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Palestinian youths driven to despair, radicalization under occupation

Ibrahim Ayoub, the father of Mohammad, and mother Raeda, sit in deep sorrow in front of a picture of their dead son, at their home at the Jabaliya Refugee Camp on May 10, 2018. (Mainichi)

JABALIYA REFUGEE CAMP, Gaza -- "Where is Mohammad?" asks Raeda Ayoub in tears as her sons come home from school in this refugee camp near Gaza city in the Palestinian enclave of the Gaza Strip.

Her second son does not come home anymore because he, according to his family, was shot to death by the Israeli Army on April 20 while taking part in a demonstration supporting the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees who were forced to flee their homes when the state of Israel was established 70 years ago.

Raeda, 39, had told Mohammad, then 14, that he must go with his father to the demonstration, but the son went alone, riding a bus to the border area with Israel. Video footage taken by a demonstrator shows participants running away from smoking tear gas canisters landing on the Gaza side several hundred meters from the border. It also captured the body of a boy lying on the ground. It was Mohammad, shot through the side of the head, his family said.

"Why did the Israeli soldiers shoot my son? That's the only question I have," said Ibrahim, Mohammad's 42-year-old father. "We have the right to return to our homes," he said, repeating the words he had told Mohammad countless times.

Since the start of the demonstration in late March, over 60 people have been killed and at least 5,000 have been injured. The sorrow of losing loved ones is turning into hatred toward Israel.

The Gaza Strip, with some 2 million residents, is under the control of the hard-line Islamist group Hamas, which has fought wars with Israel over the years. The Israeli Army has maintained a blockade on the strip and cracked down on protesters coming near the border area. But the Palestinians living on the western bank of the Jordan River, governed by the more moderate Palestinian Authority, also face a tough issue: the expanding settlements of Jewish residents on land occupied by the Israelis during the Six-Day War of 1967. The settlements are causing misery in their daily lives, say the Palestinian residents there.

On the West Bank, where Palestinian territories and Jewish settlements mix, violence committed by settlers is on the rise, according to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). An average five attacks per week on Palestinians or their properties have been recorded since the beginning of 2018 -- almost double the frequency in the previous two years, UNOCHA says.

Near the Susiya district in the southern part of the West Bank, where Israel controls public security and the local government, a large number of Palestinian-owned olive trees were cut down a month ago. So far, no suspect has been caught. "Israeli police start investigations on cases like this, but they never solve them. Never," says Nasser Nawga, 36, a local resident.

Amit Gilutz of B'Tselem, a local nongovernmental organization researching Palestinian issues on the West Bank, explains that violence by the settlers is "part of a larger form of violence committed by police and the army."

Facing this reality of expanding Jewish settlements on the West Bank, more and more Palestinians think the "two-state solution" for the independent states of Israel and Palestine coexisting side by side will be a difficult feat to achieve, says Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestine Center for Policy and Survey Research. "Without hopes, with frustration and despair, we see among the Palestine youth, a much greater radicalization than we have seen in the past," Shikaki worries.

(Japanese original by Muneo Takahashi, Jerusalem Bureau)

This is the second installment of a two-part series on the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel, which is seen as a "Nakba," or a catastrophe, by the Palestinians.

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