Arar, Khalil, and team participate in an exercice during their meetin in Amman, organized through the Together for Change Project, Nov 2013.Photo: AFSC
Young Palestinians are divided across space—some in the West Bank, others in the Gaza Strip, and still others in the 1948 areas—but through AFSC’s Together for Change Project, they are unifying their voices to influence community leaders and policymakers.
Last month in Amman, Jordan, some gathered together in a room, while others joined virtually from Gaza. After three days discussing where to focus their energy, they decided to focus on freedom of movement and access, and the Palestinian identity.
Meet three of the youth who attended:
Khalil Gharra, 21 years old, from 1948 areas
Khalil is a young Palestinian activist and university student from Jit al Muthalath in the 1948 areas.
Before the meeting, he was enthusiastic about coming together with Palestinians from all areas, but cautious about reaching consensus.
“The issues and problems faced in each of these areas differ so much,” he says. “The issue of civil service hovers in the 1948 areas, whereas the siege and unemployment in the West Bank in Gaza are part of daily life.”
That diversity is why the project, which he says is “untraditional in every sense,” gives him hope.
“In the beginning [of the meeting] it was difficult to reach a common cause—there were several lines of thinking,” he says. “But was it a wonderful experience. Despite a certain gap in thoughts, imposed due to the Occupation policies—which have fragmented ideology, space and society—on the second day, everyone was talking in one voice.”
Asrar Kayyal, 21 years old, Kufur Yassif
Asrar’s family members are refugees from the destroyed village of al-Borwa in Galilee. Part of her family fled to Lebanon, and others to neighboring villages; she currently lives in Kufur Yassif.
Since her childhood, she has dealt with her lost identity and what it means to be a Palestinian refugee living in a Zionist state. Every day on her way home, she saw the ruins of her home village Al Birwa and its transformation into something else.
Political engagement and connection with Palestinians in other areas are unusual for a young woman in her village.
“The village is very small, and it is socially unacceptable to be politically active or to have any contacts with young men, especially since I was brought up in a female-headed household,” she says.
The West Bank and Gaza were distant concepts for her. They constituted an imaginary place that existed “somewhere out there.” Her early attempts to communicate with Palestinians on the other side started through social media networks.
“Palestinians are living in one space, which is separated into three. We are three bodies with each a different reality, however, our cause is one,” she says. “The geographic aspect has resulted in different perspectives, needs, and aspirations, in spite of the fact that we are only one people. We should have unified requests, and feel that we are one people under occupation.”
Being an activist, who is very interested in the events behind the wall, she has met with Palestinians from the West Bank before, however, the November meeting would have been her first experience meeting Gazans. Unfortunately, the Israeli siege on Gaza and the closure of the Egypt-controlled border crossing hindered her from traveling to Jordan.
She asserts that her interaction with the West Bank team during this meeting in November 2013 was strong. “It was important to meet despite some distance in the ideas created by the separation. The youth in West Bank tend to see things from a different angle, but this is a necessary phase to move on to the next one. We noticed that the separation has resulted in many ideological differences, yet I am convinced now more than ever and encouraged to work further to improve the situation,” she adds.
Ali abdel Bari, 27 years old, Gaza
Ali is a Palestinian refugee, born in Yarmouk camp in Damascus, who was raised in Gaza city. His grandparents fled from the former village of Hamameh in the 1948 areas. He is currently a university student pursuing his master’s degree.
Ali heard about the project from former coaches via social media channels. Although he was unable to get out of Gaza for the meeting, he joined via video conference on the first day, imagining he was already in Amman, talking to another group in Turkey.
Like Khalil and Asrar, he was mainly interested because of the opportunity to join together three youth groups from regions that have been cut off for so long. “There is a large gap socially, politically, and economically, and it is important for us to discuss together,” he explains.