Palestine's Youth Revolt
Thursday, 05 January 2012 19:29 GMT
The youth of occupied Palestine, like their compatriots across the Middle East, are starting to demand changes from their divided and unresponsive leadership.
They call themselves the March 15 Youth, after the date of their first major demonstration. In Gaza, nearly 100,000 people came out last week to rally for unity, and another 4,000 demonstrated peacefully in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The demonstrations and sit-ins have not stopped since then, with marches occurring in the West Bank cities of Bethlehem, Hebron, Jenin, and Nablus.
The protesters have been marching, staging sit-ins, and even fasting to protest the failure of Palestinian political parties to end the division between the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is dominated by Fatah, in the West Bank. And the Palestinian political class has clearly received the message: On March 16, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made the surprise announcement that he was prepared to travel to Gaza for reconciliation talks.
These efforts to reestablish Palestinian unity will now be sorely tested following the deadly bombing at a Jerusalem bus stop on March 23, which killed one person and injured dozens more. The growing tensions between Israel and Hamas will only make it harder for the Palestinian factions to find common ground.
However, roadblocks on the path to Palestinian unity are nothing new. The split in the Palestinian leadership dates back to June 2007, when Hamas militiamen took over the Gaza Strip following bloody battles with PA forces and Fatah supporters that left hundreds dead and injured. The division has only become more entrenched since then, with the Palestinian factions engaging in endless squabbling and abortive attempts to form a unity government.
The activists say that the continued division undermines their dream of a united and independent Palestine. "We are fed up with factions," Fadi Al-Sheikh Yousef, the March 15 media coordinator in Gaza, told me. "We have lost faith in them and place our trust in Palestine."
And the people of the West Bank and Gaza seem to agree. A December opinion poll conducted by Near East Consulting reported that 41 percent of Palestinians don't trust any faction, and surveys over the past three years have also shown that achieving unity was a top national priority, even surpassing ending the Israeli occupation. In February, another survey reported that 76 percent of Palestinians support a peaceful revolt against the internal division. With the overwhelming majority of Palestinians under the age of 30, the youth movement speaks to a broad swath of Palestinian society.
In a televised speech on March 16, Abbas announced that he was ready to go to Gaza "to end the division and form a unity government with independent ministers." He said he was ready to travel to Gaza "tomorrow," and while no date has yet been set for his visit, preparations are already underway.