Voices from the West Bank: 'They're forcing us into islands'

Voices of the occupied West Bank, photos of the five respondents in a collage
From left to right: Yasmeen, Nazir, Ameed, Erab and Osama [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]
Top to bottom: Osama, Erab, Ameed, Yasmeen and Nazir [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]

Occupied West Bank - In the last instalment of Al Jazeera's conversations with Palestinians living under occupation, respondents air their fears and frustrations at life under what many rights organisations have classified as apartheid.

The eldercare worker who never thought he would work in Israel but life had other plans for him.

The agricultural union worker who sees an Israeli annexation plan unfolding in the occupied West Bank's most fertile area.

The interior designer whose sadness and anger threaten to overwhelm him sometimes.

The proud father and grandfather who, for the first time in his life, is not sure he can provide for his family any more.

And the communications manager who does not understand why the world condemns Palestinian resistance.

Together, they and the others in this series speak from the heart about what it means to be Palestinian today as a brutal assault unfolds.

Osama, eldercare worker in Israeli territory, Ramallah

Osama crouches on some outdoor steps
Osama has been unemployed since October 7 [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]
Osama has been unemployed since October 7 [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]

"I studied New Media and I worked in it for two years, but because of the wages here which don’t meet your basic needs, I had to go work inside the occupied Palestinian territories ’48 lands [current-day state of Israel].

“In the beginning, I worked in a health centre for elderly care, licensed by the Israeli Ministry of Health, like other centres in the same field.

“Palestinians like us, who go work there, have a stamped work permit from the Ministry of Health, which supervises. There are permits for construction, factories, and special needs that are not related to work. Our permits are referred to as service permits.

“It’s like the Apartheid system. There are some permits allowed just until 7pm, and after 7, if the police catch you, they can do anything they want - put you in jail, arrest you, issue a fine, anything.

“I had friends who were convincing me to go work there because there are no salaries here, there are no wages that make someone a good living.

“The same friends are now convincing me to not work there because it's unsafe, they are afraid of something happening. In the elderly department that I worked in, almost 90 percent of them were originally Russian. They do this so they can increase the population and say we have more Israelis here.

“There is no doubt as a Palestinian working with Israeli workers, when you do something wrong, they’re just waiting to punish you.

“It's tough for someone like me who has certain values that prevented me from going there, and yet suddenly I found myself working there. It's not like you give up on your values but you put them aside, and you go to make money and build a life. But inside yourself, you still know this is not your place.”

Yasmeen, advocate at the Union of Agricultural Work Committees

Yasmeen stands by the sign for the Union of Agricultural Work Committees
[Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]
[Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]

“In 2021, the Israeli military designated UAWC [Union of Agricultural Work Committees] as a "terrorist organisation", along with five other Palestinian civil society organisations.

“Israel raided our office not once, but twice. They boarded our doors, left a military order saying we’re not allowed to work. They destroyed and stole things from our office.

“The claim they always use is ‘terrorism’, which they've used so much it has no meaning anymore.

“Israel sees organisations, individuals, people and communities who are rooted in this land as a threat because they obstruct them from realising the settler colonial vision.

“UAWC specifically is a bit different than other organisations in that our work is very material. It's physical, you can touch it, you can feel it, you can see it, which means the consequences for us are also more physical and material.

“Which means things get attacked, people get attacked, land gets attacked, farmers get attacked.

“Post-Oslo, the West Bank’s Area C is the majority of the West Bank and under full Israeli military and civil administration, and is also where most of our agricultural land and natural resources are.

“That's not a coincidence, it didn't happen randomly… Israel is trying to annex Area C.

“That's where many of the settlements are, the settlement expansions. If you look at a map of the West Bank right now... they've tried to force us into urban centres and connect us with roads we can’t even access half the time.

“They're trying to put Palestinian society into little islands.

“UAWC works, especially with farmers in Area C, who are the most marginalised and under the most risk of forced displacement. And because of that, because of our work in Area C, Israel specifically targets us, our communities, the heart of our work and our land.”

Ameed, interior design project manager, Ramallah

Ameed on a plastic chair in a garden at night
[Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]
[Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]

“Our big, strong shoulders come from throwing stones. When we are young it's just our instinct to do this, you know?

“You want to defend yourself, you want to be like: 'What the heck are you doing over here? You're right beside my house bombing, shooting and everything...'

“I guess it's in our DNA. It's our mark of resistance. Plus, we have nothing else. It's not as if we have a military or we can do something like buy a gun.

“We are people living under injustice. Every day there is a checkpoint and a soldier, 18 years old, blonde, from New Jersey or something and doesn't speak Hebrew even and he stops you.

“Deep inside, you hate the situation. Sometimes you hate yourself as a Palestinian even, to be honest. I never chose to live in this land.

“So I guess from this feeling and how upset we are from inside, the first thing you want to do is react. And the only thing you can do is throw a stone. Nothing else.

“So yes, as youth, we struggle with that, this injustice when you see yourself getting beaten sometimes and you can't do anything. Your cousin, your sister… and you can't do anything.

“You can't sue them even. It's disgusting. It's really disgusting.

“I know the Palestinian cause has been really trending since the seventh of October but there is like 30 years I lived before that and I was every day struggling with the same struggles...

“I don't see any other way than to fight with the Israelis to have my freedom or to have my dignity. Freedom of movement, freedom of speech and little things like having an airport in my land.

“To be honest, I'll never forgive and I'll never forget.”

Nazir, Gaza resident with an Israeli work permit, Ramallah

Nazir, in a yellow shirt, stands with his back to the camera
Nazir has been trapped in the occupied West Bank since October 7 [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]
Nazir has been trapped in the occupied West Bank since October 7 [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]

“I used to live in North Gaza. I have eight kids, five are married, and three are still single.

“I used to be in debt, but I got a work permit and went to Israel to work there. And then everything happened and the war started.

“I have a mother, and I have married grandchildren. I have responsibilities.

“I don’t know where to start now, do I start with my sons, my grandchildren, or my sick elderly mother. I started gathering money from here and there, and to be honest, my financial things were going smoothly.

“But now I feel like someone who fell into a well. I don’t know what to do. This is the first time such a thing has happened to me, though, thank God.

“If you could see my home, you would think it is a European house. I have six beautiful, high-quality apartments for my kids but now… well, what’s happened, happened.

“Now, I have money issues. I can't manage to make money and send for my mother, my grandchildren, my children, and my two sons in Turkey, and I am stuck here...

“We don’t know what will happen, we just don’t know. Right now, I don’t sleep much at night. I keep thinking about my sons in Turkey, who keep asking me where I am, and my children in Gaza.

“In my family, we have 20 martyrs, I swear to you. They moved, moved from the north to Rafah, and nine were martyred in one house in Rafah, and another five were martyred in the north.

“This is what happened. I don’t know what to tell you, but I am in pain and sick. I am mentally tired and I am exhausted. I don’t know what to say anymore.”

Erab, communications director, Ramallah

Erab in a blue shirt stands next to a stone wall in a garden with her hands in her pockets
[Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]
[Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]

“Every day, Palestinians, mostly women and children, are being killed by the occupation. And the whole world is just watching and doing nothing.

“It's like Palestinian lives don't matter. As long as you are an Arab and Muslim, it doesn't matter if you are killed or if you are living through hell because of the occupation.

“And we know it's just a political game. I can't really describe how I feel or what I think. Because the pain is really enormous and the injustice that we feel is really huge.

“I mean, we, like any other people on this earth, have the right to freedom and to self-defence. Why is it that in Ukraine they have the right to defend themselves against the Russians?

“But we, the Palestinians who have been living under occupation and their continuous barbaric…

“I can't find the word even to describe what they're doing to us. But we can’t fight. We can’t defend ourselves or fight the occupation.

“Why? Because it's Israel, the baby of the Western world. They created this baby and of course, they will defend them. And they will fight Palestinians if they decide to defend themselves.

“Self-defence is a right, by international law. By all international resolutions, all international agreements, we have the right to defend ourselves. So why, why does it become a crime if I do it as a Palestinian?

“I mean, it's like any act of resistance by Palestinians, any act, whether it's violent or non-violent, is considered a crime, is considered 'terrorism', really.

“And what the state of Israel is doing, you cannot label it as ‘terrorism’? Of course it's ‘terrorism’. It's a state committing organised 'terrorism' against a civilian population who are defending themselves.

"That's the ‘terrorism’, not what we Palestinians are doing.”

Voices of the occupied West Bank, photos of the five respondents in a collage
From left to right: Yasmeen, Nazir, Ameed, Erab and Osama [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]
Top to bottom: Osama, Erab, Ameed, Yasmeen and Nazir [Dylan Hollingsworth/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera