Consultation and Information Program: Perspectives of Youth in Palestine

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Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Palestine conducted a Consultation and Information Program for our delegate Dr. Muriel Asseburg, senior fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Research Division of Stiftung Wissenschaft and Politik (SWP), on the topic of “Perspectives of Youth in Palestine” from 25 November to 1 December 2018. Accompanied by FES Palestine Director Beyhan Sentürk and FES Program Managers Nidal Alayasa and Usama Antar, Dr. Asseburg met with young activists, youth organizations, student councils and research institutions across Palestine – in Ramallah, Gaza, Jerusalem, Jenin, Nablus, Hebron and Bethlehem.

On Monday, 26 November, we traveled to Ramallah to meet with representatives of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) for a general introduction on facts, figures and data on Palestinian youth. The participants discussed central issues such as unemployment, education, political participation, and the role of religion. The group then met with Defense for Children International – Palestine Section (DCI-PS) to get insights into the sociolegal framework of youth in Palestine. After an introduction into the work of the organization, the group learned about the situation of children and youth in the context of the different legal systems operating in Palestine, with a particular focus on arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture. A vivid discussion on child protection and accountability followed.

After a warm reception at the Ramallah office of Sharek Youth Forum by a large group of young members, we traveled to the organization’s youth village near the mountainous village of Kufor Nemah. Following the lead of the young activists, we explored the green spaces, scenic lookouts, fire places, dorms, and playgrounds of the village, which have been built by youth volunteers. Over lunch on a terrace, the young members shared their experience within the organization, their strategies for effecting change in their society, and their visions for the future.

On Tuesday, 27 November, and Wednesday, 28 November, we stayed in Gaza City to meet with numerous young activists and political actors. Among them were representatives from the PalTrade Gaza-Office, with whom we discussed major political and economic challenges in Palestine and particularly in Gaza, their impact on youth, and strategies in tackling these challenges. The group met with the Executive Director of the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO) and the Head of PalThink for Strategic Studies, with whom the role of civil society in the context of shrinking civic space and growing authoritarian leadership were discussed.

During a roundtable discussion organized in cooperation with “Save Youth Future” with young persons from political factions, the participants shared their views on how to improve the difficult political and economic situation in Gaza and on their ambitions and active engagement for a better future. In conversation with the UNRWA Spokesperson in the Gaza Strip, we learnt about the Agency’s assessment of the main challenges for youth in Gaza and the repercussions of the funding cuts to UNRWA.

The following day, on 28 November, the Head of Massarat Think-Tank Dr. Salah Abdelati explained his perspectives on the role of civil society, in particular of youth, in shaping the future in Palestine. Several political activists expressed the hardship Palestinian youth face in Gaza and discussed possibilities for a peaceful solution. After returning to Jerusalem, we engaged in a lively conversation about youth empowerment with Hanya Bitar from Palestinian Youth Association for Leadership and Rights Activation (PYALARA).

On Thursday, 29 November, the group traveled to Nablus and Jenin. Representatives from Jenin Freedom Theater recounted the multifaceted history of the initiative and shared the role and experience of involved youth in Jenin Refugee Camp, the larger community and Palestinian society. In interaction with members of the student council of the Arab American University, we learnt about the youth’s motivation to become active in shaping the sociopolitical life of their community and Palestinian society.

During our meetings with Keffiyeh Center in Askar Camp and Yafa Cultural Center in Balata Camp, we received enriching insights into the perspective of refugee youth in Palestine. Through their community activism, many are hoping to foster the role as change agents of refugees within Palestinian society. The young journalists of Shahed Youth Center illustrated the means by which they are strengthening the representation of youth on online platforms and in local politics in the absence of democratic processes at the national level, in the hope of eventually influencing national politics.

Visiting Hebron and Bethlehem on Friday, 30 November, we deepened our insights into the multilayered obstacles youth face as a result of occupation and restrictive social norms, as well as into strategies in addressing and overcoming them. A political tour through the Old City of Hebron augmented the group’s understanding of the difficult situation Palestinian youth has to navigate. During our visit of the South Hebronite village of Umm Al-Khair, the particular challenges of youth living in Area C of the West Bank were further illuminated. Simultaneously, we received a glimpse at the resilience and resourcefulness of young Palestinians. Youth from the student council of Bethlehem University also painted a hopeful picture of youth participation and empowerment that starts on university campuses but may blaze the way towards a free and democratic Palestine.

The exchange with diverse actors across Palestine enriched our understanding of perspectives of Palestinian youth and cemented our belief in their abilities to build the future. “If youth are at the frontline of decision-making, substantive change will follow”, one young activist expressed.