Existing to resist: youth bulge theory in the occupied Palestinian territories

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The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is currently experiencing what some demographers have labeled a “youth bulge” – a disproportionately large population of young people. Youth bulge theory has sought to relate these bulges to instances of mass uprising and violent conflict. Of the societies within the MENA region, the youth population of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) is among the largest. This paper contains two core arguments. First, I argue that youth bulge theory is insufficient as a basis for conflict mitigation strategies. In order to do so, I show how the theory, against the backdrop of a political conflict mired in demographic concerns, has been translated into discourse and policies in the OPT. I examine the effectiveness and normative implications of these discourses and policies through interviews and focus group discussions with Palestinian youth. Youth responses demonstrate that “youth bulge policies” do not effectively curb youth rebellion, but rather, that they may help fuel cultures of youth resistance. Second, I argue that youth bulge theory is fundamentally weak in its ability to attribute causation in violent rebellion. This argument is explicated through Palestinian youth’s ranking and scoring of their participation in various forms of resistance in the OPT, showing overwhelming support for nonviolent means. Moreover, through a brief survey of empirical studies on the psychosocial and cultural influences of violence, I suggest these measures may serve as better indicators than demography in predicting the risk of violence in youth bulge contexts. My findings carry implications for a reworking of youth bulge theory. I suggest that in order to better understand the relationships between young people and violence and to mitigate violent rebellion, youth bulge theory must consider a conscious change in the framing and representation of young people in youth bulge societies, and a deepened understanding of how psychosocial and cultural influences interact with political, economic and demographic factors to influence violence in the lives of young people.
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