Islamic Movement and Palestinian Youth Political Agency
The discussion of political Islam among the Palestinian community is manifested in everyday activities. Religion is part of the national discourse and has a dimension in national identity, collective actions, and resisting Israeli occupation (Habashi, 2013). Jung (2004) argued the global interaction in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict contributed to the discourse of local Islamism, since the other national movements had failed to achieve the goal of political change and the creation of a Palestinian state. To be sure, the interaction of the Palestinian local context with the global discourse, including the Israeli oppression, conceptualized the approach of national movements, political parties, and Islamic movement in Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The seed of the Islamic movement in Palestine was sowed during the 1970s when the first chapter of the Islamic Brotherhood from Egypt was established in Gaza. Although Hamas is an extension of Egypt’s Islamic Brotherhood, the focus was on liberating Palestine without spreading the movement to other Muslim or Arab countries. Palestinian Islamic Jihad also evolved out of the Islamic Brotherhood movement in Egypt. These two parties are considered part of the regional Islamist movement, yet the central political agenda is nationalism in nature and addresses public concerns of social and educational services (Malka, 2005; Tamimi, 2007). Hamas provided education, health, and social services that not only covered the Gaza strip but also the West Bank. Islamic movements in Palestine are not under the umbrella of the political structure of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and its membership parties. Hamas and Islamic Jihad took on the act of resisting Israeli occupation, which increased their popularity in the community, thereby considered terrorist organizations in the West (Turner, 2006) without identifying the nuances of differences among the parties as a 12-year-old female participant from a refugee camp illustrated in a journal entry that “Islamic Jihad holds Hamas responsible for the killing of Al-Amodi and Daya martyrs and the violation of the sanctity of Rabat mosque”; even so, the overarching theme of Palestinian liberation unites the two movements. A 12-year old male participant from a city stated “Israel starts to demolish houses, and expels people in Jerusalem... I’m Fatah and I’m against what is happening, as all Palestinians are.” As a holy place, Jerusalem is not associated with Hamas’ or Islamic Jihad’s political agenda only, Fatah and other Palestinian parties also consider it as part of the Occupied Territories.
The popularity of the Islamic movement did not translate into their integration in the PLO political structure. Klein (2007) and Malka (2005) argued that there was some speculation that Hamas would be integrated into the political structure since it is a national arm ofresistance and wants to liberate the historical Palestine to include the land prior the creation ofIsrael and to establish a Palestinian state based on Islamic principles. However, such assumptions did not translate into reality because Hamas is a pragmatic national movement and accepted the establishment of the Palestinian state within the border of 1967 with a long-term truce with Israel and temporarily halted the attack against Israel. Moreover, Hamas rejected that sentiment that “Islam is the solution,” though it stated that Sharia should be a major source for the Palestinian legislation. The perception that Hamas wanted to establish a religious state is seen in a 12-year-old female participant’s (from a refugee camp) journal entry that “Ramadan Shallah demand [ed] Hamas to reassure the public that it does not want to establish an Islamic State in Gaza.” It seems that one objection with Hamas from the Palestinian community is the rejection of the religious implementation in society. However, the relationship between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) was strained as Hamas continued resisting Israeli occupation and at the same time undermined the PA, while the PA arrested Hamas leaders with the support of the Israeli government and the USA. There were several clashes between the PA and Hamas. The goal was to marginalize Hamas throughout the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation. However, Hamas continued its commitment to the national cause and attempted to avoid any clashes with Fatah, the political part of the PA. This did not pave the way for Hamas to integrate with the political structure after Hamas’ win in the 2006 national election (DeFronzo, 2007). The PA, with the support of Western countries—including Israel—did not allow Hamas to govern in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Hence, in 2007, Hamas forces took over Gaza with military clashes with Fatah and the PA, which resulted in blood shed on both parts. Hovdenak (2009) argued that the political differences between Hamas and Fatah changed the political map within the Palestinian community, “ending with a five-day battle and the subsequent military takeover of the entire Gaza Strip by Hamas forces in June 2007.. .deradicalization on the Hamas-Israel frontier was accompanied by a radicalization of Hamas’s position towards a long-term rival, Fatah” (p. 63). Although Hamas asserted that they would not cross the line for civil war, Hamas ended up creating a separate political structure in Gaza without the support of the PA or any Western government. “The grim reality is that the Palestinians now have two political systems that are moving further away from each other, and neither seems to have a viable strategy for realizing its vision or building a better future for the people it purports to lead” (Brown, 2010, p. 35). The political friction between Hamas on one hand and Fatah and the PA on the other hand led to the division within the Palestinian community in Gaza and the West Bank. The global power enhanced the division by supporting the PA despite the people’s calls for reconciliation. The PA continued working as the representative of the Palestinian people by negotiating internationally and ignoring the division. The PA invested economically in the West Bank, which resulted in higher living standards compared with the Gaza Strip, while Gaza has to face several Israeli military invasions throughout the years that have killed several thousand Palestinians and further deteriorated the living conditions, as a 14-year-old female youth from a village stated, “in Gaza there is no electricity and there is a scarcity of water and medicine. Why is there no solution for electricity and water in Gaza? Gaza people can’t tolerate it. Would Israel retaliate? Take over Gaza as a result of Palestinians choosing Hamas in Gaza Strip. Why does Egypt allow this?” In addition, the PA ensured a political strong hold through security apparatuses and the coordination with the Israeli government. Hamas-affiliated programs or civil society was shutdown, Hamas’ people who worked within PA institutions were fired, and any opposition to the PA, regardless of its political party, was linked to a campaign of political destruction. These local/global political interactions impacted the youth political socialization and the integration of religion as 14-year-old female participant from a refugee camp wrote of the division between Fatah and Hamas, and the impact it has had on Palestinians. Her writings indicate her political leanings and the way that the local and global context has shaped her political socialization; she said, “I write because I’m sad by what happened in Gaza, because many families were killed because of Israel and the split between Hamas and Fatah. I think what happened in Gaza is too complicated to solve. I wish for unity between the two parties in order to expel the occupation.” This shows that even though the local context of the conflict between Hamas and Fatah is a significant factor in daily life, the local/global context of the Israeli occupation of Palestine is the larger picture that needs to be addressed. The same participant discussed the wider community’ s goal of unification by saying, “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian [PFLP] calls citizens to raise the Palestinian flag over their homes instead of parties’ banners.” Although democracy is not the strong political attribute of the PA, authoritarianism with the support of the Western government including Israel is pursued under the banner of security and the Palestinian interest. This further enhanced the separation between the two political structures in Gaza Strip and the West Bank and made the division permanent between Hamas and the PA. In addition, Fatah portrayed Hamas as standing against the Palestinian national interest. The winning of Hamas in the national election complicated the presence of the Western discourse in the occupied territories and resulted in meddling with the local democratic process. The European Union negotiated with Hamas secretly prior to the election, yet it joined the USA after the election to cut the financial aid to the PA and refused to work with Hamas-led government until it acknowledged Israel’s right to exist. Even though Hamas has acknowledged such premise in a long-term truce, it was not enough. The pressure of the West including Israel is on the pretense of the growing friction between the two political parties and on the argument that Hamas’ religious affiliation is subsiding as it is becoming the symbol of resistance and resilience while the PA is dissenting into corruption (Turner, 2006). The local/global discourse includes the politicization of Islam, which manifests in youth political socialization as a complex interaction with multiple dimensions and intersectionality. Religion and religious affiliations of different national movements, including Hams and Fatah, play a significant role in the political socialization of youth that is not necessarily identical to the faith itself. Political Islam is not Islam and does not stands on its own, the local and global context as well as youth’s perceptions of the different movements’ allegiances impact youth’s political agency, as is seen in the following writing of a 14-year-old male journal participant from a village: “...I hate Fatah because they ruined Hamas’ Establishment Anniversary Celebration, and they walk through the mosque without taking off their shoes, they don’t have religion, they don’t know God.” However, this same participant goes on to say a few journal entries later that “All people talked about politics because it seems we will have a civil war between the two parties [Hamas and Fatah]... In my perspective, the civil war is not a solution, harmony is, so is Islam—they [Hamas and Fatah] have to compromise with each other.” This participant seems to recognize Islam as a religion, that the politics of Islam are embedded in the larger picture of Palestinian liberation from Israeli oppression, and that the two more important factors of resisting hegemony, which is facilitated by Islam as a religion, unity and solidarity. In this case, Islam [as a religion] is what unites Palestinians. Yet, paradoxically, Islam is also being used as a political strategy by Israel and the West to further divide the community and to gain supporters. In this case, Islam [as a religion] is what unites Palestinians. Yet, paradoxically, Islam is also being used as a political strategy by Israel and the West to further divide the community and to gain supporters. It is the intersectionality of politics of Islam within different contents that youth political agency shapes its construct with the recognition that the ultimate goal of the Islamic movement is liberation from Israeli oppression. Therefore, the presentation and interaction of religion within youth political socialization is contentious on the ecological interactions and its intersectionality with youth agency that is embedded in the constant associations of religion in globalized hegemony and other local institutions.