Newham Youth Voices: time to speak out for peace

This column has been prepared by Maria, Faisal, Lina, Mohammed, Adam, Karima, Abdus, Adam, Miraj, Sara, Yusuf, Daniel, Hasan, Ayden, Amira, Ilyas, Hamza, Elia, Hussain, all members of the Newham Voices Youth Voices team

People stand with placards behind a banner which reads 'Free Palestine'
The logo for You Voices of Newham

Watching the news unfold on the conflict between Palestine and Israel, young people in Newham from all backgrounds are feeling low, powerless and deeply upset by the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. 

In the school curriculum we are NOT taught about the history of Palestine and Israel, and this leads young people to get their historical information via social media which can often lead to inaccuracy and false narratives. 

It is important for young people to be educated and understand history, 

News of war wherever it is from can have an emotional impact and affect our mental well-being as young people. Newham also has residents who are of Arab, Muslim, Christian and Jewish heritage who are directly affected, many are worried and concerned about their family members caught up in this conflict. 

Most young people learn about the Israel/Palestine conflict through books, news and social media. Some facts are well known – that Palestine has been under illegal occupation for many decades and that there are still Palestinians who have lived in refugee camps for generations waiting for the right to return to their homes. And, of course, there is the continuing reality that many in Israel are fearful for their security. 

The tragic and horrifying events of the 7 October massacre and the bombing of Gaza that has followed have caused further upset leading many young people to attend peaceful demonstrations in Newham and across central London. 

Young people in Newham want to express their solidarity with the Palestinian people and with all the victims of violence. 

We are witnessing a human catastrophe. Young people are saying, it does not matter what faith or background you are from – all human lives are important, and we as young people must condemn violence that impacts millions of innocent civilian lives during these wars. 

To the media we say that we feel there is bias in coverage which does not allow the public to have the full story. When, for example, mainstream media journalists report that Israelis are killed and Palestinians died, it creates a narrative that people don’t trust. It drives young people to share content from social media and create their own social media messages. 

To politicians we say that we feel you are not listening. There is a growing mistrust of political leaders. Israeli flags on government buildings and statements that Israel has the right, not just to defend itself, but also to block access to the necessities of life to two million Palestinians do not appeal to all sides. 

Young people feel that the situation in Gaza is something everyone needs to care about. In the UK there is division and discord. Negative headlines and overblown rhetoric in situations like this can create yet more division and leads to more anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. 

Too often we feel that we are silenced by the political establishment from expressing our views.

Sometimes, because everyone is forced to take sides, it seems the safest thing to do is to say nothing. We cannot simply say, I am on the side of humanity. Or I want peace. 

We have first hand experience of family members and friends who have suffered discrimination for stating their positions on the issue; this suggests that free speech may not exist for all. 

A lot of us opt out of speaking out. We choose to keep our feelings to ourselves. This can be very mentally, socially, and emotionally damaging causing us to feel isolated. All we want to do is speak out for humanity and peace. 

And we are not alone. A recent yougov poll (19 October) suggested that 58 percent of Britons think there should be an immediate ceasefire.

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