"We're in one valley and the older generation is in another":
Nabi Musa events as a reflection of transformations and tensions in the Palestinian system
By Dr. Michael Milshtein | January 17, 2021
|Photo: The Islamic Movement Facebook page|
Earlier this month, most political, economic and security-related news that would otherwise have topped the Palestinian agenda were pushed aside by a seemingly unimportant event – some youngsters holding a rave at a religious site. The dance party had upset the entire Palestinian system, and continues to elicit emotional responses on various levels of discourse.
The event took place at Nabi Musa site (Maqqam) near Jericho which serves for prayer and pilgrimage (the "tomb of Moses" according the Islamic tradition). A young group of Palestinians, both male and female, some of them from East Jerusalem and Arab Israeli society, threw a dance party at the mosque complex where large quantities of alcoholic beverages were consumed. Outraged locals (with the help of some IDF forces) scattered the revelers, but that only marked the beginning of this affair. The next day, dozens of Palestinians came to worship at the site, and, after they prayed, conducted a purging ritual during which the content of the partygoers' motel rooms was burned, and the entire complex thoroughly cleaned.
Public discourse centered on the sources of the young Palestinian generation's "corruption", which led it to "desecrate" a holy site. The Palestinian Authority formed a committee after it discovered that the Tourism Ministry had given its permission to hold the event, and arrested a young DJ, Sama Abd al-Hadi from Ramallah (she was released from prison a week ago) .
Hamas, in turn, condemned the event, while implying that this deterioration in values is happening while Abu Mazen is in power. Even liberal Palestinian circles voiced opinions against the party, claiming that freedom of expression should not be abused to hurt religious feelings.
The Nabi Musa events are no fleeting episode, but a reflection of the profound transformations and tensions in the Palestinian system. First and foremost, they attest to the huge gap between the older and younger generations in Palestinian society. The 20+ year-olds' generation is far more diverse than its predecessors. It seems tired of the ideologies and slogans of the struggle that formerly motivated the public in the Palestinian sphere, and, over the years, appear to have yielded no significant national achievements. It is more exposed to ideas and cultures across the globe due, among other reasons, to the wide use of social media. It attributes great importance to self-development and self-realization, displaying a profound individualistic approach. Overall, this generation is strongly defiant toward most sources of authority surrounding it – political and social leaderships, as well as their parents.
This event attests to a large extent to two parallel realms that coexist in the Palestinian system, or as many young Palestinians have said: "We live in one Wadi (valley), and our parents and leaderships are living in another". On the one hand, there is the older generation who follows traditional social and cultural values, and advocates the making of sacrifices for a national struggle that knows no end; on the other hand is the younger generation that, despite having profound national awareness, are more enthusiastic about brands, and often display alienation toward political discourse and forces. A young man from Ramallah described the contrast between the spirit of the two generations in the Palestinian system as follows:
"Ramallah has become one big coffee-shop … we no longer see pictures of Shahids or political slogans as we once did … most people cannot even name four ministers or four members of the PLO or the Fatah Central Committee".
If you walk down the Palestinian streets and talk to the locals, a similar complex reality emerges. Visits to Ramallah and East Jerusalem, as well as to Nablus and Hebron, demonstrate the sharp tension between modernity and tradition. The streets are adorned with various ads for mobile phones, perfumes, denim clothes, and TV shows. But reminders of the "other realm", such as posters hailing Shahids and prisoners, or graffiti encouraging a struggle against Israel, also dot the public space.
Conversations held with youngsters reflect a world full of conflicts and contrasts, where desirable brands and adoration of popular singers are combined with a passion for the national struggle, which often has religious characteristics, and resentment toward Israel, no different in essence than the older generation's attitude. The latter speak with considerable frustration about a fundamental difficulty communicating with the younger generation, or more accurately, controlling it.
Across the Palestinian board, poignant criticism of the Nabi Musa event was mostly voiced by those who understood that it reflected profound trends that threaten to destabilize the traditional character of Palestinian society. On one side stands the Palestinian Authority, who finds it increasingly difficult in recent years to harness the public, particularly the younger generation, to the popular steps it promotes (demonstrations in support of the government in Ramallah or protests against Israel); on the other stands Hamas, distraught by the desecration of religion, and seemingly concerned that the younger generation is expressing a skeptical and more distant approach toward Islamic ideas and religion, inter alia due to the movement's inability to show any substantial national gain.
The Nabi Musa events once again demonstrate the challenge posed by the younger Palestinian generation, this time more strongly than ever, particularly for the Palestinian leaderships, but for Israel too. This generation is torn between two worlds, and suffers from severe fundamental issues, the worst of which is a high unemployment rate, particularly among young people with academic degrees, alongside feelings of despair and no prospects. Frustration and confusion have led many youngsters to another extreme – committing terror attacks (alone or in small groups), or following ideas offered by radical Islam.
The demographic weight of representatives of the younger generation in the Palestinian system is growing; however, to date, they have found it hard to form an impactful force and shape their own reality. Their representation among the decision-making levels is relatively limited, and they themselves have not grouped as a force to exert pressure on their leaderships, as their peers had done elsewhere in the region during the Arab Spring.
The young Palestinians therefore embody increasing collected rage that could erupt in a broad, disorganized fashion under the right circumstances. Particularly on the day after Abu Mazen, and especially if the current leadership will begin to be publicly criticized for holding onto its seat without infusing any new blood into it, or opening the decision-making circles to new groups within Palestinian society, first among them – members of the younger generation.
 Jamil Hillal (survey conductor), A-Shabab Al-Falastini: Al-Masir Al-Watani Wamutatalibat al-Taghyir [The Palestinian Youth: The National Destiny and the Demands for Change] (Ramallah: Al-Ard, 2016), p. 36.
Authored by Dr. Michael Milshtein, a senior researcher at the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), Reichman University.
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