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Home > Issue 28: Democratic Formation in Palestine Periodic Reports (18) & (19) >

The Youth Leadership Program: Practice in Democracy

by Ahmad Jaradat

I would like to start my report by saying that in spite of the difficult conditions, such as closures, siege and destruction of infrastructure that the Palestinian people are living under, the commitment of the organizers to the project and the eagerness of the youth to participate played a major role in making it a success. Through the different stages of the program we had a first-hand chance to implement democratic processes.

First Stage

Due to my young age, I did not take part in the previous governmental elections. Fortunately however, I was given the chance through the Youth Leadership Project sponsored by the Arab Though Forum (ATF) to practice my right to vote and nomination. My participation started in my class at school (Sylat Harithia Secondary School For Boys “ Level Two) when we were invited to nominate ourselves to be representatives at the Youth Leadership Program. Five of us stepped forward. We were given a test to evaluate our capabilities and qualifications. Then, the crucial time came when elections were held in the class. I won in the elections and then again in the school election where winners from many classes competed. This qualified me to go on to compete in the elections at the Jenin District level. There I met many qualified individuals who were difficult to beat. I quickly learned that the work behind the scenes is very important in democratic process.

I want to mention that there were many female students who participated in the District Meeting. They were very important in the deliberations, especially in topics related to women like early marriage, equal opportunities and women s rights to participate in political life.

Also, in spite of the great difficulties that we faced while trying to reach the cities, we insisted on carrying out the project - and we did it! I will never forget one time while we were meeting in the District Building, we heard a huge explosion in the city. It was the assassination operation of Mr. Nazih Abu Siba. Nevertheless, we resumed the meeting till the end and held the elections to choose eighteen students to move into the next stage.

Second Stage

The second stage was implemented in Nablus City since it is the meeting point for all northern districts. In this stage, many participants, who became my friends afterwards, discussed a number of issues and exchanged views on democracy and several social problems and the ways to tackle them.

The most important event for me that took place during this stage was when I met Palestinian Legislative Council member Mr. Hussam Khadir, who is now in Israeli Occupation prison, and PLC member Mr. Muawiah Al Masri. In the meeting, we discussed freely and openly many political issues and some of the positions of the Palestinian National Authority.

ATF gave me the chance to meet Mr. Hussam Khadir, whom I always wished to meet, and to speak to him about various thoughts that have been on my mind. In the session, he listened wholeheartedly to all our questions and provided us with a detailed explanation of many things that are currently happening in the Palestinian arena, especially political topics. And then, I was greatly privileged when my colleague Farah El Alul and I met him privately after the meeting. I would like to extend my gratitude and appreciation to Mr. Hussam Khadir for clearing up many of my misconceptions.

I do not deny the value of this meeting with Mr. Hussam Khadir because it opened an opportunity for me to show and highlight my political potential to the rest of my colleagues. I felt that we were each rallying and carrying some sort of a self-propaganda to nominate ourselves for the third stage. This is in fact what happened and elections were held on the next day. Representatives for every district were elected and I was one of the six students who were elected to represent Jenin District.

Third Stage

The best week in my life was during the Third Stage when President Arafat visited us!

The third and the final stage of the project had a special nature since, on one hand it highlighted the level of qualifications held by the youth who had reached this stage through democratic process, and on the other hand, the surrounding conditions and the long periods of curfew which were imposed on the camp (every day except one), forced us to live in a hotel that we began to call the Five Star Prison."

At first, we thought that the curfew would close the camp. But, as I mentioned earlier, everyone showed their commitment and sense of responsibility towards the program and we did not allow the occupation to control us or spoil our project. Although the program had to be re-adjusted several times along with a number of changes in people that we were supposed to meet with, the lectures were held and attended by a large number of students.

The whole hotel was turned into a continuous discussion area whether in the rooms, lecture halls, or reception hall. The side talks and informal discussions that followed the discussions were, in my point of view, the most important since they provided us with the opportunity to exchange ideas and clarify our points of view. In many instances we were able to come out with solutions to issues as a direct result of these deliberations. Among the issues that were presented was the issue of borders in which we divided into two groups - one pretended to be the Israeli delegation and the other played the role of the Palestinian delegation. We also discussed the issue of "Mughtasabat." 2

During the curfew ambulances brought food to us and then during one of the brief lifts in the curfew we were able to visit the headquarters of the Red Crescent Society. We had a chance to see the Mobile Intensive Care Unit and receive a detailed description from its medical staff. Unfortunately, we were not able to reach the Civil Defense headquarters, but they sent a fire engine with its crew. The crew introduced us to its different sections and answered our questions about the nature of their work and the difficulties they face while on duty.

Despite the circumstance, we were able to exploit the curfew. New and unforgettable friendships were formed. We invented new means of entertainment which were actually more amusing than going out. In the evenings, we enjoyed artistic sessions and acted out plays that we wrote and directed.

We talked a lot about the practice of democracy in this project, especially during the elections. However, there was another democratic experiment we experienced. During the program we formed a mock Legislative Council and held one session inside the hall of the hotel. I was the Speaker and it was a wonderful experience for me especially when I managed a discussion or debate session. It was very similar to what takes place in the real Palestinian Legislative Council. During the session, we discussed a draft law on Special Needs and another on Youth. Both were passed in the three readings.

Fortunately, the curfew was lifted for several hours so we were able to go out to lunch in one of the city s restaurants. We also toured the city streets. Because of conditions of the occupation, the majority of us had never visited Ramallah. I, for instance, only visited it on school trips. While we were wandering in the streets, the Israeli army moved into the city and started shooting, so we all ran back to our Five Star Prison."

By participating in this project, I was given the chance to meet new youth from other Districts as well as my own. Many friendships were formed and we are still in touch either by telephone or Internet. I feel that a youth network at the level of the Districts was established and we have an objective to publicize our experience among other youths in all areas. I believe that if such an experiment were repeated at the level of schools, the number of participants would reach seventy thousands and not just seventy.

 The week in which we all shared our lives with one another - sleeping, waking-up, eating, discussions and breaks - came to an end. The best thing was that we were introduced to Palestinian youth that had the same interests and concerns and who are all working to fulfill similar objectives.

On the last day, there was a lot of crying and tears. We wrote letters and exchanged phone numbers and E-mail addresses in order to contact one another in the future. The nicest thing that happened on that day was the signing of diaries and writing of emotional and expressive comments on T-shirts and caps.

On Thursday, the departure day, we left the hotel and headed towards the Palestinian Leadership Headquarters to meet the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. We had a chance to speak with him and memorable photos were taken. President Arafat also signed our certificates.

A Distinguished Idea for an Integrated Democracy Project

The idea of the project for Palestinian Youth Leadership, which was organized and implemented by the Arab Thought Forum, is considered a distinguished and pioneering idea in working with youth. It has reminded many adults of the basic objective of working with youth in Palestine, which is to prepare us to be fully aware of the Palestinian question and social, cultural and intellectual issues, and to be fully equipped to bear future responsibilities.

By participating in this project, I became aware of this objective and I found what I was looking for as a Palestinian youth who is enthusiastic about our cause, keen on developing my capabilities, enriching my political understanding and raising my level of awareness.

Following my past participation in many summer camps, which were characterized as having no objectives, superfluous and cost a lot of money, I used to feel a great frustration. This project makes feel assured that there are people and organizations in Palestine who care about Palestinian youth and seek in a positive way to provide them with what they need. I honestly believe that the Palestinian Youth Leadership forum is the type of model that has to be followed when initiating a youth project.

This project has given me the chance to discuss several issues that are important to me as a Palestinian youth concerning building Palestinian society and hoping to raise it to a better level. Moreover, through the elections, which were held at the end of every stage, this project has made it possible for me to practice democracy in an effective and realistic manner. I think it would not be surprising if I inform you that I was very active and clever behind the scenes in lobbying others to vote for me and this paved the way for my participation in the project from start to finish.

2 It was agreed in the camp that the terms "settlement" and "settlement post" be replaced by the term "Mughtasabat" which means usurped or raped land.

Source: ATF Shu‘un Tanmawyyeh Issue 28

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