A view from Ramallah

"The Palestinian people are as fragmented as the teen cliques on the street corners of Ramallah."

Ramallah rally 298.88 (photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli)
Ramallah rally 298.88
(photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli)
Standing at the second-story window of her downtown Ramallah apartment, 18-year-old Loubna can easily name the cliques that gather below. Like any teen, her eye is trained to the minutiae of their outer appearance. The difference between a navy or baby blue sweater, pointed or squared heel and gelled or oiled hair is not lost on her. Her yardstick - the observance of traditional or religious values - is her means of placing her peers in the groups she believes will foretell their eventual place in society. She lists them off in order of decreasing observance. There are the girls with slack robes and tightly secured, somber hijabs, wound around their entire hairlines and neck. Next are the girls with curled bangs peeping out from their colorful scarves, fitted jeans and colorful sweaters. Farther along are the girls with loose hair, high heels and painted toenails. The last group is by far the smallest. "You can tell a lot by a way a girl dresses. You can tell what type of man she wants to marry. What type of family she comes from. What she represents and believes in," Loubna says. "People say you can tell what political party someone belongs to by how they dress." She is reluctant to say for whom she would vote - but makes it clear that the choice between Hamas and Fatah is one that concerns many of her peers. "There is Fatah, which we all know and which the West recognizes and gives money to. This is good for us," she says. "On the other hand, there is Hamas, which has respect and gives us hope. They are also true believers." Loubna seems to fall in between. She is a devout Muslim, praying daily and wearing a full head covering, but she often wears pants and other Western-style clothing. She wants to obtain a degree in bioengineering and work in a medical lab, but she also wants to get married and raise her family with Islamic traditions. Youths like Loubna are the prime targets for an emerging group of moderate Palestinian political movements. Aimed at recruiting young people in their early teens to late 20s, the new leaders are mixing traditional Islamic beliefs with moderate political policies to try to entice them away from the mainstream parties. Loubna and her family are waiting to see what type of changes will be made with the new money promised post-Annapolis by the international community before they decide how to cast their votes. They keep a close eye on projects such as the new initiatives by Quartet envoy Tony Blair, welcoming any change in the stagnant economy. "We want practical things," says Loubna, who wants leadership that will yield more than just promises for change. She has heard of the Wasatia movement from friends at Bir Zeit University, but is waiting to see how it develops before she attends a meeting or learns more. "Political parties are like children. In the beginning, they are unsure and still developing," she says. The Palestinian people, she adds, are as fragmented as the teen cliques on the street corners of Ramallah.