Gen Z on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Palestinian mourners carrying a man killed during a protest near the Israeli-Gaza border during his funeral in Gaza City / Courtesy Said Khatib/AFP (Flickr)

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has ensued for almost a century, creating generations of tension and conflict between citizens and supporters of the state of Israel and citizens and supporters of the state of Palestine. On the surface, the conflict stems from the 1948 creation of the State of Israel and its subsequent effects on the immediate region.

Prior to 1948, the land which would become modern-day Israel was known as Palestine, home to mostly Arab Muslims. At that time, Jews had just endured the crippling effects of World War II and the Holocaust, this after millennia of being the minority wherever they went (and being treated as such). While Muslims and Christians had several nations where they could feel at home and safely adhere their religion without persecution, Jews (of any sect or denomination) did not. The straw that broke the camel’s back was World War II.

And after years of advocacy and planning, in 1948, Israel was declared a state, the first nation for Jews to feel at home.

But, there was one major issue. That issue is central to the current conflict.

The creation of Israel was not carried out on empty lands. In fact, millions of people had lived there, in what was now no longer known as Palestine, for millennia. As millions were driven out, displaced, or even killed, millions more moved in, creating a highly-volatile climate between the two groups that has lasted generations.

Broadly, the pro-Palestinian side says the Israelis are in the wrong for misplacing millions of people without any regard for their humanity and carrying out gross acts against the Palestinian people while pro-Israelis generally believe Israel is their ancestral homeland (from which they were driven away from) and that Jews must have a home to evade the risk of religious/ethnic persecution and genocide again.

From continuous territorial disputes to terrorist attacks to dried-up attempts at peacemaking, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians continues to be a controversial and emotional conversation for those invested in it.

This piece is intended to provide a glimpse into what Gen Z thinks of the conflict. The synopsis above is also intentionally broad, leaving it up to the contributing voices to narrate and illustrate the conflict from their eyes.

Sarah Mehanna, 20

“I’m definitely pro-Palestinian as opposed to pro-Israeli. I attribute this stance partially due to my Palestinian heritage, which although is not my main ethnicity (I’m 1/4 Palestinian), plays a large part in my identity.”

“Hearing first hand experiences from my grandfather and the extent that the conflict affected him and his community has definitely influenced my stance.”

“The biggest factor affecting my position is a feeling of moral obligation to support the oppressed and those facing injustice…even if I were not Palestinian, I would still be pro-Palestinian.”

“I think that term ‘conflict’ suggests that it’s two contradicting powers of equal strength, whereas I believe that in reality it’s an overwhelming force on the Israeli side (I’m not saying that there’s no force whatsoever from Palestine though), and would therefore be more accurately termed the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

“The majority of my close friends are very pro-Palestinian. This wasn’t the basis by which I chose my friends, it just happened to turn out this way…As for my peers on my university course, a few are very pro-Israel and would consider themselves strong Zionists.”

“With people that I know to disagree with me but have not initiated a conversation about the conflict or been offensive…I wouldn’t bring up the topic myself. ”

“I would definitely like to have more conversations with these people to hear their perspectives, but I fear that I’d be seen as trying to create tension and divide people, or that people would use this as a means to propel the stereotype that pro-Palestinian advocates are aggressive and don’t want peace.”

“Having seen the track record of the consequences of making anti-zionist or anti-Israel remarks in the UK, I worry that my words could be twisted and framed as anti-semitic, despite always making it clear that I have a sincere and whole-hearted respect of the Jewish faith, and that my problem is only with the Israeli government and its supporters, not Judaism.”

“As a British citizen, I think that my government should stop endorsing Israel, both by ending financial support, and the encouragement and validation of Israel’s actions. Not only does the UK fund war crimes against Palestine, but it openly celebrates the role Britain has played in the conflict.”

Jacob Steinberg, 19

“I believe that the only equitable solution is a binational, united state, with equal representation and rights of return for both Jewish and Palestinian people. This will make people on both sides unhappy, but it is the only solution which guarantees safety for Palestinians and Jews, and it is the only solution which guarantees that Palestinians and Jews will have access to the entirety of their homeland.”

“Above all else, both the Jewish and the Palestinian people need to have their safety guaranteed, and above all else, both the Jewish and Palestinian people need to have access to the entirety of their cultural and ancestral homelands.”

“It is demonstrable fact that, anthropologically and genetically, all ethnically Jewish people and all Palestinian people are indigenous to the region which currently consists of Israel and Palestine. It is also demonstrable fact that both the Jewish and Palestinian people have never been and will never be safe under the power of anyone but themselves.”

“I know people who were born in Israel and who were born in Palestine, and have been directly harmed by the leadership of both sides.”

“I have been to Israel twice, once for my Bar Mitzvah, and once for my sister’s Bat Mitzvah. It is the only place where I have ever felt truly safe as a Jewish man.”

“The stances of my friends and peers are fairly mixed. I try to not associate with anyone who advocates for the destruction or exile of either group, nor do I associate with anyone who denies either group’s indigeneity.”

“I have, unfortunately, had to deal with people on both sides who are wholly xenophobic, antisemitic, or Islamophobic. It is not unlike dealing with white supremacists. They are too blinded by bigotry and propaganda to see that their views and beliefs are self-destructive.”

“I think that the U.S. government needs to stay out entirely. The United States has effectively destabilized the entirety of Southwestern Asia and North Africa, and at this point it is high time that this country learns that not everything can be solved with militaristic intervention.”

Woman, 23

Requested name anonymity due to high professional risk

“As a [half] Palestinian, I would never enter the land of my enemy and the sad reality is that I will never be able to go and visit the place of my heritage.”

“My grandparents lived in Palestine and had to move, evacuate, when the conflict first began. My grandmother often tells the story of how they went to visit relatives in Lebanon expecting to be there a few days before returning home only to never be able to go back. To know that my own mother never knew of the place and the culture she is from. I’m a third culture kid by choice, but she was not.”

“When I speak to my grandparents and of their generation, it is a conflict that they have lived, and continue to live. So their viewpoint on it is definitely more personal than my own…But I find that the younger the generation, the more detached they are.”

“The stances of my friends and peers are similar to mine in that they are Pro-Palestine. But there is somewhat of a divide of those who are totally and completely against Israel and refuse to acknowledge the progress they have made on the international stage and those who see the sad reality in it and think that a one state solution would help end the conflict. However, for the most part, I think most of my friends and peers may also be conflicted on where they stand given the lack of exposure they have had to the conflict.”

“These younger generations of Palestinians, or even non-Palestinians, who have never lived there or aren’t exposed to the stories or the realities of the conflicts, it is hard to care. It is just some war that has been going on for years in the background, almost desensitised to it, just another thing to talk about in the news.”

“Most just want it to end, and that is true, but it is the outcome that differs from generation to generation. It’s the level of care they attach. But it has been great to see so much action towards helping Palestinians in light of all of this.”

“Although I am a person who loves to be challenged and likes to have different view points and fresh perspectives, on this particular subject matter, I don’t think I’d be able to handle those that would outrightly disagree with my viewpoint. For one main reason: I cannot begin to comprehend those who would support a genocide of a people. It may not be formally called that, but what else would you call the continuous and constant killing of the innocent? The constant shed of blood? Practically wiping out any trace of them? Keeping them in settlements?”

“Now that Israel has infiltrated the Middle East market, I am left feeling uncomfortable to those who do business with the State, those who have killed our brothers and sisters in Palestine. Allowing them to enter the Middle Eastern market, to do business with them, as if it is all normal…To me, it’s as though they’re condoning their actions of killing innocent people…They should be reprimanded for their war crimes, and yet somehow sometimes it feels as though the rest of the world doesn’t care.”

“They say one voice is all that is needed to make a change, but now there have been multiple voices and I don’t see a change happening any time soon.”

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) paratroopers in Gaza to stop Hamas from harming Israeli citizens / Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

“Growing up the term Israeli and Jews became synonymous, in my view understandable from the generation that lived through the horrors of the conflict and who harbour hatred towards those who took their home. Yet, the older I got the more I began to realise that its not a religious issue, not entirely.”

“[At university,] I met Israeli’s and even Jews that have challenged the perspective I’ve grown up with, the generational prejudice that is passed down. It definitely gave me an existential crisis, an inner conflict, that I shouldn’t like these people, that I should hate them for ‘stealing our home’, and yet, they had no part in it. Sometimes in the midst of everything it is hard to remember that not everyone from there, or who is associated with it, is actually in fact a supporter of the atrocities that are committed by the Israeli government. In fact, it gave me hope to see how a Palestinian and an Israeli could get along swell and talk about things they have in common, rather than focusing on our differences.”

“That said, as someone with Palestinian lineage, it is difficult for me to acknowledge Israel as its own State, having seen what my family and others have gone through. For me, it still remains a conflict of wanting this war to end, for wanting to find a solution, but also to ensure justice is had for my people.”

Shira Wiezel, 21

“I was born and raised in Israel. I’d love to visit Gaza!”

“I grew up in a house where accepting others was the main value we’ve been taught since birth. So for me, there’s shouldn’t even be a conflict.”

“My family taught me to accept others including the Palestinians even with the disagreements we have. We’ve been talking about it a lot in school and from what I know, most of my friends agrees[sic] with me. Of course there will always be those who are extreme and driven by hate. I just know they’ll get nowhere in life with that attitude.”

“Yes, I think there are some really evil Palestinians who wants[sic] my nation dead but there are a lot of them that wants[sic] to live in peace. So I can’t ‘hate’ them all.”

“Each one of us really tries to make the other change his mind. It always ends up with ‘let’s agree to disagree.’”

“Honestly, as a Israeli citizen the only thing I hate about Israel is it’s[sic] government. There is nothing right by the way the government deals with the conflict. It’s always about showing who’s stronger. Driven by ego and lack of empathy towards the other side. I don’t justify the actions of the Palestinians. They’ve been bombing us and murdering innocent people for years. But most of them suffer under the Palestinian government. Like I said, it’s all about communication. Letting go of prejudice. And starting a fresh start of accepting both sides.”

Map showing ‘Palestinian Loss of Land’ and Israeli territorial gains from 1946–2010 / Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Steven Breiter, 23

“While I identify as a Jewish American and have many friends who live in Israel, I try to be a strong advocate for the state of Israel.”

“I really do believe that peace and a two state solution are the correct end game. While this has been debated and worked on for almost a century and has not been successful, I try and stay optimistic.”

“I cannot say that I am pro either stance because I’ve seen negative come from both sides.”

“I’ve been to Israel a few different times on educational and enrichment trips. They were fantastic experiences, but I knew that in terms of the Israeli Palestinian conflict I would need to look further than the information I was being provided. I have unfortunately never been to Palestine but I would be very intrigued to visit so that I can compare it to the secondhand accounts I’ve heard.”

“[In Israel], I’ve done my due diligence in trying to get a full picture of the conflict. Instead of just taking a lot of the promotional fed lines about Israel, I’ve made sure to speak to the people on the street. I’ve spoken to soldiers who have been on the front lines and have seen the Israeli army do poor things to the Palestinian people. They have also seen things the other way around.”

“Being part of many different Jewish communities, I have a lot of friends that are pro-Israel. With that being said, not all of these friends are anti-Palestine.”

“It’s harder for people from generations above us like my parents and grandparents to be pro-Israel without being anti-Palestine. I think they are from a different era that doesn’t champion humanity and each individual life like our generation does. I don’t think this means that the generation above us strictly believes that Palestine is evil and purely anti-Israel, but they tend to be a little more one-sided in the conversations I’ve had.”

“Due to my not so stringent views on the conflict and my thoughts that both countries have a right and deserve to be there, I’ve ran into people who disagree with me on both sides.”

“I’ve spoken with people who are strictly pure Israel who usually lump Palestinians into a greater Arab picture that they won’t trust due to passed down distaste, generation to generation. I’ve spoken with people who believe that Israel has only murdered and imprisoned Palestinians and therefore Palestine should be the only recognized state in the area. I’ve run into different perspectives everywhere I turn, some more open to conversation and some not.”

Lena Shaheen, 18

“I personally am Pro-Palestinian based on the fact that the Israeli government is an apartheid system with the Palestinians being treated as second class citizens. I also hold this stance due to the many human rights abuses that the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] is responsible for.”

“I tend to avoid discussions that I believe will result in conflict and are based upon feeling rather than knowledge.”

“In the times I have occasionally discussed the conflict I often feel frustrated as the conversation often turns to ‘who has a right to the land’ instead of ‘human rights abuses are taking place’. I also don’t want to generalise but I also feel that people with opposing views often hold orientalist and Islamophobic views of Arabs being terrorists by nature and that is often a source of contention.”

“I think that my government should have a strong stance against the human rights abuses that take place. I also think there should be more discussion on the separation of anti-Semitism from anti-Zionism so that people are clear in their meanings and terms. I think that sanctions should be placed on an international and national level to place pressure on the Israeli government to have equal rights and freedom of movement.”

Noah Hertzman, 18

“I see my stance as very centrist, in that I haven’t talked to anyone yet that hasn’t managed to hate my point of view.”

“Since I’m Jewish, almost all of my friends who have an informed opinion on the issue are also Jewish and are more pro-Israel than I am. However, I made one friend recently who is from Lebanon and is decidedly pro-Palestine and anti-Israel.”

“The first discussion I had with someone who disagreed with me was with my new Lebanese friend, who’s largely responsible for the shift in my viewpoint from one that was about as pro-Israel as most other Progressive Jews to one that aligned closer to some groups that are widely considered to be radical and often antisemitic, such as JVP [Jewish Voices for Peace].”

“I’ve been to Israel, but not Palestine. Also, at the time I went to Israel I was young enough that I didn’t really understand the conflict at all. It wasn’t until about a year ago that I started to really look into it, and a few months ago that I started to really understand it.”

“For every step forward the U.S. Government takes in Israel and the Middle East in general, they take 3 steps back. They need to stay out of the Middle East unless it is absolutely necessary that they get involved. Arms deals the U.S. does, for example, are at best unnecessary and costly (Israel is perfectly capable of taking care of themselves), and at worst helpful to governments committing war crimes (looking at you, Saudi Arabia).”

Netanyahu with former U.S. President Donald Trump / Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Omer Wetzer, 20

“I was born in Israel. Growing up as an Israeli Jew of both Ashkenazi and Mizrahi families . My grandparents on one side are Arab Jews who fled Yemen and arrived to the state of Israel, which was at the time called Palestine. From my other side they were Jews who fled the Alhambra Decree and went through Turkey as well as the holocaust and reached Israel after WWII.”

“As an Israeli I have a tremendous amount of love and proud for my country. Jews in my opinion were, and still are, combating real antisemitism around the world.”

“For my grandparents, having Israel as a land for the Jewish people to live safely was everything and still is. That plays a big part in my heart. Hearing stories from my grandparents who fled Yemen because Arab Jews were targeted and then when they reached the promised land they were targeted by their ‘own people’ supposedly because their skin was darker than the Eastern European Jews, hurts. The way they had to leave all of their belongings back home and being lied to and killed and abused towards their way to a new hope, hurts. The way that the awareness is so low towards these people, my people, who came from nothing literally just to get a better way of living from countries in North Africa and Middle East, hurts.

“I feel like most of the people around the world and especially in America, who have no affiliation to Israel and have no idea what the situation is really like, can be so oblivious. People who do not live there don’t see the love and happiness that is being created around Israeli-Arabs and Israelis in general. Shows you that coexisting is possible.”

“I don’t think the U.S should do anything about it. They might be the bridge between the two worlds but can’t not give any of their own input on the topic. It is true that America supplied many of Israel’s defense system however, from the stand point of taking a side politically they should just don’t. It makes the tension greater and the hate rise even more.”

“It hurts me to see people who say that this side is wrong and the other is right or the other way around. Most people don’t know what it is to live most of your childhood in shelters because the extremists decide to bomb cities inside [I]srael. As well as losing your friends and family to this unnecessary war. Soldiers who are 18–21 years old. As well as attacks on citizens.”

“At the same time I can not even imagine how it is for citizens in Gaza who have no side in the war to loose their family and loved ones because of choices the military chose to take. Having their houses taken away from them just because of the country they live in.”

“I believe that both sides are in the wrong here but at the same time should find a way to live together in harmony. With the right government I believe it is possible.”

“The way that the right wing government dealt with the situation brought more trouble and hate to the conflict and divided the country even more.”

“The new generation is starting to make up for the mistakes of the old ones. However there is still too much hate coming from both sides and until that is resolved we will stay in the same place.”

The views and opinions of interviewed subjects do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the author.


syracuse student interested in u.s. politics and foreign affairs