‘I need to vote,’ young Palestinians brace for cancelled election

Gaza City demo - the banner reads 'no to the decision to postpone the elections' (Ashraf Amra - APA Images)

Tareq S. Hajjaj

Mondoweiss  /  April 29, 2021

Gaza’s youngest voters hope Palestinian elections will move forward, amid reports saying ballots will be delayed over a dispute with Israel around Jerusalem.

Advertising for the first Palestinian presidential and legislative elections in 15 years was supposed to start on April 20 according to the Central Elections Commission, yet one week later the streets in Gaza have no posters or any semblance of the races in the atmosphere. 

Palestinians are scheduled to head to the polls beginning on May 22, however, President Mahmoud Abbas is reportedly mulling cancelling the elections over a dispute around Jerusalem. This week reports emerged that he told Egyptian sources, close to those who brokered a deal among rivalling Palestinian factions for a mechanism to hold the vote, that he would delay elections if Israel did not allow for ballot boxes in East Jerusalem.  

The elections committee announced two weeks ago details about the preliminary electoral lists, revealing Abbas’ Fatah party had split in two, which could cost him the presidency if voting proceeds on time, despite his leading in the polls. There are a total of 36 parties running, including 29 independent groups and seven established political parties. A total of 1,389 people are nominated for the legislative council, among them 405 women. 

The candidates’ demographics released by the elections committee shows 38.5% are aged 28 to 40, 22.2% are aged 41 to 50, and 39.3% of candidates over the age of 50.

“I need to vote,” said Dana Jhish, a 19-year-old painter who lives in Rafah city. If the elections move forward, it would be the multimedia student’s first time voting. “Unfortunately,” she sighed, “I am still confused and have not decided yet who I will give my vote to.” 

“All the lists are former politicians,” she said, “but what did they offer for us in reality?” Like most Palestinians, Jhish plans to pick representatives who prioritize building the economy. In the latest public opinion poll from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, only 6% of respondents in Gaza had a positive evaluation of the economy. Another 40% said they wanted to “emigrate due to political, security, and economic conditions.”

“My voice is the change,” she said. “I’m looking for a list that can guarantee a better future for me when I graduate, offer a good job—for myself and others, support our education, and adopted our passions and talents,” she said. 

“A list that could help us to achieve our dreams in our homeland instead of fighting for our food,” she continued. 

On the political front, Jhish said the most pressing issue was ending the occupation. In 1967 Israel took control over the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. “I want to vote for all these changes, which will happen when the occupation is ended.” She lamented, “So which list is promising to end it? No new list said that yet, and the lists that said it before, they had a long time but apparently, they could not do it.”

Young people in Gaza, especially recent university graduate students have no workforce to enter, due to the devastated economy after more than a decade of siege. In 2007, the Palestinian government split in two with Hamas controlling Gaza and the West Bank run by the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. That same year, Egypt and Israel began a blockade that cut Gaza off from the world and plummeted the economy. Most Palestinians in the territory today receive food aid. Around  46% of those with a bachelor’s who graduated in recent years are unemployed, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

Jawad Aqad finds himself in this predicament. He is 23, has a degree in Arabic language and literature, and decided to seek a master’s in the absence of any employment prospects. He said of the current candidate lists, there are three groups: those who are capable of leading the country, those who have ambitions but are not capable of governing, and lastly,  those who simply seek a consistent job and salary. 

“Most people in Gaza support one faction over another according to the whims of their breadwinner,” he explained, describing a cyclical process of scores of Palestinians who are public employees, and their incomes are tied to political factions. 

“Those who are [financially] supported by Fatah, will vote for Fatah, and so on,” he said. “Independent lists have no crowd because they are unknown in the public and that makes them fragile.”

Author Hind Judah, 36, said she’s impressed by the range of candidates in the independent lists, comprised of “elites,” but also “thinkers, activists, and entrepreneurs.” 

“These lists exhibit new faces unlike the 2006 elections,” she said referencing the year of the last Palestinian legislative elections. The results, where Fatah won the presidency and Hamas the legislature, led to a bitter and violent separation of the government. 

“We are waiting for the elections to happen and want the local and international community to respect the results, to refute the argument of not having a unified Palestinian government,” Judah said. The current division, she said, prevents “establishing the Palestinian state.”

Tareq S. Hajjaj is a freelance journalist and a member of Palestinian Writers Union; he studied English Literature at Al-Azhar University in Gaza