An 18-year-old Palestinian, his face covered with a black-and-white keffiyeh, is fed up with talk about negotiations. "We're going to keep throwing stones at soldiers," he said at an Israeli checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah, where youths have been gathering daily to protest.
“The Palestinian Authority will stop us because they prefer negotiations, but we have to say no. We must show that we do not agree.”
Amid violent protests and a wave of stabbings spreading fear in Israel and warnings that a full-scale uprising could erupt, a new generation of Palestinians has been leading the unrest.
It is in some ways a post-Oslo generation — those who have grown up in the aftermath of the Oslo accords of the 1990s that promised Palestinians much, but which many young people now see as a failure.
They know little of the 1987-1993 and 2000-2005 intifadas, when hundreds of people were killed in near daily Israel-Palestinian violence.
For many of these youths, their horizon has been the Israeli-built separation barrier cutting off the West Bank.
Their image of Israel is to a large degree soldiers and Jewish settlers whose homes are built on land they see as part of their future state — itself an extremely distant dream at best.
They have followed the Arab Spring uprisings and the three wars in Gaza since 2008 on the 24-hour news channels.
Two-thirds of the Palestinian population is under 30, and the Internet has fed their anger and stoked protests, with pictures of “martyrs” and youths throwing stones repeatedly shared on social media.
Footage of Israeli security forces shooting dead alleged attackers has also spread widely online.
The latest trend has been for youths to smile at photographers as they are being arrested, images that have caused outrage in Israel.
‘A MARTYR LIKE AHMED’
At a funeral Monday for 13-year-old Ahmed Sharake, killed during clashes in Ramallah, his friends jostled to get closer to his body, their anger palpable.
Ahmed’s classmate Firas, also 13, said “it doesn’t matter if we go to school tomorrow or not. What matters is the fight against the army and the settlers.”
Asked about his future, he replied bluntly: “I prefer to become a martyr like Ahmed.”
A poll last month revealed that more than half of Palestinians no longer believe in a two-state solution, with a majority saying they favoured a return to armed uprising in the absence of peace talks.
Since the beginning of October, around 30 Palestinians have died, including alleged attackers, and hundreds have been injured, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Another 400 have been arrested, around half of them between the ages of 14 and 20, according to the Palestinian Prisoner Club rights group.
Seven Israelis have been killed and 98 wounded since an upsurge in violence began on October 1, according to Israeli rescue authorities.
The Palestinian leadership has struggled to control the unrest despite president Mahmud Abbas calling for peaceful resistance.
“This is the generation that saw the growth of settlements, and these clashes are a natural response to the politics of successive Israeli governments since Oslo,” Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, told reporters.
Ironically, many of those in the streets would likely reject the idea that Erekat represents them, and protesters have even chanted slogans against Abbas, whom they accuse of giving in to Israel’s demands too easily.
Khalil Shaheen, a writer and political analyst, told AFP those on the streets were no longer responsive to the Palestinian Authority, the governing administration that Abbas heads and which was created by the Oslo accords.
It was to have been in place for just five years, when a final peace agreement would be negotiated. That was two decades ago.
“This new generation is using social media to incite and mobilise, a way unknown to the traditionalists in the Palestinian factions,” Shaheen said.
They are not only angry with the Israeli occupation, but also “with the choices taken by the Palestinian authorities, including the Oslo agreement.”
One resident of the Jazalone refugee camp near Ramallah, where 13-year-old Sharake’s funeral was held, said young people were acting on their own.
“The youths leave by themselves. We are not sending our children against soldiers,” he said. “They go out alone because their whole life they’ve lived under the threat of settlers and soldiers.”