The March 15 protests drew thousands into al Manara Square, Ramallah, and many thousands more to the streets in Gaza. Inspired by the ongoing revolts in the Arab world, youth organizers have defined their own calls for more participation. On al Manara Square among the protestors were a dozen youth on hunger strike, while other protestors in Bethlehem remained camped out in Nativity Square. One youth activist from the West Bank spoke about the demonstrations and their goals:

“The demonstrations that are happening in districts of the West Bank were called for by different groups of youth […] They have come together under the name of the Youth Movement and united under this name in different areas, in Ramallah, in Bethlehem, and even in Gaza, and began to work under the name of the Youth Movement.

“All the youth in the different areas agreed on particular demands, which are ending the division. This is not just reconciliation or power-sharing between Fatah and Hamas. Ending the division means holding elections for a new National Council to represent all Palestinians, wherever they are, in the Diaspora, in ’48 Palestine.

“The importance of the National Council is that it represents all Palestinians, wherever they are. It represents the refugees, those in the Diaspora, on the ’48 Palestinians. The National Council allows for the participation, to end the division with the Authority between Hamas and Fatah, or the control of Fatah on the Authority, and allow for the participation of all Palestinian political parities in the National Council.

“[Another demand is] the release of political prisoners from Palestinian prisons. The youth consider all these demonstrations as a way to end the divisions, and as a first step in ending the Israeli occupation. All of what is demanded must be achieved in order to return Palestinians abilities to resist the Occupation.

Here, you can continue rebuilding the PLO, the representative of all the Palestinian people, to rebuild it, not as a weapon, for everyone that aims to reclaim the momentum of the Palestinian cause and give it life. We want a clear program for resistance to the Occupation, and we want to end the agreements with the Occupation government, because Israel is not committed to any agreement. On the contrary, the settlements increase each day, there are arrests, the racist system against the Palestinians in the ’48, the whole, racist Zionist system.”

Despite the importance of these demands, both governments in the West Bank and Gaza have responded harshly. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, security forces attacked demonstrators with clubs, attempted to stop journalists from covering the demonstrations, and arrested young protestors. In the West Bank, however, things have played out differently:

“In Gaza, Hamas dealt brutally with the demonstrators and beat them. There is duplicity in the explanations of the two governments. They say that, “we are going to listen to the demonstrators. We are for the end of the division.” At the same time, security forces are found on the street arresting demonstrators, beating demonstrators, whether they are women or men. Also, there have been attempts from both sides to break into the websites the youth are working on, and to endorse the events as if they were from Hamas or Fatah.

“Hamas was clear; they went down on the streets and beat them [demonstrators]. In the West Bank, unfortunately, there were hidden methods, but I don’t think there is a difference between their two methods. Fatah had more hidden methods: in the beginning the prohibited youth from setting up a tent for the sit-in, so they were left to sleep outside in the cold. After that, the security forces spread among the demonstrators, using tactics of targeting youth and creating problems. There is repression, whether direct or indirect. […] despite the decision from President Abbas stating that no one is to violate [the rights] of the demonstrators. But we don’t know why the opposite is happening. Whether there are people not accountable to the president, or taking individual decisions, this is something not known. But we, in the West Bank and in Gaza, [are facing] repression.”

Despite beatings, arrests and other forms of intimidation, youth have held fast. Their movement, hopefully, is only beginning:

“These are the demands, and we are striving to achieve them. Now, as youth we know that this will take a long time, and that is will not happen easily. But we expect that the youth have the energy and are able to continue. But it requires gathering people and convincing them that they must join this movement.

“The movement is still in its first stages, and Palestinian youth are still building up their abilities and preparing to plan and move forward. They are always asking the people to join them, especially the Palestinian people who lost their trust in people who call for demonstrations. It is possible to end the division, but you need time for people to recover their trust, come down to the streets and join the youth in their demands.”

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