My first experience of Israeli occupation was in 2016, when I found myself squatting on my luggage, without food or water for eight hours, after crossing the King Hussein Bridge from Jordan into the West Bank. Fear ran down my spine as I saw other Palestinian Arabs entering in long queues. The Israeli authorities brutally frisked them and seized or threw away their luggage. After Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, this border crossing has been closed by the Israelis. As Palestinians in Gaza face genocide, the silent annexation of the West Bank receives less attention. Since October 7, reportedly 114 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, and 1,200 arrests and rapid raids have taken place.
The situation in West Bank
I wonder if those I knew in the West Bank are still alive. I remember Hami Amer’s house in Mas’ha village in Qalqilya district. The house was located between the West Bank fence (apartheid wall) and the Jewish settlements. I remember the young Palestinian children who had never met their mothers because they were never given the permit to travel within the West Bank. Thousands of Palestinians never get a chance to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem. Today, West Bank is facing another Al Nakba (exodus). In the worst-hit cities and refugee camps such as Jenin, Aqabat Jaber, Qalqilya, and Qalandiya, smaller Bedouin communities are being evacuated, land is being grabbed, and farms are being vandalised.
It is deplorable that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) had to start an investigation when soldiers and settlers arrested three Palestinians from the West Bank village of Wadi as-Siq, stripped them naked, and sexually assaulted them. West Bank, which is ‘home’ to three million Palestinians and 5,00,000 Settler Israelis, is in turmoil. Many of the settlers sport the visible Tzitzits (tassels) along with long side-locks — typical of the Zionist radical groups — while carrying out the rampage. Most of them reside in the illegal Israeli settlements of Yitzhar and Har Brakha. According to B’Tselem (the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), 552 people, including 173 minors, had to leave their homes for safety since October 7. Where did they go? They have no way to generate income or obtain water and food. Meanwhile, in East Jerusalem, as Omar Haramy, the Director of the Palestinian ecumenical organisation Sabeel, states: “Several hundreds of Palestinians in East Jerusalem have had their phones searched — and, in some cases, even destroyed — by Israeli police in recent weeks.”
How and why is the Shomron Regional Council, located north of West Bank with 35 Israeli settlements under its jurisdiction, in the process of distributing 300 assault rifles to civilian security squads? Does state-sponsored violence have legitimacy in illegal Israeli settlements? Yossi Dagan, the head of the Council, says he has raised “millions” of shekels from donors around the world to purchase the rifles. Who are these donors? What is the surveillance on such funding? The conversation about the complicated nature of the Israeli occupation has been replaced with a debate between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The Hamas attack of October 7 cannot be justified, but we need to ask why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu propped up Hamas, primarily after 2009, gave unhindered access to funds flowing in from Qatar and Iran to the Gaza Strip, and thereby created his Frankenstein monster.
At the same time, trust in the President of Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is waning. He indefinitely delayed the first Palestinian national elections, happening for the first time in 15 years, in April 2021. Mr. Abbas’s concern regarding his long-standing foe Mohammad Dahlan, a former Fatah chief, continues. After being expelled following a political dispute with the Ramallah government in 2011, Mr. Dahlan had to seek refuge in Abu Dhabi. In his sweet revenge, Mr. Dahlan, who is now a regional strategic mastermind and confidant to several Arab rulers, is helping them strategise peace deals with Israel. But the internal fractions within Fatah and trust deficit have also caused the rise of smaller militant movements in the West Bank. A mass demonstration erupted in Tubas city in West Bank after the ‘assassination’ of local Hamas official Omar Daraghmeh on October 23 by the IDF in the name of ‘counter-terrorism activity’. Several other groups of armed resistance have cropped up, namely al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Jenin Brigades, Lions’ Den in Nablus, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Most of the leaders of these militant groups have already been killed by the IDF. In short, Israel does not have any credible opposition in the West Bank, unless it pulls Hezbollah and Iran into the war. Remember, Hezbollah too was created after the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
The underlying question
Therefore, as long as the ‘Palestinian question’ is not resolved, any form of peace-building with Arab states would just create carceral geography and “spacio-cide” of the Palestinians. The ‘feasible’ prospect of a two-state solution has long expired. It is urgent that Mr. Abbas chooses a successor. The world should call for an immediate ceasefire of Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza and adopt a strong boycott, divestment and sanctions policy. The human-rights approach and ‘right to return’ of Palestinian refugees needs to be considered. Above all, Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, Gazan Palestinians, and West Bank Palestinians should be involved in a referendum to choose their own future.
Shubhda Chaudhary is a West Asian political analyst and Editor at the Centre for India West Asia Dialogue, New Delhi