Evaluation of the Past

A central assumption of social planning and development is that over time the quality of individual lives should improve. In the contemporary world this assumption also constitutes a fundamental expectation of most people in relation to the future of themselves and their children and a key measure by which people judge the success or failure of their own lives. The belief - or lack of it - that the course of one's life has in general been better than the lives of one's parents and that one's children are destined to experience still further improvements is a central, albeit indirect, indicator of an individual's evaluation of his or her life situation. How individuals view their lives in retrospect and the optimism or pessimism with which they gauge the future of their children are pivotal psychological aspects of total living conditions.

In order to assess Palestinian attitudes to the course of their lives in retrospect, the survey posed the question in figure 9.22.

Figure 9.22 "When you look back at your life with all its ups and downs, do you think that your life has been better or worse than that of your parents?" (Appraisal of life condition)

Broadly speaking more Palestinians assess their lives in positive terms than in negative ones. However, the responses reveal a clear gender difference. Women tend to assess their lives as either positive, almost a majority, or stagnant. Men are much more negative in their appraisal. It should be noted that the "no answer" category in this question corresponds to those respondents who answer the question with a statement such as, "Only God knows!", or a determined shrug of the shoulders.
Does self-appraisal vary with age? Except for Palestinians 50 years or more, in all age groups Palestinians assess their lives as better rather than worse than that of their parents. The highest levels of discontent are found among those aged 50 years or over. This is the generation that experienced the upheavals of 1948 war and the creation of the first massive wave of Palestinian refugees. Interestingly, the generation that experienced the 1967 war and the beginning of Israeli occupation sees their lives in more positive terms. But among those aged 40 years or less there is an increasing feeling that the quality of life has been stagnant. This sense of stagnation is particular strong among women regardless of age.

Table 9.11 Appraisal of life condition by age group
BetterSameWorseNo answer
60 or more459460

While attitudes among refugees and non-refugees as a whole show similar profiles, the differences in appraisal among men and women refugees resident in camps are striking. Table 9.12 Appraisal of life condition by refugee status
BetterThe sameWorse
Camp refugees
Refugees resident outside camp

The bitterness and discontent of men living in refugee camps is well illustrated in table 9.13. In this table camp residents have been divided into three generations; those from 15 to 30 who have most directly experienced the intifada, those from 31 to 49, the "War of 1967" generation, and those currently 50 or above, the "War of 1948" generation.

Table 9.13 Male camp refugees appraisal of life condition by generation
BetterThe sameWorseNo answer
Intifada generation (15-30 years3611503
'67 War generation (31-49 years)42552
'48 War generation (50+ years1416637

The single most embittered sector of the population is the first generation of male Palestinian refugees resident in camps, individuals who are now 50 years or more. The contrast between these men and their female counterparts is remarkable (table 9.14). The third generation of female camp residents is simultaneously the group that is most approving of its general life situation and the individuals who see the course of their lives as most stagnant.

Table 9.14 Female camp refugees appraisal of life condition by generation
BetterThe sameWorseNo answer
Intifada generation (15-30 years6027103
'67 War generation (31-49 years)4916332
'48 War generation (50+ years511039

Despite the vast expansion of education over the past several decades, educational levels do not seem to affect significantly the relative assessment of the individual life situation. However, the most educated Palestinian men do seem to judge their lives somewhat more positively than those with little or no education.

Expectedly, a strong correlation exists between an individual's economic position in Palestinian society and a positive assessment of life so far. While 36% of those in the bottom economic third of Palestinian society feel their own lives have been better than that of their parents, 51% of those in the top third seem relatively satisfied with the course of their lives.

It could be argued that individuals who hold activist religious or political beliefs would tend to assess their life situation more negatively - because of the wide gap between their beliefs and the world they live in - or, alternatively, more positively - because these beliefs give life a special, enriched value. The survey would indicate that neither proposition is valid. Religious and political attitudes seem to have no impact whatsoever.

Using the various regional indexes constructed, the survey can identify the types of localities within the occupied territories in which relative resentment is most intense. If the three regions, broken down by gender, are examined, the pattern is demonstrated in table 9.15.

Table 9.15 Appraisal of life condition by gender and region
BetterThe sameWorseNo answer
Male Gaza3017512
Female Gaza4524238
Male West Bank451441
Female West Bank4916297
Male Arab Jerusalem4721293
Female Arab Jerusalem5030182
Table 9.16 Men's appraisal of their own lives by type of locality
BetterThe sameWorseNo answer
Greater Gaza City3423403
Gaza Towns/villages3218501
Gaza camps2611603
West Bank towns381547
West Bank villages481240
West Bank camps482032
Arab Jerusalem4721293

The sector of the population that stands out in this table is men in Gaza. Fully 50% describe their lives as worse than that of their parents. In contrast only one of five women in Gaza seem to view their lives as less satisfactory than that of the previous generation although about the same number view their lives as static. Other indexes confirm that resentment, especially among men, is at its most intense in the Gaza camps, but is also commonplace in the towns and villages of Gaza. They indicate that bitterness is also widespread in the towns of the West Bank. Men in West Bank villages and West bank camps as well as men in Arab Jerusalem are generally more cheerful in the assessment of their lives.


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