Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2012 > Palestine Under Occupation: Some Reflections

Mainstream, VOL L, No 26, June 16, 2012

Palestine Under Occupation: Some Reflections

Wednesday 20 June 2012

by BANSIDHAR PRADHAN

“The occupation will not remove us from our land. We will stay in our land as the roots of the olive tree,” reads a poster inside the tiny Media Centre of Bil’in, a small village in the Ramallah Governorate. Of late, Bil’in has become a symbol of non-violent resistance against the Apartheid Wall, which Israel has built, and is still continuing to build, on Palestinian land. The valiant struggle of the villagers has attracted international attention ever since they succeeded in shifting the course of the wall through a court verdict few years back. To commemorate the victory, every year an International Conference for Popular Resistance is being held, which is attended by scholars, legal experts, and peace activists from different countries, including Israel.

The reference to the olive tree, a Palestinian national symbol, reminds one of the concluding words of the late Yasser Arafat during his historic address to the UN General Assembly on November 13, 1974 at the beginning of the debate on Palestine: “Mr. President, I came to you carrying an olive branch and the gun of a revolutionary. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. ….” Arafat has surrendered his gun long ago when he accepted Israel’s right to exist alongside Palestine within the framework of a two-state solution. Israel, on its part, has snatched the olive branch from Arafat’s hand over the years and is now methodically uprooting the olive tree itself to force the Palestinians to flee their ancestral farmlands and homes. In simple words, emptying Palestine of Palestinians and settling Jews in their place has become the cornerstone of the Israeli state policy towards the West Bank. And the Palestinians are determined not to go anywhere despite the harsh and humiliating realities of the most brutal occupation. This is the impression one gets after visiting across the West Bank.

Palestinian Life Under Occupation

NO aspect of Palestinian life escapes the stranglehold of Israeli occupation. The image of Palestinian self-governance under the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) is the biggest fraud that Israel has perpetrated on the Palestinians and is selling it before the international community since the Oslo accord. There is hardly anything that the PNA can do which Israel does not like. Similarly, there is nothing that Israel cannot do within the Palestinian territories. Movement of people and goods from one part of the West Bank to the other is constantly monitored, regulated and controlled by the Israeli forces. The best example is the notorious Qalandiya checkpoint (a flash-point of many a running battles between the Israeli forces and Palestinians during the initial phase of the second Intifada) between Ramallah and East Jerusalem. It needs to be mentioned that Ramallah—where the al-muqata or the PNA Headquarters are located—itself is surrounded by various categories of checkpoints like Betel, Attara, Java and Qalandiya. So that the entry points from all sides to the city is under Israeli control.

Further, the Israeli forces can enter any village, search any house and arrest anyone at any point of time; midnight military raids/searches are a commonplace. “The PNA,” as one parti-cipant in the Bil’in Conference aptly pointed, “is an Authority without any authority out.” Approximately in 80 per cent of the West Bank land the PNA does not have any real control. Therefore, the division of the PNA areas into “A”, “B”, and “C” under the Oslo accord has become a cruel joke for the Palestinians. For instance, the cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Qalqiliya, Tulkarm, Jenin, Salfit, Jericho, etc. fall under area “A” where the PNA exercises authority inside the cities. But once you step outside the city limits, you are in area “C” and under virtual Israeli control. Even within the city limits the PNA enjoys authority to the extent that Israel allows. The classic example, it may be recalled, was Ariel Sharon’s decision to confine the late Arafat to al-muqata for more than three months surrounding it with tanks and destroying many parts which the Palestinians have now rebuilt with help from donor countries.

Palestinians have not forgotten this humiliation and many even today recall the horror which they underwent when Israeli tanks rolled into Ramallah, in its greatest display of the arrogance of military might, to keep Arafat under confinement. Local people now maintain that there is hardly anything called area “B” which is supposed to be under joint PNA-Israeli control.

At the specific level, almost each village has a story to tell about the Israeli policy of collective punishment, each family has a harrowing experience to share, and each individual has his/her agonising moments of life under occupation. The checkpoints of various categories are a constant source of suffering and humiliation for most of the Palestinians on a daily basis. Mention may be made of two as examples: the Qalandiya checkpoint in Ramallah and the Qabet Rahel gate in Bethlehem. Fundamentally, the checkpoints, though less in number now compared to the Intifada days, violate the basic right of Palestinians to free movement in their own land. According to an estimate, there are around 607 closures of various types like checkpoints, partial checkpoints, road gates, roadblocks, earthmounds, trenches, road barriers and earth walls.

The main objective of Israel, West Bank residents maintain, is to humiliate the Palestinians and remind them every time that “you are under our control”. Long queues of Palestinians standing inside the narrow, barbered and barricaded (like an animal cage) structures, before they proceed to the scanning machine is a normal sight during working days. None is spared from this suffocating process. Male members are asked to remove their shoes, belts, purses, etc. and put them into the machine for check-up. The female folk is asked to remove all their ornaments, bags, purses and put them into the machine. The time it takes for one to pass through the process and the modalities of screening all depend on the mood of the Israeli soldier at the other end with a computer which, I was told, contains all the details of the Palestinians. Non-Palestinians, or the foreign visitors to be precise, are normally not put into such a rigorous process while passing through the checkpoint.

Nevertheless, one can very well see the anger, helplessness, desperation, frustration, and even hatred on the face of the Palestinians in the queue. Some have got used to it, specially those who go to work daily, while others try to avoid it if they can. Pregnant women are specially scary of subjecting themselves to this process and normally do not venture out of their homes so that they do not get stranded or harassed anywhere by the Israelis. It needs to be mentioned that apart from the fixed checkpoints Israel controls the movement of Palestinians by checking their vehicles on any road, at any point of time through what is called in local parlance “Bingo” or flying checkpoints. I myself have witnessed this process many a time during my visit from Ramallah to various places. For instance, on one occasion while going to Jenin, I did not come across any Israeli checking. But while returning by the same road, I suddenly noticed two Israeli soldiers stopping and checking every vehicle towards Jenin.

In addition to these visible structures and methods, there are many other subtle ways through which Israel controls every day Palestinian life. Israel enjoys total monopoly over the supply of water and, to a great extent, electricity and the Palestinians buy these two basic needs from Israel. At one level, the Palestinians are made to pay much more than their Israeli counterparts for the same quantity of water and electricity. It is indeed quite strange that the Israelis are selling the Palestinians their own water. At another level, these two essential services are used by Israel from time to time as the most effective method of imposing collective punishment on the West Bank residents, specially those living in villages. The Israelis, according to the Mayor of Nabi Saleh, “can stop our water supply and cutoff the electricity whenever they want and for as long as they want”. The Palestinians are harassed on the water front from another angle also. Most of the municipalities are not allowed to increase the quantity of water supply to keep pace with the increasing population even if they are prepared to pay the exorbitant price to Mekerot, the Israeli company in charge of water supply. Nor are they allowed to dig new wells to augment their storage capacity.

Take the case of the Salfit municipality, for instance. According to an engineer, Israel supplies only 70 litres per capita per day for the Salfit city whereas the actual requirement is 150-160 litres per capita per day. People in the villages under the Salfit Governorate, which is endowed with the richest Western acquifier, get even less. Contrast this with the supply of 300 litres per capita per day for the Israeli settlers. The requirement of the Salfit residents was fixed in 1993 under the Oslo provisions. What is still more astonishing is that Israel does not allow to change, or at times even to repair, the nearly 25-year old existing Water Trunk Line ( WTL). As a result, there is a lot of leakage throughout the supply route for which the Palestinians have to pay because the water meter is fixed at the beginning. In other words, the Salfit municipality has to pay for some quantity of water which its residents have not consumed.

Further, Israel enjoys full control over all the three water acquifiers (Western, Eastern and Northern). True, one hears about the Joint Water Committee to look into the issue of water management. But this body, according to a former PNA Water Minister, is of little use as the Israelis always “blackmail“ the Palestinian members of the committee subjecting them to face the wrath of their own people. As a result the water portfolio has become the most troublesome one for any Palestinian leader to handle.

Judaisation of Jerusalem is another Israeli policy which the Palestinians strongly reject and are determined to prevent it. As is well known, Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the decisive 1967 war and annexed it within a week to make “United Jerusalem” as its capital. Its design to shift the capital to Jerusalem is not only rejected by the Palestinians but also by almost the entire international community, including the US. This is because of the religious significance of East Jerusalem to the entire Arab-Islamic world as the most revered al-Aqsa mosque is located here. It is equally important for the Jews for the Wailing Wall and also for the Christians for Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Ever since its illegal annexation, Israel has been trying to Judaise the old historic city so as to dilute and ultimately destroy the overwhelmingly Muslim character/identity of the city. This is being done by increasing the settlement activities (the ever expanding group of Male Adumim being the clearest, though not the only, example), by dividing the Palestinians living there through various devious means, by systematically depopulating it, and also by denying free access to a majority of Palestinians to go to the city. Most of the West Bank residents cannot enter the city as a matter of right to offer prayer or to visit the magnificent old Jerusalem market, or even to meet family and friends.
The story of a young girl whom I met, along with many others, during an interactive session with the students of An Najah University in Nablus is a brilliant testimony to the Israeli policy of dividing the Palestinian families. The girl belongs to East Jerusalem but has got married to a resident of Nablus. Now she can not go to visit her parents as she has become a resident of Nablus. Even if she manages to go by seeking special permission form the Israeli authority, she is quite scared that once in East Jerusalem she may not be allowed to return to live with her husband again. The Israelis, students assert, can give any reason to deny her permission to return to Nablus. The most readily available and frequently cited reason is “security”. This eight-letter word has become so repulsive for the Palestinians that now they simply laugh it away as the most cruel joke that can destroy their life and happiness any time.

What is more alarming is that a whole generation of young Palestinians is being deprived of their right to identify themselves with a city having such cultural and religious importance in their national history. Most of the Palestinian teens, I was told, have not seen the city and may not be able to see it in the near future. This is not to talk about those living in far away Nablus, Jenin, Tubas , Tulkarm, etc. but even those residing in Ramallah and Bethlehem, just a few kilometres away from East Jerusalem. “When I was a child,” rued a faculty at the Al Quds Open University at Bethlehem, “I used to go to the city with my friends to play, buy sweets and vegetables in the morning and return in the evening. Now my children, in their teens, have not even seen the city which we view with deep love and utmost reverence.”

It is not that a West Bank Palestinian cannot go to East Jerusalem by law. But they have to seek special permission for it which at the first instance is most humiliating and secondly may not come at all. Moreover, if at all the permission is given it may come at a time when the very purpose itself is defeated. Further, the residents of East Jerusalem have been given a separate identity card which is quite different from the ones given to the Palestinians living in other parts of the West Bank.
As regards the process of Judaisation, it is being done very subtly and methodically by initiating, what Othman Abdullah Abu Gharbieh (Secretary General of the Popular National Conference of Jerusalem and a key Fatah Central Committee member) termed, “ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem of Palestinian Arabs”. The Israeli policy is based on “creating a situation where Palestinians suffer socially, politically and economically so that people leave Jerusalem out of frustration”. Take the case of the Palestinian business community which is shrinking every year. They are losing their business because of the tough competition from their Israeli counterparts, on the one hand, and the heavy taxes imposed on the Palestinian business, on the other. The tourism sector, for instance, is greatly affected. The international tourists come through the Israeli companies through Tel Aviv with package tours. They stay in the hotels owned by the Israelis. Most of the Palestinians cannot become tourist guides as the tourist guide licence is controlled by Israel.

Another very disturbing trend, according to Othman Abu Gharbieh, is the alarming increase of drug habits among the Palestinian community, students in particular. The Israeli drug traders do not get punished if they sell the drugs to Palestinians though they receive heavy punish-ment if they sell those to the Israelis.
The education sector is equally worst affected as Israel controls almost everything from providing licence to opening new schools, to regulating the access of Palestinian teachers to reach the schools from surrounding cities, to regulating the curriculum. The Palestinians are being squeezed from their control over the education sector by another way also: a chain of costly, elite schools, affiliated to the Jerusalem municipality and owned by Israelis, is being encouraged in recent years.

The Wall and Settlements

THE second aspect which affects Palestinian life on a daily basis relates to the impregnable barrier or the Wall that Israel has constructed in the West Bank. It has become the most hated symbol of the Israeli colonisation project in the Palestinian territories in recent years. “The ugly wall stares us,” remarked one of the Governors with a sense of disdain and anguish, “almost everywhere and has emerged as the most arrogant display of Israel’s military might.” It is there in Qalandiya, in Dahit al Barid and Ar Ram, at the Hizma junction, in the Al Quds University in Abu Dis, in front of the Palestinian Technical University campus in Tulkarm, right in midst of the city of Bethlehem, near Jayyus village, in the vicinity of the Salfit city, in Qalqiliya, and so on and so forth. Qalqiliya is the worst affected as it is surrounded, rather choked, from three sides. The construction of the barrier began in June 2000, subsequent to the escalation of the second or the al-Aqsa Intifada against Israeli occupation. The total length of the barrier, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), is 723.3 km. Out of this, 409.1 km or 56.6 per cent has already been constructed, 66.2 km or 9.1 per cent is under construction and 248 km or 34.3 per cent is planned for construction.

The Wall manifests itself in various forms and shapes. At some places, as in Abu Dis, Hijma, Bethelehem, etc., it is a huge concrete wall, while in other places as in Jayyus village, near Salfit, etc. it is a system of complex electronic fences. The Wall has separated families, divided villages, segregated farmlands, denied free and unhindered access of farmers to their farms, created obstacles in the smooth and timely movement of students to their colleges and universities, significantly altered the access points/routes of many villages and cities, cut off links between geographically contiguous neighbourhood areas, and, above all, completely destroyed and disfigured the landscape of the West Bank by fragmenting it into numerous isolated pockets. Materially, is has resulted in the grabbing of huge portions of Palestinian lands, both cultivable and otherwise, apart from uprooting hundreds of olive, almond, grape and citrus fruit trees.

Therefore, the fundamental objective of the wall is to encroach more and more Palestinian land beyond the 1967 line. Because if the Israelis are more concerned about their security, the Palestinians argue forcefully, Israel can build the tallest, most impregnable and technically most secure, foolproof and sophisticated wall along the Green Line. Simply put, the Palestinians object to not the Wall per se as much as its route and intentions. The Wall and the settlements, according a woman member of the PLC, has resulted in the occupation of 42 per cent of the West Bank land (that includes more than 10 per cent of prime green area) by Israel.
With the construction of the Wall, normal social interactions among the Palestinians have become a cumbersome and time-consuming process as now they have to make many detours and take long diversions to reach out to their families and friends. At times they are required to take permission from the Israelis to attend crucial family and community functions such as wedding and death related ceremonies/rituals. Further, the Wall has adversely affected the commutation of office-goers both in terms of cost and time; now some have to spend three to four times more time and money to reach their offices whereas the salary remains the same.

The mushrooming of Jewish settlements and outposts throughout the West Bank is another grave concern for the Palestinians. The unfettered growth of settlement activities on various pretexts and despite international approbation and disapproval is a clear reflection of Israel’s colonising mentality. A conservative estimate shows that there are more than 150 settlements and 100 outposts housing more than 4,50,000 settlers in the West Bank. It needs to be mentioned that settlement activity has also resumed in the Gaza Strip where Israel has around 21 settlements inhabited by 9000 settlers. The latest decision of the Netanyahu Government to legalise three illegal Jewish outposts (Sansana, Bruchin and Rehalim) in the West Bank clearly underlines the determination of Israel to occupy more and more Palestinian land so as to make the possibility of a Palestinian state increasingly difficult. Unlike the Wall, the settlements do not look ugly as they are architecturally well designed and are invariably situated in prime green areas and beautiful locations.

As regards the impact of settlements on the Palestinian lives, it is most humiliating. Israel’s policy of apartheid and racial discrimination is quite telling here. There is a striking contrast between the quality of life, in terms of availability of basic amenities like water and electricity, access to roads, hospitals, schools, entertainment facilities, job opportunities, and state largesse between the settlers and the Palestinian villagers. On an average a settler consumes eighteen times more quantity of water than a Palestinian villager. The Palestinians, according to a participant in the 7th Bil’in International Conference, have access to just 10 per cent of the water resources. There are, I was told, swimming pools in the settlements while the nearby Palestinian village does not get daily water supply to meet its bare minimum requirements. This very well explains the Israeli design to retain full control over the water resources in the West Bank. The Ma’an Development Report has very brilliantly brought out the contrast in the Jordan valley with elaborate statistics and pictures. Similarly, there are separate roads for settlers and Palestinians. In some places, one notices under passes for Palestinian vehicles beneath well maintained roads primarily meant for the settlers. In other places, there are “continuous fencing along the roads to prevent Palestinian vehicular, agricultural and pedestrian access to roads used by Israeli settlers.”
Such discriminatory policies are aggravated by settler chauvinism resulting in structured atrocities against Palestinians which manifest in various forms. The atrocities range from throwing stones; attacking in the night with live ammunitions; taking away the olives during the harvesting season and then setting fire to uproot the trees; cutting olive, almond and grape trees [as was reported recently in the Palestinian town of Beit Ummar, north of Al Khalil (Hebron), where the Israeli settlers, from the nearby Beit Ein settlement, attacked the land and destroyed fruitful trees belonging to a Palestinian farmer, Hammad al-Salibi]; blocking the roads; forcibly occupying the farm land; desecrating holy places and the Holy Book (as was reported to me by one of the Governors), so on and so forth.
Some fundamental features of establishing settlements and settler violence against the Palestinians need to be mentioned. First, most the settlements are built in a creeping manner by declaring a particular area first a military area, then shifting few settlers through make-shift houses, then constructing full-fledged units for a large group of settlers with out any approval and finally legalising those through Cabinet decisions and then keep expanding the legalised ones on the ground of “natural expansion”. The irony is that while the settlements are being expanded indiscriminately, in some Palestinian villages, specially the small ones, the Israelis do not allow the additional family members to build new houses. The village of Nabi Samuel is a case in point. Second, the settlers indulge in such activities with the full support, knowledge of, and at times even in connivance with the Israeli forces. Third, most of the settlements are located in the close vicinity of Palestinian villages, at times facing each other on the both sides of the road, on whose land they are built. One can mention many such binary instances such as Betel settlement near Betin, Halmish near Nabi Saleh, Qedumim near Qafar Qadum, Qarme Shomeron opposite Qafar Lakif, etc.

The plight of a few Palestinian families living close (so much so that they share the same roof) to a group of four small settlements (Tel Romeda, Beit Haddasa, Beit Roman and Abraham Avion, inhabited by 400 to 500 ultra radical Jewish settlers) is particularly alarming. These settle-ments are located near the Ibrahim Mosque (remember the Hebron Mosque massacre com-mitted by a Jewish settler, Dr Baruch Goldstein, in 1994) and the market in the old city of Hebron. The Palestinian residents and shop-owners undergo virtual hell on a daily basis. Settler vandalism include, according to the shop-keepers, throwing garbage, dirty water, urine, rotten eggs, etc. on the shopping area. Similarly, the residents are subjected to harassment and mental agony by the settlers through various means that include cutting the electricity, emptying their water tanks, breaking window glasses, throwing tear gas canisters, abusing them with racist and vulgar idioms, etc.

The most horrifying incident, as per the narrative of a particular family, occurred few years back when the settlers came from the other side of the roof and burnt to death the only young boy of the family confining him to a small room filled with tear gas. All these are done right in front of the Israeli soldiers who are deployed around in disproportionate numbers. The basic objective is to torture the Palestinians psychologically so much that they ultimately leave their houses and shops out of disgust and sheer fear of their survival. Many a time, I was told by some residents, the settlers offer them financial inducements through open cheques to leave their houses.

Strategies of Struggle

GIVEN the harsh realities and near permanency of Israeli occupation, the Palestinian community indeed stands at the threshold of an entirely new phase of its prolonged nationalist struggle against the most intransigent and inhumane occupier in recent history. Years of armed struggle, to begin with, and then peaceful negotiations have failed to bring any concrete gain for the Palestinians.
At the level of political leadership, Fatah continues to emphasise on a negotiated settlement, while Hamas still talks of armed resistance. On the one hand, Israel has skilfully used the cover of negotiations to create new demographic reality on the ground by way increasing settlements and to redraw the map of West Bank by constructing the Wall. Both lack international legitimacy and make a mockery of the two-state solution; now Palestinians are left with approximately just 12 per cent of the mandatory Palestine. On the other hand, the suicide missions carried out by Hamas have not only emboldened the Israeli security establishment approach but also at times brought international concern, and even sympathy, for Israel, specially in the context of the post-September 11 global scenario.
At the level of people’s perception, they are divided along similar political lines, though a majority in the West Bank supports President Mahmoud Abbas’ negotiated approach. But the problem is that there is no progress on the negotiation front which remains stalled for the last two years because of Israel’s refusal to halt the settlement activities and make a commitment for a Palestinian state on the 1967 border.

The issue of East Jerusalem is equally contentious. The Palestinians want to make it the capital of their future state, while Israel seems equally determined not to part with East Jerusalem. “Israel without Jerusalem,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated recently, “is like a body without a heart. It will never be divided again.” This statement sounds like a death-knell for the future Palestinian state project, apart from providing a “clear proof that peace is not part of the Israeli government agenda”. Therefore, the situation remains quite complex and probably an explosive one.

Most of the people are in a state of deep frustration weighing their options which are shrinking by the day. They feel specially bitter in view of the fact that so much is changing around them in the Arab world subsequent to the popular uprisings and their fate still remains tied to an alien occupier. Many feel astonished by the ineffectiveness of the international community to persuade/pressurise Israel to end its occupation, despite the symbolic support at the UN and periodic humanitarian assistance. “The donor countries,” argued one Palestinian, “are helping us building schools, roads, office spaces. That is OK. But we need our land.“ However, still some pin their hope on the international community. Some have resigned to their fate and are probably waiting to be engulfed by another sudden current of popular resistance against occupation.

But there are others, who are active with new ideas to deal with new realities. “The asymmetry of power,” as one Governor put it, “forces the Palestinians to use ideas.” This refers to the strategy of non-violent or peaceful resistance. This is taking place both at political as well as civil society levels. The prisoners inside Israel have taken the lead by undertaking prolonged hunger strikes and succeeded in stirring the international consciousness forcing Israel to go for compromise deals. Khaden Adnan and Hana Shalabi have become the pioneers of non-violent resistance against Israel’s cruel treatment of prisoners. Yet another instance is the 35-day peaceful, silent, round the clock protest by the faculty and students of the prestigious Al Quds University (Abu Dis, East Jerusalem) to change the direction of the Wall to prevent the division of the university into two parts. “We ultimately succeeded in our peaceful protest though the University still lost a huge portion of its land,” remarked a senior faculty pointing me towards the changed direction of the Wall. ”The rationale behind this new form of struggle is,” as one civil society activist put it, “it is foolish to talk about armed resistance against a mighty and ruthless military power with powerful backers. The world has changed and we need to change our methods accordingly.” The regular Friday protests that one witnesses in Nabi Saleh, Qfr Qadum, El-Mashara, Bil’in, etc. are part of the non-violent resistance against occupation. In these places, every Friday, people gather in front of the local mosque, after the noon prayer, and take out a peaceful protest march.
Two points need to be noted here. One, a few international peace activists from different countries, including the US, join the protest as a mark of solidarity with the Palestinians. Two, these protests are violently dealt with by the Israeli forces who often hit the protesters at their head with teargas canisters leading to profuse bleeding and unconsciousness. I myself witnessed one such incident in Nabi Saleh. In some cases, the Israeli forces release ferocious trained dogs to pounce on the peaceful protesters as was witnessed in Qafar Qadum a few months back. At times, the Friday protests have also led to the death of young Palestinians. Further, some Palestinians (very few in fact) have started boycotting Israeli products as part of the non-violent campaign. These are done at individual levels and have little to do with the well organised international BDS (boycott, disinvest-ment and sanction) movement. Nevertheless, they represent small but symbolic challenges to Israeli occupation. Whether and when these small success stories become a broadbased mass movement to achieve a strategic breakthrough is a moot point and depends on a host of factors.

The Israelis seem to be quite sanguine about the situation in Palestine. They maintain that the “quality of life” has substantially improved subsequent to Oslo as the Palestinians are doing well economically. Such caustic remarks probably refer to the construction boom in the major cities, the presence of shopping malls, super markets, high-end restaurants, a number of foreign brand cars on the road and a few luxury car show rooms in some places, some private English-medium schools, high cost of properties in the cities, etc. In other words, one is witnessing a nascent middle class in the Palestinian society. Further, the life style of the new ruling elite has also become a matter of concern for the Pales-tinians. The “growing” middle class and the new ruling elite, some keen observers argue, have developed a stake in maintaining the status quo. To put it simply, despite the suffering under occupation and all the hue and cry against Israeli policies, the Palestinian nationalist struggle is somewhat petering out.

Such perceptions seem to be highly misplaced. It is true that the professionals, the salaried class, the business community and some others do have a living standard which is better than those living in villages. But the humiliation of being occupied and the constant fear of being at the Israeli gunpoint are all pervasive. As one Palestinian put it , “I have a decent job, a good house, my children go to a relatively better school. But everything can be finished within a day by the Israelis.” Similarly, the new ruling elite may have a different life style and there are problems of corruption and nepotism as in any society. This does not mean that the leadership is not keen on ending occupation. No leadership can sustain itself for long if it is perceived by the Palestinians that it is helping the Israelis to protect its privileges and benefits.

In fact, the leadership find itself in a predicament. On the one hand, the PNA cannot do anything against Israeli intransigence towards the so-called peace process as it always finds itself at the receiving end due to the great asymmetry of power. On the other hand, if the PNA fails to deliver it incurs the wrath of the people . But Israel always finds itself in a win-win situation. Indeed, the PNA itself is so frustrated over the intolerable stalemate that one hears about its self-dissolution. There is also a belief in some quarters that Israel is deliberately playing a game to discredit the Palestinian leadership so that the Palestinians keep fighting among themselves and Israel makes it an excuse not to advance negotiations. As a result, one finds a situation where either there is no negotiation or the negotiations are made to drag on so much as to provide enough time for Israel to grab more and more Palestinian land. It needs to be mentioned that Palestinians are not opposed to the settlers as such; they are opposed to their settlement on Palestinian land. Why cannot Israel, ask Palestinians, settle the Jews in Israel itself?

The immediate impression that one gets in the cities and towns is that life is normal and probably the Palestinians have somehow accepted the Israeli occupation as a given reality and are trying to make their best out of it. Such apparent calm, in my opinion, may prove quite deceptive. Because there are deep-seated anger and frustration churning among the Palestinians beneath the equanimity on the surface. When, in what form and in which direction these will be channelised is difficult to predict. But one thing is certain: the Palestinians are not going to go anywhere. The spirit across the West Bank is: “to be here, to stay here and not to leave”.

Dr Bansidhar Pradhan is an Associate Professor, Centre for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi. He specialises in Palestinian affairs. This article is based on his observations during his recent two-week (March 31 to April 15, 2012) field work in Palestine (only West Bank) and Israel. Dr Pradhan visited most parts of the West Bank that included Jericho, Ramallah, Qalqiliya, Nablus, Tulkarm, Salfit, Hebron, Bethlehem, Jenin and East Jerusalem. The names of the Palestinians (except one) whom the author met and interviewed have been deliberately avoided.

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