A Palestinian disengagement

On the political level, youth feel neglected and far from the Palestinian decision-making process.

How would Little Red Riding Hood’s life be as a Palestinian? (photo credit: Jeroen Kransen/Wikimedia Commons)
How would Little Red Riding Hood’s life be as a Palestinian?
(photo credit: Jeroen Kransen/Wikimedia Commons)
I was watching the first two episodes of a new Palestinian animation series online when it hit me. This recent innovation, distributed mainly via social media, sends a beautiful yet alarming signal.
The hilarious three-minute videos display the Palestinian version of the world-famous characters Pinocchio and Little Red Riding Hood. How would their lives be as Palestinians? A young woman’s voice tells the story in a heavily rural accent.
With stinging humor she describes the Palestinian journey of these fictional characters.
They involve an unscientific belief in witchcraft, attempts to navigate the inevitable mission of marriage unscathed, and arrest and detention by the Israeli army. Unlike the original story, Palestinian Pinocchio – who was named after his grandfather – is honest. He really believes it when he tells his Israeli interrogator he believes the Palestinian reconciliation will succeed and Arabs will liberate the Palestinians.
Palestinian Little Red Riding hood – or Leila – leaves the house she shares with her extended family, covering her hair with the hood.
When the wolf sees her, he falls in love instantly and gives her a NIS 20 prepaid mobile phone card. After failing to convince Leila to give him the prepaid card, her brother tells the family about Leila’s affair.
Although a caption under the video says the Palestinian stories do not represent any specific characters, there’s a similarity between Leila’s fate and that of Aya Baradiya, a young woman who was killed in a so-called honor crime in Hebron last year. The video criticizes the questionable performance of non-governmental and feminist organizations who were featured in the video as Facebook activists, as opposed to real lobbyists.
Both content and art are high quality, craftily rendered in a manner no one but young professionals can pull off. And indeed, the team behind this privately funded series is in their 20s and 30s.
One might think the rise of capable self-starters in various fields should herald the emergence of a new system. However, the situation is a bit more difficult for young Palestinian professionals. There is a little-known war quietly being waged among Palestinians.
Few know of it and fewer care. The stakes are high, as they always are between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
It is a war of attrition between young professionals in their late 20s and early 30s and decision makers, the vast majority of whom are over 50.
Reading the bio of the animation company behind the video confirms the existence of this cold war. The owner of the creative company writes that the only thing the team members had in common was the desire to start their own business, which would enable them to unleash their creativity and free themselves from the restrictions imposed by their previous jobs.
I happen to be familiar with some of what the staff has struggled with in the Palestinian market, including bureaucracy, limited opportunities, the agendas of international donors and mind-numbing routine, in addition to a foggy career path. In our institutions, whether they are public, private or non-governmental, there is a marked dearth of individuals between the ages of 30 and 50 in leadership positions.
Many of the brightest of that generation have emigrated, seeking better pay and opportunities.
Those that remain are bound to an uncertain fate of decreasing economic opportunity and political instability. Add to this the fact that the overwhelming majority of private sector firms are family owned and operated, and a clearer picture emerges of the difficulty of finding opportunities in a job market that is largely based on the limited demand for secretarial and simple administrative positions.
ON THE political level, youth feel neglected and far from the Palestinian decision-making process. How could it be otherwise when the “young guard” of the Fatah Central Committee are all over 50? Change is occurring very slowly. It might be surprising to some that most of the current Palestinian political party leadership ascended to power following the death of the previous leadership. This fact speaks volumes about the lack of change needed to revive Palestinian political life.
Back in 2010, I attended a political meeting of several party leaders and politicians when a group of energetic young men and women came to protest the Palestinian Authority’s decision to prevent demonstrations supporting the revolution in Tunisia.
A Fatah official was unhappy with the point they were raising; he said that the Tunisian regime embraced the Palestinian revolutionaries in the Eighties and Nineties and that it would be “ungrateful” for Palestinians to turn their back on Ben-Ali now. Hanan Ashrawi, a PLO member, refused to submit to this attempt to curtail the people’s right to expression.
The demonstration took to the streets of Ramallah.
The reason behind the PA’s decision to ban demonstrations was the fear that Palestinians in these troubled countries might be expelled, a claim that did not seem convincing to the youth who were enthused to support their Arab peers.
Internally, the youth long for a change, and change is inevitable, but cross-generational understanding is lacking. The elders lack the creativity and the adaptability of the new generation.
They don’t trust the youngsters to lead and are afraid of change in an exceedingly complex world they no longer understand.
They also seem to be unwilling to meet the youngsters in the middle.
To them preserving the status quo appears preferable to initiating a process of change they cannot imagine.
The new generation has a great potential and is struggling to actualize it. Facebook initiatives and Twitter hash-tags aspire to greater dialogue, role and activity. Hopefully these are precursors to a more informed and organized citizenry.
However, the issues that plague Palestine, from the conflict with Israel to internal challenges both political and economic, require a high level of technical know-how and experience to address.
But I am hopeful that our generation will be able offer and implement innovative and realistic solutions to these problems. The Palestinian population is predominantly young – 60 percent between the ages of 14 and 59, and 36% between the ages of 0 and 14. And as more and more young adults hope to enter the job market, earn a living and start families, the PA and the PLO will be under pressure to provide economic opportunities and a political horizon to the conflict with Israel.
Change is what Palestinians need. Ironically their inability to adapt to the challenges of the past, that resulted in monumental failures for the Palestinian people, is perhaps what has made them frightened to embrace the future.
The void left by the elders will take much time to fill, but the older generation, although wary of change and exhausted by a long list of failures, has to pass on the torch – and the sooner the better, for us all.
The writer is a Palestinian freelance journalist and producer working in the West Bank. [email protected] hotmail.com