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Palestinian youth defy borders to reunite

Meeting in Amman
Participants gather in a morning session to discuss their work plans. Photo: AFSC
Naji, from Gaza, prays in Al Aqsa Mosque for the first time. Photo: AFSC
Nardeen from Nablus (West Bank) and Marie from Shafa Amer (1948 areas) during one of the sessions. Photo: AFSC

Sixty participants from the Palestine Youth Together for Change Project (PYTC) were scheduled to hold their annual meeting in November 2014. Due to restrictions on movement, the meeting was scheduled to be held in Jordan, where it is possible for them to gather. The gathering finally took place between 14 and 18 January 2015. Thirty young people attended, two from Gaza, and the rest from West Bank and 1948 areas. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss advocacy work plans for their upcoming campaign on freedom of movement.

Twenty-five year-old Nardeen is one of the newest participants in AFSC’s Palestine Youth Together for Change (PYTC) project. She was motivated to join by the project’s campaign to defy borders and access restrictions.

With its motto “Movers for Palestine,” the campaign gathers youth in Palestine who are advocating for their right of freedom of access and movement, as part of defending their individual and collective identity as Palestinians. It’s part of their ultimate goal of social and political change.

During her university studies in Nablus, Nardeen has encountered many difficulties returning home due to road closures imposed by Israeli authorities.

“I loved the theme of ’Movers’ and decided immediately that I should be an active member of the group,” she says.

Currently, she is coordinating the route for a bus that will drive through the various towns of the West Bank, from Nablus to Hebron. The bus will help raise awareness about the project. The main purpose of this bus is to present information about the project and gather support for it.

“I am hopeful that we will obtain more support around various campuses of the West Bank and advocate for our cause,” she adds.

Out of Gaza for the first time

Of the 20 Gaza participants selected to participate in the meeting, only two obtained temporary permits to leave Gaza. Naji was one of the lucky ones.  He’s 25, and this was his first time crossing the Israeli Erez terminal that links Gaza to the outside world.

Naji was bewildered during his short three-day trip.

“It is the first time I saw an actual Israeli flag hoisted in front of me at the checkpoint with a sign welcoming me to ’Israel’”, he says.  He had mixed feelings about getting out of Gaza: Happy to see the world through his own eyes instead of through the filter of  TV,  but miserable because he could  “only think of all the prisoners, the martyrs, and the people I left behind.”

“However, the road from the Erez terminal to the Jordan crossing point was literally with no bumps, and I loved it,”, he says, jokingly.

Toward Palestinian cohesion

Naji was a participant in AFSC’s former Popular Achievement Program and he says his motto was “to live with our fellow Palestinians in the other geographic areas not only hear about them.” He considers this motto the nucleus of the current project, and it inspired him to continue working with the program.

Naji currently works for a local Palestinian NGO and will continue to be part of “Movers” and advocate for the right of access and movement. The project reflects the issues he has struggled with internally, and feels that while Movers has been “unable to lift the barriers or movement restrictions, it did contribute towards realizing the Palestinian cohesion and breaking the taboos.”

Naji says he returned to Gaza full of renewed energy and thankful for this unique experience—an experience that many fellow Gazans were, unfortunately, unable to share.