Facebook in Gaza

Karma Nabulsi

Last weekend the Observer carried a dramatic account of 'The Gaza Youth Manifesto', written in English by a handful of young people in Gaza and posted on Facebook. Given the thousands of people in the West who have said they 'like' it on Facebook or posted positive comments, the manifesto is said to herald a new movement for change in occupied Palestine.

Because of Palestinians' lengthy predicament of expulsion, dispossession and military occupation, there is a rich tradition of Palestinian manifestos and declarations: hundreds of them have been written since 1948. 'Bayan Harakatina' ('Our Movement's Statement', 1959) played an important role in recruiting the first wave of young people to the Palestinian National Liberation Movement-Fateh, and in unifying their political consciousness. It was distributed clandestinely, 'entrusting' its readers with the key ideas of the new movement. Later documents, such as the founding manifesto of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (1967), were distributed more openly. These manifestos were written by organised Palestinian youth as mobilising documents, exclusively for young Palestinians.

Manifestos have been written by everyone: 'Workers of Palestine Unite' was issued by the General Provisional Committee of the Workers of Palestine in 1962; the Unified National Command of the Intifada released 46 communiqués between 1988 and 1990; 'The Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel' was published on 9 July 2005; 'The Palestine Manifesto' was published last year by the National Committee for the Defence of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; dozens of statements have been issued by right of return committees in the refugee camps since 1998; Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails, from all parties, released the now famous 'National Reconciliation Document' in 2006.

Palestinian manifestos and declarations tend to do four things: 1. engage critically with the current situation and its historical context; 2. outline a response, clearly stating the principles that should underpin it; 3. announce the emergence of an organised group to carry out that response; and 4. call on Palestinian youth to join the movement. The wording is careful and has usually been negotiated at length between a variety of people and organisations. In short, the manifestos are purposive and geared towards some form of collective action.

The 'Gaza Youth Breaks Out' manifesto does not belong to this tradition: it does not put forth any clear analysis of the current historical situation, or outline a response to it. It does not declare the existence of an organised group, or invite anyone to join anything. Its tone is denunciatory rather than analytical. Its language is apolitical: the terminology of resistance common to Palestinian manifestos is replaced here by use of the f-word. And it lacks any mobilisational dimension. It's unsurprising, then, that it has received little attention in the Arab world. The most extensive report on it appeared in Al Akhbar in Lebanon, which more or less reprinted the piece from the Observer.

If this manifesto does not belong to the Palestinian tradition of declarations, then what tradition does it belong to? Clearly it captures the despair and horror of life in Gaza today, and the young people behind it have every right to post their appeals and complaints on Facebook or wherever they like. But without being rooted in any particular or collective vision of change, the three demands articulated in the manifesto – 'We want to be free. We want to be able to live a normal life. We want peace' – are meaningless. Perhaps this is why it is so attractive to those who have read it on Facebook, and the European and American media who have taken it up. It caters to western tastes and desires, especially to the fantasy of a digitally connected youth emerging from cyberspace as agents of transformative change in the real world. In the case of Palestine, this fantasy does a number of things besides soothing guilty consciences. It reframes the issue of justice for Palestine in vacuous and unthreatening terms, casts the method by which change may occur into virtual space, and empties the Palestinian body politic of the thoughtfully articulated demands of its millions of citizens.


  • 10 January 2011 at 5:25pm
    Seth Edenbaum says:
    "But without being rooted in any particular or collective vision of change, the three demands articulated in the manifesto – ‘We want to be free. We want to be able to live a normal life. We want peace’ – are meaningless."

    That statement makes sense only as coming from an Oxford academic. GYBO are teenagers telling adults to stop acting like 5 year olds; your schoolmarmish response is inappropriate and self-serving.

    Whatever its limitations, the sociability of Facebook is preferable to the asociality of people who pretend to live in the world of ideas rather than people.

  • 12 January 2011 at 10:51am
    macuchlan says:
    Dear Ms. Nabulsi

    I am Macuchlan a member of the Gaza Youth Break Out. The reason behind my name is that the Irish legacy of a youngster who studied all human sciences and migrated in a cave the corruption of his community and their arrogance, He returned when he becomes old enough (30s ) and lead his country to accept their freedom and to free themselves to think and to act towards improvement in giving the youth the right to fight for what they believe. I can't disagree with you about the historic manifests that brought the Palestinian community a further failure because the Palestinian policy has to do with the leader not the people. We gave the educated youth the right to release their anger and oppression that they have been facing for a long time. We are not westernized as we understand the Palestinian glorious history and the inglorious present. I hope you cite what you said in the Manifesto as you cited the before manifests, not misinterpret the message of freedom not only mentally but also in a based ground of the tragic situation of Palestine. Our faith in our lands will never change but our present needs a change carried by the youth as a step aware.

  • 12 January 2011 at 11:23am
    macuchlan says:
    Let me view something here,
    The Palestinian revolution at the first Place, placed education as an effective tool for youth to lead a change, as far as the revolution ended up with devision educated and educative youth have the right to change. We do not neglect the Palestinian historic Manifests while they have turned to be failure with the usage of Israhell to our own Political leaders. If the youth have their god -given right to change and to lead their change, our current situation will be dissimilar. UNITY is our tool to change if the Old traditional manifests doesn't change the reality of having fake accords that are self imposed and Israhelli imposed on the Palestinian people to lead them to think of having the basic family supplies and the money supplies that always have to do with regional and international propagandas, then leave the stage for a youth group on their own to lead a positive change not a birth of a new middle east according to the American agenda...

  • 12 January 2011 at 11:36am
    acitizenofpalestine says:
    Beautifully said Karma, you wonderfully articulated what many of us have been discussing. While our sympathies lie with the motives and frustration behind the 'manifesto' we were perturbed by the amount and nature of the Western press it received, compared to that accorded/denied the hundreds of serious and collective initiatives launched by Palestinians over the years.

    Cynicism will get us nowhere, we need to return to our own revolutionary history in order to rebuild a collective movement for the future.

  • 12 January 2011 at 2:34pm
    Chris Mullen says:
    "The ‘Gaza Youth Breaks Out’ manifesto does not belong to this tradition: it does not put forth any clear analysis of the current historical situation, or outline a response to it."
    Actually this is the point, but longtime Fateh/PLO-representative Nabulsi is not getting it. For her, to speak up you have to be a) organized (in political groups or parties), b) having an analysis and the concept for making it better, a strategy. True, the manifesto "does not declare the existence of an organised group, or invite anyone to join anything." And for sure "its tone is denunciatory rather than analytical" and its "language is apolitical". But that's the new, the progressive of the manifesto, whose authors take the right to CRITICIZE, and that means telling what is bad, and that it's bad. That here we have INDIVIDUALS speaking, and not one of the ideological, corrupt, selfish parties and organization that Nabulsi seemingly prefers, that we have the "terminology of resistance common to Palestinian manifestos" replaced by "the f-word" and the statement that the youth "do not want to fight in the political, ideological game but just want to live a peaceful life - this is what gives this manifesto for sure more "mobilisational dimension" than any ideological call in the name of an objectivated collective ("the Palestinians"). Mrs. Nabulsi, what you say is reactionary. What they say, is progressive. In the end, the individuals are speaking.

    • 12 January 2011 at 8:37pm
      acitizenofpalestine says: @ Chris Mullen
      Chris, your political preference for dead-end, harmless outbursts of frustration distorts your perspective. The fact that you consider initiatives that are “denunciatory rather than analytical” using “language [that]is apolitical” as novel only underlines Karma's point about the misrepresentation of Palestinian initiatives in the media. There is nothing new, glamorous or exciting about such outbursts in our history. We are all too used to unrepresentative 'manifestos' and 'declarations' popping up in English in Western media outlets, elevated by the attention they receive but with no real backing amongst Palestinians. Whereas rarely do the communiques of our mass organisations achieve such attention.

      The fact that you consider this type of 'initiative' to be progressive reflects your interests and priorities but not mine and judging by the Palestinian non/reaction to the 'manifesto', neither those of Palestinians. Progressive initiatives, as the best in our history, often include criticism (although I don't believe indiscriminate use of the 'f-word' can really be described as that) but also offer the hope of change, something positive that engages with the community rather than dismissing it. Quite how you think this is mobilisational, I'm not sure.

    • 12 January 2011 at 9:42pm
      Chris Mullen says: @ acitizenofpalestine
      Yeah, you know about "the Palestinan interests". You, like Nabulsi, think that this text (outburst) written by frustrated adolescents in Gaza, is not representing "the Palestinian" cause (this does not exist). They just represent themselves, and many of their friends. By the way, adolescents constitute half of the population in Gaza.
      But if you prefer the well known boring and stereotypical statements of political parties and organizations (that are making their profit in this conflict and that follow their ideological agendas) over the "unrepresentative ‘manifestos'" of this young individuals representing themselves and thus representing loads of people that don't want to fit in the traditional dichotomic discourse of "resistance" - well, don't expect me to like this idea. This is what I called reactionary.

  • 12 January 2011 at 7:25pm
    Ahmed Moor says:
    Dr. Nabulsi's main criticism isn't that the young people in Gaza ought to avoid commenting or comment within an identifiable political framework or even that theirs is a milquetoast manifesto. Instead, she notes that the enormous positive reaction garnered by the manifesto in the West is largely a consequence of the vague, non-threatening "demands" these young people make. An aggressive, (inconveniently) unyielding Palestinian tradition cannot be widely endorsed in the West because it seeks to upend Western history. But a manifesto full of feel-good vagaries places the Palestinian youths firmly in a non-controversial space. She's not disagreeing with the Gaza youth; she's commenting about Western reaction and what it's motivated by.

    I agree with her, and many other young Palestinians agree with her.

  • 12 January 2011 at 8:36pm
    Chase Madar says:
    This debate reminds me of how the story of Rosa Parks has been deformed into a spurious parable of spontaneous individualism.

    Rosa Parks was the Black seamstress who in 1955 efused to give up her seat to a white woman in a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and got arrested. This sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, a key event (and triumph) in the American civil rights movement. And nearly every time Ms Parks' deed is publicly remembered in America her act is chalked up as a catalytic act of spontaneous individualism--a story of how one person acting alone can make a difference!
    In fact Ms Parks was a stalwart and highly politicized activist, the secretary of her local NAACP chapter, not just some random citizen. The boycott that followed was rigorously planned from start to finish. Previously a 15 year old girl had done what Ms Parks did, but the NAACP deemed her an unsuitable public face for the campaign when it came out that the she was pregnant. Ms Parks acted as a conscious member of a highly coordinated political group.
    All of which is to say: sure, it would be nice if spontaneous individuals and their Facebook networks could change the world. But in reality it is only organized groups, the kind with visions, plans, strategies and yes, ideologies, that actually get things done. Working with such organization has many pains, but internet individualism has no pleasures, and is politically inconsequential.

  • 12 January 2011 at 11:47pm
    Chris Mullen says:
    Actually you are right, the manifesto will not "change the world" or change anything. And Nabulsi is right that it will not get people to organize in political organizations' structures.
    But this is not the point. The maifesto is an encouraging sign of a "change" inside (!) Palestinian Society, where young people move away from the traditional, ideological political organizations and challenge the discourse with courage (under the threat of Hamas repression) and the unwillingness to be "aggressive" (Ahmed Moore), the unwillingness to be either the young militant "hero" or just the passive victim, the stereotypes the media is presenting. And this change brings forth a group of people that as individuals have the moral right to demand their freedom and peace from Israel, as they are demanding it categorically, and inside the Palestinian society, too. Just if the criticism and the demands are universal, you have the right to criticize. Protesting Israeli aggression while not caring about Gazas Social Centres being shut by force and violence and torture by Hamas, makes a hypocrite.

  • 13 January 2011 at 6:49am
    daughterofjerusalem says:
    The ironies and problems in this essay abound.

    Let us begin by reminding ourselves that these are young people. Young people who live in conditions never before seen in Palestinian history.

    While she reminds us of our history of manifestos, her neat schema ignores their content. The first Fateh manifesto she refers to was a short paragraph calling on the sons of Palestine to join the struggle. It did not reveal a fully formed strategy; it was angry and vague, calling on the sons of the Nakba to rise up. Those first manifestos of the underground leadership of the first intifada were the same. Angry (with the PLO leadership that had betrayed them from Tunis), and vague (calling for a rising up, but offering little strategic vision--yet). The Thawabet document she refers to is written by individuals. Individuals with absolutely no representative or democratic legitimacy.

    Moreover, her nostalgia for the earlier phase of the revolution is unjustified. This is a revolution that may have inspired Palestinians with manifestos, but whose leadership utterly betrayed them any chance they could have had in succeeding - time and time again from Palestine and beyond in piles of the broken souls that lay forgotten in a trail of their broken promises. Moreover, it would behoove her to take off her rose-tinted glasses and remember that the Palestinian revolution also penned manifestos in English, aimed at a Western audience, and indeed strategized with Western sensibilities in mind--quite often to the detriment of the rights and just cause of our people. Why can't youth in Gaza also speak to that same audience? Must they first get permission from the self-annointed gate-keepers of the "revolutionary tradition"?

    Your revolution and its strategies and manifestos failed. We will learn from it, not replicate it. We will move beyond it, reach further, aim higher. Your revolution is caste in amber. Ours continues, is alive, and well, and will flourish. We will liberate our homeland, our refugees will return, and our comrades in Gaza--as our youth in Gaza have so often done--will lead the way.

    What is more important? A tradition of speaking truth to power--consequences be damned--(even if it is a small collective of youth in Gaza), or a tradition of empty sloganeering?

    Finally, it is an irony of shameless proportions that someone who does NOT speak nor read Arabic, who enters refugee camps in UNRWA-protected cars, would dismiss this manifesto as "written in English" and critique this very same "Western media" for over-inflating it in a Western, English, paper.

    Love to Gaza's young people breaking out, from Jerusalem's-Arab Jerusalem's--young people breaking out

    • 13 January 2011 at 10:38am
      acitizenofpalestine says: @ daughterofjerusalem
      The bitterness, cynicism and personal vitriol of your comment, daughter, offers us at best nothing more than a dead-end.

      The fact that you are so dismissive of decades of Palestinian history, a revolution that succeeded in pulling together the fragments of a broken people after the Nakba and mobilising two generations, here in Palestine and in the camps outside, does your argument no favors. The way you toss aside all those years of sacrifice and struggle from bottom up and initiatives that launched mass movements, in preference for a facebook post lauded by the Western papers, shows how alienated we have become from our own history. You might not consider it yours but I am proud to consider it mine.

      You say we will liberate our homeland. I hope so. But we will not do it through facebook nor without the hard work of organising and building a movement that our parents and grandparents sacrificed so much to achieve.

  • 13 January 2011 at 9:06am
    Marc says:
    Thanks, Karma, for reminding us of the necessity of collective vision and collective action in politics. The only way that change can occur is through the action of people working together, in organization, for a cause that represents their general will. As you say, there is nothing wrong with individuals posting to facebook or particular groups making denunciations of an awful situation. But we must not mistake anger for action. Action has its own prerequisites, as identified so perfectly in the manifesto tradition that you summarize so effectively.

  • 13 January 2011 at 1:56pm
    Jasmine says:
    This is truly is a shameful piece by Nabulsi. She really had to burst their bubble!!! Your dismissal does point to a political culture that discourages Individual initiative because it threatens the "guardians" and "gatekeepers" of the revolution. Those teenagers should have consulted with Nabulsi first before they issued their facebook post and imbibed her wisdom and that of other traditional "leaders" who got us in the is sh#$-hole we are in!!

    She should listen more carefully (but she can't and wont') and learn from the frustrated tone and denunciatory language. She should learn from them how to take risks and speak truth to power. Has her generation been more courageous in speaking truth to their political organizations, we may not be in this situation we are in now.

    You are being a bully Ms. Nabulsi. Maybe it's time for you to move over and let the young people carry the torch. And if they drop it, they won't be doing more than your generation and idols and symbolic fathers have done.

  • 13 January 2011 at 8:36pm
    FreeCitizen2 says:
    Thank you Dr Nabulsi. We have had enough empty denunciations and baseless expressions. We are fed up with western oriented discourse that receives applause in London and Paris for lacking a clear message of organized struggle. We don’t need another manifesto by a non-existing group. What we need is serious collective work and political reconstruction. We are in search of a highly politicized movement through which our energies can be meaningfully channeled and with which our body politic could be healed.

    I am also disappointed by the level of ignorance shown in some of the previous previous posts. For instance, one of the posts has claimed that Bayan Harakatuna was nothing more than a paragraph. In fact, this important document of Palestinian political history filled an entire booklet and led to the mobilization of thousands of Palestinian youth. The same can be said for other documents cited by Dr Nabulsi. I am certain that the so-called Gaza Manifesto that some people are cheering for will not lead to organizing anyone.

    I have no faith in any document, comment, or statement that claims to speak on behalf of the “youth.” Eight people can never claim to represent the youth, just because they happen to be young and use the internet. Yes, most Palestinians, including myself, are youth. Yet, some belong to one of the political parties; many are active or wish to be active but feel alienated from the parties; while others are completely apolitical (by the tone of their document the authors of the Manifesto seem to belong to that category). The latter act as individuals, and hide behind the anonymity of facebook. They do not, and cannot serve the cause of the liberation.

    I think that Dr Nabulsi’s article is an important, and friendly, wake up call to them. Rather than viewing it as an attack and continuing to mischaracterize its content, the authors of the Manifesto should begin to think about joining other active Palestinian youth for the purpose of changing their reality. One step in that direction would be to start with an anti-colonial analysis. Rather than naively equating Fateh and Hamas (for all their numerous faults) with the Israeli colonizers, and swearing at everyone, they should begin to think about the means for change. The first step is to replace bitterness with pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.

    And Dr Nabulsi (if you are reading this) I hope that you carry on with your courageous work for Palestine. And I hope that you are not upset with some of the rude, ignorant, and abusive comments that were made in this section. I can assure you that you have many admirers and fans amongst us :) I am proud to know that there are Palestinians, like yourself, who have carried the torch of liberation for many years and who continue to carry it. I certainly hope that we can all have your fortitude and that we work for Palestine as long as you have!

    Thanks for reading this long response :)

  • 13 January 2011 at 8:46pm
    Free Palestine says:
    Thank you Karma for this great piece. I believe the commentators that are attacking this piece or even Karma for that matter have missed the central point being made: "It caters to western tastes and desires, especially to the fantasy of a digitally connected youth emerging from cyberspace as agents of transformative change in the real world". That is the reason why it gets so much attention in the West when it does not in the East. Karma is not questioning the genuine reflection of a part of Gaza's youth's emotional repression. What may have been an honest cry for change was used out-of-context to de-politicize the conflict and the very victims of it. A central objective of the Israeli state and its supporters is to render the Palestinian grassroots movement and its demands a thing of the past, or at the very least undermine it by not giving it scout attention or recognition. The point Karma makes is why no such attention is given to the many tens of thousands of Palestinians around Palestine, the refugee camps and in the Diaspora who are making concrete and very realistic demands and that are resisting daily the occupation by many means. Why don't their manifestos get published in the Western media? To claim that the history of the Palestinian resistance is purely a dark one, one that was always without soul, spirit or vision is not only to distort history but to serve the propaganda always waged against the Palestinians. It is true that all the political parties have reached a very dark chapter of their history and that there needs to be a new wave emanating from the same people at a grass-roots level, but this does not mean there is no vivid movement with real demands existing today and that the Palestinians can never be proud of their history of resistance. Thank you again Karma.

  • 14 January 2011 at 11:08am
    Refaat says:
    Well said Karma.
    Somewhere in their dark offices, israeli policy-makers and US donors organisations bosses are giggling and rejoicing at that manifesto that tried to prove to the whole world that what israel is saying about Gaza is 100% the truth, and that kind of gives a justification for the previous war and for more barbaric attacks to come. The manifesto would not have been publicised had it been exposing the israeli war crimes.

  • 15 January 2011 at 1:21pm
    Uranian says:
    "the fantasy of a digitally connected youth emerging from cyberspace as agents of transformative change in the real world"

    It might be worth taking a look at what is happening in Tunisia before you dismiss entirely the idea that youth connected in cyberspace have a role to play.
    Oppressive governments including that in Israel certainly feel bloggers and Facebook users present a threat. The IDF has an entire unit dedicated to cyberwar.
    And the latest events in Tunisia blow apart all comments above to the effect that change can only come about when organised and spearheaded by political groups. Political groups certainly have an important role to play in how things turn out and how change is made permanent but the spark that changes everything can certainly come from disenfranchised youth who have simply had enough.

    • 17 January 2011 at 1:35am
      outofdate says: @ Uranian
      Worse, not only did they ignore points 1-4 which after all got the Palestinians so very far, they had no manifesto at all.

    • 17 January 2011 at 6:33pm
      Free Palestine says: @ Uranian
      I think you are confusing the usefulness of cyberspace for community and political organising within the Arab world, as has happened in Tunisia and as is happening in other Arab countries, with “the fantasy of a digitally connected youth emerging from cyberspace as agents of transformative change in the real world”. The former is a product of and a tool being used by the very people who are oppressed and who are organising on the streets againt authoritarian regimes with the solidarity of their expat communities and other grass-roots organisation, the latter is a phenomena of certain Western and upper-class Arab cyber activists and journalists who are living in their comfortable bubbles and are quite disconnected from the reality or any organising on the ground. The latest events in Tunisia in no way blow apart the comments above which you have misinterpreted (after conveniently misquoting Karma by removing the start of the sentence: “It caters to western tastes and desires, especially to the..."). The discussion was not about the important role cyberspace can play in organising against and under authoritarian regimes, a role that should be fully supported and acknowledged. The discussion was about questioning the reason why one manifesto gets so much attention in the West and the Western media while other manifestos (although published through the internet by Palestinian activists) never get such attention from the same disconnected cyber activists and never get published by the Western media.

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