Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

The Palestinian Spring That Was Not: The Youth and Political Activism in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

The Palestinian Spring That Was Not: The Youth and Political Activism in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Article excerpt


This article explains the current political role of the Palestinian youth by comparing the period shortly before the First and Second Intifadas with the current situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). It critically interrogates the oft-repeated assertion that the Palestinian youth are characterized by political anomie, showing that the political role of the youth in the OPT is constrained by three factors: Israeli occupation, oppression by Fatah and Hamas, and the political paralysis resulting from the split between these two dominant political organizations. However, the present youth activism challenges the policies of both Fatah and Hamas, and draws strength from its utilization of international cooperation and its popular practices. While it is still small, this youthful activism displays a determination, clearheadedness and independence that contrast with the political culture in the dominant factions of Palestinian politics.

Keywords: youth, Occupied Palestinian Territories, resistance, Fatah, Hamas, social movements


The youth played a major role in the rebellions in the Arab world in 2011. Young people were central to the revolutionary efforts not only in Tunisia, but also in Egypt, Yemen and Syria, all of which are now in a process of profound political change. However, in the one place that would seem the obvious one for a youthful revolt-the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)-there was no sustained revolt.

Granted, there were preludes to one. Two episodes in particular departed from the political routine in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and carried the promise of broader mobilization. On March 15, 2011, inspired by their counterparts in other Arab countries, the Palestinian youth descended upon the streets of Gaza and the West Bank to protest against the political situation. Unlike previously, their main target was not the Israeli occupier, but the two political factions that rule Gaza and the West Bank, respectively: Hamas and Fatah. The protesters' demand was simple: al-sha 'b yurid inha al-inqisam (the people want the split [between Gaza and the West Bank] to end), a play on the famous slogan "the people want the regime to fall." This demand was of course based on the fact that the continued political division between the West Bank and Gaza renders any effective resistance against Israeli occupation impossible. Fatah's and Hamas's perceived prioritization of their own organizations at the cost of the Palestinian people had exasperated already disillusioned Palestinian youth. A flurry of Facebook activism brought thousands of young people out into the streets, and one direct consequence of their activism and the Arab Spring was that Hamas and Fatah leaders sat down to negotiate a reconciliation deal in April. This was not directly related to the Israeli occupation, but reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas will have important consequences for the whole conflict, as Israel is determined to prevent the Palestinian factions from uniting.

The other episode was directly related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On May 15, the anniversary of the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe), thousands of Palestinians marched on the Israeli border in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Activists from Syria managed to break through the border fence and enter the village of Majdal Shams, before Israeli forces were able to push them back. Fourteen Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded during the clashes.1 Even though the regional situation facilitated this mass rally (the inspiration from the Arab spring and the Syrian regime's tacit acceptance of the march on the borders), it was nevertheless a forceful show of Palestinian solidarity and political will across borders, and a prelude to the diffusion of protest to broader layers of the Palestinian population rather than it being kept to the small core of grassroots activists.

However, the demonstrations eventually came to naught. …

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