Increase of Palestinian Youth attempting suicide

From: * Wael M. Ahmed University of Kentucky Phone:(606)273-3122 E-mail: wmahme00@pop.uky.edu World Wide Web Page: http://sac.uky.edu/~wmahme00/

By Wafa Amr

JERUSALEM (Reuter)5.8.1997 - Palestinian police say the number of youths attempting suicide in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has risen sharply in the last two years.

Experts see a ``suicide phenomenon'' in the 20-30 age group. Police say more than 20 Palestinian youths attempted suicide in April, with one succeeding. In March, two out of 16 youths who tried to kill themselves died. Many cases go unreported.

``We have noticed a sharp increase in the number of youths attempting to commit suicide in the past two years, but we don't have the accurate figures,'' one police source said.

Islam forbids suicide, although some Muslim authorities consider suicide bombers martyrs for killing the enemy. Palestinian suicide bombers have killed scores of Israelis since the 1993 Israel-PLO peace accords.

``Suicide is a new and strange phenomenon to Palestinian society,'' said Maher Abu Zant, a professor of sociology at al-Najah University in the the West Bank city of Nablus.

``Suicide was rare in the past, therefore we consider this a very dangerous sign,'' he told Reuters.

ISRAELI OCCUPATION OR ITS BY-PRODUCTS LEAD TO SUICIDE

Sociologists and psychiatrists say Palestinian youths were driven to suicide by the economic and social pressures of three decades of occupation, which they say have increased despite the historic peace accords with Israel.

``The reason goes back to living 30 years under repressive Israeli occupation. Israel's repression has not ceased even during the so-called peace times, and so youths' frustration has increased,'' Abu Zant said.

But other sociologists believe it is difficult personal circumstances indirectly created by the occupation -- ignorance, unemployment, social failure and lack of purpose -- that lead to suicide, rather than the political developments themselves.

``I've never heard of a youth committing suicide after hearing the news broadcast, otherwise hundreds of people would kill themselves daily,'' said Mustafa al-Hamdoni, director of the Palestinian Center Against Violence in Gaza.

Police sources say the most common means in reported suicide attempts are pills, insecticides, immolation, or suffocation by gas.

Despite the Muslim censure on suicide, the Palestinian suicide bombers who attacked Israelis in the last years have widely been considered martyrs.

``There's a big difference between a suicide bomber and youths who tried to kill themselves to escape daily life frustrations,'' Abu Zant said. ``The latter are usually non-believers and lack self-confidence.''

DESPAIR AT ``ILLUSORY'' PEACE

Under the peace deals, large parts of the West Bank and Gaza have remained under occupation. Israeli restrictions such as closures imposed after suicide bombings have prevented thousands of Palestinian workers from reaching jobs in Israel.

According to U.N. and Palestinian economists, a working Palestinian feeds around 10 family members and poverty has increased since the peace deals were implemented.

Sociologists believe that youths living in bleak economic and political conditions are driven to suicide by despair.

``People feel peace is illusory. Their economic conditions have deteriorated by the frequent closures and they feel hopeless,'' Abu Zant said.

``Youths have been prevented from travelling abroad or between Palestinian cities by Israel, and have been suffocated by restrictions all their lives. They have lived abnormal lives under occupation,'' he said.

One psychiatrist said during the Palestinian popular uprising, or intifada, that began in 1987, youths who wanted to kill themselves would join in clashes against the Israeli army and get shot.

``Now there are no soldiers, so they revert to pills and rat poison.''