RESILIENCE AND HOPE: YOUTH AND PEACE BUILDING IN PALESTINE

15 August, 2017 News No comments

Today’s younger generations of Palestinians desperately need to become more engaged in community peacebuilding activities to end the division of Palestinian society.

The engagement of the younger generation in civil society work to promote peacebuilding concepts and practices at both grassroots and political levels is necessary for restoring order and security in societies divided by conflict and violence. This is particularly true of Gaza in Palestine where the inhabitants live in an environment where there is violence, extreme poverty and a lack of freedom.

Palestinian youth and civil society face many challenges related to the harsh circumstances imposed by a lack of peace, security and economic development since the failure of the so called ‘Peace Process’ in 2000 between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel. There have, however, been a variety of projects and programmes installed to raise youth awareness and the importance of civil society values and practices to achieve human rights, peacebuilding and good governance that help bring hope to a young generation, despite some of the local cynicism.

Cynicism towards youth

I always remember the cynical questions raised by many Palestinian citizens while engaging in civil society activities at different levels: “What kind of civil society under occupation are you talking about?” “How will civil society promote and advocate the values of peacebuilding under a territory experiencing foreign occupation?” There are still some Palestinian intellectuals, leaders and activists who do not believe in education for peacebuilding in a country under occupation, but they believe strongly in community peacebuilding to restore the order and security of their own society, after years of division and the failure of the ‘peace process’.

They also go beyond just cynicism and move into absolute pessimism and defeatism by asking: “How can empowering youth in peacebuilding be effective, while they still suffer from the violence under Israeli occupation and a lack of freedom?” “How will civil society organisations promote and persuade youth to become engaged in activities while an overwhelming majority are poor, jobless and losing hope in the future?”

An example is often raised that during the last five years, several young people committed suicide in the Gaza Strip, owing to the harsh economic and social circumstances. This society, however, has little experience of suicide, as it is known for its spirit of religious education and social solidarity, which have always prevailed and are considered to be the highest in the region.

Cynics believe that talking about the empowerment of youth involvement in peacebuilding activities in Gaza is a matter of ‘idealism’ and ‘luxury’, a waste of resources and time because they see such pursuits as being only achievable through concurrently obtaining freedom and national independence in a viable Palestinian state. Cynics often point out that there were many peacebuilding activities implemented in the Green Line between 1995 and 2000.

Many Palestinian citizens from the various health, NGOs and environmental sector participated at capacity building development courses inside the Green Line. They enjoyed education, trips and nice food, but not sustained peace or security, as the main cause of the problems, the need to establish of a Palestinian state, had not yet been solved. These activities passed without any glimpse of hope or peace after the failure of the ‘peace process’ that led to the breakout of various cycles of violence including the latest war in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014 and changed both the context and style of life, after massive destruction.

Life Style

Image credit: UN Photo/Flickr.
The Palestinian people are used to the daily life style of suffering and the absence of human security; they lost their top priority of securing their own basic human, needs during the failure of the 2000 ‘peace process’ and the collective punishment policies exercised by the occupation. They have lost their own economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community, political and human security. In 1994, the UNDP defined human security, which is achieved when people can exercise their choices safely and freely, and when they can be relatively confident that the opportunities they have today will not be entirely lost tomorrow.

The Gazan people cannot plan their own day without any interruption, owing to the circumstances imposed by a lack of electricity, pollution and a devastated economy. As Mohammed Srour, a field researcher at a human rights organisation in Gaza says

“The Palestinian people now busy with their own daily affairs, living without electricity and facing the entire closure on the strip and the invasion of pollution of their environment and beaches, owing to the lack of electricity. The citizens have no place to go in Gaza to escape the heat of the summer because of the lack of electricity. The sewage flows into the sea as the pumps and wasting stations do not work without electricity. The beaches are fully polluted and people cannot enjoy swimming in the sea to escape from the extreme heat any more in most coastal areas”.

Gaza’s economy has actually been virtually stagnant for the past ten years, with an average annual real GDP growth rate over the decade not exceeding 1.44%, while Gaza’s population has grown by 38.4% over the same period.

Today’s younger generations of Palestinians desperately need to become more engaged in community peacebuilding activities to end the division of Palestinian society. But the dire circumstances have deepened the wounds of Gazan society and made the life of the younger generation almost unbearable and impossible. Consequently, many young Palestinians have decided to leave rather than stay and help build peace.

The Brain Drain of Palestinian Youth

Many young minds have already left Palestine to find a new environment and hope. More than 21 young people who attempted to find their way to Europe lost their lives in the Mediterranean in 2014 when one of their boats was wrecked and their fate is still unknown to this day. However, the rest of the youth who could not leave after the full closure of the tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Egypt spend their time navigating social media and the internet.

They enjoy their chats which help them escape from the harsh politics and economic realities, attempting to watch any developments posted by other fellows or friends online. Facebook, in particular, is considered their own ideal ‘city’ of information and it is a way of ‘killing the time’, as many young people are always informing me when I have a conversation with them. They have lost hope in local politicians, political groups, the international community and civil society organisations in helping them to change their circumstances. There are many who accuse these actors of lying, trading off and using the suffering of the Gazans to increase their power, wealth and business. But not all have abandoned hope.

Resilience and Hope

Despite the seemingly dire straits of life, the youths of Palestine are still resilient enough to try change the de facto situation, by engaging in community initiatives. They have, for example, on different occasions, engaged in non-violent and peaceful protests to contribute to the ending of the circumstances in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. For example, the youth march movement in 2012 during ‘the Arab Spring’ to end the Palestinian division. After 2014 war in Gaza, they also participated actively, in non-violent activities to end the siege in the Gaza Strip by protesting close to the ‘buffer zone’ or in front of the ‘security fence’ with Israel in the Gaza Strip.

Now, in 2017, the Palestinian youth, across their homeland, have seized the initiative again to protest peacefully against the closure of Al Aqsa. They are still seeking a better future and attempting to find any opportunity for hope and change. They attempt to find out about the latest leaks of reconciliation between Hamas and a Fatah wing in the Gaza Strip to end the conflict between the two sides that has divided the Palestinian house. If reconciliation takes place between the two sides, it will contribute to changing the social and political circumstances of the entire society and of youth in particular.

In addition to these political developments, there have been a number of community activities to help keep youth hopeful for a better future. For example, the Gaza youth UNRWA Football team that won the Norway Cup last year continued preparation and already left the Strip for Denmark and Norway to participate in two different international football tournaments in the last week of July and the First week of August. This kind of participation always gives youth and the whole society hope that there is still a bright future coming soon where they can achieve justice, peace and freedom.

Dr Ibrahim Natil is a Fellow at the Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction, Dublin City University http://iicrr.ie/people/fellows/dr-ibrahim-natil/. He is an international human rights campaigner, nominee for the Tällberg Foundation Global Leadership Prize, 2016 and the founder of Society Voice Foundation http://www.mbialumniassociation.org/alumni-news/news-folder/year-of-publication/2016/qa-ibrahim-natil/

International Campaign: Raise the Voices of Victims and Advocate the Rights of Displaced Families

6 December, 2016 News No comments

In 2016, SVF organised 5 international advocacy meetings in cooperation with civil society organisations in Belgium, Ireland and UK to discuss the issues of displaced families in Gaza post-2014. The last meeting taken place in cooperation with CAABU at SOAS, University of London on November 30th, 2016.
The department of Law, Maynooth University also hosted a seminar to discuss the issue of displaced communities on November 24th, 2016. Nenegh Friends of Palestine also hosted a public Talk organised to discuss the displaced communities of Gaza and Challenges of Reconstruction on November 18th, 2016. In Nenegh, It was great to have TD Jackie Cahill attend the talk. Jackie said that the Irish Government should recognise the State of Palestine, as a solidarity measure, and has offered to put down a parliamentary question (PQ) in the Dail on the matter. He said that it is incredible that Israel is destroying Palestinian houses and infrastructure, often funded by the EU. Given Ireland’s historical experience of occupation and colonisation, Irish people should offer every support to the justice for people in this region.
This is part of a project implemented by Society Voice Foundation (SVF) in cooperation with Human Rights and International Human Law Secretariat which aims to raise and advocate the rights of displaced families whose homes were demolished by the Israeli military during the 2014 conflict and who have been waiting for their homes to be rebuilt ever since. SVF’s representative and founder Dr. Ibrahim Natil shared the findings of recent field study on displaced communities in the Gaza Strip implemented by Society Voice Foundation.

SVF launched Advocacy for Displaced Families and Demolished Houses in Gaza Strip Project

1 December, 2015 News No comments

On December 1, 2015, Society Voice Foundation- SVF launched this 12 months project to advocate the rights of displaced families whose homes were demolished by the Israeli war machines during the summer 2014. This project is funded by Human Rights and IHL Secretariat to raise the concerns and demands of these families who lost their houses at the national and international levels. SVF will lead campaigns to influence the decision makers from the public, international and local organizations to achieve the demands of these vulnerable families including children, women and elderly people. SVF will raise the demands of these people of rebuilding their homes and integrating them in their locations once again. To do so, SVF will organize a national network of at least 50 key civil society activists and organizations from all social and political spectrums to support the campaign. The activities of the national network led by SVF will engage the national and international media to raise the concerns of displaced people to various decision makers and relevant organizations. Campaign also involves conducting public debate activities including hall town meetings, focus groups, local and regional conferences and high level meetings in all areas of the Gaza Strip.

 

There have been thousands of Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip affected by the last Israeli military operation summer 2014. This operation has already created a new environment of destruction, family displacement overloaded with devastating psychological problems. It has left 100,000 Gazans homeless and over 2,100 dead, the majority of them Palestinian civilians, compared with 76 Israeli fatalities, all soldiers. These displaced people have lost their homes and dignity when they found themselves without any shelter. All mechanisms of rebuilding their houses have already failed to do so due to a number of restrictions and de factor situations in the Gaza Strip. This complicated and hostile environment imposes huge challenges on PA. It has already increased pressures and demands on work of local and international organizations including UNRWA to achieve their agenda of peace and development. This has created massive new challenges for PA, Hamas, International organizations and Gaza NGOs as they struggle to meet citizens’ needs and demands transparently and efficiently, not least because resources are sorely lacking after 10 years of blockades. The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, following his first visit to Gaza, on 29 April, 2015 said “No human being who visits can remain untouched by the terrible devastation that one sees here in Gaza and as shocking as the devastation of the buildings might be the devastation of peoples’ livelihoods is 10 times more shocking”.

 

Thus, peace, relief and development process face a various ranges of serious challenges due to high level of hostile political environment and absence of human security at all levels. The Gaza Strip has been living in very inhuman and risky circumstances since 2006. The Gaza Strip is isolated from the entire world by complicated closure and restrictions on the movement of people and goods. The society also faces very high level of unemployment, youth addictions on drugs, lack of jobs and resources. The coastal Strip will face a very serious problem as Gazans may effectively unable to access usable water in 2020. The entire populations including are dependent on the international assistance. They also suffer from high level of psychological problems because the coastal strip faced three different large scales of Israeli military offensives that caused major loses of lives among youth, women and children and destruction of already impoverished infrastructure.

However, the United Nations mechanism to reconstruct the Gaza Strip after the last war in summer 2014 has a limited progress. “Gaza reconstruction will take a century to complete due the Israeli blockade” (Oxfam, 2015). The slow mechanism of recovery is another serious challenge on Hamas transformation to play a real role in peace building in Gaza Strip. The security environment in Gaza Strip is very fragile as the entire population has been suffering from the impact of the latest war, closure, slow process of reconstruction and the failure of internal Palestinian reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah in addition to the peace process between PLO and Israel.

Empowerment Women Civic Engagement and Public Freedoms

2 September, 2015 News No comments

SVF is currently implementing a program “Empowerment Women Civic Engagement and Public Freedoms” in cooperation with WWDP. SVF aims at empowering women civic participation in public policies and freedoms. It also aims at promoting women free of expression and rights by activating a grassroots network and implementing a number of capacity building, awareness, social audit, monitoring, advocacy and media activities. To doing so, SVF will empower women leaders from different areas of social and political sciences, development, journalism, public relations, media aged 18-24 years old. SVF will empower them on principles and techniques of civic participation, monitoring, advocacy, information technology, transparency, accountability and legislation. Technically, SVF will coordinate with five women CBOs from different areas to empower the target groups practice their newly acquired skills by forming women grassroots forums. The forums will lead participant women to conduct public advocacy campaigns to improve their civic engagement in public policies at all levels.
SVF would like to see the power of women leaders’ contribution to improving the situations of their targeted groups on the concept and practices of free of expression and public freedoms. Women would contribute actively to promote society’s values and practices of respecting empowering women’s equal social and political participation at all levels. Women would put into practice their new skills and knowledge of empowerment women social and political participation. Women would elect their representatives in different positions in social and political life. They would contribute to improve the social delivery of local organisations from gender and social accountability perspectives. Young women leaders would have a worthwhile opportunity to empower their political practices through community work and participating in social accountability campaigns.
These activities will provide a real indication of changes happened on the lives of group young women leaders who empowered in techniques of leadership capacities with emphasis on free of expression, community voluntary work and elimination all forms of discrimination against women. The Palestinian society in Gaza Strip and the West Bank has been living in very serve circumstances and lack of human security at all levels due to the absence of peace process, economic development and the Palestinian division. Therefore, Palestinian women have witnessed these days unprecedented state of poor public freedoms, socio-political deadlock at all levels due to the paralyzed political system, social and geographic division and hardship economic life. The whelming majority of women aged 18-24 years old in Gaza Strip and the West Bank including Jerusalem and area C is jobless and suffering from high level of poverty, and lack of opportunities. Women also suffer from ineffective, inefficient and insufficient policies in the public life, which have already made their lives in a worse situation. Women have been practically misused by the politicians to achieve very narrow political interests regardless good governance practices, active grassroots engagement and community participation. Women have no real influences over the public policies and record a very low of civic participation. Women who call for change, improving human rights, democracy and peace building would face a number of social and political threats. They are banned from freedom of expression, freedom of media, the right of associations, and the right to organize peaceful actions and marches.