Second Palestine Youth Forum conference probes youth prospects at Birzeit

Students, activists, and political and national representatives discussed the perspectives of and prospects for youth movements in Palestine in the second Palestine Youth Forum conference, entitled “Youth for Change.”

The conference, organized by the Center for Development Studies at Birzeit University on Saturday, October 6, 2018, featured activists from all areas of Palestine (the West Bank, Gaza, and the 1948-occupied areas), who presented their experiences and their visions for the future.

Vice President for Community Affairs at Birzeit University Dr. Asem Khalil highlighted Birzeit University’s efforts to provide spaces for, and establish ties with, the Palestinian community and its various constituents. These efforts, Khalil noted, embody the university’s message in building an advanced, cognizant society, based on national liberation and social justice.

“Providing those spaces for discussion and establishing those ties leads to a deeper awareness of the forms of dispersion and fragmentation established by the occupation,” said Khalil. “Organizing this conference, together with the Land Defence Coalition, is part of the university’s efforts to attain a deeper understanding of youth movements and roles, with the aim of finding mechanisms of countering the fragmented reality.”

Linda Tabar, director of the Center for Development Studies at Birzeit University, noted that the conference is the result of strategic partnerships established in the 1948-occupied areas, Gaza, the West Bank, and abroad through the center’s youth programs.

“Our goal is to change development concepts and reframe them within a colonial context such that they reinforce our resilience and lead us to national liberation,” commented Tabar. “Through our partnership with the Land Defence Coalition, not only do we critique development, we also present and reinforce alternative models based on relations with base institutions.”

Tabar added that youth efforts can be subsumed under three categories: Conducting studies that critique post-Oslo development, encouraging alternative development policies, and bolstering social development that focuses on marginalized groups.

Along the same lines, Haneen Salameh, representative of the Palestine Youth Forum, said that the forum was created to form a unified national youth strategy to counter Palestinian political division and its impact on Palestinian youth.

While Wasel Abu Yousef, a representative of the national and Islamic political parties, observed that Palestinian youth engage not only in social or economic development, but also in activities on the national scale. He also stressed the importance of maintaining the unity of Palestinians, adding that the conditions in Palestine require the joint effort of all individuals.

Salah Khawaja, of the Land Defence Coalition, underscored in his speech the role of youth in affecting change in Palestine, and criticized the lack of youth engagement in decision-making, calling for the assignment of more positions to youthful leaders.

The conference comprised two sessions: the first, “Youth and Social Movements,” included the perspectives of a variety of movements from all Palestinian areas, such as the Great March of Return, the Haifa Movement, the Jerusalem Movement, and the Lift the Sanctions off Gaza Movement.

The second session, “Youth Dialogue,” saw participants discuss the Palestine Youth Forum’s vision and objectives, by-laws, and plans for the future.