Palestinian party representatives, including members of Fateh
, sat in the same room yesterday reaching out to the young crowd in a rare political youth dialogue hosted by Sharek Youth Forum, a Ramallah
-based nonpartisan youth organization.
The dialogue took place days before student council seats are up for grabs next week at An-Najah National University, the West Bank
’s largest and oldest university, located in Nablus
A total of six Palestinian political parties were represented, including the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine
, Palestinian Peoples Party
, Palestine Liberation Front
and the Palestinian National Initiative
Around 120 people attended, mostly students from Birzeit University, An-Najah National University and Al-Quds University. Many responded with skepticism as party representatives casually sat together on stage, each claiming that it’s party offers youth-friendly avenues for participation and involvement.
Palestinian youth have played a unique role in the Palestinian national struggle, according to Sharek, placing them amongst some of the most politicized in the world. Generation after generation, Palestinian youth continue to become exposed to political and military violence with many being killed, injured, detained, tortured and deported.
But after the fallout between Fateh and Hamas in 2006, a growing sense of disappointment with Palestinian political parties escalated among the youth. According to a survey conducted by Sharek in 2009, around 70 percent of Palestinian youth described themselves as politically inactive.
The panelists recognized that there was a trust crisis between youth and political parties. “When there are no achievements, frustrations dominate over the young people,” Omar Abdel Raziq, the Hamas representative, said.
Political apathy appeared to dwindle half way through the dialogue, however, following a fiery remark by Hasan Faraj, a Fateh representative. “Fateh youth in Gaza are being oppressed by Hamas and their leaders are beating up students who support Fateh, shooting them in their knee caps.”
Party loyalty slowly began to surface, as audience members began to raise their hands with comments that added fuel to the fire, edging away from the initial discussion of youth involvement. Most of the commentary was directed towards Hamas, spawning a reminder of the hostility towards a party with receding support in the West Bank and many of its members repressed by the Palestinian Authority
Omar Abdel Raziq, the middle-aged bearded Hamas representative, enthusiastically welcomed the criticisms, reminding the audience that despite the unfavorable atmosphere, he appreciated the opportunity to respond at a time when many of his party members were systematically being silenced in the West Bank. “These accusations you put forward today are part of rumors being spread by people who want to spread fear about Hamas,” he said.
The infamous rift between Fateh and Hamas dwarfed the other parties and drastically changed course from a youth dialogue to a political debate. Yousef Zaviwi, 27, a recent journalism graduate of An-Najah National University, said it wasn’t surprising that the dialogue ended up becoming a fight between Hamas and Fateh. “This is why I wasn’t going to come,” he said. “I know that in the end, these parties are only coming to recruit us.”