In recent years, many young Palestinian activists living in the 1948-occupied Palestinian territories (Israel) have been questioning the absence of a unified national activist movement, in light of the growing role of the numerous activist groups that have formed since the start of the Aqsa Intifada 2000. This was a landmark event which redefined the Arab-Israelis’ relationship with the Israeli state. The confrontation has been transformed due to the changes in Arab demands, which went from demanding equality to emphasising that Arab identity contradicts the establishment of a Jewish state that was based on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Israel’s foundation and existence relies heavily on the denial of the Palestinian narrative since our lands were confiscated in 1948 and we have been denied our rights, as a people, in the settler-colonial entity.
Given that the Arab Spring revolutions were given kick-starts by initiatives by young people I think that it is now important to look at our youth movements and activists. We must try to develop a work ethic that goes beyond self-satisfaction or dissatisfaction, because this has immobilised the movement over the last few years. Instead, we should aim to improve the troubled political scene on both the regional and Palestinian levels.
At this stage, it is not beneficial to create a distinction between the Palestinians living in the 1948 territories and those in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, and the refugees living in camps and exile abroad. Such a division is not acceptable; it has plagued the Palestinian condition year after year since the start of the Israeli occupation backed by imperial states. The Palestinian national project was lost in the illusions of the Oslo and the idea that negotiations are the only solution. Whether we accept it or not, what we need is an active youth movement in every location where there are Palestinians, because while their overall conditions and struggles are unique they do vary in style from location to location. This is the bitter reality that we must overcome if we want to establish an effective, coordinated Palestinian youth movement that caters for the individual needs of Palestinians wherever they are while working within a unified institutional framework.
It is clear that the youth of today have outgrown the classic culture of youth movements established by political parties and movements. They have bypassed, although not removed, the ceilings set by such groups.
When we talk about youth movements in the 1948 territories, we must map them out along with their locations in order for us to define clearly each one’s strengths. This will help to guide and regulate each movement in a unified fashion in the future.
We can divide the 1948 Palestinian youth movements into three kinds: political parties and movements, including student groups in colleges and universities; civil and social institutions; independent youth movements. For many reasons, each is incapable of launching a movement on its own and, historically-speaking, we have yet to see this happen. Each is limited by its own initiatives, which force it to function within a particular sphere. Political parties and movements have their own programmes, ideologies, calculations and agendas; this makes it impossible for one movement to represent the youth generation it its entirety. Furthermore, each movement is limited by its financial resources. Thus, no individual movement has the capacity to adopt a large youth movement alone. Experience shows that youth movements with outstanding initiatives usually disappear after their goal has been met or after a life-changing event for one of the key members. This makes it impossible for any single group to be self-sustaining.
One of the main reasons why we have yet to see an organised and unified youth movement is because of the causes we choose to affiliate with as activists. Each one of us remains affiliated with his or her preference and works within it. In the best-case scenario, activists from different organisations work together on very specific projects for a limited amount of time. Our establishment of a unified youth movement must not nullify our affiliations with a party, movement or group and yet, our presence in a party, movement, or group must not nullify our attempts to establish a unified youth movement. The numerous affiliations with independent organisations stem from our need to have a unified youth movement to address our national and political issues on a daily basis. This is especially true in light of the escalation of the Zionist cause, which threatens our identity and our presence by implementing projects and plans that target Palestinian Arab land and people in the country.
This youth movement must also work to go beyond the mistakes we have made in the past, mistakes which undoubtedly were the reason behind many youth failures in the Arab world. We must also avoid painting this youth movement as an affiliate of a particular ideological or political philosophy due to the “secular versus Islamic” debate, which has become common in the aftermath of the Arab revolutions. We can address this issue internally without allowing it to become a question of societal polarisation or competition.
Furthermore, we need to step away from radical extremism that often leads people to address their problems on the streets. Instead, let the streets become a safe-haven for these movements as we try to create a different model to the one that has been prevalent in the 1948 territories. Let us also work to denounce the rivalry and sense of conceit that is often exhibited by activists and youth movements. These are all factors that will obstruct the development of a successful and unified movement.
In current and previous years, there have been numerous examples of youth-based initiatives in many Arab cities, which could serve as the basis for a larger project. This includes the new movements in the Negev, the newly-established movements in Haifa, the youth movements in coastal cities (Jaffa Youth Movement, for example), and the youth movements in the Delta among others. Such a project will not succeed if we do not believe in the dire need for its existence or base our efforts on the prior assumption that we are seeking to advance said movement in an orderly and developed fashion. This is essential for us to create a movement that represents the youth, which I believe is now an imperative.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.