|Gazans are struggling to rebuild after the Israeli siege of January 2009, but the region's youth are starting to reach out to the world in order to end the violence [EPA]
That's the question a group of frustrated young Gazans asked the world as 2010 drew to a close. In a bold declaration titled the "Gazan youth's manifesto for change" released on Facebook and quickly circulated globally via the Internet, the young Palestinians bluntly attacked not just Israel but Hamas and the entire structure of authority inside Gaza and Palestine/Israel more broadly.
"F*** Hamas. F*** Israel. F*** Fatah. F*** UN. F*** UNWRA. F*** USA!" the manifesto begins, with the verb spelled out fully. "We, the youth in Gaza, are so fed up with Israel, Hamas, the occupation, the violations of human rights and the indifference of the international community! We want to scream and break this wall of silence, injustice and indifference," it goes on to say.
One of the ways colonial powers succeed in maintaining their control over a subject population is to get the colonised people to behave towards each other with similar kinds of violence and oppression as deployed by the coloniser against the native population. This tactic of dehumanisation is one of the most effective ways of maintaining power by dividing the population against each other and has long been deployed by Israel to weaken Palestinian society; nowhere more so than Gaza, where it has been used precisely to damper, if not silence, the injustice and indifference of the occupation.
In the 1990s it was the newly empowered security forces of the Palestinian Authority which all too easily adopted the tactics of violence and oppression against fellow Palestinians. Visiting with mental health officials in the Strip I learned first hand from recently released prisoners who had been tortured by newly empowered security men, often in the very same jails that Israel had only recently before tortured many of their torturers.
Hamas as a movement was similarly born in violence, initially against Palestinians more than against Israelis. And now that it has become the de facto state in Gaza, it has deployed its violence against fellow Palestinians with little more scruples than the PA.
Multiple walls, multiple occupations
Such violence corrodes the social and national solidarity without which large scale, coordinated resistance against occupation is much harder to sustain. It creates, as the authors of the Gazan youth manifesto describe it repeatedly in their text, a "nightmare inside a nightmare," one with "no room for hope, no space for freedom."
This nightmare within a nightmare reflects a double or even triple occupation that keeps those most desperate for freedom imprisoned behind an almost impregnable series of walls. Gazan and Palestinian youth more broadly not only have to fight against the Israeli occupation, they have to fight against their own internal power structures, whose divisive and often bloody competition, corruption, and lack of respect for divergent voices within Palestinian society further weakens the community.
Add to this the complicity of the international community at almost every level in the never ending occupation and it becomes clear how before one can tear down the very real walls imprisoning Gazans and so many West Bank citizens, Palestinians first have to traverse the psychological, political, and diplomatic walls that anchor the physical walls.
The social networking site Facebook might be worth $50 billion today, but that means little to its millions of Middle Eastern users, the vast majority of whom will most likely never have the opportunity or money to buy its stock. For young people across the Arab and larger Muslim worlds, Facebook and social networking technologies more broadly have given them the ability to connect with each other outside the scrutiny and control of conservative, patriarchal social and political systems. Even more important, these technologies have given them the ability to organise politically, which is why governments from Tunisia to Iran (and farther east, to China) expend so much energy to control and often restrict access to them.
But even in the digital age, virtual organising and community can only go so far to threaten those in power. And that's why Hamas didn't merely try to block access to Facebook. Rather, and what prompted the group behind the Gaza youth manifesto to take up their pens, was that Hamas officials attacked a youth centre, the Sharek Youth Forum, where young people regularly gathered creatively to vent frustration at the occupation.
As a space outside of Hamas's ideological and political control, Sharek constituted a challenge to its authority and its strategies of resistance, to what the Gazan youth describe as the "bearded guys walking around with their guns abusing their power, beating up or incarcerating young people demonstrating for what they believe in..."
Of course, Hamas's activities are in no way unique. Throughout the Oslo period the Arafat-led PA, with the cooperation (and no doubt at the urging of) Israeli and US intelligence agencies, worked to frustrate and weaken Palestinian civil society, which was so crucial to the success of the first intifada and which constituted a foundation for grass roots resistance against the negative impact of the Oslo process for most Palestinians.
And the violence and oppression within occupied Palestinian society have also corrupted its occupier, Israel, which is increasingly tearing apart what remains of its democratic institutions and ideology - as most recently shown by the attempt by a Knesset committee to investigate peace and human rights groups as essentially enemy organisations.
Indeed, this corrosion claimed its most important victim already a decade and a half ago, when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was killed, by a man whose violent world view and smug justifications for assassinating him seem to have been copied almost whole cloth by the assassin of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer just last week. The shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, shot multiple times at point black range, reflects the global reach of this disease and its infection off most every type of political culture today.
In fact, what the manifesto's authors describe as the "cancer" infecting their society is spreading across the world, the dark side of all the interconnectedness and "networking" promised by globalisation. Whether in Muslim countries like Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan, where Christian communities and moderate Muslim groups are under increasing attack, to Europe and the United States, where Islamophobia, prejudice and attacks against Muslims more broadly are increasing at alarming rates, the basic phenomenon is the same.
Across the developing world, from Africa to Southeast Asia, societies have turned on themselves with devastating results, leaving untold millions dead and even more maimed, and the very bases of cohesive national identities irreparably torn.
Enough is enough!
One of the great insights of the authors of the Gaza youth manifesto is that replying to hatred and violence in kin only spreads rather than cures the cancers of occupation and oppression. As they put it: "We do not want to hate, we do not want to feel all of this feelings, we do not want to be victims anymore. Enough pain, enough tears, enough suffering.... terror, torture, excuses, bombings... disturbed politics, fanatic politicians, religious bullshit, enough incarceration! WE SAY STOP!"
"Enough!" has become a rallying cry of grass roots freedom and justice movements from the Zapatistas in Mexico to the Kefaya movement in Egypt. What the brave members of the movement get is that the only way long term to defeat occupation writ large is to "start by destroying the occupation that surrounds ourselves, [to] break free from this mental incarceration and regain our dignity and self respect... We will build dreams where we meet walls."
In sociological terms, what the authors of the manifesto and the tens of thousands of young activist across the Muslim world are doing is attempting to transform "resistance" identities that are grounded largely in violence and exclusion into more open and positive"project" identities that offer an alternative rather than mirror to the oppression - whether foreign occupation or domestic repression - that surrounds them.
Such an identity has the potential to reach out across the boundaries of class, culture, nation or religion and create new solidarities between old enemies, or at least adversaries. But such a movement is as fragile as it is crucial to the future, not just of Palestine or even of the Muslim world, but peace and justice on a global scale.
Channelling a revolution
"There is a revolution growing inside of us, an immense dissatisfaction and frustration that will destroy us unless we find a way of canalising this energy into something that can challenge the status quo and give us some kind of hope."
This dilemma is faced by the counterparts of the young Gazans behind this manifesto globally, from Cairo to Lahore, Los Angeles to Abidjan, Tunis to Algiers. And it's why the manifesto closes with a plea for support from everyone who reads it. As much of the world begins a new year, is it too much to ask for those of us who've been blessed with peace and prosperity to take the time to reach out not just to the youth of Gaza, but to the courageous activists for peace and justice around the world who are risking so much to achieve freedom and dignity for their own peoples, and in doing so, collectively for us all?
Mark Levine is a professional musician and professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of California, Irvine. He is author of half a dozen books, including Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Religion and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam (forthcoming, Random House/Verso, companion CD to be released by EMI Records).
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.