mother. “She is clear on what she wants and she works towards her future goals. She has many hobbies. I can discuss a lot of topics with her, and I feel that she understands me. I also feel that I can rely on her in many ways.”

Ghada has benefited from vocational training in fields like carpentry and blacksmithing, areas of work traditionally reserved for men in Palestinian society and in which she never expected to have opportunities. She also volunteers to help organise the Saraya Centre’s reading week, Ramadan nights and bazaar.

With the help of the Saraya Centre and the other young people who join their activities, Ghada is determined to build a better future for herself, her family and her community. “I want to study law in the future and become a lawyer in order to defend people held in administrative detention without any rights or charges,” she says. “My hope is for us all to have equal citizenship, freedom of movement and to be free from fear and violence.”

She also has high hopes for Palestine’s next generation: “I hope the next generation will enjoy safe and free lives, ones lived to the fullest and without seeing soldiers, just like anywhere else in the world. I hope they will have more educational and employment opportunities, and not be subjugated to Israel’s occupation.”

We believe that Ghada and other Palestinians, young and old, deserve a brighter future. If you agree, please take action and stand with them today.

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