Why Gaza is fertile groundfor angry young men
By Gunnar Heinsohn - The Financial Times (UK) June 14, 2007
On September 11 2005, Israel left the Gaza Strip. The next day, four
synagogues went up in flames. A cheering alliance of young men from Hamas
and Fatah hailed these desecrations as bonfires celebrating the future of an
Eighteen months later, fighters from the two organisations were still
co-operating in attacks on their hated neighbour. By June 2007 their Kassam
missiles had killed 11 Israelis. In that same period, some 600 Palestinians
became victims of internecine warfare. Thousands more were wounded and half
the population traumatised by a relentless chain of revenge slayings. Hidden
behind masks, even brothers were at each other's throats.
Who is to blame for all this violence and conflict? There are many answers
to that, but it is interesting to note that Ahmed Youssef, a top Hamas man
and political adviser to Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister, does
not blame Gaza's troubles on either "the Jews" or the lack of religious
faith among his secular opponents in Fatah. In May 2007 he told Cairo's Al
Ahram newspaper that the main problem was the inability of both Fatah and
Hamas "to control their men in the streets".
But why has violence exploded out of control in a culture where obedience is
an uncontested virtue? The answer lies in a different kind of explosion.
Gaza has been overwhelmed by a demographic boom that shows no sign of
abating. Between 1950 and 2007, its population has jumped from 240,000 to
nearly 1.5m. How was such rapid growth possible in a small territory that
has no economy to speak of?
This extraordinary achievement was accomplished by the United Nations Relief
and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. UNRWA - in
accordance with international law - treats every resident of Gaza as a
refugee. It provides housing, schooling and medication for every newborn -
whether a first child or a 10th sibling.
As a result of UNRWA's policies and programmes, a Jewish majority in Israel
and the territories has been turned into a minority. In the over-60 age
bracket, Jews enjoy a three to one lead in population. But they lose ground
in the younger generations that will wage the wars of the coming decades. In
2005 there were 640,000 Jewish boys under 15, against 1.1m in the Arab
sector. Many young Jews are their families' only sons, who concentrate on
future vocations. However, more than two-thirds of the Arab boys are second,
third and even fourth brothers. Neither their fathers nor UNRWA will leave
them any property or prepare them for a decent place in life.
Mr Haniya, for example, was born in 1962 and brought up by western aid
money. He is the father of 13 children. In Mr Haniya's age bracket of 45 to
59 years, Gaza, in 2007, has 46,000 men. In the age bracket 0 to 14 years,
there are 343,000 boys. In the US, every 1,000 men in the age bracket 45 to
49 are followed by only 945 boys in the age bracket 0 to 4. For Israeli
Jews, the ratio is about 1,000 to 1,500. In Gaza, however, every 1,000 men
from 45 to 49 are followed by nearly 6,200 boys from 0 to 4.
Had the people of the US multiplied at the same rate as the people of Gaza,
the US would have gone from a population of 152m in 1950 to 945m in 2007,
more than triple the size of its current population of 301m. It would be
home not to 31m males between the traditional fighting age of 15 and 29, but
to 120m. Faced with such a population explosion, would America's politicians
and cultural organisations be able "to control their men in the streets"?
Over the next 15 years many more angry young males will roam the streets of
Palestine, because of a birth defect of the Arafat-Rabin peace process. A
western promise to support all children already born but to cut from
international welfare Palestinian children born after 1992, and,
simultaneously, to stop new Israeli settlements, should have been the first
step of the Oslo process. As in Algeria or Tunisia, where total fertility
fell from 7 to below 2 and where terror has ceased, Gaza, in 2007, would
have seen nearly all of its boys turning 15 as only sons. They would have
had little incentive to kill their own people or Israelis. Yet today Gaza's
total fertility is still close to 6. This demographic armament will continue
to provide large numbers of young men who have no prospects for employment
and no place in society, and whose only hope is to fight for one.
The writer is the director of Raphael-Lemkin-Institut at the University of
Bremen, Europe's first institute devoted to comparative genocide research.
He is the author of Sons and World Power: Terror in the Rise and Fall of
Nations (Söhne und Weltmacht)
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007