Far from the children who beg for change from idling cars and the teenagers who hurl rocks at armed Israeli troops, a different spectacle of Palestinian youth is playing out in the ballroom of a luxury Ramallah hotel.
Young contestants are gathered for a taping of “The President”, a game show that aims to select a “new leader” for the Palestinians based on their views on the pressing political issues of the day. The panel of judges is made up of top officials and businessmen.
Bleak Palestinian realities mean whatever comes out of the contest to be “The President” will have only symbolic significance. The winner will be “ambassador for a day” at one of the Palestinian missions in Europe, among other prizes.
But it’s a rare chance for a frustrated and marginalized generation to air their views.
Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), asks a contestant in the Gaza Strip, on which Israel has imposed a tight blockade, about the smuggling of goods from neighbouring Egypt.
“What about the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, what would you do about that?” she asked of the trade, which bypasses both Israeli and Palestinian officials.
“Well, the goods going through them create an illicit economy which isn’t taxed and take away government revenue,” answers Jihad al-Jaabari, who is taking part in the show via a remote connection from Gaza.
“Do you speak Hebrew?” an Arab member of the Israeli legislature, Ahmed Tibi, chimes in.
“No…but it’s important to learn the enemy’s language,” Jaabari replies, eliciting slight smiles from the judges.
Almost a third of the 4.2 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are between 15 and 29 years old, and a third of this youth bulge have no jobs and scant opportunity to challenge their own ageing leaders, let alone Israel’s occupation, beyond taking to the streets.
After the Islamist Hamas party’s surprise 2006 electoral win, the Palestinian parliament has not met for six years and fresh elections are long overdue.
Following a brief civil war with President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah in 2007, Hamas now rules over Gaza while Abbas’ Palestinian Authority governs the Israeli-occupied West Bank.