RAMALLAH, March 14 (JMCC) – As Palestinian activists gear up for demonstrations called for March 15, the hurdles they face are becoming more visible.
Not least among these is the difficult task of uniting behind a clear list of demands. Comprised of dozens of activist groups calling for everything from new leadership to an end to peace agreements with Israel
, this budding movement seems to have settled on two initial aims.
In a recent statement, the youth activists called for the release of all political prisoners in the West Bank
and Gaza Strip
, as well as elections for the Palestinian National Council, the PLO
’s parliament, in the occupied territories and abroad.
“There are a lot of groups working on this,” says Ramallah
organizer Fadi Quran, 23. “I’m personally coordinating 35 in the West Bank and six or seven in Gaza, and each has its internal issues.”
The rallying cry for the activists has been to end the factional schism that has entrenched the Islamist movement Hamas
in the Gaza Strip and the Fateh
-dominated Palestinian Authority
in the West Bank.
Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006, but was largely unable to govern due to domestic opposition and an international funding boycott. One year later, its armed forces overran Palestinian Authority security installations in Gaza, in effect separating the authority there from the West Bank.
Youth activists see the infighting as preventing a unified position against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“The main body oppressing us is Israel,” says Quran, “but first we need to get the Palestinian house in order.”
Right now, however, both Fateh and Hamas say they, too, are in favor of Palestinian unity – each on its own terms. Fateh wants Hamas to agree to an Egyptian-drafted paper that lays out some interim solutions for the major issues dividing the two groups. Hamas, on the other hand, has proposed an interim shared leadership while it is incorporated into the PLO.
Navigating these positions without being co-opted by them poses a minefield for the activists, they say. One Gaza youth group was taken aback by the call for PLO elections, having told JMCC.org that this demand would open the movement to charges of being sympathetic to the Islamist group. (They were equally critical of calls for presidential and parliamentary elections, which they saw as demands backed by Fateh.)
Further challenging attempts to build the kind of broad-based movement that succeeded in Tunisia and Egypt is the deep mistrust and cynicism bred by years of occupation and infighting.
At a discussion last week in Ramallah on how the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt had affected Palestinian young people, one speaker called for elections. Then another asked, why hold elections? Will the results be honored?
Inevitably, a successful youth movement will have to break through the boundaries of this debate and forge a new one. How this challenge to the status quo will play out is anyone’s guess.
As demonstrations kicked off early in Gaza on Monday, some long-standing party activists were hoisted on the shoulders of the crowds before being told by organizers that the young people who brought out the crowds should be feted instead of them. The leaders rather sheepishly acquiesced.
The greatest hurdle before the young activists, however, may simply be captivating a society still drained from the second intifada
Palestinian writer Zakaria Mohammed has called March 15 a great test. Tuesday is the day, he wrote, that Palestinians will discover if they are entering a new period of national rejuvenation, or if indeed it was all a false alarm.
“I’m completely optimistic,” says Quran. “I don’t underestimate the problems we face, but the youth right now is rising from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope.”