For the past month, normal life in Ramallah, a West Bank city generally known for its young population and vibrant nightlife, has come to a standstill.
Since the deadly Hamas attacks on October 7, Israeli forces have launched numerous raids into the West Bank, arresting people from all walks of life: students, activists, journalists and even individuals posting online in support of Gaza. Air and drone strikes have destroyed houses and streets, attacked numerous refugee camps and almost Al-Ansar Mosque razed. They have hit the city of Jenin; Last month, Israeli forces destroyed the monument to an Al Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, at the site where she was killed while reporting more than a year ago.
Meanwhile, a settlement council has been distributing hundreds of assault rifles to civilian squads in settlements in the northern West Bank, part of a larger effort by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is a settler, to arm civilian groups following the September 7 attacks. October. attacks. So far, the ministry has purchased 10,000 assault rifles for this type of equipment throughout the country. It is part of the atmosphere of escalating violence that has killed more than 130 Palestinians living in the West Bank since October 7.
For Palestinians, this type of systematic violence is nothing new.
For many inside and outside this war, the brutality of Hamas’s October 7 attacks was unthinkable, as has been the scale and ferocity of Israel’s retaliation. But Palestinians have been subject to a constant stream of unfathomable violence – as well as the progressive annexation of their land by Israel and Israeli settlers – for generations.
If people want to understand this latest conflict and see a path forward for all, we must be more honest, nuanced and comprehensive about the last decades of history in Gaza, Israel and the West Bank, particularly the impact of the occupation and violence in the Palestinians. This history is measured in decades, not weeks; It is not a war, but a continuum of destruction, revenge and trauma.
Since the Nakba of 1948, in which entire Palestinian villages were wiped off the map and the modern State of Israel was established: Palestinians have endured a subjugation that has defined their daily lives. For decades, we have been recovering from Israel’s military occupation, as well as a succession of invasions and deadly wars. The wars of 1967 and 1973 helped shape the area’s modern geography and geopolitics, with millions of mostly stateless Palestinians divided between Gaza and the West Bank. In Gaza, often called the world’s largest open-air prison, Palestinians are forbidden to enter or leaveexcept in incredibly rare circumstances.
This history has been absent from much of the discourse surrounding the war between Israel and Hamas, as if the October 7 attacks were completely arbitrary. The truth is that even in times of relative peace, Palestinians are second-class citizens in Israel, if they are considered citizens at all. Under Israeli law, Palestinians do not have the right to national self-determination, which is reserved for Jewish citizens of the state. A variety of laws restrict Palestinians’ right to move, regulating everything from where they can live to what personal IDs they can have and whether or not they can visit relatives elsewhere.
The “right of return” – the right of Palestinians and their descendants to return to the villages from which they were ethnically cleansed during the 1948 war) is fundamental to the political outlook of many Palestinians because many of them remain, legally, refugees. In Gaza, for example, approximately two thirds of the population It is made up of refugees. This status is not an abstraction; It dictates everything, from where people live to what schools they attend or what doctors they see.
Many Gazans have parents and grandparents who grew up just a few kilometers from where they now live, in areas they are now, of course, prohibited from entering. They still evoke rich memories of their childhood or adolescence, when they walked among citrus groves in Yaffa or olive groves in Qumya, the latter of which, like many villages whose population was expelled to Gaza during the 1948 war, was later transformed in a kibbutz. .
There have been periods of increased cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians over the past 75 years. But these were generally preceded by times of increased conflict, such as the first and second intifadas, or popular uprisings. Intifadas, in which Palestinians engaged in large-scale, sometimes civil, sometimes violent resistance, are often portrayed by Western media as random or indiscriminate outbreaks of murderous savagery, as has been the case with the September 7 attacks. October. But that violence did not occur in a vacuum.
Harsh conditions in Palestinian communities – including increasingly tight control of daily life through violent nighttime raids, arrests, military checkpoints, and the construction of illegal Israeli settlements – were the backdrop to these outbursts. Unfortunately, from a historical point of view, these acts of violence appear to be the only thing that has moved the needle politically for the Palestinians.
The death and destruction that we Palestinians have collectively witnessed and endured has prolonged our generational trauma. Even before this conflict, post-traumatic stress disorder was omnipresent in Palestinian homes, as was depression. As a young population, children are the most affected by Israel’s military government: many are torn from their beds at night or from the arms of their mothers, beaten and imprisoned after being arbitrarily tried in military courts. Others are shot and paralyzed, or even killed.
In Gaza, these victims have virtually no legal recourse from the State of Israel. During the 16-year siege of Gaza, Israeli administrators have controlled access to electricity, food and water, determining at any given time the number of calories Gazans could consume before falling into malnutrition. They have also allowed Gaza and the occupied territories to serve as testing ground for Israel’s vaunted security technology companies. Many people in Gaza have taken the risk the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to get out, only to die on the way.
With Gaza sealed off for the past 16 years and the West Bank largely contained by settler and military violence, Israel has been able to maintain its occupation indefinitely. Periodic spasms of violence – such as occasional small group or lone wolf attacks and rocket fire – reinforce the state’s justification for long-term control of Palestinians and Palestinian lands.
Over the years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his advisors have made it abundantly clear that a separate, sovereign Palestinian state is not on the negotiating table. Neither is the possibility of giving Palestinians the rights that Israelis enjoy. So the status quo of endless occupation – and regular cycles of violence – has become normalized, and the international community appears unwilling or unable to hold Israel’s government accountable.
The attacks of October 7 broke that situation. The unsustainable nature of the occupation was exposed for all to see, as was the impossibility of governing two peoples by privileging one of them over the other.
Dark days are ahead, we know that. Having lived through wars, invasions and bombings, we have come to expect the worst. In the West Bank, morale is low on quiet streets. Arab satellite news stations, broadcasting around the clock, provide a monotonous, omnipresent backdrop to everyday life. They play a constant stream of horrifying images and videos – all shocking but not unprecedented.
A feeling of helplessness permeates the cities and towns of the West Bank as we watch more and more Palestinians (now more than 11,100, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health) lose their lives. Israeli officials have proposed pushing Gaza’s population into Egypt’s Sinai Desert, which would make them refugees two or three times over, and perhaps limit the Israeli settler project. to a new, more expansive phase. In the West Bank we look around us and ask ourselves: could it happen here? Is it already happening??
Any kind of shared future is probably further away than it was a month ago. But the Palestinians already knew it. Was the day before the Hamas attacks considered peace? Perhaps for the Israelis it was, but for the Palestinians it was not.
Dalia Hatuqa is a freelance journalist specializing in Palestinian-Israeli affairs.
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