MIFTAH’s “Empowerment of Palestinian Youth Leadership” program, which is carried out in partnership with the Irish and Norwegian Representative Offices and NDC , seeks to empower youth towards active and fruitful participation in political and social change and in the development process in Palestine. In this context, MIFATH met with Riziq Atawneh, one of the more prominent youths in the program in terms of his participation and the impact MIFTAH’s training has had on him. He is now a member of the Palestinian Youth Network. The network includes youths from Palestinian factions and several universities and colleges (Al Najah, Bethlehem, Al Ahliyeh, Hebron, AUJ, Al Quds and Al Quds Open universities, in addition to Al Aroub Technical College and the Contemporary College). Following is an interview conducted with Atawneh:
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Riziq Atawneh; I am 21 years old and from Beit Kahel near Hebron. I head the youth development center in my village and I am also politically active. I was introduced to MIFTAH three months ago through a friend who had participated in training courses given by the organization. In this short period, I have taken six training courses, most of which focused on the KUMI method for social transformation in places of conflict and on strategic planning through participation. This helped me take a deeper look at the conflict as a means of finding a possible solution.
What differences did you notice in how you looked at things before the workshops and after them?
The methodology I learned with MIFTAH was very different than the ones I used in my other activities, which were mostly about political education and historical readings. However, this methodology, KUMI, allows a person to look to the future in a better way. I also met a group of young political and community activists and this opened up new social and professional horizons for me.
How did this training reflect on your community work?
My work in my village was confined to working with youths from political factions. However, after the workshops I started to address youths from outside of the factions to get them involved in decision-making and in community development. MIFTAH brought out certain aspects of my character and enabled me to accept the other as a partner, contrary to the norm in our society, which is the system of polarization and not one of partnership. Of course, partnership is always better than polarization.
What is your assessment of the groups participating in the workshops and how were they affected?
I felt a tangible difference in their way they were thinking. Most of the participants were very zealous in their viewpoints and not prepared to change them. But after a while, they acquired the ability and willingness to accept the new and to listen to solutions adaptable to the nature of the society and to the conflict.
What would you recommend for reviving the role of the youth network?
I think it needs an agenda that guarantees the integration of youth in society where they would have the opportunity to assess their needs and offer possible solutions to the problems at hand. The Youth Network is a tool for decision making. I recommend that youths who are not college students should also be part of the network. It is their right as well to participate in the process of social change.
Does that mean you think Palestinian youths have not gotten their fair chance in society?
Young people have been taken advantage of by politicians and decision makers and used as pretty faces for their own agendas. What they don’t know is that youths are very capable of being part of the decision-making process and of making the necessary changes in their society.
I blame both sides for this imbalance but I believe the lion’s share of responsibility lies on the shoulders of the decision maker. Youths have the responsibility of demanding their rights and decision makers need to empower youths instead of marginalizing and exploiting them as a tool for their own agendas. They should be given a voice in official institutions such as the PLC and the cabinet.
Did you feel that MIFTAH made sure to connect and communicate with the participants?
One thing that encouraged me to participate in MIFTAH’s workshops is that it provided us with a clear program of activities for an entire year – activities that would help us better and more effectively integrate in society. After MIFTAH prepped us, we became able to depend on ourselves. Youths generate positive energy when they feel that they belong.
What do you feel are the ways for youth to escape this state of desperation and lack of confidence in which they live?
Youths are frustrated because of the lack of a democratic process; the social contract is never renewed because a certain sector is always in power and in decision-making positions; youth action is limited to individual initiatives. Hence, Palestinian youths need the space to express themselves and their abilities. The experiences of youth were clear in the public squares in Arab revolutions; likewise Palestinian youths were never far from the struggle. That is why their needs must be met and they must be included in decision making or else they will revolt and rebel against the leaders who have marginalized and excluded them.
In my opinion, youths suffer a lack of awareness as well, but it is not all their fault. Political factions are also responsible for this crisis because it is their place to raise the youths’ awareness and embrace them. However, after the second Intifada, our factions were stripped of any real context and their only concern was quantity rather than quality. This caused a lot of frustration, not only among the youths but also Palestinian academics who moved away from organized political action after the Intifada.
How would you assess MIFTAH in terms of its youth development projects?
I would like to thank MIFTAH because it gave me the opportunity to get to know the KUMI methodology and to broaden my social circles. It is a highly respected organization because it works on merit rather than political considerations and truly cares about empowering youth in Palestinian society.