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Generation Oslo: Palestinian Youth Rising
IMEU, Mar 31, 2011
As protests rage across the Arab world challenging authoritarian regimes and bringing some to an end, it has become clear that the age group dubbed "Generation Y" or "Generation Next" is playing the largest role. For this generation of Palestinians, the Oslo Accords of 1993 played a major role in shaping their perspectives on paths to peace and achieving their freedom. The series of profiles listed below explores the political views, aspirations, and activities of "Generation Oslo."
The profiles below can be quoted and are available for republication.
Twenty-two-year-old student and blogger Lina Al-Sharif's bubbly personality contrasts markedly with the weighty subject matter of her writing.
In her blog, "Live From Gaza: 360 Km² of Chaos," and through social media like Twitter and Facebook, Lina chronicles life in the besieged Gaza Strip, along with her observations on politics.
"2010 was a continuation of devaluing the lives of the Palestinians by leaving them languishing in open air prisons," she wrote in a typical post. "In the West Bank, a gray wall of separation colored by pains of discrimination, dehumanization, and disconnection."
Lina is in her final semester at the Islamic University of Gaza, studying English literature, and aspires to work professionally as a journalist, but feels a deep uncertainty about her future.
"Everything is so uncertain, I even doubt the word 'choices' here. Ever since Israel's severe blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2007, so many things are imposed and you're forced to follow certain decisions made for you by others."
Self-described "geeky activist" Muhammad Khatib says he is usually hesitant about joining street demonstrations, until a demonstration in Ramallah in January in solidarity with democracy protesters in Egypt.
"I was all the time involved online, but not in the streets. With Gaza - the flotilla ships - I was active on Facebook and tweeting about this stuff. My first time [demonstrating] on the street was the Egypt one," he says.
Khatib has interned with Google in Switzerland, and is waiting for a US visa to join the company as a full time employee in California. Since graduating from Birzeit University last year, he launched a startup called Bazinga, a shared workspace and incubator for other startups. He also works on a variety of other tech-related initiatives, like Palexo, a laptop drive for Palestinian schoolchildren.
A Palestinian citizen of Israel born in Nazareth, Najwan Berekdar says she went through an "identity journey" in her teens and early twenties.
"I was living inside Israel. My whole history was erased from the history books, and I was not aware of what it means to be Palestinian. Even my parents didn't talk about it because everyone was trying to avoid politics," she recalls of her childhood.
Then a relative was killed in the second intifada, which began in 2000.
Born in the northern West Bank town of Tulkarem, Quzmar said that from an early age he felt that the occupation determined almost all aspects of his life. "The first time I saw my dad was when I was four years old because he was in prison. My dad spent eight to nine years in prison when I was a child."
While Quzmar has been involved this year in organizing demonstrations demanding Palestinian unity, he regards this as only a first step toward reestablishing a national liberation movement: "Ending the internal division is not a real demand. Since when is the ceiling of our demands for Fatah and Hamas to divide ministries between them?"
Describing his own predicament and where he draws his motivation, Quzmar says, "This is not a normal life. I'm not living in a normal country, in Italy, in France or in Spain. We are a nation with no state. We have been denied our basic right to self-determination. We are oppressed. We live under a colonial occupation. This motivates you."
Student activist Beesan Ramadan draws inspiration for her work from the hardships of life in Nablus, a West Bank city which Israel encircled in the year 2000 with military checkpoints, severely restricting residents' freedom of movement.
"Nablus went through 10 years of a complete siege. Lots of curfews, lots of incursions," Ramadan said, recalling her childhood. She herself was banned from leaving the city for four years. Recently Israeli authorities barred her from leaving the West Bank to travel to Jordan.
Ramadan says her activism is about refusing to accept the circumstances into which she was born. "I live under occupation and I want to do something about it," she says. "I see a grownup with a sense of normalization of their situation and I tend to refuse that..."
Born in Jerusalem, educated at McGill University in Montreal, with work experience in Paris and the Gulf, Ramzi Jaber was the picture of successful Palestinian youth living abroad. But eight months ago he decided to put his talents to use at home, leaving his job as a structural engineer in Dubai to return to his hometown of Ramallah to organize TEDxRamallah, a local version of the popular worldwide lecture-based conference series.
Since the event is "the first TEDx happening under occupation," Jaber plans to hold the conference portion of the event in three physical locations: Bethlehem, Beirut, and Amman, in order to work around the travel restrictions faced by Palestinians. The conference will also have a strong web component.
The content of the conference, which is slated for April, is also grounded in the Palestinian experience.
If anyone is at the forefront of efforts to bring the energy of the current Arab revolutions to Palestine, it is Fadi Quran, who is one of a core of young activists organizing democracy demonstrations in the West Bank.
Quran and his cohort-using Facebook and traditional organizing techniques-are demanding Palestinian political unity as a step toward a renewed liberation struggle vis-à-vis Israel. They are preparing for a major protest on March 15 in both Ramallah and Gaza.
"The call for March 15th is for democratic elections and a whole new restructuring of the Palestinian National Council," he explained. "So there is one body that makes decisions, something similar to the ANC-the African National Congress."
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