With Brexit, Donald Trump, fake news, far-right extremism and terrorism as part of young peoples’ reality, youth movements have never been stronger.

The World Economic Forum reported that ‘the global youth uprising has intensified this year’. We are witnessing young people claiming their ground and speaking up on issues directly related to them.

This generation is not asking for the microphone, they simply walk on stage, and grab it. We applaud that and we want to amplify their voices!

So here is our first in a series of articles (aptly named ‘Capturing Voices’) that will share the great work of young people standing against hate and focussing on a more positive tomorrow: Here is one such movement led by young people defying negative and restricting voices in their community…

We Aspire and Inspire

Back in February 2017 three ‘Freedom Runners’ started running in the streets of Hebron to unify people to do sports together. Their community did not welcome their efforts, they were laughed and sneered at. After six months the group grew to 25 participants.

March 2018 the group organised a public run in support of cancer research. Of the 250 invited, 70 attended. This time both genders participated together in Hebron.
However, a politically-driven religious group that uses extreme religious interpretations to dictate how society should behave with the goal of peacefully establishing an Islamic caliphate decided to take action against the ‘Freedom Runners’. Hizb ut-Tahrir impose their version of shariah law on the community by threatening individuals, families and organisations.

In August new threats were made and pressure applied for a planned run not to take place, a few members decided to continue despite HT’s tactics, but it wasn’t deemed safe for female members.

These intimidation tactics have been somewhat successful in the short term: The fifteen women who have joined ‘Freedom Runners’ have stopped running and concentrate on building the community instead. The movement hopes to reduce the power of Hizb ut-Tahrir so that their women can run again, too.

Is there an opposition to extremism locally?

Hebron is a uniquely vulnerable city to extremist influences. There are two main factors contributing to its vulnerability:
It is split into three governed areas:

  • A is governed by the Palestinian Authority
  • B by both, the PA and Israel
  • C by Israel alone

This split contested governance in area B and ongoing occupation has created a power vacuum in which instability and insecurity fester and provide fertile ground for extremism to take a grip.
Hebron receives a distinct lack of funding for third sector groups in comparison with the North of the West Bank only adding to the lack of resilience the youth then suffer towards extremism.

Lawyer and BTV Director Mazen Alzaro comments:

“International funding and resources have got a lot to do with people’s lack of knowledge of human rights. Ramallah, in the North of Palestine, has a far more developed third sector – there is more freedom because more funding gets distributed to support community cohesion projects. There is somewhat of a North/South divide in funding that is apparent in local communities’ resilience towards extremism and radicalisation.”

The ‘Freedom Runners’ and other youth groups like them are vital in the push against extremism and towards a more liberal and equal society. For now, ‘Freedom Runners’ are concentrating on building their platform. By young people, for young people. Their flat-line leadership enables everyone to step in and speak up. They are organising social activities to motivate people to join the group, build friendships and identify needs within their community. They want to promote sport/health, unity & tolerance and inexperienced leaders, men and women alike, to find their voice.

Goals:

  1. Continue to build their platform and gather momentum
  2. Participate in international runs to spread awareness on the international stage
  3. Start campaigns to clean the streets whilst running – promoting sustainability and having a visible impact on the community
  4. Offer women safe spaces to run

Note: ‘Freedom Runners’ are always concerned about people’s safety. They are alert to potential dangers and try to facilitate safe spaces for sports and social gatherings where possible.

Driving change at a grass-roots level can be very frustrating and often takes its toll on friendships and ignites social backlash, watch this space to see how you can support The Freedom Runners in very practical ways…