Chapter 7 ‘Freedom is a Daily Practice’: The Palestinian Youth Movement and Jil Oslo

In: Protests and Generations: Legacies and Emergences in the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean
Sunaina Maira
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Based on ethnographic research in the West Bank in 2011–2013, this chapter explores how Palestinian hip hop and the independent youth movement (al-herak al -shebabi al-mustakil) are rethinking ‘politics’ itself in this jil (generation). The article is interested in how the notion of ‘youth’ itself is produced and negotiated in these sites of youth culture in a moment in Palestine in which political vocabularies are seemingly eviscerated, mass mobilization has waned, and political skepticism and fatigue is pervasive. One of the major political interventions of the youth movement is the (revived) call for a unified national identity linking the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, diaspora, and Palestinians within the 1948 borders of Palestine. This challenges the Oslo paradigm and Israeli matrix of control that physically fragmented the nation and situated what could be Palestine only in the West Bank and Gaza, within the degraded terms of sovereignty supplied by Israel. In the face of this partitioning, the youth movement and hip hop subculture has connected different groups of young people across Palestine and politics emerging from different locations. Youth culture is a key site for expressing and negotiating social identities, political perspectives, and imaginings of the future. The notion of youth as connoting liminality and instability permeates discussions of Palestinian youth. Youth in the Arab world, as elsewhere, are generally viewed as a site of crisis due to their association with national reproduction, and thus with the possibility of both a threat to or continuity of the status quo, for their own societies and for Western states invested in the region. The question of resistance is generally pinned onto youth, which is often an overdetermined site for thinking about political dissent or social movements. Youth politics is suspect, because youth are seen as either too ‘radical,’ or too conformist, and vulnerable to co-optation. These binaries emerged in responses to the youth movement and to Palestinian hip hop and I argue are revealing of deeper tensions and contestations over national identity and ‘proper’ politics in the post-Oslo era.

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