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PREMIERE PARTIE

Alterity Across Generations 

A Comparative Analysis of the 1950’s Jeel al-Thawra and the 2006 Palestinian Youth Movement
Altérité transgénérationnelle : Analyse comparative du Jeel al-Thawra des années 1950 et du Mouvement des Jeunes Palestiniens de 2006.
Mjriam Abu Samra et Loubna Qutami

Résumés

Les accords d’Oslo de 1993 marquent le passage d’un projet de libération anticolonial à un projet néolibéral de construction de l’État porté par l’establishment politique palestinien. Un passage non dénué de paradoxe puisque la génération « post-Oslo » qui aurait dû se réjouir des bienfaits de l’État doit porter le fardeau d’une colonisation néolibérale complexe de la terre et d’une oppression du peuple, sans jamais bénéficier des soi-disant droits à la citoyenneté et à la souveraineté. Au lieu de quoi les formes systémiques d’oppression se sont accrues tandis que la jeunesse assume le choc d’une nation palestinienne affaiblie, fragmentée tant bien géographiquement qu’idéologiquement. Cet article décrit la complexité des conditions coloniales palestiniennes après Oslo du point de vue de jeunes organisateurs transnationaux. Il relate les fondements, le développement et les défis du Mouvement de la jeunesse palestinienne (MJP) entre 2006 et 2015. Les auteurs proposent une analyse comparative du processus de développement du MJP juxtaposée aux expériences des mouvements de jeunes et d’étudiants palestiniens des années 1950 et 1960 de façon à comprendre comment et pourquoi ces jeunes en arrivent à s’ancrer dans une altérité politique essentielle aux processus révolutionnaires des peuples occupés et dépossédés.

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Introduction

  • 1 We utilize the term shatat (loosely translated as Diaspora) to refer to Palestinians in exile. We a (...)
  • 2 We have looked to Ilan Pappes’s book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine to illustrate the ways in w (...)

1There are few phrases which have hurt Palestinians so deeply as “peace process.” For Palestinian communities—both within the homeland and in the shatat1 (diaspora)—the peace process has come to signify the parceling of Palestinian land, the fragmentation of Palestinian society across geographic and factional dispersions, a collapse of institutional liberation memory, national infrastructure and strategy and a calcification of intra-communal Palestinian violence and oppression (Abu Samra 2015). As Israeli land-annexation and ethnic cleansing policies mounted following the 1993 Oslo Accords,2 Palestinians experienced the greatest blow to collective strength they could have imagined. Since 1993, the Palestinian political establishment has resorted to the development of neoliberal racial capitalism as part of the creation of a nation-state political authority apparatus, all while still under colonial occupation (Clarno 2017). These shifts have had colossal effects on the everyday lives of Palestinians in the homeland (Dana 2015). The attempted development of a Palestinian quasi-state on only a fraction of historic Palestine has also left five million Palestinian refugees to perish in camps across the region, scattered once again by new wars (Hardan 2016) leaving the shatat to feel betrayed by the promise of return and liberation (Schulz 2005).

2Since it’s creation (May 1994), the Palestinian Authority (PA) has exercised its political power primarily through claiming its “legitimate” right to unilateral representation through regional and international diplomatic channels (Khalil 2013). But the PA’s strategies have proven futile in bringing about collective Palestinian political power and/or freedom and reconciling the damage that the Oslo Accords produced upon Palestinian land and life. Worse, the PA, in collusion with the Israeli security apparatus, has assumed an egregious role in policing Palestinian political resistance which has further exacerbated a system of factionalist division in the absence of a comprehensive liberation strategy (Tartir 2017). The consequences of the Oslo Accords has left a new generation in dire need of an overthrow of the Oslo framework and with limited means on how to achieve it (Qutami 2018). They have been left to shoulder the burden of passed-on traumas and the bleak reality of their contemporary political subjectivity without many of the forms of political-cultural capital or the revolutionary climate and grassroots liberation strategies and resources of previous generations of organizers (Abu Samra 2015, Qutami 2018).

  • 3 The “Nakba” was first coined by Pan-Arab thinker and scholar, Constantine Zurayk in his signature 1 (...)

3In this vein, it is youth for whom alterity—a radical break from the existing order and a cultivation of an alternative one—simultaneously functions as an aspiration, practice and anchor of boundless fervor, as it has for former generations of Palestinian strugglers, especially student organizers following the 1948 Nakba.3 The existing status quo and establishment political strategies are especially difficult pills to swallow for young people who desire more in this life than roadblocks, walls, prisons, interrogations, camps for homes and checkpoints. We note that youth, then, cannot be essentialized to simply describe a sector of Palestinian society disentangled from inter-generational relationalities (PYM 2012c). We also do not utilize youth as a marker of neoliberal progress, modernity and globalization, as it is often appropriated and hollowed of its revolutionary potential by NGOs and the teleological progress narratives of liberal democracy (Sukkarieh 2012, Tuck & Yang 2014).

4Informed by our involvement as founders and members of the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), for the two of us, “youth” is a political optic which has historically catalyzed liberatory movements, philosophies and strategies (Smelser & Baltes 2001, Wright & Roberts 2015). It is an optic in which radical approaches to revolutionary thought and practice are boundless with possibility, where youth often anchor processes for radical change for the broader society. In this essay, we draw from the Palestinian youth movements of the 1950s and 1960s to define and give meaning to the revolutionary ideals that youth engage with, represent and advance. We then link the revolutionary tenets of these youth movements to how similar ideals were fomented and engaged by the post-Oslo generation as we examine the 2006 formation and development of the transnational Palestinian Youth Network, which eventually became the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM).

5As anti-colonial intellectual giant Frantz Fanon notes, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it” (Fanon 1968: 206). In this essay, we explore how youth of two disparate generations theorized their mission and enacted strategies and practices for fulfilling it. We shed light on how internal processes for the post-Nakba student movement and the PYM reflect shared aspirations and challenges, as both, despite differences in time and context, derive from particular charachteristics of the Palestinian colonial condition. Lessons learned from these two generations of youth movements demonstrate the centrality of alterity as a shared framework.

After the Nakba: Jeel al-Thawra (The Generation of the Revolution)

6The 1948 Nakba represents a point of rupture in genealogies of Palestinian social, cultural and political life. For Palestinians today, this rupture has become the primary point of reference from which interwoven threads of Palestinian socio-political history have stemmed (Picaudou and Rodinson 1989). The establishment of the state of Israel necessarily relied on, and was made possible, by violence imposed upon the indigenous people of Palestine through policies of ethnic cleansing and dispossession (Masalha 2008, Pappe 2006). Dispossession and economic precarity impacted the way Palestinians attempted to reorganize their national structures. Statelessness and exile brought about a sense of physical and “social uprootedness” (Bruhns 1955: 133), obliterating the ability to maintain traditional practices and relationships to land and peoplehood.

7The Nakba produced a form of social annihilation which had three major impacts on the wellbeing of Palestinians and stimulated their early political mobilization in response. First, because of mounting fears that resettlement would foreclose the possibility of a return to Palestine, it “cemented [Palestinian] opposition to permanent resettlement” for refugees in host countries (Sayigh 1999: 147). Second, it reinforced the search for existing and development of new social structures that could maintain bonds of peoplehood across their dispersion, thus allowing them to revamp traditional relationships that characterized life in the villages of pre-Nakba Palestine. Finally, it spurred a constant, if not obsessive, commitment to education, as schooling was considered one of the only “way[s] out” (Sayigh 1979) of political, social, and economic annihalation that accompanied refugeehood. Especially because of their lack of access to rights-bearing citizenship, land-sovereignty and economic security, Palestinians saw their access to formal education as a form of cultural capital.

8As education became widely revered among the newly displaced Palestinian people, Palestinian students became an increasingly relevant sector of their scattered community. Symbols of hope and promise among the Palestinian people engulfed in despair, shock, and confusion, students came to articulate the aspirations of the people for external audiences, particularly their Arab compatriots. Further, in the era of global insurgency (1950s and1960s), students became interlocutors between their people’s conditions and global anti-colonial conversations (Nabulsi & Takriti 2016).

9Palestinian students initially pinned their hopes on Arab political parties who boasted of the forthcoming liberation of Palestinian land and its scattered people as a part of the wider anti-colonial ambitions of the region during this era. Although Pan-Arab parties had often espoused radical approaches in support of the Palestinian cause, young Palestinians soon became dissatisfied with what they sensed was a lack of a specific and effective political and military platform for the liberation of Palestine. Sensing that time was of the essence, Palestinian students grew increasingly hungry for action rather than hollow promises and began questioning whether or not the existing political powers would be able to indeed regain Palestine.

10Rosemary Sayigh summarizes different generations’ disparate orientations to political mobilization in the aftermath of the Nakba:

11First, the majority of the older generation, jeel Falesteen [“generation Palestine”] remained fixed to their pre-1948 loyalties, whether to national or provincial leaders, and distrusting the new political parties as divisive, or anti-religious. Second, a large number of the younger jeel al-nekba [“the generation of the Nakba”] joined the opposition movements, following the principle that a younger teacher expressed when he said: “We would have joined the Devil’s party if it had put Palestine among its aims.” Third, a very small minority examined the position of all the existing parties and decided that none of them had been able to provide a correct analysis of the Palestinian crisis, and thus that they were unlikely to provide a correct program of action to solve it (Sayigh 1979: 149).

  • 4 We note that transnational is most commonly used to refer to cross-national bonds of solidarity bet (...)

12Later called “jeel al-thawra,” (the generation of revolution) this third group was mainly comprised of students who desired a radical break from traditional politics in the 1950s, eventually taking the lead in the reorganization of Palestinian national institutions. They sought a political alterity that could rectify wounds from the Nakba despite the extreme forms of repression they would endure because of their political fervor. In particular, Palestinian students implemented new strategies geared toward reorganizing their dispersed society and situating the Palestinian cause at the core of regional and global politics. To do this, they developed transnational strategies, structures and visions.4 A new site of political articulation for the Palestinian people, the student organizations became the first and only bodies democratically elected by their constituencies, garnering legitimacy for rising leaders who arguably represented the Palestinian people’s grassroots ambitions.

13These ambitions were articulated differently by the diverse range of youth leaders of that generation. In 1952 in Cairo, the Palestinian Student Union (PSU) was reorganized around a political platform devoted only to Palestine and Palestinians, virtually detached from any specific party interests (Abu Iyad & Rouleau 1981). The political activism of Palestinian students in Cairo laid the basis for the establishment of Fatah (The Palestinian National Liberation Movement) in the following years. Further, the commitment to the goal of fostering Palestinian national identity while in exile, fomented by the PSU, remained a staple of Fatah’s internal and external discourse in the decades to come. Giving rise to leaders such as Yasir Arafat and Abu Iyad, Fatah’s origins were cultivated within the PSU.

14In Beirut, the activities of Palestinian students, along with their Arab comrades, particularly at the American University (AUB), were fundamental in the establishment of the Movement of Arab Nationalists (MAN), the mother movement of both the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) that gave rise to leaders such as George Habash and Wadie Haddad and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) led by Nayef Hawatmeh (Kazziha 1975). In Damascus, students contributed to the establishment of a small underground political movement known as “Arabs of Palestine” and later organized the first Palestinian Student Association in Syria. In Amman, while student initiatives were supported by Pan-Arab parties, namely the Ba’th party, Palestinian and (Trans-)Jordanian students managed to articulate popular opposition to the Hashemite Kingdom’s politics in the first student organization of Jordan (Abu Samra, forthcoming).

15Despite having different trajectories and political frameworks, all these Palestinian student groups shared fundamental traits typical of revolutionary movements. They were self-organized, collectively shaped, represented their own constituencies and garnered grassroots commitments and mass mobilization of ordinary people. This allowed Palestinian student societies of the 1950s to act as representative bodies of the stateless Palestinian people within national, regional, and international spaces in the absence of any capable national and/or political infrastructure. By 1959, it also led to the establishment of the first Palestinian transnational popular organization, the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS), which provided an umbrella framework and structure to various groups with differing ideological views and affiliations. GUPS enabled these student groups to coordinate their efforts in a national framework even though they resided across nation-state borders (Abu Samra, forthcoming).

16In their 1962 conference, GUPS resolved that the creation of a “Palestinian entity” was critical to achieving liberation. This resolution demonstrates the Union’s commitment to the reorganization of national institutions and their effort to influence national and regional approaches towards the Palestinian cause. GUPS welcomed and supported the Arab League establishment of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1964, criticizing however its elitist character and calling for more revolutionary approaches and strategies (Brand 1988). Students continued to play a critical role driving the political direction of the Palestinians more broadly even after the creation of the PLO. GUPS established a mechanism of representation with state and non-state actors and collective political member participation, in effect challenging the geographical fragmentation brought about by the Nakba. By doing so, GUPS became a fundamental space for the elaboration and dissemination of new political visions and liberation strategies, and the emerging Palestinian political movements of the early 1960s acknowledged its pivotal role as the first transnational body able to represent the Palestinian cause and generate grassroots political participation (Al-Khatib 2012).

17Students and youth in the post-Nakba period developed an alterity to the political status quo by constructing and mobilizing their sector and winning admiration and inspiring people who, just like them, had lost everything. They acted as an anti-colonial organic vanguard as they led the political mobilization of their scattered society by rebuilding and reorganizing national structures which were organically tied to the masses (Abu Samra, forthcoming). Highly influenced and informed by Third World internationalist revolutionary theory and methods, and as the only transnational body prior to the PLO, they became a vital reference point for other global anti-colonial and anti-capitalist causes (Nabulsi & Takriti 2016).

The Road to Oslo

18The student movement’s imprint on the Palestinian national trajectory would carry over into the foundation of guerrilla organizations and eventually the PLO. Particularly after 1969, the Palestinian national struggle was largely forerun by the PLO whose leaders made their political debut as student organizers in the 1950s. In the late 1960s, the PLO became the unifying umbrella political institution for an array of Palestinian political and armed forces, service and social institutions and popular unions. Palestinian transnational student activism was now located within the PLO structure as GUPS became among the largest and most important grassroots unions. The strong connection between GUPS and the Palestinian parties that constituted the PLO meant that the role of the students and youth transformed alongside the political shifts that impacted the national movement itself.

19Two major events in the 1980s reflect the way the student movement was affected by the broader political context. In 1982, the PLO leadership was forced to leave Beirut, displaced largely to Tunisia and Cyprus, thus losing proximity to Palestinian bases living in refugee camps. This meant that the transnational structures that facilitated the PLO’s function lost the ability to implement cohesive and effective grassroots strategies. Simultaneously, the PLO underwent bureaucratization that, along with the personalization of power in the hands of a very restricted group, prevented a generational shift in the leadership that the protracted extent of Israeli colonization necessitated (Hilal 2006). In the shatat, youth all but lost their historic role as protagonists cultivating political alterity. Second, the spark of the Intifada in 1987 in the homeland gave rise to a new generation of organic leaders who cultivated popular resistance and grassroots organizing, overshadowing the role of PLO leaders.

20The rise of Islamism and the emergence of movements such as Hamas in the 1980s, gave rise to new nodes of homeland Palestinian student organizing. Raja Abdulhaq (2018) notes that even “in the late 1970s, before the official creation of Hamas, Islamists in Gaza and the West Bank mobilized students on university campuses and formed the Islamic Palestine Bloc.” Throughout the 1980s, Palestinian youth and student activism developed mainly in the occupied homeland, engaging primarily with local politics and social services, while transnationally, consistent youth engagement was in decline. By 1989, GUPS activity had become almost completely stagnant in response not only to the Palestinian movement's internal dynamics but also to the changing international environment. The end of the Cold War, the emergence of the United States as the only superpower in a now unipolar international system and waning influence of Third World anti-colonial, anti-capitalist actors, left Palestinian students and the Palestinian movement more broadly- without the political allies of the previous decades. The lack of substantial contributions of youth at the transnational level accelerated the failure of PLO political strategies.

21The Oslo Accords, the so-called peace agreements reached between the PLO and Israeli leaders from 1991–1995, crystallized the decline of Palestinian transnational institutions. In many ways, the effects of the Accords -the abandonment of anti-colonial strategies and principles in favour of a shift towards state-building on a small fraction of historical Palestine, and the marginalization of the right of return throughout the protracted negotiations- dismembered the PLO, hollowing it of its historic mandate and function and subsequently annihalated its organized armed resistance and organized popular engagement with grassroots politics both inside and outside the homeland. This shaped the conditions of the new generation who came to political consciousness witnessing the catastrophes befalling their homeland and people without the same kind of political infrastructure as former generations. While youth were not able to play a major role in the elaboration and articulation of political alterity within the PLO in the 1980s and 1990s, things changed with the dramatic developments of the early 2000s. In the post-Oslo period, youth attempted to reclaim a central role in Palestinian transnational politics and their efforts to (re) elaborate political alterity to challenge Palestinian oppression and dispersion paralleled that of jeel al-thawra.

Contemporary Palestinian Youth Movements5

  • 5 The information on PYM is based on the authors’ participation in PYM international gatherings betwe (...)

22In 2006, thirty-five Palestinian youth from Europe and the Arab region and from an array of political parties, ideological orientations, civil society affiliations, gendered, spiritual and nationality backgrounds gathered in Barcelona, Spain for the first formal convening of PYM. Like jeel al thawra, these youth, most of whom had been deeply engaged in student movement work, assumed a position as protagonists and resuscitated the role of new generations in liberation struggle. PYM leaders argued that the aftermath of the Oslo Accords had created a situation in which youth in the homeland and Arab countries were often treated as poster children by political parties but did not have a meaningful role in the development of political strategy. The youth also recognized that the parties were limited in the broader political context and that youth within those parties were even more marginalized. Many of the original participants in the PYM saw the existing Palestinian establishment as an authoritatian body, riddled with corruption, and as gatekeepers to colonial occupation. For those more sensitive to the political establishment’s practices, they still saw the PA as too weak to get the Palestinians out of the predicament they had been in since the 1993 Oslo Accords (Qutami 2018).

  • 6 In January 2006, Palestinians hosted their very first Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections (...)

23The first PYM gathering took place in November of 2006, the very same year of the crystallization of factionalist division between dominant Palestinian parties Hamas and Fatah. As the power struggle for authority and legitimacy escalated between the parties, eventually leading to a Fatah takeover of the West Bank and Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip6, Palestinian youth were questioning why the role of the Israeli occupation, though materially more robust than ever before, was appearing as an increasingly obsolete consideration in Palestinian political approaches and strategies. These questions intensified within PYM in the years to come as the Gaza Strip fell under a suffocating Israeli siege in 2006 and subsequently experienced repeated Israeli attacks and incursions.

24The Oslo Accords had effectively divided Palestinian communities into five different geographic categories: the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the land expropriated to form the state of Israel in 1948 territories, the refugees in Arab host states, and the broader Palestinian shatat. The PA, which eclipsed the role of the PLO as a representative body of all Palestinians wherever they were, was legally bound only to two jurisdictions, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This left Palestinians outside Palestine, and within 1948 territories, politically homeless and left the inhabitants of the Palestinian nation severed one from another, even more than they had been. Following the 2006 split in national unity, Palestinians were further fragmented from one another both territorially (Gaza and the West Bank) and politically (Hamas and Fatah) (Hilal 2019). Witnessing these developments, the youth who founded the PYM desired to reconcile the disruptions to Palestinian national cohesiveness. They argued for the unity of Palestinians across ideological and geographic dispersals as one nation facing a shared colonial condition. Youth now had to confront the absence of an active transnational-national institutional infrastructure (like the PLO) under whose auspices they could pursue a relevant grassroots-based political program.

25As the youth articulated their frustrations with political fragmentation, they also argued that working with NGOs in Palestine was limiting their political engagement due to neoliberal structures and funding pools that depoliticized the Palestinian struggle and posit futile solutions to a colonial condition (Tabar & Salamanca 2015). In the far shatat, youth shared similar sentiments to those inside the Arab region about the limitations for youth in community organizing. Moreover, they argued that within the growing global Palestine solidarity movement, there was no place for them as Palestinians who wanted to work within a national frame rather than humanitarian aid and/or solidarity framework (PYM 2012d, PYM 2012e). They desired a more anti-colonial revolutionary politics to frame their commitments to Palestine rather than relying on frameworks of human rights and international law (PYM 2012, PYM 2012a). Both being Palestinian—in its historical meaning—and being youth became catalyzing points that prompted conversation and exchange beginning in 2006 (PYM 2012b, PYM 2012c).

26There are many parallels between the two generations. Like the post-Nakba generation, post-Oslo Palestinian youth invested their efforts in cultivating strategies that could allow them to organize across dispersals to achieve their national goals. For the first generation, the absence of national structures that could give voice to Palestinian demands was their primary struggle whereas the post-Oslo generation struggled to find its role in the overcrowded landscape of state institutions and leaderships legitimated by “Oslo diplomacy,” but who were detached from the needs and aspirations of the masses.

27As students of jeel al-thawra reorganized to reaffirm Palestine’s existence and put it “back on the map” (al-Khatib 2012), post-Oslo Palestinian youth had to reclaim their own voices among many actors claiming to represent them. If Palestinian students in the 1950s aimed to fill the political void brought about by the Nakba to mobilize the scattered Palestinian people, Palestinian youth in the post-Oslo period attempted to re-appropriate a space that was already occupied by political movements and groups that had become paralyzed by Oslo (Dana 2019). This new generation had to navigate and challenge a national discourse that boasted a forthcoming independent Palestinian state through the persistence of Israeli colonization coupled with the lack of enshrined rights of statehood (Hijab 2011).

28Palestinian students in the 1950s eventually became recognized as the representative vanguard of the struggle. But youth post-Oslo struggled to compete for regional and global recognition against other Palestinian forces. The emergence of PYM raised suspicion among established Palestinian parties, international NGOs and solidarity movements and was not warmly welcomed. Decades of factionalism and distrust among Palestinians had contributed to a form of internal Palestinian “power Olympics,” conditioned by previous political history and by intra-party dynamics. The desire for recognition for the post-Oslo generation in many ways reproduced this form of “power Olympics” through competitive approaches to political work and party alignments. In attempting to overcome the impulse to compete with other forces, it became hard for PYM to understand how to position themselves in relation to other Palestinian movements while maintaining its own independence.

29In 2007, PYM collaborated with a chapter of GUPS in Paris to host a larger convening bringing together 100 Palestinian youth from Europe, the Arab region, North and South America and Australia. Here, the youth intentionally sought to mend the gaps of the transnational Palestinian nation and to affirm their shared Palestinianess (PYM 2012b) as defined neither by artificial cultural authenticity politics nor geographic residence or ideological affinity. In so doing, these youth reaffirmed the settler nature of their colonial condition and asserted both “their rights and responsibilities as Palestinians, wherever [they] reside, to partake in the national liberation struggle” (PYM 2008). Here, the state-building narrative dominant in Palestinian spheres since the Oslo Accords was overshadowed by a stronger reference to the original analysis of Israeli colonialism and the Palestinian anti-colonial framework (Sayegh 1965). But the lack of trust among various constituents, the absence of a shared language and vocabulary for bridging their aspirations, and lack of a coherent political direction following the convening made a more cohesive organizational plan and structure necessary (Qutami 2018).

30While youth were inspired by previous generations’ activism and aimed to recreate the same transnational-national spaces, they had to find new strategies to overcome the complex socio-political conditions of the post-Oslo Palestinian landscape. Palestinian students in the post-Nakba period operated in a regional and international context that facilitated the formation of transnational structures able to contribute to the national struggle. International student bodies such as International Union Students (IUS) provided the ideological and even logistical support Palestinian students needed to develop their own organization (Abu Samra forthcoming). PSU members participated in international conferences organized by IUS as early as 1954 and developed their own Palestinian transnational structures modeled after other Third World student organizations. Thus, when GUPS was established in 1959, its pyramidal structure was drawn up so as to replicate models of already existing Arab student unions (Abu Maizar 2012).

31Access to international spaces in which anti-colonial, anti-imperial and anti-capitalist ideologies were disseminated facilitated the articulation of revolutionary ideologies among Palestinian students, and allowed them to organize in exile in the absence of an autonomous homeland. In other words, the early student movements relied on internationalist networks, resources, and lessons in order to formulate their own national struggle. Regional politics favored the establishment of the GUPS, particularly the strong support given to the students by Gamal Abdel-Nasser. The Arab political climate allowed Palestinian students to emerge as important actors, acknowledged by regional leaders in the Palestinian national sphere (Brand, 1988).

32Palestinian youth in the post-Oslo period, however, lacked the support that international and regional-state and political dynamics had provided to previous generations. In a post-Cold War international system dominated by neo-liberal approaches to economics and politics that marginalised anti-imperialist and anti-colonial discourse's, and with the emergence of post-9/11 War on Terror propaganda that reinforced Islamophobic and anti-Arab narratives, Israel was identified as embodying Western values. Palestinians, however, were depicted as anti-Western terrorists, rather than freedom fighters. Though Palestinian insurgency had long been criminalized within the legal apparatus and cultural lexicon of "terrorism," these culture wars were largely inaugurated following the 67 war as the Palestinians were launching their revolution. Thus, the first generation of student organizers following the Nakba, did not struggle to re-narrate their struggle against dominant narratives that had demonized them the way that generations had following 67 and especially the new generation after the launch of the War on Terror.

33The new generation of Palestinians was thus confronted with a completely different environment. While international solidarity with Palestine had mounted following the second Intifada, it was a solidarity that exposed and pressured Israel in the absence of direction and strategy which could materially empower Palestinian insurgency. Similarly, political cooperation at the regional level has become marginal as various Arab regimes have reached both de jure and de facto relations of cooperation with the Israeli state, among them, the Palestinian Authority itself. The new generation struggled to gain ideological mentorship and logistical support, capacity and resources not inscribed in neoliberal NGO-led initiatives. They were perceived to be a disruption to the status quo, rather than introducing a relevant and needed alternative and this made PYM politically isolated.

34In 2008, PYM hosted its official founding conference in Madrid which included 28 founders (a representative from each country PYM had engaged with) and an additional 125 Palestinian youth from thirty-three countries. There, the youth engaged in critical discussions regarding their role in community organizing as compared to their historical counterparts. But in a short three-day convening, ruptures and tensions surfaced. The competing dynamics of Palestinian political and social life brought the conference to an impasse. Some of these issues included competition between various constituents on who had the most rightful, authentic claims to Palestinianness and who had the most cultural and political capital to become the new leadership of the network. These tensions reproduced the fragmentation of the Palestinian transnational nation and various forms of fragmentation across lines of political party affiliation, ideology, religion, class, gender, host-nationality, citizenry status and more (PYM 2008).

35Palestinian students in the post-Nakba period had faced similar challenges. The diversity and dynamism of Arab politics influenced and shaped Palestinian student politics. Transnational parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the pan-Arab Ba’ath and the Movement of Arab Nationalists often put pressure on Palestinian student organizations and attempted to subsume them as a youth wing of their ideological formations. GUPS was the first transnational body in which members of different parties competed for political credibility and power but also cooperated in a national frame despite having pluralistic backgrounds (Ghantous 2013). Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, different Palestinian movements, especially Fatah and the PFLP, attempted to influence the political composition of GUPS’s Executive Committee and control the organization. This recognized the vital role that the student movement played in inaugurating and upholding a transnational-national framework and structure for the Palestinian struggle (Quba'a 2012).

36However, post-Oslo youth dealt with a more complex set of conditions. Not only did they have to navigate dynamics of divisive national politics but they were also challenged by the different ways the Oslo Accords had surrendered a significant number of national political principles, rights (refugee right of return as the most explicit surrender) and geographical contexts where many of these youth had grown up (PYM2008a). For the post-Nakba generation, the relative parallels in material conditions and the immediate shock the Nakba had produced galvanized an organic awareness of the nature of their struggle as a people. However, for the post-Oslo generation, the segmentation of Palestinian geographies and constituencies left youth without a forum for their ideas and experiences to be organized into a national frame.

37The challenges PYM experienced during the 2008 conference reflected the broader crisis within Palestinian society. In response, organizers decided to focus on the question of “Palestinian identity” (PYM2008). In a three week summer camp in Damascus, Syria in 2009, PYM brought together youth from 13 countries to engage questions regarding what constitutes a Palestinian national identity and how shared and pluralistic identities contribute to strengthening a more complete, effective and popular Palestinian liberation trajectory. In reaffirming the oneness of the scattered nation, these youth attempted to rekindle the bonds of Palestinian peoplehood so that a revitalized, collective liberation project which did not sacrifice rights for any Palestinian community could be achieved.

PYM Alterity: Articulating a New Vision and Developing New Structures

38Challenging the way questions of legitimacy and representation fueled fragmentation between Gaza and the West Bank, Hamas and Fatah, and the inside and outside, PYM first articulated a post-representation/post-legitimacy politic during their inaugural 2010 summer school in the Basque Country, Spain. They came to articulate their own organizational identity through the political ideas and principles that brought them together and defined the character of their organization (PYM 2010). The youth developed the organization’s first serious understanding of global solidarity as reciprocal and multi-dimensional. Further, they explored the various scales in which to understand the Palestinian struggle: for example, as part of broader Arab, Third World and indigenous dimensions (PYM 2010). Here, Palestinian youth initiated a process of political analysis whereby the collective production of alterity, echoed similar breaks from establishment politics by previous generations of youth organizers. For PYM, a political break from the existing order, was not only about producing something "new." It also included a retrieval of political ideals from earlier generations.

39Palestinian students of jeel al-thawra positioned their anti-colonial struggle at the core of Arab sensibilities and international opposition to imperialism and capitalism. In so doing, they strengthened the connection between the Palestinian cause, Arab struggle and Third World. This revolutionary framework contributed to a new understanding of Palestinian identity to encompass all people fighting oppression and racism and aspiring for liberation with the Palestine struggle at the core of their understanding of internationalist resistance (Chamberlin 2012). However, this frame was eventually lost (at least on a collective level) with the geopolitical and global reconfigurations of power through the 1970s and 1980s which molded the state-oriented approach confirmed at Oslo. But in 2011, PYM was able to re-appropriate this original definition of Palestinian identity and re-articulate a less nationalistic and more globalized revolutionary understanding of it.

Youth Alterity

40The political discussions within the Basque Country meeting led to PYM’s second General Assembly in April of 2011 in Istanbul in which it shifted from the Palestinian Youth Network, formed in 2006, to the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM). When youth first met in Barcelona in 2006, their main goals had been to reconnect their scattered generation in order to enable them to coordinate their political mobilization strategies so they could better contribute to their national struggle across literal and ideological boundaries. They relied on identity politics, namely being Palestinian youth, to mold their new body.

41The post-2011 moment, however, allowed youth to deepen mechanisms in which they could coordinate collective political efforts, guided by a shared vision even if with different strategies in different geographic and political contexts. By the time of the 2011 PYM General Assembly, through several international schools, camps and conferences, Palestinian youth had developed a new polity based on an in-depth study of Palestinian political history; an honest, frank critique of previous generations’ political activity; an assessment of material realities and a critical appraisal of the international and regional political context in which they operated and how it differentiated from the Cold War era of the earlier youth movements.

42This process of investigating Palestinian political genealogies and implementing a comparative analysis convinced Palestinian youth of three points. The first was that PYM must understand itself politically as part of regional and global movements against systemic oppression. The second was that the Movement needed a centralized structure that could guarantee transnational coordination while assuring democratic and transparent practices. The third was that PYM´s political mobilization at the local level was equally vital and must be in tandem with the transnational level. Whereas between 2006–2011, the transnational sphere was fomenting a political frame based on disparate Palestinian constituencies and locales, in the post-2011 moment, PYM was informed by transnational strategies by PYM chapters on the ground. Its localized practice was informed by frameworks developed at the transnational level and vice versa.

43The Movement sought to fill a void in existing political spaces available to Palestinian youth. They recognized that Palestinian liberation must originate from a vision of complete decolonization and they affirmed that the existing political order was not capable of directing the people toward that process. Drawing their new structure from that of the original GUPS, and drawing inspiration from radical protest as Arab youth across the region sought to topple authoritarian regimes, the PYM took a visionary leap in 2011. Above all else, the youth recognized that overcoming the hardened divisions within Palestinian political life was key to accomplishing this liberatory mission.

44The youth founded an International Central Council housing an International Executive Board comprised of leaders from various national branches. This body would eventually develop a political framework titled the “Until Return and Liberation Framework” meant to guide activities and ten PYM political position papers which outlined methods for enacting political practice in the face of shifting material conditions in Palestinian social and political life. The papers tackled subjects such as Palestine and the Palestinians; youth; liberation; resistance; the PLO and PA; the Arab dimension; the rights-based approach; solidarity movement and anti-colonialism. Expressing a set of ideas rather than ideologies, and principles rather than positions, the PYM papers were intended to guide approaches amidst shifting material realities in the region as well. 2011 became the turning point in which the PYM first articulated itself as a flexible political movement with a revolutionary ethos, which was both productive and challenging in the years ahead.

45Like jeel al-thawra, the post-Oslo generation was committed to the elaboration of an alterity that would shake the system and allow a re-formulation of effective strategies of liberation, even if such alterity was not immediately welcomed. Post-Nakba students contributed to transnational-national political development by establishing a transnational student union and contributing to the formation of radical political movements rooted among the people. PYM attempted to incorporate both these dimensions in order to re-identify the main tenets of their struggle beyond Oslo. However, PYM could not form new radical political movements and popular unions beyond its youth movement, nor was it able to revive and revolutionize the historic political parties and unions.

46Among the challenges faced by PYM was a more antagonistic relationship with the Palestinian parties which, after the shift from a network to a movement, viewed PYM as an organizational entity with its own interest and not as a general network which they could strategically use for their own interests. Further, the centralization of PYM leadership, focus on establishing local chapters and the elimination of organizational members—things the youth felt were essential for political autonomy—resulted in a decline in membership numbers and a loss of financial resources. Members that left PYM argued that the group has preemptively shifted to a movement at the wrong time and without enough preparation. Nevertheless, all would agree that the group could not have anticipated the monumental changes in the Arab region and in Palestinian political life as a result of the 2011 Arab Uprisings. These changes affected PYM tremendously and the group was simply not prepared to seize the seismic opportunities or weather the catastrophes the uprisings had created.

PYM and the 2011 Arab Uprisings

47As the region was swept with the revolutionary spirit of the Arab Uprisings, Palestinian youth were inspired to join. But unlike Tunisia and Egypt, the complexity of the Palestinian condition did not produce mass movements on the ground. Efforts by a group called the March 15th Movement (later known as the Palestine youth movement) were quickly contained by the PA, both by extreme repression and by the PA ramping up their diplomatic efforts in search of international recognition of a Palestinian state to stabilize the Oslo Framework (Burton 2016). By the end of 2012, Palestine was celebrating its newfound international recognition, and the opportunity for regime change had been lost.

48Critical of representation and statehood politics, the Arab Uprisings reflected a stark paradox for PYM. In the moment Arab masses were revolting for regime change, Palestinian youth were advocating merely for an end to national fragmentation and security cooperation between the PA and Israel. Dissatisfied with the lack of revolutionary zeal in Palestine, and aware of the political and material consequences for engaging revolutionary politics, PYM looked outside the Palestinian landscape and saw the necessity of situating Palestine’s liberation as part and parcel of alternative Arab political programs. This would, in turn, offer new opportunities and alliances and reiterate an ethical commitment to the Arab masses in their struggles against authoritarianism, capitalist warfare and neo-imperialism.

49This led the PYM to host the December 2012 Arab Youth for Dignity and Liberation Conference in Tunisia, sponsored by the Office of President Marzouki and attended by high level political figures from across the region. The convening was similar to the 1965 Cairo International Seminar organized by GUPS, which brought together leaders of liberation movements from across the world and highlighted the relationship between Palestine and African struggles ( GUPS 1965). The PYM meeting brought together Arab youth from across the region to examine the relationship between Palestinian liberation and the Arab Uprisings. This moment was critical in elevating the political credibility of PYM, harnessing a more regional framework that accounted for various liberation approaches and constituencies and strengthening a PYM framework that was less reliant on nationalist dogma.

50However, following the Tunis meeting, PYM was unable to practice a methodological approach that could fulfill its new political aims. A conglomeration of factors contributed to the slow decline of its international activities. The chapters in the Arab region—and subsequently Europe—were deeply affected by the catastrophes bought by the Arab Uprisings and demoralized by the co-optation of this liberatory moment by global, and national geo-political actors. The demise of the chapters led to plummeting morale in the transnational arena. By 2015, PYM had drastically lost momentum on the international stage.

Conclusions

51Comparisons between PYM and jeel al-thawra are revealing. PYM found itself increasingly isolated in the Palestinian scene in 2012, only six years after is inaugurating conference. By comparison, six years after its formation, the student movement spearheaded by GUPS, was embedded within radical Arab political groups, Palestinian guerrilla organizations, a Palestinian political infrastructure (the PLO) and international alliances with which it could collaborate. GUPS was the training ground from which Palestinian forces would recruit members and was well integrated into the national movement. PYM, on the other hand, did not attempt to seriously establish cooperation with historical parties. On the contrary, it openly criticized the shift in their vision and strategies from their historic mandate. Nor were new formations able to emerge out of PYM. Between 2006 and 2012, the Palestinians had lost yet more land to colonial land theft, and Palestinians were embroiled in a political feud with one another. As the official Palestinian political establishment weakened, Palestinian refugees were also deeply affected by violence and the siege of their camps, both in Lebanon and Syria while Palestinians in the homeland were suffering the egregious effects of neoliberal racial capitalism and Israeli containment and ethnic cleansing policies.

52Differing regional and global contexts posed challenges for the new generation that isolated them. PYM had limited abilities to maneuver as it had to “compete” for space, rather than cooperate with other formations, particularly in the Arab region, and with NGOs many of whose programs were, in fact, de-politicizing Palestinian youth. It is also arguable that PYM, since its inception, was predominantly led by an elite class of Palestinians semi-detached from everyday material struggles. Unable to find other transnational organized bodies speaking of full liberation and return, and who openly welcomed cooperation, PYM’s aims did not fully come to fruition. But the PYM’s learned lessons, its networks and ideas, continue to live on, offering a new generation a template upon which to build (Qutami 2018).

53The protracted condition of being colonized and exiled has shaped the way youth have attempted to mobilize in different moments of Palestinian political history. The need to find new spaces and frameworks for political organizing led Palestinian youth to search for political alterity, a rupture with the traditional politics, both for jeel al-thawra and for the new generation after Oslo. National, regional and international dynamics impacted the way these two generations sought to achieve their political ambitions with the latter generation finding itself increasingly isolated within the uncertain power shifts of the region. While PYM cannot compare in relevance to GUPS, we argue that the differences between the two generations are largely external, and connected to facts of opportunity, resources and historical context. Despite the different outcomes, the process of collectively articulating alterity as a radical break from the status quo, highlights the ingenuity and relevance of youth, and particularly Palestinian youth, as a revolutionary force of transformative change. In nurturing the intellectual inquiry of forthcoming generations, their critical thinking and interrogation skills, their affective and emotional drive for politics, and the belief that they might truly achieve liberation, alterity will remain a driving aspiration for youth movements.

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Notes

1 We utilize the term shatat (loosely translated as Diaspora) to refer to Palestinians in exile. We agree with Karma Nabulsi that “Neither the use of the term diaspora, nor that of ‘refugees’ is sufficient to capture the totality of the current Palestinian dispersal, and the different legal statuses recognized under international law… In defining it thus, one could undermine the various existing legal, political and civic statuses of the several million Palestinians who live outside historic Palestine” (Nabulsi 2007: 251).

2 We have looked to Ilan Pappes’s book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine to illustrate the ways in which Zionist land confiscation policies have historically and contemporarily relied on ethnic cleansing logics and strategies (Pappe 2006).

3 The “Nakba” was first coined by Pan-Arab thinker and scholar, Constantine Zurayk in his signature 1948 book “The Meaning of Disaster.” The term was used to illustrate the depths of disaster that had engulfed Palestine and the Palestinians as a result of Zionist conquest. The term is often translated to “catastrophe,” and is used to signify the dispossession of some 800,000 Palestinians from Palestine, the destruction of nearly 500 Palestinian villages and towns, and several massacres that impelled Palestinians to flee (Zurayk 1956).

4 We note that transnational is most commonly used to refer to cross-national bonds of solidarity between different national liberation struggles. We, however are utilizing the term specifically as it refers to the forms of political cooperation cultivated among Palestinians scattered across different nation-states.

5 The information on PYM is based on the authors’ participation in PYM international gatherings between 2006 and 2014.

6 In January 2006, Palestinians hosted their very first Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections. Hamas won with an overwhelming majority. Their victory resulted in sanctions by the US and EU. Because Palestine was still under occupation and did not have a sovereign national economy, Palestinians could not survive the financial aid cuts. In effect, the financial situation fueled factionalist tensions between Fatah (the majority party within the PLO and PA up until this point) and Hamas. The daily lives of Palestinians were effected by pay cuts forced upon the PA and Palestine's second largest employer, the community of NGOs and other civil society groups. Under pressure from the EU and US, the PA in effect did not respect the democratic electoral vote and attempted to maintain majority control. This resulted in the PA arresting and purging several Hamas leaders from the West Bank. In retaliation, Hamas did the same with Fatah leaders in its own stronghold, the Gaza Strip. The two territories became governed by two separate political factions further exacerbating the fragmentation that had already beset Palestinians since Oslo.

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Mjriam Abu Samra et Loubna Qutami, « Alterity Across Generations  », Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée [En ligne], 147 | octobre 2020, mis en ligne le 12 octobre 2020, consulté le 02 décembre 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/remmm/14087 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/remmm.14087

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Auteurs

Mjriam Abu Samra

University of Oxford, Royaume Uni, mjriam.abusamra[at] seh.ox.ac.uk

Loubna Qutami

University of California, Los Angeles USA, loubnaqutami[at]g.ucla.edu

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