Issue No.
167, March 2012 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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Filistin Ashabab
By Taisir Masrieh
Is it a real opportunity or a virtual space? Does it touch the aspirations of young people or does it overlook them impartially from behind computer screens? Does it provide the young generation with the right tools for expression, or is it competing against social media networks to be another number in the channels of modern and traditional media?

Someone who’s been keeping up with the activities and projects of Filistin Ashabab (Palestine Youth) may be able to answer most of these questions and detect how it has been transformed in the past five years from a multimedia channel to a well-established cultural and social hub.

Filistin Ashabab was launched in 2007 in order to provide the space and the necessary tools and mediums that Palestinian youth need in order to express their opinions freely and participate actively in the on-going creation of the Palestinian cultural landscape, uninhibited by cultural, social, or political censorship. It has come to be a space that simply invites quality freedom of expression, with a respect - for self and others - that allows and encourages all to have a voice through the written word, images, or artwork.   

Filistin Ashabab, as a magazine, started when writer and poet Zakaria Mohammad (chief editor for the magazine from January 2007 until June 2008) often used to stop youth on the street to encourage them to write and send their contributions to him to discuss their work.

Today, after 63 printed issues, tens, even hundreds, of these attendant youth have become permanent contributors with thousands of followers. They use Filistin Ashabab as a platform to communicate and portray the Palestinian social and cultural scene.

The young chief editor, Tarek Hamdan, has been able to link contributors and readers while maintaining a balance between high quality and professional writing on one hand, and providing a space for new talents on the other.

“Keeping up with Filistin Ashabab is a worthwhile endeavour, as it opens a space for a generation of writers to breathe freely and to express their troubles and desires, their pains and hopes, their errors and accomplishments,” notes writer and poet Wasim Kurdi.

Filistin Ashabab reveals that Palestinian youth, when given the right tools, opportunities, and capabilities, can be a source of positive change in society, especially if they take the initiative and become active partners, rather than simply tools, in decision making and implementation.

In 2009, when it became clear that the magazine could no longer provide enough space to accommodate the increase in and diversity of contributions, the Filistin Ashabab radio programme was born, in cooperation with Raya FM and Sharek Youth Forum, to serve as an audio extension of the magazine. The two young programme organisers and presenters, Nisreen Awwad and Sa’ed Karazon, provide a space for dialogue with youth, on one hand, and with decision makers in public and private institutions, on the other hand.

The programme presents topics that are still considered taboo in social, cultural, and political circles. They are handled boldly and with responsibility in order to arrive at explicit answers that are accessible to young listeners and others throughout Palestine. 

The first Filistin Ashabab exhibition, “Palestine in the Eyes of Young Artists,” was mounted in 2010, in cooperation with the British Council. Twenty-nine female and male Palestinian artists from various parts of historical Palestine participated in the 12-month exhibition tour that visited universities and cultural centres in most of the major cities in historical Palestine, from Gaza to Haifa.

The second exhibition, to be held in the spring of 2012,
is entitled “Sails for Freedom,” and will host multimedia artwork by young Palestinian writers, artists, photographers, and videographers in a new kind of art event that will tour in most of the venues of the first exhibition.

“… Filistin Ashabab provides opportunities for young writers to express themselves freely and to publish their literary works, whether short stories, poetry, prose, or other genres. The advantages of the magazine go beyond offering a practical and accessible space for young Palestinians to express themselves; it allows them to break away from traditional writing forms and subject matters. They bring fresh perspectives and enrich our Palestinian national identity in ways that promote our cultural presence. The magazine opens new horizons for the new generation, and it is up to them to assume the leadership roles and responsibilities implied therein in order to enrich the contemporary Palestinian cultural scene.” 

With these words, author and novelist Mahmoud Shkeir introduced the young writers who participated in “Green Almonds,” the youth literature forum organised monthly by Filistin Ashabab in partnership with Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre. More than 21 monthly meetings have brought together in dialogue three youth writers from the magazine and professional Palestinian authors, critics, and poets. Lively audience intervention fuels the discussion and leads youth to develop their literary and critical sense.

The Filistin Ashabab interactive website includes a diverse array of youth contributions and contains all the projects of Filistin Ashabab. The website also provides a space for comments and for voting for the best works.

The website video project is the latest Filistin Ashabab initiative, becoming part of the significant and rapid development of alternative and electronic media. The spread of the Internet and the availability of computers and mobile phones that boast multiple features have helped bring the community closer to this new form of media.

In the spring of 2012, Filistin Ashabab hopes to launch its theatre project. The aim is to enter into partnership with a number of theatre groups and organisations in order to create dramatic productions from stories on the pages of the magazine and perform them in public spaces or record and screen them through the audio-visual tools available at Filistin Ashabab or through local television stations or broadcasting companies. It’s an exciting new opportunity to connect Palestinian youth with the theatre and encourage them to take part in playwriting with a new and fresh vision.

In short, Filistin Ashabab is primarily a national project that seeks to build a strong, progressive community, a project that was created to have a positive influence on Palestinian life, and a project that believes that creative and artistic production is a pressing social need that requires focussed attention and hard work on the part of all sectors of society to ensure freedom of expression without restriction.

Behind all these achievements is a team of young women and men who competently assume the responsibilities entrusted to them. They participate actively in the decision-making process and bring the voices of youth from historical Palestine and the diaspora into every Palestinian neighbourhood and home, every village, refugee camp, and city, through word and image. Many thanks and deep appreciation go out to Tarek, Nisreen, and Sa’ed; Majd Assali, exhibitions curator and artistic manager for the magazine and website; Mai Odeh, curator of the video project; Huda Khalili, administrative manager; Mahmoud Awad, public relations and marketing manager; and the advisory board, in addition to many other young Palestinian women and men.

Taisir Masrieh is the co-founder and director of Filistin Ashabab, and the art director of This Week in Palestine, and can be reached at taisir@jeelpublishing.com.
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