Palestinian youth disillusioned by aging leadership

Oct 2, 2017-Gaza, Palestine an old woman holding a poster of Abbas as a way to support the reconciliation. (Photo: Mohammed Atallah| ARA Network)RAMALLAH, West Bank – As many Israelis and American celebrate the U.S. embassy’s move to Jerusalem, Palestinians youth protest while worrying that their nation’s aging leadership has handicapped their dreams – and their future.

They point to the Palestine Liberation Organization recently elected new members of its Executive Committee, its top 18-member top decision-making body. But in stark contrast to the median age of 20 among residents in the West Bank and 17 in Gaza, the average age of committee members is 70.

“It is obvious that the old people are monopolizing most of the political positions,” said Duha al-Jafari, 21, a psychology student at Birzeit University near Ramallah in the West Bank. “Youth are detaching themselves from Fatah (the largest secular nationalist group dominating the West Bank) and Hamas (the Islamist organization running Gaza), and they have lost trust in these parties who have yet to achieve anything.”

That dissatisfaction comes as partisan politics is failing to produce new younger leaders, economic opportunities for youth or movement on the Palestinians’ ultimate goal of an independent state sitting on land that would include settlements now under Israeli control.

It’s not clear who will replace 83-year-old Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority who also chairs the PLO’s Executive Committee. The committee’s number-two, Saeb Erekat, 62, received a lung transplant in Virginia in October.

Disputes between Fatah, the Abbas-led political party that runs the West Bank, and Hamas, the Islamist terror group and political party that dominates the Gaza Strip, have prevented elections to be held in either territory for more than 12 years

Meanwhile, in Gaza, youth unemployment stands at 62 percent. In the West Bank, Israeli officials are preparing to authorize more settlement outposts in the 61 percent of the territory that has been under Israeli occupation since the country won the Six-Day War in 1967.

The unresolved issues rankle most strongly in Gaza where 70 percent of the population have parents or grandparents who fled or were expelled from land that became in Israel in 1948.

Gazans have staged protests as part of the Great Return March on the Israeli-Gaza border in recent months to mark the 70th anniversary of the 1948 war and demand their land back. Many Palestinians claim that independent activist Ahmed Abu Ratima, 33, and other youths initially organized the march but Hamas has taken them over.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said Wednesday that Israeli army snipers had killed 63 demonstrators since the march started. According to the ministry, 77 percent of the casualties are under the age of 35.

Palestinian youths have taken action in the wake of the violence.

Last week, hoping to convince Israelis of the need for a fair peace deal, 25-year-old Fatima Mohammedan organized an alternative and peaceful demonstration on the border that diverges from the confrontational Hamas message.

“We wanted to convey a message to the whole world that we are people who want Israel to lift the siege,” said Mohammedan. “As a youth activist, my goal is to spread peace, serve my own society and work to bring democracy to Palestinian politics.”

The young have other leaders who might steal Abbas’ thunder.

Today, Ahed Tamimi, a 17-year-old Palestinian girl from the West Bank of village of Nabi Salih, is the most well-known face of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli settlements. She is currently serving an eight-month sentence for slapping an Israeli soldier last December while she claimed Israelis were confiscating her village's lands and water.

“Tamimi has become an icon for Palestinian youth who believe the path forward is resistance on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank, and diplomatic and legal warfare at the United Nations and International Criminal Court,” said Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza.

Many young Palestinians feel the wellspring of support for Tamimi reflects the beginning of the end for Fatah and Hamas.

“We need to be more independent from the mainframe of the political parties as they are bureaucrats,” said Belal Sultan, a 26-year-old business administration student in Gaza City. “For now, all these leaders can give are empty promises and sometimes provide part-time jobs.”

Older Palestinian leaders said they heard Sultan’s message.

“American president Trump’s one-sided support of Israel is driving the youth to resist,” said Saleh Ra'fat, 73, leader of the Palestinian Democratic Union and member of the PLO Executive Committee. “We are trying to cultivate young leaders in our party and prepare them for elections which need to happen soon to activate their role.”

But Palestinian youth are already be moving on.

“These young people are depressed and looking to change the situation by going to checkpoints and being involved in clashes with the Israelis,” said Afnan Nedal, a 24-year-old teaching assistant at Al-Quds University.

“The only thing that we gain out of these clashes is more injured, killed and imprisoned youth," Nedal added. "With the youth staging a revolution over this dismal life, I’m not sure if this moves the Palestinians further away from statehood or closer to it.”

A version of this story can be found on The Washington Times.
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