Amid the swirling clouds of ash and death produced by Israel’s violent assault on Gaza, the apartheid state is also carrying out a campaign of violence in the occupied West Bank. Gaza has deservedly been the focus of international attention because of the existential threat facing Palestinians in the concentration camp. However, the situation in the West Bank demonstrates that Israel’s genocidal policies toward Gaza are only a component of its overall settler colonial project, which now appears set on the full annexation of historic Palestine and the expulsion and oppression of Palestinians.
The events of the past six weeks have plunged the West Bank into a situation that is both a continuation of the events preceding it and a historic jump into a new dangerous territory characterized by both increased violence and the steadfast hope that the literal and figurative prison walls imposed by the Zionist state can be torn down. I spoke with two Palestinian activists in the West Bank to get a sense of the situation and the mood: Basil Farraj, a professor at Birzeit University in Ramallah, and Eid Suleiman Hadaleen, an activist and resident of the village of Umm al-Khair. Both described a tense moment pulled between the death-dealing machine of Zionism and the striving for freedom.
Since October 7, Israel has increased assaults on Palestinian city centers, especially in the West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus, which have faced military attacks and airstrikes along with police repression. Palestinian villages near illegal Zionist settlements have also faced intense settler violence and confiscation of land. And mass arrests have swelled the number of political prisoners who face worsening, torturous conditions.
Near-continuous raids and invasions are carried out by the Israel occupation forces (IOF), and Israeli airstrikes have returned to the West Bank for the first time since the Second Intifada in 2000. On November 16, far-right Minister of Security Itamar Ben-Gvir’s commented that Israel should “deal with” the Palestinian Authority in the same way it is dealing with Hamas — the eliminationist project of the Israeli state is now taking aim even at Israel’s collaborationist allies in the Palestinian Authority. Farraj described the situation to me as a “very violent moment of war in the West Bank, where their violence is increasing. It is a violence that kills, that maims, that destroys, that is trying to re-instill the image of an Israeli state that’s strong, which was shattered on October 7.” Since October 7, 227 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank in attacks that are both acts of Israeli revenge and an escalation of the trajectory of settler colonialism that existed before the current conjuncture.
The city of Jenin, for example, has been attacked by the IOF a half dozen times since the start of Israel’s war. Fourteen Palestinians were killed in one invasion on November 9. Just this weekend, Israeli forces carried out a raid at Ibn Sina Hospital, one of the largest in the occupied West Bank, paralleling Israel’s brutal assault on hospitals in Gaza. The word “invasion” is the most apt, as these are not raids but full scale military assaults on urban areas.
Police repression is near total. Farraj described how in the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, any Palestinian walking around deemed to be “suspicious” is at risk of arrest by the police. Repression of protests in East Jerusalem, in the 1948 territories and on social media is near total. Military vehicles prowl Palestinian suburbs like Abu Dis in East Jerusalem, areas that — according to Farraj — have in the past been quieter.
The other facet of the danger facing Palestinians in the West Bank is the intense settler violence. A campaign of terror is being carried out by armed settler organizations, emboldened by the far-right government and ministers like Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who have encouraged them with inflammatory words, the direct provision of assault rifles, legal protection in the apartheid courts, and coordination and support by the IOF. These organizations — with long histories of murder, pogroms, land confiscation and burning Palestinian families alive in their homes — have been let loose and given license for a full scale assault on Palestinians.
These settlers, Farraj said, are daily using violence and threats of arson and murder to drive Palestinians out of their homes, steal land and establish more of their militarized outposts that pepper the West Bank. Particularly threatened are the Palestinian villages in what is called Area C — the part of the West Bank that, under the terms of the Oslo defeat, is in complete control of the occupation, even though it encompasses 61 percent of the West Bank. It is here that Palestinian villages are more isolated and often exist in close proximity to the encroaching illegal Zionist settlements, making them particularly vulnerable. Fifteen entire village communities of Palestinians from Area C have been forced from their homes since October 7.
Eid Suleiman Hadaleen lives in a village in the south Hebron hills near the area of Masafer Yatta. Before the events of the past few months, villages like Eid’s Umm al-Khair faced the near-constant threat of violent eviction. Israel routinely demolishes Palestinian homes with bulldozers under the pretext that they were built without permit — the grim irony being that permits for building are not given to Palestinians. Villages like Umm al-Khair have regularly been demolished and rebuilt with steadfast resilience by the residents.
Hadaleen described to me how the south Hebron hills feel like “everything has collapsed … like the Wild West” with settlers coming “every day and night” with the “law of the gun.” He described how under emergency law, travel between the hundreds of isolated Palestinian communities is shut down by the military, roads are blocked and even cars are confiscated. Israel has erected gates shutting off the villages, restricted access to highways and put up large barricades of earth. “There is a huge line of traffic waiting until they check every car, every person,” Hadaleen told me, which essentially cuts off these villages from access to the larger areas to get food, supplies, jobs, schooling and healthcare. Also, restrictions of movement blocking Palestinians from their grazing land and olive fields have severely impacted the livelihood of these villages. Settlers, however, do not have restrictions on their movement, and routinely carry out their terroristic violence and land confiscation against a population held hostage, with homes and schools demolished daily.
The villages around where Hadaleen lives are no stranger to the threat of bulldozers, but the harsh shutdown by the military and dramatic increase in settler violence bring new levels of danger. Additionally, after October 7, the international solidarity activists, NGOs and independent media that have worked alongside activists like Hadaleen were forced to evacuate, thus leaving Palestinian residents without the support and visibility afforded by outside activists and media. This shadow of darkness under which the settler violence looms is exacerbated by the absence of outside, international observers and the threat of arrest and administrative detention for Palestinians who speak out online. Furthermore, the military “law” that is applied to Palestinians targets for arrest anyone who resists the settler activity carried out with the full backing of the IOF. Najla K, another Palestinian I interviewed, described how settlers can “come into your bedroom trying to attack you and you cannot even defend yourself” without being arrested — or worse.
“You can’t do anything because of the emergency,” Hadaleen told me. While he wishes for the end of the restrictions imposed under the pretense of Israel’s war on Gaza, he said that “it will never be like it was before October 7,” as he expects the intensified violence of settler colonialism to continue to escalate even in the event of a ceasefire in Gaza.
Along with the military invasions of Palestinian cities, authoritarian police repression and an all-out war by armed settler organizations on Palestinian families, a massive increase in arrests and widespread torture of prisoners also characterize the current moment. The first component of this policy is the broad expansion of the net snaring Palestinians in the carceral regime. In the first two weeks after October 7, the number of Palestinian political prisoners doubled, with over 7,000 currently being held, over 2,500 of them being held in administrative detention without charge or trial, according to Addameer, a prisoner advocacy group.
Palestinian political prisoners are being held hostage in Israeli prisons under conditions of extreme degradation. After October 7, according to Farraj, prisoners had clothes, pens, books, food and personal items confiscated. Time in the courtyard was eliminated. No visitation with family or advocates was allowed. This included the International Red Cross not being allowed to see the prisoners and witness their conditions. Electricity was limited to 2-3 hours per day, fresh water was limited, showers were impossible. Torture is commonplace, including the blasting of music like popular Israeli children’s songs. Mocking these conditions has become a grotesque viral TikTok trend among the Israeli right wing. These conditions have led to a number of deaths and more stories have begun to come out as some of the prisoners who have been released through the prisoner exchange have testified to what they have witnessed in Israel’s jails. One of the released prisoners, Omar Atshan, told of witnessing the killing of Thaer Abu Asab by Israeli guards who brutally beat and left him on the floor, calmly watching him die while other prisoners called for a doctor who would not come for an hour and a half.
When asked to describe how Palestinians in his communities are responding to the current moment, amid the enormity of the genocide in Gaza and the near omnipresent violence of Israeli settler colonialism in the West Bank, Farraj said that even in the face of profound devastation, in the wake of seeing images of bulldozers tearing down the Gaza border fence and ripping barbed wire in October, many Palestinians are newly “thinking about freedom, about breaking metaphorical and literal walls.” This is partly reflected in a recent poll conducted by Arab World for Research and Development. Despite the horrors of the current conjuncture, the poll found that 73 percent of Palestinians believe that they will win the war. Farraj describes this change as involving a shift in perception of the Palestinian subject, seeing Palestinians as not just victims and objects of suffering but as actors of resistance.
One of the goals of the Oslo process, according to Farraj, was “a project of reshaping Palestinian consciousness, a project of introducing a new Palestinian subject that thinks or that believes that resistance is futile, that it has no meaning, that if you resist you will be punished, and it has no point.” Cultivating this sense of futility was an explicit goal of Israel and the U.S. in the face of the continuous history of Palestinian resistance against the continuous history of Israeli settler-colonial attempts to erase Palestinians as a people.
Farraj said that over the years since Oslo, the “idea of a state shrank” as the main political parties sold “illusions and dreams of them that were never to be fulfilled.” This left “people waiting in prison. They were lingering, waiting for a moment where they would maybe be released through negotiated agreements that did not take place.” He describes how the 2021 Unity Intifada broke this cycle of helplessness and events like the jail break of Gilboa prison raised the horizons that the prison walls were not impenetrable.
Now, Farraj said, a new Palestinian subject is being imagined, but what this change in the horizon means is still undefined. Farraj said:
[The] moments and the events that we are witnessing this month require a reassessment of everything, for everyone. A reassessment of our political project. It requires the Palestinians to really think about what they desire, and how they can achieve it. I think it’s a moment of reckoning because it’s a moment where the entire political project — however you want to describe it — might be annihilated. People know that if we get defeated now, it would take us, if not decades, centuries back. We are talking about hope and an unleashing of our imagination, but at the same time, we are facing a criminal genocidal settler state that intends on erasing our existence.
Meanwhile, Israel’s assault on the West Bank continues and those resisting it face repression at every turn.
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