Voices of the occupied West Bank: 'Any action is resistance'

From left to right: Shadi, Nour, Ahed, Ines
From left to right: Shadi, Nour, Ahed, Ines [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]
From left to right: Shadi, Nour, Ahed, Ines [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]

Occupied West Bank - As Israel's war on Gaza grinds on, violence is spiking in the occupied West Bank as Israeli forces step up their raids on Palestinian towns and refugee camps and settlers increase their attacks and harassment of Palestinians.

The cost in human lives ruined has been immense, with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs saying Israeli forces killed 30 Palestinians, including seven children, in the West Bank in the first 15 days of the year.

Thousands of people have been arrested and taken into Israeli detention, many held under the "administrative detention" system, which Israeli authorities use to hold Palestinians indefinitely with no charge.

As fear and tensions rise, Al Jazeera spoke to a number of people across the West Bank about what they have been through, how the situation is affecting them and what are their thoughts on living under occupation.

Note: Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Nour, lawyer and Fulbright scholar, Jenin

Nour in dark sweatshirt standing in a sone house
Nour [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]
Nour, Lawyer, Fulbright Scholar, Jenin [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]

“I was born and raised in Jenin. I remember I was a kid, nearly six years old, at the time of the second Intifada in the year 2000.

“Me, my mom and our neighbours were praying because there was a lot of shooting, destruction and fear. I remember when the jeeps came. A soldier opened the back door of a jeep, and I started screaming. It was the first time I’d seen something like that.

“My mom grabbed me to take me inside. I told her: ‘I'm sorry for peeing myself and being weak.’

“What's happening to the kids in Gaza takes me back to that. Escaping from Jenin to Nablus, studying, graduating, coming to Ramallah to practice law, moving to the US to do my master's. It’s all tied to that.

“It’s funny … when I arrived in the US, I was scared of the cops. Every time I saw a cop, I felt like I had done something wrong. I think this is trauma from the checkpoints.

Nour sitting on stone steps
Nour says what's happening to the children in the Gaza Strip takes her back to her own childhood terrors [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]

“Leaving home, you have to pray first … all the time, whether you're in a cab or with your friends … because you don't know if you’ll be next. Everything brings me back to what happened or is still happening because it never stopped.

“I chose to fight by studying law. Anything you do here, any action, is resistance. I'm scared, but every step of the way, you think about [your family]. Every day, going from Ramallah to Jenin to visit them, I saw settlements, checkpoints, settlers, the soldiers waiting, pointing guns in your face.

“You wonder: ‘Why am I still here?’ And when you see a person, a soul, was killed, you’re like: ‘I wish it was me.’

“That's how I feel about the Gazan people. I wish I could do something, but because I can't, I feel guilty that I’m alive, … guilty that I can’t be there with them to share the same feelings.”

Shadi, former political prisoner, occupied East Jerusalem

Shadi in a plaid shirt seated at a cafe table with coffee in front of him
Shadi [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]
Shadi, Ex-Political Prisoner, East Jerusalem [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]

“I’m 47, from East Jerusalem. ...

“I spent something like 23 years of my life in prison. The last time was 20 years, and I got out 18 months ago.

“I have a master's in regional and Israeli studies. I have two BAs - one in business administration and one in political science. I got them in prison.

“In prison, they prevented us from studying. We smuggled books and set up classes in the cells. Sometimes, the guards would take the books, but I kept going. It was important to do something for my future.

“First time I went to prison, during the first Intifada, I was about 13. ... It was awful. They beat me so much, accused me of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. They beat me to make me say I did it, … but I didn't. After 40 days, the court released me.

“There's a kind [of beating in custody] that everyone goes through, the ‘shabah’.

Shadi in a plaid shirt and sunglasses standing in the sun near a stone wall
'It was important to do something for my future,' Shadi says [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]

"You’re tied to a chair for something like five days. Five whole days, you’re not allowed to sleep. If you faint, they beat you to wake you up. I was a child.

“The fourth time, I was in prison for about 18 months, accused of burning Israeli cars, throwing stones and being in an illegal organisation, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

“Afterwards, I went to study abroad and was captured by Israeli forces in early 2002 after I returned. I was in prison 20 years.

“After Gaza, we feel they can arrest us any time. They arrested many of my friends from prison and they - Israeli intelligence - keep calling me, threatening me.

“Every time I hear a noise, I wake up and look out the window. Are they coming for me? When they come, it’s not just for you.

“They come at dawn when everyone’s sleeping. Usually they blow the door open and storm the house, destroying everything. They beat your family. They beat you in front of them, and they keep beating you in prison.”

Ahed, artist and photographer, al-Awja

Ahed in white shirt and blue shorts in his studio
Ahed [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]
Ahed, Artist and Photographer, Al Auja [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]

“I didn’t imagine myself painting these ugly pieces of the wall, but it started when my first studio was in Ramallah and I was living in Jerusalem, so I had to cross three checkpoints daily, and one day, I was going to my studio, full of energy. It was a beautiful day, and I was thinking: 'I'm going to be free. I'm going to go to my studio to think.'

“But every day, I'm passing this gray concrete wall that separates my dad’s house from my uncle’s, forcing them to live in two different states just because someone decided to have the separation.

“I went to the studio that day and thought about how this is occupying my head. I'm not free. I'm painting and producing inside a prison. I can't consider myself a free artist like this.

“So the first thing for me was to break through the mental and physical barrier, so I painted myself sitting on the couch, smoking a cigarette, and the wall is behind me and I pretend that I'm not seeing it.

Ahed in white shirt and blue shorts in his studio
Ahed found liberation from the Israeli separation wall by painting it [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]

"And from that moment, when I painted it, ... it was kind of erasing this wall from my mind.

"I liked the concept, and I started to tell more stories. The one behind me now, it's me and my wife getting married in front of the wall because this wall was made to put someone inside a prison. The people you want to put inside a prison, they're either criminals or they’ve done something wrong. We didn't. We're getting married, so why should we be in this cage?

“I would love one day to be a nonpolitical artist, just to do things about the beauty of this place - the birds, the beach, the trees, the beautiful desert we have here.

“But when I try to do nonpolitical work, it doesn't work. If you want to make a sketch of a landscape, then you find the separation wall in the middle of it, so your work turns into a political work.”

Ines, director of Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, Ramal

Ines in yellow sweatshirt in an orchard
Ines [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]
Ines, Director of Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, Ramallah [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]

“Think about the young Gazan today, ... someone whose grandparents were driven out of their village, the village destroyed.

“Then the kibbutz was put on top of that, and they became refugees in Gaza. Their children and grandchildren are denied the right to return to their homeland.

“And then they are besieged. They live under a blockade, can’t go in and out of the territory. They’re denied electricity. The water is undrinkable.

“Do you expect that person to say: 'Yes, of course, I'll go and dialogue with my neighbour, the one who lives in this kibbutz'? Do you expect people not to rebel, not to want to fight?

"Of course not. Of course, that person will want to rebel and will turn to violence because when you're experiencing such systematic violence that has completely dehumanised you, that drives you to fight in any way possible.

“There's a right to resist that we're trying to make people understand. Of course, Palestinians will continue to resist for their freedom.

Ines in yellow sweatshirt in an orchard
The dispossession of generations of Palestinians has birthed a strong Palestinian resistance, Ines says [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]

“I think the racist bias that we see in the West is that there's only a focus when violence comes from us, from the Palestinians, not when it comes from the Israelis every day.

“You know, in 2022 and 2023, the Israeli army was killing a Palestinian nearly every week. There were at least 250 night raids into homes a month.

“They're waking up people. They're terrorising children. That's trauma. The settlers, who are protected by the army, are burning olive trees and cars and terrorising villages. This has been happening every week.

“That doesn't make headlines. The headline starts when an Israeli is killed, and that's the problem.

“People think that October 7 was the start. Things started way, way before. Decades before."

“I don't want any Jew, Israeli or Palestinian to be killed in the future. But for that to happen, we need to see where the source of that violence is.

“The source is the systemic, brutal violence of the occupation, of the apartheid system, of the dehumanisation of Palestinians.

“And that can only end if we end that, if we decolonise and if we end the very injustices that have driven us to today.”

From left to right: Shadi, Nour, Ahed, Ines
[Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]
From left, Shadi, Nour, Ahed and Ines [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera