In a cyber-connected world of instant communication, the powerful message from the Arab world that idealistic waves of youthful protests can sweep aside encrusted regimes and governments has homed in well in the Palestinian territories.
An ever-growing body of youth, inspired by blazing uprisings that toppled fossilised regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, are getting organised to instill change as never before.
An unprecedented movement driven by young people is taking root in the West Bank that has the rejection of the feuding Palestinian factions -- Fatah and Hamas -- as its starting point. “The Arab awakening -- I won’t call it the Arab Spring -- has surely and distinctly spread to the Palestinian territories,” says Mahdi F. Abdul Hadi. Dr. Abdul Hadi runs the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA), the intellectual power-house that is helping provide cerebral inputs that encourage young Palestinians to re-interpret their history, culture, art and identity, through the medium of open debate. “As of now there is no grand design, but there is a spontaneous demand for dignity which is an astonishingly powerful force for change,” observes Dr. Abdul Hadi.
Outside the learned and open environs of PASSIA where intellectuals and practitioners freely mingle, the activists are having a hard time, torn between the heavy demands of bringing bread on the table, and the onerous call for reclaiming their land through creative protests. Hanadi Kawasmi, a young activist and working woman who does not fit into any stereotype, exemplifies the aspirations of the new generation of Palestinian youth. A blogger, cyber-activist, and a grassroots worker all rolled into one, her demand for gender rights and grassroots democracy is as passionate as her advocacy for Palestinian cultural rootedness.
Between sips of Cappuccino in a trendy East Jerusalem restaurant, she explains how the new Palestinian movement has been imbued with a strong cultural component. She points to the emergence of Zedni, a cultural group that has made a significant contribution in the “Palestinian awakening”. “In 2011 Zedni began in Nablus as a student society that focused on book reviews. The idea went viral over the social media,” she explains. The success of Zedni in Nablus triggered a demand for its new branches, which have now cropped up in Jerusalem and Gaza. Zedni’s politics is subtle, for in the discussions over books, films and videos, the focus on their political content is inescapable.
“In the Zedni experiment, the social media has played a critical role,” says Ms. Kawasmi. “It has brought in new hope, confidence and a sense of connectedness with larger Arab communities in countries like Egypt that are undergoing broadly similar experiences”.
Empowered by the cyber revolution, a group of young people last year decided to form Saned, a self-sustaining musical group. The band emerged as a form of protest against a musical event that was sponsored and micro managed by the European Union (EU), says an activist. Saned’s maiden performance announced over Facebook turned out to be a huge success, as people thronged the venue in Ramallah paying an inexpensive $6 ticket. More importantly, in an economy dependent heavily on foreign aid and funding, it sent a strong message of self-reliance and financial independence within the community.
As they explore unchartered territory, fresh confrontations with the state have also begun. The omnipresence of the Israeli police and an increasingly antagonistic relationship with mainstream Fatah is adding to the pressures. Both the Israelis and Palestinian Authority, for instance, swiftly dismantled the encampment in Bab-Al-Sham -- a village near Ramallah where young Palestinians had converged with their tents to engage in cultural pursuits. They also experimented with new techniques of agriculture that would be relevant to the local communities.
Nearly 6,000 young Palestinians languish in Israeli jails, says Dr. Abdul Hadi, the academic. Major drawbacks are also emerging within the movement itself. Despite is creativity, the absence of a leadership, generated from below, that would help channel novel protests into tangible political accomplishments is yet to emerge. “It is still work in progress but the feeling to bring about change -- a longing to be free, to feel the flesh and the soul is strong,” says Dr. Abdul Hadi.