NEW YORK, 22 May 2007 - Julie is 17 years old and lives in Gaza in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt). Violence has been an ongoing part of her world for her whole life, off and on, but in the last week there's been an increase in the level of unrest in her community, both between the internal Palestinian factions of Hamas and Fatah, and in the form of air strikes from the Israeli Air Force.
Oria is 16 years old and lives in Sderot, in Israel, mere kilometres away from Gaza. She, too, has always lived with a measure of insecurity from violence, but in the last week, Sderot has been the target of Qassam missile fire from Gaza, which has turned her life upside down.
"They're fighting again and it's a horrible situation," says Julie in Gaza. "It was really scary because the fighting was everywhere; every person was in danger. It wasn't even safe at home, so how do you think it's going to be outside?"
Inhibited education and expectations
For her, the worst part about the violence is living in a perpetual state of fear. However, she is almost as upset about her school closing, even temporarily. "We didn't get to take our final exams. I was really upset about it. Because the whole year we were studying really hard, and were really excited about the school year finishing, and now, suddenly we woke up in the morning expecting to go to school and I got a phone call saying to stay at home."
Oria in Sderot is seeing her mobility and education inhibited by the violence in her community as well. "You don't know what's going to be so you prefer not to take risks," she laments. "Most of all, I'm a student. I have midterms and I can't study for them like I want to, because every time I try to study, the alarm goes off. Yesterday I had a midterm in English and I couldn't concentrate because I was afraid at every moment."
Not a normal childhood
She sees many similarities being in Israel and being in the oPt, in terms of the impact on young people. "A teenager's life in Gaza is just the same as mine. They can't sleep at night, the same as me. The citizens of Gaza don't want war."
Oria also says that childhood anywhere in the world is the same thing, and having childhood taken away from children is just as bad no matter where you are. "I don't think we have a normal childhood, because you hear the story about my mother's childhood, my grandfather's childhood in Morocco, and it wasn't like this. Everybody says this generation, now, is more violent, more aggressive, but we have to be. I'm not violent and aggressive myself, but I do see people that are."
Her words were echoed by Julie, back in Gaza, who wonders aloud about children's lives in other places. "We're not like other youth, around the world. All what we see is war. Everywhere is war."
But Julie is not bitter, and believes that children and young people have an important role to play as keepers of a vision of a more peaceful future. "We can't lose hope, because if we do, there's nothing to live for," she asserts. "So we have to keep hoping that things will get better soon."