Hopelessness in the occupied Palestinian territories

Palestinians can’t continue to live like this. We need to rise and act before we fall deeper into the abyss.

west Bank protest - Reuters
Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against Israel's plan to demolish the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, in the occupied West Bank, October 5, 2018 [Mohamad Torokman/Reuters]

Today, nearly five million Palestinians who live in the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip are trying to survive day-to-day life, without any real long-term hopes or expectations. In the 25 years since the signing of the Oslo Accords and the founding of the Palestinian Authority, Israel has expanded and entrenched its control over Palestinians’ lives in every way imaginable and now, it is pushing ahead with a more extreme agenda than ever before – it is hoping to forever eradicate Palestinian hopes of achieving either a sovereign state at the 1967 borders or becoming equal and dignified citizens in a single bi-national state.

A divided West Bank

With the proliferation of Jewish-only settlements, permanent checkpoints, and settler-only roads, the West Bank is no longer a cohesive unit. The looming cleansing of Bedouin communities, such as Khan Al-Ahmar, threatens the permanent dissection of the West Bank into separate units.

Every road that connects major population centres in the West Bank is now dominated by an average of three to five permanent checkpoints. The journey between the cities of Hebron and Ramallah (43km), for example, takes a minimum of two hours for a Palestinian due to the nature of the roads we are allowed to use. For comparison, an Israeli could drive the same distance on wide, safe and well-lit roads in half the time.

With planned settlement expansion in E1 area (Jerusalem), Palestinians will soon be forced to use more remote and treacherous bypass roads. Those roads include Al-Mu’arajat, Wadi Al-Nar and the new Anata-Ezariye bypass, which were all built to keep Palestinians off Israeli roads that cut through the West Bank, such as Highway 1 and Highway 60.

Forgotten in Jerusalem

In Jerusalem, the governing Israeli authority’s negligence of the Palestinian population of the city is staggering. In the city, 72.9 percent of the Palestinian population lives below the poverty line and less than 10 percent of its municipal funds are spent on the Palestinian residents, despite their high municipal tax contributions. Areas such as Kufr Aqab and Shufat Refugee Camp, which fall within Jerusalem municipal boundaries, are literally walled out and left to rot without any municipal services.

Over 320,000 Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem are not considered citizens by Israel. They are unable to move anywhere else, because if they do so, they may permanently lose their legal right to reside in Jerusalem. They are facing an overwhelming lack of housing, an inadequate school system, high municipal taxes (that they do not see a return on), and an overall rough standard of living.

Palestinians in the city are worried that they may be further victimised in the coming days as result of new Israeli policies regarding municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. They are also concerned that President Trump’s looming “deal of the century” may force them to give up their residency in the city and get full Jordanian or Palestinian citizenship. They fear no one is trying to stop the Israeli efforts to cleanse Palestinians from Jerusalem.

Second-class citizens

Meanwhile, Palestinian and other non-Jewish citizens of Israel are faced with their own wave of discrimination, highlighted most recently by controversial the Jewish Nation-State Law. The law turned their marginalisation into a de jure matter, rather than de facto, as it had been before. By diminishing their status as citizens and stripping Arabic of its designation as an official language, the law left no room for anyone to claim Israel is a “democracy” that treats all its citizens equally.

The official response by the Palestinian leadership to this law has been weak, to say the least. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority failed to put forward a coherent response. So far, it merely engaged in cycles of “loyalty” campaigns whenever its legitimacy was questioned. Most recently, in the build-up to the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly, it repeatedly broadcast slogans emphasizing Palestinians’ national duty to support the leadership at this “historic moment”.

The situation in Gaza is even worse. The besieged strip’s economy is in “free fall”, says a recent report from the World Bank, citing the 11-year Israeli blockade as the reason, along with internal political rivalries plaguing the strip.

We need to act before we fall deeper into the abyss

The situation, briefly described here, should cause alarm in every Palestinian concerned for the future of their people. Hopelessness felt across Palestine is dangerous, especially as most Palestinians now feel they have no real friends in the international community.

Since the founding of the Palestinian Authority, Israel has been exercising boundless control over Palestinian people and territories, without feeling the need to make any concessions. Sadly, the Palestinian leadership has been actively fighting against any radical change to this desperate state of affairs. 

In the West Bank, the Palestinian struggle for freedom has been effectively criminalised by the Palestinian Authority’s own security apparatus. The order the leadership created in the West Bank only serves political, economic and security elite. Years of negotiations and international diplomacy bore little to no fruit. The Israeli government acts as if Palestinians are nonexistent, but at the same time imposes laws and horrific policies that render Palestinians totally powerless.

Palestinians across the board cannot see a scenario on the horizon that could improve their situation significantly. The most realistic vision sees a continuation of the miserable status-quo for a long time, with things slowly getting worse for the Palestinians.

Life in the occupied Palestinian territories is unbearable and hopeless. We desperately need to rise and act before we fall deeper into the abyss.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.