BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Palestinian youth activists struggle against old guard

Palestinian youths burn the Israeli flag during a protest in support of Gaza in downtown Beirut on Sunday, June 27, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: “We get up every day and show the world that something is happening in Palestine,” said Jalal Abdel-Hadi, an activist from the Shatila refugee camp, at the youth office in Beirut’s Mar Elias camp.

“After iftar, we notify people on Facebook to come out after iftar or after fajr [dawn] prayers,” added Hiba Ali Ghassim, a member and co-founder of The Palestinian Youth Congress. “All of the youth in the camp came out.”

As the weekslong bombardment of Gaza by Israeli armed forces continues, with the death toll topping 1,000 over the weekend, several youth organizations within Lebanon’s numerous Palestinian camps are organizing demonstrations almost daily.

But there is increasing tension between such groups and more established political factions over how to show solidarity with Gaza, youth activists told The Daily Star.

“[Factional leaders] tell people that you shouldn’t demonstrate with them, they’re not patriotic, that we are against them, that we want to take their place because we raise the Palestinian flags,” Abdel-Hadi complained. “We believe that the Palestinian flag unites everybody. ... Because of that they start problems.”

Ghassim said that some groups had showed up to sit-ins organized by young activists and tried to “hijack” them by waving their factions’ flags.

Hussein Dimaci, a prominent activist in Shatila camp – one of Beirut’s largest – said one of the conditions of securing support for youth movements from the various factions was “that we raise their flags.”

Factions take representation very seriously, and every camp has someone who speaks on behalf of each of the different Palestinian political organizations. These representatives are appointed by the relevant group’s governing body within Palestine and tend to have held the position for a long time.

But Dimaci believes that these allegiances are handcuffing youth leaders, who are forced to tow the party line.

“If you are affiliated to the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization] or any other party ... you don’t have any independence,” he said.

“If you are independent from these organizations, you can do as you please.”

This is one of the main sources of tension: While independent youth activists opt to wave the Palestinian flag during demonstrations, party loyalists usually prefer to demonstrate under their group’s banner.

Hajj Rifaat Shanaa, a senior member of Fatah in the Mar Elias camp, saw this as a natural occurrence rather than as a problem, and said members from all factions had been protesting regularly under multiple banners.

“Every day people go out after iftar [dusk] and taraweeh [nighttime Ramadan] prayers ... The camps have local demonstrations and youth demonstrations, they are not political,” he said by phone.

“People are carrying flags of Fatah and Hamas and all different factions,” Shanaa added.

For Fatah, one of the main concerns about the youth activist-organized events is what officials characterize as a disregard for the Lebanese rule of law.

“We go out for a demonstration in Tyre with permission from the Lebanese Army,” said Mohammad Diqai, information officer for Fatah in the southern city.

“The youth grab a car and go out without asking for permission. It’s the right of the Lebanese government to protect the security of the country,” Diqai said.

“Four or five days ago they burned the car tires of the Lebanese Army, is this a good thing? No it is not. Does this serve Gaza?” he asked. “They are too enthusiastic. I’m doubtful that they’re Palestinian.”

“In these cases, we get involved immediately because the relationship between the camps and the Lebanese Army is very important.”

Shanaa agreed: “When you ignore the rules and regulations of the camps, you create tension between the camps and the Lebanese Army.”

“The problem among the youth is overenthusiasm,” Diqai concluded. “Some of them, they love their country, but some of them have the ambitions to be leaders.”

For many, this is the root problem: a simmering tension between the young and the old, between the potential leaders of tomorrow and the leaders of today.

Hatem Mogdadi, a coordinator for the Palestinian Youth Network, said most youth did not relate to their leaders or the parties they represented. “Most of these youth activists come from Fatah families but they don’t identify with the current Fatah vision,” he explained.

Dimaci agreed, lamenting, “Today, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas ... if you have a long-term plan then tell us.”

Shatila camp activist Abdel-Hadi said he believed party figures were threatened by youth groups who they see as angling to usurp them.

But “competition is positive not negative,” Dimaci added.

“Now they’ve started to work more and we work more. The goal for the Palestinian youth is a Palestinian state, but when we work together we’re stronger.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 28, 2014, on page 4.

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Summary

As the weekslong bombardment of Gaza by Israeli armed forces continues, with the death toll topping 1,000 over the weekend, several youth organizations within Lebanon's numerous Palestinian camps are organizing demonstrations almost daily.

But there is increasing tension between such groups and more established political factions over how to show solidarity with Gaza, youth activists told The Daily Star.

Factions take representation very seriously, and every camp has someone who speaks on behalf of each of the different Palestinian political organizations.

But Dimaci believes that these allegiances are handcuffing youth leaders, who are forced to tow the party line.

Hajj Rifaat Shanaa, a senior member of Fatah in the Mar Elias camp, saw this as a natural occurrence rather than as a problem, and said members from all factions had been protesting regularly under multiple banners.

For many, this is the root problem: a simmering tension between the young and the old, between the potential leaders of tomorrow and the leaders of today.


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