Palestinian youth devise a new, personalized approach to the Intifada using social media

Published October 15th, 2015 - 05:00 GMT

“Are we experiencing a third Intifada?” This is the most prevalent question puzzling local and international media as an atmosphere resembling the First and Second Intifadas envelops East Jerusalem, the West Bank and now the Gaza Strip. 

Browsing through visual evidence online, where 1.6 million Palestinian youth express themselves daily, the answer may seem certain. Images of youth with their heads and faces wrapped in the iconic black and white checkered Palestinian kuffiyeh -- with legs slightly bent in the air and arms stretched wide open clutching rocks -- are flooding Facebook pages. 

Meanwhile, we see daily posts, tweets and hashtags, such as #ThirdIntifada; #IsraeliOccupation; #gazarevolts, #Palestine #JerusalemIntifada connecting young people from Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem who are otherwise geographically disconnected. Loose networks of young social media activists seem at the moment to be bonded by resistance against Israel’s occupation. 

It looks and feels like an online front of a Third Intifada is raging in various social media platforms.

Yet, behind the images of youthful heroism and at the very center of these loose networks, also lies a deep rift: The emotional ties between young social media activists that embrace the notion of intifada online and the political leaders who are expected to lead it on the ground are severely broken. “F&^k Israel… and a special F%$k you to the Palestinian leadership, who are doing nothing because they are worried about their seats,” wrote a member of a youth group online whose cursing language was also present in an explosive Facebook post, associated with triggering the youth-led 15 March movement in 2011. 

Along with hashtags in English such as #ThirdIntifada, others in Arabic such as #Notofactionsandtheirseats are widely distributed and shared. The same young people who embrace the symbols and images of intifada simultaneously reject the traditional leaders of the First and Second Intifadas.

This online battlefield is indicative of a situation that has been brewing for some time now. Most of the polls, studies and reports in at least the past two years confirm the lost faith of a majority of Palestinian youth in their own leaders and parties. A report by Sharek Youth forum in 2013 concluded that at least 57 percent of polled youth in Palestine have abandoned their parties and traditional forms of organized activism. Another poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research this year concludes that due to the increasingly dire conditions, the majority of youth living in Gaza simply want to emigrate.

The same poll indicates that young Palestinians prefer to personalize and express their daily hardships online, away from the established platforms of current political institutions. This growing gap reveals that beyond the revolutionary origins of the concept of intifada and it’s emotive power for Palestinians lies the aftermath of each intifada: a bitter reminder for young Palestinians of failed mobilization structures, internal division and their own political exclusion.

“Whether online or offline, we are trapped,” said another activist who decided to give up the protests altogether. “Trapped in a situation where if you are not with us, you are against us.” The 15 March demonstration remains a bitter testament of that reality. For too many young people, that demonstration also called for an intifada -- one intended to end internal political division. It did not.

So with everything that’s going on in the streets and online, is the conception of intifada eluding everyone? Is intifada what we are seeing these days: an unpredictable series of unorganized violence by occupied people who are simply fed up? Is it an armed resistance led by traditional factions? Is it the ever-growing issue-based activism? Or is it the old cause, that of a strategic all-encompassing movement that aims to achieve national liberation? The answer, if you look online, may be that intifada at the moment is embedded in Palestinians’ personalized forms of resistance, with youth reshaping the old conceptions of an intifada, both online and offline. 

Take the case of Muhannad Halabi: On one hand, he declared his call for a Third Intifada on his Facebook page. On the other, he ditched the online forum and pursued his own form of intifada: He consumed all of his personalized rage on Oct. 1 by stabbing four Israelis and killing two. Officially, Halabi was not associated with any Palestinian party or traditional movement on the ground.

There are others who may be associated with factions, however most recent stabbings have not been factional but rather “self-initiated,” said another activist. This backs the prevalent opinion the current spike of violence is not part of an organized effort or strategy by the current factions. Meanwhile, a growing number of young Palestinians are battling their own forms of intifada. Some of it is directed against Israel, but some is directed against their own leadership: protesting against their authoritarian governance, the lack of electricity, or a range of other issues.

 “There is a growing mass of Palestinian youth who employ various social media tools for different types of activism,” said a social media trainer and activist during an interview via Skype. “The problem is that the parties always stick to their firm ideologies. There is no strategy, no interest from the current parties and organizations to capitalize on this energy which exists online.”

The problem for the parties though, remains the following: that these young activists show to have the capability to organize, but without using the mobilization structure of the established organizations on the ground, preferring instead various platforms of social media. And they are getting better at it with every temporarily failed effort. 

What then does the Third Intifada really mean?

What’s going on in the streets does trigger the memories and rhetoric of the revolutionary origins of the First Intifada. The kuffiyeh, rocks and flag are powerful symbols of the collective hopes of a people to rise up against injustice. Yet, based on the opinions of these activists - this is not a Third Intifada. What seems clear this time is that the rupture between a personalized and a traditionally organized intifada is official. Without an organized inclusive effort to capitalize on the disenchantment of this growing mass of young people, an intifada with the potential to lead to a better tomorrow for Palestine will remain as elusive as is has proven to be historically. Until then, the battleground that rages online and offline will forge ahead, enabling, at least momentarily, a personalized intifada for each Palestinian.

By Albana Dwonch


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