The findings presented in this chapter represent only an initial analysis of the survey data. A fuller analysis could well uncover a different and certainly more detailed picture than that described here. Again, the reader should be reminded about the possibility of statistical variations due to sampling error, as discussed in Appendix A. However, even a cursory look at the data suggests that Palestinian society is undergoing deep change and that some of its fundamental norms and assumptions are under rigorous challenge. The data depicts a society that could be moving in two directions simultaneously. On one hand, it is moving toward more liberal attitudes concerning the status of women in society, toward a greater degree of secularisation and an enhanced emphasis on the value of democracy. On the other, spearheaded especially by disaffected and frustrated sectors of the younger generation, Palestinian society also appears to be drifting toward a reinstatement of social conservatism and patriarchal values, a reinforcement of religiously defined identities and social codes and a drifting away from the acceptance of plurality. Particularly when the westernising impact of education on Palestinian attitudes is examined, the question emerges as to whether this drift toward social and political rigidity is not at least partially due to the fact that for over five years Palestinian schools have often been closed, whereas the turbulence of the streets have been wide open.

Some of the stresses to which Palestinian society are subject are indicated by the very different views men and women seem to hold concerning the critical organising function of gender. The social roles prescribed by society for women appear to be under strong attack by women themselves, especially in Gaza, the region in which social conservatism has most hold. Women's strategies for dealing with this adversarial encounter are probably many, but the data indicates that, paradoxically, one such strategy seems to involve adopting the symbols and ideology of religious activism. The data suggests that such activism has a liberating effect on women, providing them with more manoeuvrability and influence, not less.

The opposing directions of change in society combined with Palestinian perceptions of conflict suggest that some of its internal tensions might be growing. These tensions in part are caused by the workings of the structuring conflict into which Palestinians are caught and, as indicated by the data from Gaza, tensions which in part are also suppressed by the overwhelming supremacy of that conflict. Under the circumstances, it is probably unrealistic to expect Palestinians to turn their attentions abundantly and productively to the internal issues that divide them before the external circumstances that so powerfully bring them together are successfully addressed.


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