Political Behavior and the Problem of Youth Political Participation

Youth have become tools that can be disposed for the purpose of political action in which they play no real part, or polarizing tools that further reinforce the state of division rather than to end it, for the purpose of electoral activity; for when they claim their rights, they are rejected.

Written by: Hani Smirat

Nothing increases the appetites of those who have hopes for political transformations like elections do – an appetite that is saturated with dreams and aspirations for real change. The search for a way to take part in political and national action is a legitimate appetite for all, filled with fear and ambition. Although the opportunity to participate is legally available to anyone who has the drive to be a leader, it is limited to those with family ties, connections or money that can reserve his place in the elections.

Whatever the type of elections, they are generally a national and organizational benefit, as it is one of the pillars of state building, and one of the most important requirements for the continuation of the modern state. Electoral behavior is a vivid example and a reflection of the citizens’ value system, which could be described by the phrase, “Because of who you voted for, I know who you are.” Not everyone has the same electoral motives; many of us voted for a homeland, freedom and a future, while others voted for nothing, or for no other reason other than the candidate’s car parked in front of his house with the request for a vote. In this same context, we find those who sell his/her voice for personal gain through promises either now or after the candidate/party is elected.

We are not here to search for the emotional reason for understanding the disgraceful behavior of some candidates or some national, political and religious movements, which have used all possible means to achieve their success; but rather, we are facing a vital question about the political participation of youth in light of the disruption of the Palestinian Legislative Council, the delay in holding elections and the state of division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Today, we are encountering a legitimate question: “Do Palestinian youth in 2020 have the same aspirations as the youth from the past?”

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) of 2017, the percentage of youth (15-29 years) in Palestine reached about 30% of the total population (1.53 million). In its reports, the PCBS defines youth as being within the age group 15-29. In a quick analytical view, we find that the political representation of young people is almost nonexistent, and that the energies and capabilities of more than 1.5 million youth do not find any place in the world of political participation at the level of decision-making. During the 1996 legislative elections and 2006 elections, only 2 members were under the age of 30 out of 264 members in both elections. Additionally, we do not find any youth representation at the level of political decision-making processes in the Executive Committee of the PLO, the Palestinian National Council, the Fatah Revolutionary Council, the Political Bureau of Hamas or even any political bureaus of most of the left parties. We also find that the representation at the municipal council levels is very limited, as there is an almost complete absence of this age group in the leadership of local councils, except for a few cases. This is the reality of the political participation of Palestinian youth at the decision-making level, an almost complete lack of youth presence and absolute domination of the elderly in most of the state’s components.

Under the pretext tainted with greed and absolute enmity of Palestinian youth, we are driven by voices, filled with fear of their personal interests, claiming there is a lack of experience and weakness in the capabilities among the youth. It is also argued that although the definition of youth is linked with the ability to give, to be active and energetic, the elders can also be classified as young as long as they are energetic. However, everyone forgot that providing a safe space for political participation of youth also requires providing them with a real opportunity, in practice, and not in theory, and that the real crisis in youth participation is one of absenteeism, not absence. It is no longer acceptable to promote youth issues only for electoral benefits.

In light of the absence of the democratic process and youth political participation, as well as the vacuum that formed between youth and decision-makers, young men and women have transformed into tools that enable the elderly to dominate. Youth have become tools that can be disposed for the purpose of political action in which they play no real part, or polarizing tools that further reinforce the state of division rather than to end it, for the purpose of electoral activity; for when they claim their rights, they are rejected. Today, their hopes are suspended for a full-time or part-time job, as they head to cafes to escape their bitter reality. Almost 1.5 million young men and women are left close to serving politicians and away from the seats of political decision-making power. In turn, this creates a marginal identity for young people, especially in light of the disruption of the democratic process, which has greatly contributed to pushing them into a state of indifference and alienation in their identity. We further witness the real reluctance of Palestinian youth to participate in political and nation action, as they flee towards a culture of distraction and entertainment until they fall into the fear of the future and move away from thinking about public affairs to thinking about private affairs.

In this regard, I quote here the words of my young and creative friend, Laith Abu Sobeih, who is also searching for a place to work under the roof of the state, where he stated: “In every society, there is a general trend that guides its behavior and dynamism, where it is responsible for transferring the value system to individuals and regenerating it. It becomes the author of collective awareness and the factors that integrate the individual into his/her social environment.” Here is where I start to wonder what is the driver of the general trend that directs society? And how? Where does this trend direct society? What is the value system that directs individuals to complete the integration process? Do we need a new value system to reproduce a young generation who is integrated, or unified, with its social reality? All these and other questions require a clear answer, research and discovery of the shape of this trend and the content of the values it tries to impart to individuals, especially young men and women. Giving a real opportunity for young people in political action at the level of decision-making would contribute to producing the required values, contribute to the integration process, deepen the concept of good citizenship and produce energy in youth who are able to contribute to ending division, addressing the occupation and reinvigorating spirit and energy within national and religious movements in the Palestinian society.

Moreover, the halt in the democratic process and the absence of young people from the political scene would kill the dreams of our youth, where it would build a barrier between generations, create an atmosphere of action to reaction, and from moving forward to creating a setback. They will transform from being an engine for democratic transformation to a disruption of this transformation, and from being part of the state to being outside the state and social periphery. This disruption will also contribute to increasing the phenomenon of reproduction of the same movements, parties and leaders.

Today, as we live in the most dangerous stages of settling the Palestinian issue, we are obligated to restore the democratic process, provide real opportunities to Palestinian youth and invest their energies by reproducing confidence in the political system and in the general national behavior. Although there have been acceptable changes in lowering the age of eligibility to run in the legislative and presidential elections, according to the Presidential Decree Law No. (1) of 2007, today, we are required to re-read the Palestinian election law by opening a space for the youth quota in all lists of movements and organizations. Furthermore, national and religious movements should review their internal regulations that do not provide an opportunity for young people, by virtue of internal policies and regulations, to take real leadership roles within them. The political leadership should also reshape its relationship and rhetoric with the younger generation, withdraw from the approach of marginalization by engaging youth and developing policies that respond to their needs and aspirations and establish citizenship that does not limit the homeland to a group, organization, party or institution. As a society, we must also refrain from saying that young people are the fuel of the nation because we need a generation capable of making fuel, not being the fuel. There is neither a place for a nation that does not see the future of its people, nor is there a place for a country that does not have free democratic elections, as the suitable place for young men and women is in the arms of its nation.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor.

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