The Palestinian youth taste democracy

by Jordan Green

Their perceptions, opinions and questions spill out in fitful torrents ‘— gleaned from the countervailing reports of CNN and al-Jazeera, perhaps from the dinner-table talk of politicized parents a generation closer to the visceral experience of living under military occupation, and certainly from their own youthful embrace of change.

‘“Do you think we’re looking at civil war?’” asks Fadwa Fields, a curious and spirited Palestinian-American woman who studies business and human resources at GTCC. ‘“Fatah’…’”

Mike Abuzuaiter, a junior at Greensboro College who has more settled opinions on these matters, cuts her off.

‘“They’re just being sore losers,’” he says. ‘“They have a democracy. It’s like the Democrats questioning whether George Bush won the election.’”

Fields shoots back: ‘“That’s what I like about elections, is you get four strikes. You know, four years. If you don’t like what they do, you can vote them out the next time.’”

In Palestine, something earthshaking happened last week. Hamas, the Islamist organization with a double-edged reputation for carrying out suicide bombings in Israel as well as delivering efficient healthcare and social services to Palestinian communities took 76 out of 132 seats in the fledgling nation’s legislature. Hamas’ landslide victory ended the secular Fatah’s 15-year monopoly on Palestinian political power. Once headed by the late Yasser Arafat, Fatah was considered a more moderate force because it recognized the right of Israel to exist. It also squandered a lot foreign aid earmarked for social development on lavish salaries for its top officials.

Many observers have noted with amusement that President Bush’s sweeping promise to defeat terrorism by bringing democracy to the Middle East seems to have been mercilessly mocked. The Palestinian people voted, and decisively elected the ‘terrorists.’ If you lived in occupied East Jerusalem, Nablus or Hebron, you wouldn’t call Hamas ‘terrorists,’ but that’s how Israel ‘— and Bush ‘—’ see them. Hamas’ founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the group has claimed responsibility for the largest share of suicide bombings since 2000.

So while the governments of Israel and the United States, the foreign policy think tanks in Washington, DC and the media commentariat wring their hands about what to do when you don’t like the results of democracy, these Palestinian young people in Greensboro, North Carolina ‘—’ members of the Islamic Center of the Triad’s youth committee ‘—’ are considering recent events with a palpable sense of excitement and possibility. A half dozen of them, including a Muslim Bosnian member, Elvira Jasarevic, sat around a table at the Border’s Café on Sunday to discuss their expectations.

At first glance, democracy and coexistence with Israeli Jews might not seem very promising with Hamas now in the ruling majority. As adult chaperone Badi Ali acknowledges, separation between religion and state ‘— a principle under attack in the United States ‘—’ is hardly a long-established tradition in Palestine.

‘“I think we have a constitution,’” he says. ‘“Our constitution is the Koran.’”

On other fronts, the Palestinian youth in Greensboro are more confident than the policymakers and pundits in Washington. Abuzuaiter said he envisions Hamas folding its armed wing into a Palestinian military answerable to the civilian government elected by the people. As for the suicide bombings, he says: ‘“It’s not acceptable now that they’ve moved into the political realm.’”

Some have worried that Hamas ‘— a force of social conservatism in Palestine ‘—’ will roll back women’s rights. Not these young Palestinians.

‘“If Hamas does try to change the people, that won’t fly,’” Abuzuaiter says. ‘“Palestinians want to be free, no matter if it’s their own people or not.’”

Fields and Yasmeen Zamamiri, a junior at Ragsdale High School, wonder aloud whether Palestine might even beat the United States to the punch in electing its first woman president.

‘“Women have to have their rights because we’re the mothers of the nation,’” Fields says. ‘“We’re the teachers. Give us an education. If we’re not educated, how can our children be educated?’”

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