Mediterranean, the meeting point

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 Young human rights defenders from the Mediterranean area meet in Barcelona to share experiences and strategies of struggle as a part of the #Youngdefenders

Project started by Servei Civil Internacional de Catalunya.

It’s July with intense heat in Barcelona, but the heat is not something new for the activists from Nova Sahara Occidental and  for the Palestinians from Baladna- Association for the Arab youth who have just arrived to the city; neither it is new for the Catalan activists from Servei Civil Internacional who receive and welcome them. Obviously, the heat was not the only thing that unites the activists from the Mediterranean zone who met in Barcelona this summer to discuss and share their struggles and demands: from the very limited representation of youth in public spaces to the repression on the free exercise of civil and political rights facing difficulties to access the labor market and the vital limitations it brings along. They also share a non-violent perspective and belief in collective work to make progress in social transformation by themselves being the agents of change in the first place.

The specific difficulties encountered by young people in each of these three contexts; the tools to reverse the injustices that they live, and the strategies of empowerment of different collectives where these young activists participate, were put on the table in the meetings, workshops and talks that they share. Some were more internal in nature – to get to know one another and strengthen the links - and others were open to civil society and Catalan entities in order to learn from one another and form new alliances.

The headquarters of (a federation of catalan NGOs) was where the first of these open meetings were held and where the Sahrawi and Palestinian activists could explain the realities of their homes and explain the work they do in their organisations. Both in Western Sahara and Palestine there is a colonial occupation, but from Europe the two realities are not always perceived in the same way. The Sahrawi activist Chaia Luali reflects on this and explains that the Israeli state has recently entered into the collective imagination of a good part of the European society as an oppressor and occupier; However, in Europe we do not have this same perception of Morocco. The activist commented that the comparison of  the occupation of Palestine by Israel to the Moroccan occupation in Western Sahara - with similarly no intervention of European states and the construction of walls which divide people and inhibit the access to the territory (including anti-personnel mines in this case) - is missing.  There is also a great repression on any movement that demands the human rights to be respected or intends to claim the right to land or a non-Moroccan identity.

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On the other hand, the Palestinian activists talked about a rarely mediatized reality of Palestinian occupation: the citizens who live on the occupied lands of 1948 that is integrated into the lands of the Israeli state now. Baraa Mahameed and Helen Mahajna explain the ethnic cleansing that still goes on today in a subtle but unstoppable way. They also explained that the Palestinian citizens who live in Israel are recognized as Israeli citizens but their Palestinian identity - the history of their people - is denied and any politically opposing attempt to the hegemonic discourse of Israeli state is being crushed. Moreover there are various laws that discriminate against the Palestinians living under this so-called democratic state. Furthermore, on the exact same day we were celebrating the meeting in Barcelona, the Israeli government took a further step and proclaimed Israel as an exclusively Jewish state. “Now we are Israeli citizens but we are second class citizens” intervenes and comments Helen Mahajna.

In this context, many of the Palestinian youth don’t know their own history. That’s why Baladna- Association for Arab Youth, from which the two Palestinian activists come from, mostly focuses on offering an alternative knowledge to the hegemonic discourse of the Israeli state which denies the history of the Palestinian people. According to them, this is the first step towards the envisagement and achievement of the right to return of the Palestinians. With these actions they have already achieved some positive outcomes such as the creation of a youth movement in their village where they started to mobilize to recover the memory and give life to the village their grandparents were expelled from that is now abandoned and home to very few habitants. “We returned” is the name of the project, of which Helen and Baraa talk proudly. Parallel to such projects they are making progress in achieving another objective of the Baladna- Association for Arab Youth: to promote activism, volunteering and democratic values among Palestinian youth.   

On the other side of the Mediterranean, Nova Sahara Occidental’s work also focuses on youth. Chaia Luali is a refugee and her parents are also refugees. Even though she had been able to study abroad, since the moment she was born her daily reality has been a refugee camp. Majority of the youth in the Saharawi camps find themselves in the same situation. Even though they study abroad, they have very few opportunities to find a job when they return. Chaia explains that in Western Sahara the youth are angry and they have lost all their hopes. That is why she finds it indispensable to work for finding solutions to this situation. In her organization, they opted to do so through dialogue. Along this line, one of the projects they have set up is the "Mondo The", a supposed restaurant where the dishes of the menu are conversation topics, each dish is served at a table and the diners have to change table as the evening progresses. This is one of the strategies that has proved to be useful for building and defending their Sahrawi identity in a non-violent manner.

Another action that Chaia explains proudly is the informative campaign they made among the contestants of a sport competition that was held very close to their tents. On that occasion, they wrote messages where they were explaining how they live in the refugee camps of Western Sahara. These messages were handed over to people who had come from all over the world to see the competition who knew very little or nothing about the refugee camps they were near. It was a small and simple action that allowed them to give visibility about the demands of Western Sahara.

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Meetings like the ones in allowed Chaia, Helen and Baraa to explain the situation in Western Sahara and Palestine. But they also allowed them and the Catalan activists, who have participated in the #Youngdefenders program, to grow and learn together. All in all - with the ultimate goal being to strengthen the international struggles and solidarity - the entities will continue to strengthen the links between young people from the Mediterranean in future meetings and joint actions.

*YoungDefenders program was the first residence of activists hosted in Barcelona. During a month 3 young activist of the Mediterranean Area (Palestine and Western Sahara) stayed in Catalunya and participated in different public events around the territory and meet different organisations, social movements and activists. The aim of the project is to strength the Mediterranean network through sharing experiences, struggles and promoting the empowerment of youth activists.


Written by Queralt Gómez (activist in the Midi local working group) and translated by Nupelda Yüce (EVS volunteer in the office)


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