By Blue Chevigny
NEW YORK, USA, 9 February 2007 – After several weeks of internal fighting in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, leaders of the Hamas and Fatah parties yesterday signed an agreement to cease the violence. The agreement, known as the Mecca Accord, followed a two-day summit in Saudi Arabia.
As journalists and other adult observers around the world analyze the meaning of the accord, young people in Gaza City and surrounding areas are able to relax for the first time in weeks, now that violence has abated – at least for the moment.
“We just want to live in peace,” Julie, 16, told UNICEF Radio in a telephone interview. “We want our country, that’s all.”
For Julie, the recent fighting among Palestinians was even more disturbing than the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. “We should not be fighting each other,” she said. “It’s a disgrace. We are one people.”
‘Something to celebrate’
Julie noted that daily routines in Gaza have come to a grinding halt due to the violence.
Immediately after finishing exams two weeks ago, she said, students hurried home to protect themselves from the then-escalating conflict on their doorsteps. They didn’t have a chance to rejoice after completing their hard work in school, as many had planned.
In fact, most children spent their post-exam school break indoors, listening to the fighting in the streets. Schools remained closed this past Monday, when classes were scheduled to resume, because it was too dangerous for students to travel to and from their homes.
“Yesterday we ran out in the streets” after the accord was signed, Julie reported. “Finally, we had something to celebrate.”
Psychological toll on youth
But the weeks of being trapped indoors have taken a psychological toll. Julie and her friends were scared, talking on the phone constantly about what was happening and checking to make sure everyone was safe.
And then there was the tedium.
“We really got so bored of hearing the news all the time on the radio, because we lived that life,” recalled Julie. “It was horrible.”
Yafa, 18, was directly affected by the upsurge in violence, which has taken more than 90 Palestinian lives since December. She knew two children who were killed: a 10-year-old boy who was a former neighbour and a 17-year-old friend who got caught in the crossfire.
“It’s so sad,” said Yafa, who also spoke to UNICEF Radio. “Even if I didn’t know him, it’s just heartbreaking to see innocent people who have nothing to do with either side just killed like that.”
Back to school
Both girls were thrilled to hear about the Mecca Accord and said they felt cautiously optimistic.
“We heard fireworks in the streets, and I was so happy, but I’m not sure if the agreement is going to work,” admitted Yafa. “So many times they’ve made agreements before, and then gone back to fighting.”
Also speaking from the territory, UNICEF Communication Officer Monica Awad expressed hope that the new Mecca Accord will bring peace to Palestinian children. “It’s terrible that these children have suffered so badly in 2006, when the death toll was twice as much as the year before,” she said.
Despite their concerns about the future, Julie and Yafa have been able to breathe a sigh of relief. For both of them, school is starting up again tomorrow, on Saturday, to make up for lost time.