Below is my latest article for the Electronic Intifada
Palestinians were in disbelief over the news of a reconciliation deal between the two largest Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, brokered by Egypt which, meanwhile, repeated that ending the siege is a priority. Palestinian youth living in the besieged Gaza Strip were quick to start envisioning a new life in a Gaza free from both from the political divisions and the siege.
In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections, beating Fatah into second place. Fatah has long dominated the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and controlled the Palestinian Authority since it was created after the 1993 Oslo accords. Hamas is not a member of the PLO.
A year later, a short-lived Palestinian national unity government uniting the factions fell apart amid US-supported efforts to undermine it, and Hamas ousted Fatah from the Gaza Strip in a distressing fierce ground battle.
Ever since, the population of Gaza has been destined to live under severe hermetic siege imposed by Israel along with the former Egyptian government of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
Plenty of reports were written addressing the humanitarian crisis that resulted from this siege, along with Israel’s aggressive policies toward Palestinian civilians. Solidarity convoys have cascaded into Gaza one after another in an attempt to alleviate the suffering inflicted upon the Palestinians as a result of the siege.
For the youth in Gaza, one thing, however, has been bizarrely disregarded, which is the positive side of Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip.
Despite its many severely negative results, Israel’s siege of Gaza has offered Palestinian youth a service none had offered before. It offered new paths for us in our struggle for freedom, deepened our patriotic sentiment and finally created an environment that fosters a collective sense of selflessness and cooperation. It has created a young generation that truly cares.
Back in 2006, when Israel’s policies to besiege Gaza were still new, the people of Gaza were still unable to estimate the magnitude of the debacle ahead of them. Shortly after, prices started to shoot up, crossing borders became difficult, ubiquitous power cuts mercilessly dominated every aspect of life.
It was unthinkable, even for the Palestinians in Gaza, that they would be able to carry on with their new life for a long time.
Perhaps that was Israel’s logic. They might have thought: “They won’t be able to tolerate the base life we will force them to live under, we will suffocate them from every direction, we will cause them so much pain to bear. Soon they will blow up from within.”
But we didn’t. And unexpectedly, almost four years since the siege has started, and despite pervasive misery, human suffering and collective punishment, life still goes on.
For us, the youth in Gaza, life under siege was profoundly different. Unable to cope with its oppressiveness, life at first was intolerably tormenting. Anger and frustration were the outcome of our dashed hopes each time we came to realize the fact that ending this siege was anything but foreseeable.
Helpless, we were left to the vast amount of darkness surrounding our minds and bodies. Every now and then, we could escape this suffering momentarily as we loosened ourselves of our oppressive surroundings. This meant spending some time by the Gaza seashore dotted with Israeli warships at night, or at some cafe nearby where the musical bubbling of our water pipes were inescapably mingled with the unnerving hums of a few frenzied power generators.
However, no matter how much we tried to separate ourselves from the political context surrounding us, we couldn’t. We were thrown back into it by the huge extent of misery imposed upon us.
Many of us thus were left with a political mindset which ultimately triggered us into fruit-bearing action.
Plenty of Gaza youth have had an interest in politics, following up on news, reading reports and analyses. Reading has become the last and sole resort when we had nothing else to do. Soon we were demanding more and more books to read.
Reading has struck a new light in the dark; it has blown new winds into the stillness, and added flavor to our humdrum lives. It was too beautiful to resist. Besides reading, many Gaza youth remarkably developed an interest in documenting Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians through writing, blogging, making films and networking. Israel was their interest. Everything that has to do with Israel was worth stopping for; it was a sign of sophisticated interest. On the ground, hyper-activism was largely manifest in the immense variety of activities carried out and administered by youth groups, social movements and networks.
One of the remarkable youth groups newly initiated inside Gaza is the Palestine Youth Advocacy Network “PYAN”— which is also a word in Arabic that could mean exposition, representation, rhetoric or radiance, all of which have to do with the nature of work the team undertakes.
The network defines itself as “a fresh movement towards democratic endeavors in Palestine and breaking misconceptions about the occupied territories through global dialogue and reporting from the ground.” It operates regularly, holding workshops in coordination with international and local institutions with the intention of “[playing] an innovative role in assisting the Palestinian youth get the knowledge and acquire the skills needed to be up to the challenge of advocating their cause and sacred rights in the face of the misinformation imposed by the western mainstream media.”
Samah Saleh, a cofounder of PYAN, told me what role the siege has played in setting up the advocacy network and the abundance of other youth groups:
“The siege has everything to do with the emergence of PYAN. Gaza has been under siege for about four years, quite the same years young Gazans my age [have] been busy attempting to understand the interaction of global, regional and internal politics on their lives. In Gaza, the siege was the elephant in the room and Gazans were on their own, living, defying the siege’s intrusion on their every life, no matter how simple. We formed PYAN to be the platform of Gaza’s youth that addresses their urgent need to bring their stories out of besieged Gaza to the world.”
It isn’t quite appealing to speak of the inhumane siege without focusing on Israel’s crimes against Palestinian civilians. But having already blasted away any cliched representation of ourselves as terrorists, we now refuse to be continuously framed as dying of hunger or retreating to a corner and sitting in the dark. Our ability to turn each suffering into a source of inspiration preserves our dignity and fuels our unstoppable determination.