Networks of Great Expectations: Palestinian Youth Activism in the Internet Age.
Dwonch, Albana S.
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For more than a decade now, a growing variety of protests, mobilizations and movements have been initiated through the Internet. Particularly from 2011 and onwards, a rapid and global expansion of such movements has generated a growing scholarly debate on the role of digital activism for new social movements across various political contexts. My research engages this debate by examining a series of Palestinian protests that took place in the period of 2011-2013. This dissertation explores the relationship between digital networks (especially social media platforms) and new youth movements within a Palestinian context marked by territorial fragmentation, Israel’s ongoing military occupation and internal Palestinian political divisions in the West Bank and Gaza. In this study, I present an in-depth analysis of three case studies in the Occupied Palestinian territories and inside Israel, based on extensive qualitative field research, and complemented by a broad online survey of Palestinian youth’s patterns of online engagement. Through this analysis, I shed light on the formation, dynamics and values of a series of Palestinian protests and the prospects for social change, in a post-Arab Spring context. Taking the Arab Uprisings of 2011 as a point of reference in the changing mobilization processes in the region, I take issue with a prevalent scholarly approach that analyzed these newer movements through the lenses of their links with formally organized activist groups and traditional social movements. By focusing on the intersection between online activities and offline Palestinian contexts, I explain why these young activists preferred loose networks of mobilization, how did their protests take off, and under what conditions they eventually succeeded. The sudden surge of a sustained wave of protests and the tenacious rise of a new group of actors and their new forms of organizing happened at a time when youth studies and polling centers had emphasized just the opposite: the exit of young Palestinians from politics. With this central paradox as a backdrop, the analysis in this dissertation centers around three key areas: 1- the conditions that determined the transformation of certain actions initiated on digital networks into street protests; 2- the degree to which social media, online networks and new forms of activism in this digital age affected more traditional mobilization modes, especially those implemented by official Palestinian parties, and more conventional party affiliated youth organizations in each geographic area; and, 3- the long-term impact of these youth groups and their newer mobilization modes within their society, and relations with existing grassroots movements within the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This study revealed the impact of these protests on the political cosciousness of a network of activists directly involved in these movements. It also exposed the significant weakening of the capacity of official parties and formal movements to draw on these newer forms of mobilizations. I argue that the online campaigns and offline protests signal the laying of the groundwork for a new and networked Palestinian social movement, developing outside the structures of official parties and formal political organizations. Particularly within a Palestinian context marked by segregation walls, military checkpoints, and internal political intimidation, social media tools and increased social media literacy among Palestinian youths enabled this collection of protest movements to move, after the Second Intifada, from the margins of the Palestinian society to its center.