Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Students leading the recent protests don‘t believe a third intifada is imminent


By Amy Mac - October 24, 2015
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Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Birzeit University]

Alaa Barakeh, spokesperson for Fatah’s student wing, is sitting in the Birzeit University cafeteria, sipping coffee and talking about Nelson Mandela. Like Mandela, his role model, Barakeh is studying law. But for the last two weeks, he has not been attending lectures.

According to Barakeh, 4000 of Birzeit University's 11,000 student body began strikes earlier this month, as part of the latest wave of unrest to grip the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Students have abandoned lectures to protest Israel’s occupation at nearby Israeli settlement, Beit El, north of Ramallah.

 

“Since the strikes and the protests started, we are trying not to go to lectures. We go out and we fight in peaceful resistance to convey our message to the world,” said Barakeh.

Students and Palestinian youth have been at the helm of the recent protests against Israel’s occupation, settlement expansion and incursions into Al-Aqsa mosque.

Many in the region have claimed that this month’s unrest signals the beginning of a Third Intifada, but a majority of Palestinian students - including those who take to the streets in protest - dismiss this notion, citing a lack of will, unity between political groups, and leadership.

Barakeh claims that a majority of Birzeit students are politically conscious and fervently object to the Israeli occupation. But he believes the student strikes and protests are still too small to warrant talk of a new uprising.

“In the First Intifada almost 40 percent of people participated. It was successful and they achieved many goals. In the Second Intifada there were less, but they still went out. But now there are even less. We don’t have the basis for a Third Intifada,” he told the Palestine Monitor.

Nayef Swetat, is a professor of law at Al Quds University and a former head of Birzeit’s student council. As a student at Birzeit during the First Intifada, he remembers a campus environment of highly concentrated political activity.

“When you compare the First Intifada with the third, there is a big difference between the culture of the students. Most of the students now are not interested in political culture.”

He believes the driving force behind the lack of student political mobilisation is linked to the discord between the Palestinian parties, Fatah and Hamas, which, he says, has resulted in a lack of direction for the student movement.

“The ideology and political position and how to go about the Third Intifada are all different between Fatah and Hamas, they make no effort to unify. This affects the students,” he said.

Rival student movements have temporarily diverged from this disunity between the leading political parties, with Fatah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad student factions united in the latest student protests.

 

However, the unity among students has yet to translate into the kind of popular student movement that was seen during the First and Second Intifadas.

 

While some Palestinian political figures have expressed support for a Third Intifada, rallying youth to join in the latest wave of unrest, many students feel that Palestine’s political elite has failed to provide the guidance required for a potential uprising.

 

“The intifada needs leadership. Until now, we don’t have that. The students are taking that on their shoulders. But they don’t have enough knowledge or experience on how to lead the intifada, ” commented Kefah Mansour, a 34 year old Law student at Al Quds University.

Without any direct instruction from Palestine’s leaders, students have organised themselves on a grassroots level, relying heavily on social media as a means to coordinate political activity on and off campuses.

The hashtag #insidewestbank has gained popularity among students within the last week. Started by the Sharek Youth Forum, a Ramallah-based youth initiative, it aims “to get the UK, and hopefully the world, to see the truth of what’s happening in Palestine at the moment.”

 

Although not all students are motivated to join in the protests and strikes, there is a strong sense of political consciousness across Palestinian university campuses, and many students are engaged in other forms of resistance.

 

“Some students are painters, some are poets, they sing, work in the media or as photographers. We believe in our cause, but we fight for it in different ways,” says Tasneem Zeyad, a 21-year-old English Literature student at Birzeit University.

 

Earlier this month three Palestinian students acted outside the mandate of peaceful student protest when they used violent means of protesting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

 

Muhanad Halabi and Bahaa Alian from Al-Quds, and Omar al-Faqih from Birzeit University were shot and killed by Israeli forces after stabbing Israeli citizens.

 

“We are trying to follow Mandela’s steps and Ghandi’s steps,” said Barakeh who believes a majority of students are committed to peaceful resistance. “We not armed, we don’t have weapons, we are trying to make a difference in the West Bank,” he added.


 

 

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