“We need to make our voices heard”
Youth political participation in the occupied Palestinian territory
On Saturday 13th May, Palestinians across the West Bank went to the polls to elect the leaders of their municipal councils. It was an important day, not least because the elections have been postponed twice since last year.
However, originally scheduled to be held across the country, the elections were boycotted by a number of Palestinian political parties - including the governing authority in Gaza – who felt that the political atmosphere was not conducive to elections.
For Palestinian youth, economic hardships and endless frustrations coupled with a shrinking political space and living under occupation render them less interested or even indifferent about the fragile political situation in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).
Levels of political participation among youth are alarmingly low in the oPt; studies show that some 70% of young Palestinians are politically inactive.
Despite forming 30% of the population, youth in Palestine have limited say in the decisions that affect their lives, despite their high potential to be active agents for change.
ActionAid works with young people, supporting them to understand and engage with issues of rights and democratic participation. One project – implemented in collaboration with our national partner Masarat - aims to help youth generate alternative ideas for a political system that can meet their aspirations.
Qamar, a 27 year old young woman from Hebron, is one of the project’s participants. She thinks it’s important that young people are involved in politics.
“There are different types of political participation; the Palestinian people are all knowledgeable in different ways and at different levels,” says Qamar. “I believe that as people living under occupation, we should have a level of political awareness and knowledge of the occupier”.
Another participant, Tahani, 26, agrees: “We need to be politically active to try to change the miserable situation; things are getting worse but we need it [political activism] to deliver our messages and make our voices heard”.
However, a large segment of the Palestinian youth do not share such enthusiasm for many reasons, mostly economic but also the lack of trust in the current political system, internal political divisions and social pressure.
“Only one political path is available and you cannot deviate from it. The results of any election are already known because there is only one party anyway,” comments one young person.
“Most of the people in my social sphere are inactive politically; and those who are active are limited to one direction only,” says Tahani. “Also, the social pressure is unbearable when it comes to political participation. We are expected to follow a certain path and that makes it even harder to push for change”.
“When it comes to my social circle,” adds Qamar, “I feel they have neither national nor political sense and I believe it is because of the difficult economic situation, the unwillingness to be affiliated with a political party and of course fear of persecution. There is also a cultural element to it - for instance, the view that women should not be involved politically.”
ActionAid believes in the power of youth to bring change to their communities and improve the situation in the oPt.
“The Palestinian youth are strong and resilient, they have endured a great deal but they are still filled with hopes and power and they show that repeatedly,” says ActionAid Youth Project Officer Mai Alqaisi.
“Well-informed and proactive political engagement is what the youth need to be more influential and have a greater say in their futures.”