“Faragh” (mearning leisure time) is a group of young Palestinian people, who gather regularly on a plot of land in front of al-Nasser al-Arabi Club in the al-Nasser neighborhood in Gaza. They discuss religion, politics, music and philosophy. Quite often, they are the only ones sitting in this area on a few modest chairs — a scene that signifies their modest lives. They like to call themselves the hard-working class.
On July 28, Al-Monitor attended one of their meetings, which are usually organized once a week during the daytime. However, during the month of Ramadan, the meetings were scheduled for a later hour. Thus, the group’s young women were unable to participate.
According to Ahmed Shehada, 25, their group seeks to have an intellectual influence on society. That is why they started a Facebook page to discuss the latest events, and most recently the crisis in Egypt.
Shehada added that what distinguishes their generation from previous ones is that they have access to a tremendous amount of knowledge from sources that were not available before, which would allow their generation to rule the Arab region in less than a decade.
Aziz Loulou, 20, agreed with Shehada. He apparently tends to be philosophical about things. He believes that people of his generation are transfixed by YouTube and Facebook, watching the entire world, which makes them much more conscious than others. Yet, Loulou continues to feel empty from inside. That is why he takes the initiative in various ways to fill this hollowness.
Shehada’s younger brother, a 20-year-old man named Abdullah, describes himself as moody. He seems exuberant and sees his group as a reaction to the alienation young people in society suffer. He said he cannot find a job, despite the fact that he has a good resume and studied for two years majoring in nongovernmental organization management.
“When the eight of us sit together, we have eight different ways of thinking. Had it not been for these meetings, our anger and grudges about these lost opportunities would only grow stronger,” he said.
Their friend, Mahmoud al-Talouli, 21, came from Syria with his family. He dreams of returning to his homeland. He explained that the group was formed to enjoy leisure time by reading and contemplating, hence its name.
Ahmed al-Madoukh, 25, is seen as the luckiest in the group because he is the only one to have a steady job. He said they have read dozens of books and discussed them in an attempt to reduce intellectual laziness, said to be, in part, a byproduct of the blockade.
For his part, Selim al-Moubayed, 22, said their group is trying to spread awareness among young people instead of partisanship and social and religious extremism, adding that they sometimes engage in long and arduous debates on their webpage.
Most of the group’s members describe their dreams as normal, limited to having a job and getting married. However, they deeply wish to be able to change reality, as young people are the poorest in their society.
Mahmoud Diba, 20, does not believe he can make any change in society, as young Gazans are alienated and people often question their ability. Therefore, he is looking forward to traveling, where a real opportunity awaits him. Ahmed Shehada disagreed with him, saying that those who consider leaving Gaza are looking for personal freedom only.
The cheering for the soccer game in the nearby club would sometimes drown out the interlocutors’ voices, but the discussion continued to the Sufi music resonating from one of their cell phones.
Madoukh added that he has achieved a lot in his job, which did not keep him away from his interest in politics, not in parties. Aziz agreed with him that they should stay away from partisanship. He described himself as adventurous, but unable to assess himself as a member of society because he is unemployed. He thinks that he most likely represents the small bourgeoisie of society.
According to a study carried out by the Sharek Youth Forum titled “The Status of Youth in Palestine 2013,” the proportion of youth (15- to 29-year-olds) in Palestine has reached 29.8% of the total population of the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. Nearly one quarter of Palestinian youth are classified as poor, and one-third are unemployed.
Moubayed said that society is shifting toward abhorrent materialism and people are assessed by their salaries and financial status. Aymen Abu Abdo, who is the oldest of the group and a lute player, disagreed with Moubayed, saying that not all people in Gaza have the same views on young Palestinians. Yet, he did not deny the fact that some young people are looked down on, especially artists and writers.
The group’s members are pessimistic about the future — which is why you find them trying to build their own world — except for Ahmed Shehada and Diba, who believe that political parties have gotten old and will soon be replaced with young people.
The “We are kind” initiative
On Jalaa Street, not far from where the first group gathers, 24-year-old Ahmad Fayyad distributes small plastic bags containing juice and dates to those who have yet to break their fast after sunset.
All cars, even at high speed, stop to take these dates since breaking the fast is a religious observance.
Fayyad is joined by 66 others, divided up to cover six regions in Gaza and perform the “We are kind” initiative. Young women play the traditional role of putting the juice and dates in plastic bags.
An Islamic club, Sunnaa Al-Hayat (meaning life creators), launched the initiative. Its leader, Ishak al-Awadi, 25, does not hide his Islamist inclinations, reiterating that he is not affiliated with any party. He told Al-Monitor that the initiatives launched by the club are voluntary and emphasize the concept of love and fraternity. Awadi affirmed that the volunteering is renewed every month and is open to all youths regardless of the movement to which they belong. The call for participation is made through social media outlets.
Literature and publication
If electronic discussion was the way adopted by the first group to bring about change and take to the streets, Sunaa Al-Hayat believes that writing changes society.
In the Tamer Institute for Community Education, young males and females who seemed to be from a high-income social class were preparing for a four-day literary camp during Ramadan — titled “literary days” — during which they focus on Palestinian identity.
During the meeting attended by Al-Monitor on July 29, the discussion addressed the phases of the camp. The youth will meet with the elderly, who will recount their stories of the 1948 exodus, and every group will write about a Palestinian village. In addition, they will perform a play and present written material pertaining to the same subject. The participants are between 13 and 18 years of age; all engage in poetry and short-story writing.
Ghadir, 15, writes poetry and Rana, 16, writes short stories. They both published their pieces in the Yaraat supplement that is issued with the daily Al-Ayyam. Yet, since the newspaper is banned from entering the Strip, the supplement is delivered alone. The focus of the two girls on writing made them believe in the impact of literature and publication.
It seems that the reality has hit the older participants early. Hala Ashour, 18, learned of her results in the official exams last week. Even though she received a grade of 90%, she could not get into medical school, her lifelong dream, because it requires higher grades. She said other options are scarce, and she is now likely to pursue a degree in pharmacy. She said that publishing her pieces in the Yaraat supplement has improved her ability to deal with reality.
Saif Succar, who received a grade of 94%, said, “I do not know what studies I will be pursuing, but I will join a university in an Arab country. It is time to travel and change.” Succar described Yaraat as his creative home.
Asmaa al-Ghoul is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse and a journalist from the Rafah refugee camp based in Gaza.