Daily life in the Palestinian Territories varies widely, from city to city and even street to street. But whether it's the conservative Muslim district of Hebron or a Christian neighbourhood in free-wheeling Ramallah, the Palestinian street is an exciting place to be. Palestinian cities are typically defined by their packed pavements, bustling markets and traffic-snarled streets, while in the countryside, the pace of life among the rolling hills and olive groves is slower.
Values & Lifestyle
The ebb and flow of daily life in the Palestinian Territories depends largely on the security and economic situation. Gaza is in particularly dire straits as a result of the Israeli and Egyptian blockades, Egypt's sealing of hundreds of smuggling tunnels (2013–14) and Hamas' periodic confrontations with Israel.
In the West Bank, Israel has removed most internal checkpoints in recent years, making it easier for Palestinians to travel between home and work or school, but day-to-day life can be profoundly frustrating, and residents never know when they may find themselves in a humiliating – or at least time-wasting – confrontation with the Israeli security forces or settlers.
Despite everything, the Palestinians are determined to make the best of their tenuous situation. Family bonds are unbreakable and are often made stronger by intra-family business partnerships. Many extended families pool their income to build a large home so everyone can live under one roof, with separate units for each nuclear family. Palestinian men often spend their leisure time in the local coffeehouse, where old-timers play backgammon.
Life in Gaza is tightly controlled by the precepts of fundamentalist Islam but much of the West Bank retains a moderate outlook, and Ramallah in particular exhibits the trappings of modern Western living, including fancy cars, health clubs and late-night bars. Football and basketball are both popular sports, played by young Palestinians on makeshift fields and courts across the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinians are steadfastly attached to their land, especially their olive groves, and many urban Palestinians return to their home villages to help with the harvest in October and November.
Employment & Income
Palestinians still earn far less than Israelis (average annual income is just US$3200 in the Palestinian Territories, compared to US$36,190 in Israel), and the lack of economic opportunity, especially for young people, has done much to keep Palestinians frustrated with their lot. With unemployment rates of 27% in the West Bank and 42% in Gaza and one of the highest birth rates in the world (Muslim Palestinian women have an average of seven children each, as do ultra-Orthodox Jewish women in Israel), the average Palestinian home is both overcrowded and poor.
Palestinian women have traditionally played the role of home-based caregiver, but recent years have seen more women entering higher education and working outside the home. Except in fundamentalist areas, women have slowly made their mark on Palestinian politics – Ramallah, for instance, had a female mayor, Janet Michael, from 2005 to 2012, and Hannan Ashrawi is well known as an eloquent spokesperson for Palestinian rights.