Nora Kort worries about the younger generation of Palestinians. Photo by Michael Swan

Older generations fear youth will give up on Palestine

By 
  • June 12, 2014

BETHLEHEM - Like elders of every society and every era, Nora Kort worries about a future she will not see.

She worries about the younger generation. She worries that the young generation has no respect for authority, they are detached from their traditions, rigidity and anger have taken over.

“Palestinians were not like this before,” she said. “I mean the stories, the narratives that I hear from my family were that Muslims and Christians in the past . . . were middle class. Muslims were more or less like Christians. They had education. They lived decently. They had good housing.”

Kort grew up in privileged circumstances — private schools, travel to Europe and America. She was part of an urban elite that, while not exclusively Christian, lived in a Christian world. Rural Palestine, 75 per cent of the population, was mostly Muslim. The gulf between urban and rural has been erased by rapid urbanization since 1967, when Israel’s army pushed back all the way to the Jordan River.

Palestinian planners expect the population density in Bethlehem to hit 5,135 people per square kilometre by 2015. Compare that to 954.4 per square kilometre in Toronto. To the north and west of Bethlehem is the Israeli separation wall. To the south and east is a fenced-in Israeli bypass road serving the settlements. Hilltop Israeli settlements are on three sides of the city.

Michael and Rula Sansur are getting ready for their daughter’s wedding. Doris Sansur will marry Nader Theodory, a Greek Orthodox Palestinian whose family has lived in Jordan since they lost their West Jerusalem home in 1948. The Sansurs keep a photo in their living room of the West Jerusalem office and commercial building they lost in 1948.

Michael and Rula are happy for their daughter, and also apprehensive. Doris will move with her husband to Amman, Jordan. The distance is less than 80 kilometres as the crow flies. But the border is controlled by Israeli soldiers. It won’t be impossible to visit Amman, but it’s never easy.

There’s also the issue of the groom’s U.S. citizenship and his work prospects. He might land a job in the United States and the young couple might settle there.

“They are free. They are adults. They have to choose what they want,” said Michael Sansur, executive vice president of Bethlehem University. “We have to try as much as possible to avoid growing old alone. We would much rather have our own children near us.”

As a university official who deals with students every day, Sansur knows it is rare for young Palestinians to simply give up on life in Palestine. For Palestinians there is very little allure attached to striking out on one’s own, away from family. They “often find themselves in situations that they had not planned for and with a great deal of accidental emigration,” he said.

Sansur doesn’t tell students at Bethlehem University they have to stay.

“I can’t tell them ‘No, you’re making a mistake.’ Because this is not necessarily true,” he said. “Of course a better life is not guaranteed outside of this country.”

He would prefer that they stay. He is deeply committed to the Bethlehem University mission to build a better Palestine by nurturing a generation of capable leaders. Without that educated, committed next generation — both Muslim and Christian — the Sansurs are afraid of finding themselves stranded in an alien world.

Rising fundamentalism lurks in the back of their minds, but they don’t think of tension between Christians and Muslims as a Palestinian problem.

“We don’t feel threatened, directly threat-ened, but it lurks in the back of your mind,” he said. “They are becoming more fanatic. What is our future with them? But we don’t feel persecuted at all. Not here. Not in Palestine. We don’t feel persecuted by the Muslims. In Jordan, Egypt, but not here.”

Beyond the special case of Palestine, Sansur senses a different reality for Middle East Christians. Forces unleashed by the Arab Spring and huge shifts in population since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 have left Christian life in the Middle East fragile.

“It makes us very angry that foreign powers are interfering in the social fabric of this region — in the cultural, social and religious fabric, which is a very delicate one,” he said. “They have destabilized this region, along with the oil-rich countries. And yes we do feel threatened by this change which we do not see as for the better. We do not see the Arab Spring as bringing any positive results. On the contrary. Yes, they were dictator-ships that were ousted. But then they were replaced by chaos.” 

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