Every day, I meet Palestinians in east Jerusalem and from all over the West Bank. I also speak with Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. On most days, I also speak to Palestinians in Gaza. I think I have a pretty good sense of what is happening in Palestinian society. The people I speak with are from a cross section of Palestinian society from three generations: men, women, city dwellers, villagers and people from refugee camps. Almost no one I speak with is happy or even hopeful.
The undercurrents are full of anger, which has replaced the despair of past years. People are fed up and they voice their frustration, first against their own government, but their real anger is at Israel and the international community that continues to grant Israel impunity for all of its actions against the Palestinian people.
The anger against the Palestinian governments, Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, is clear and focused. A woman friend from Gaza said to me, just two days ago, “The Hamas leadership is unjust. In all honesty, I say it’s unfair. For years, we have lived in the shadow of their oppression and injustice to the people. And they live like kings.”
On Monday, I had a long meeting with the chief medical officer of a Palestinian hospital in the West Bank. He was telling me about the huge debt of the Palestinian Authority to the hospital. He said that the hospital keeps borrowing money from the banks, but he doesn’t believe that they will be able to continue to borrow without getting paid back by the authorities. Then he also criticized the authority of stealing all of the money of the Palestinian people.
This kind of conversation is so common, I hear it just about every day. Objectively speaking, I am not sure that more money is being pocketed by corrupt officials than in the past, but there is a lot less money coming into Palestine than in the past. The Authority’s deficit is larger than before. Everyone knows that the largest item on the Palestinian Authority’s budget is the salaries of the very heavily inflated security forces. Everyone believes that those Palestinian security forces are really working for Israel and provide no security to the Palestinian people.
No one sees hope. This feeling crosses generations. No Palestinian actually dreams of working in Israel, yet people do everything that they can to get a work permit. The gaps between the two economies enable anyone who works in Israel to receive about three times more than what they would get in the West Bank and probably five times more than in Gaza for the same work. But this is not the dream of any young Palestinian when they imagine their future. Who dreams about being a construction laborer or washing Israeli cars?
Settlements and arrests
People see more of their land being confiscated for building settlements. They see new illegal roads being ploughed open through their land in villages all around the West Bank. They see settler violence against Palestinian farmers struggling to grow their trees and crops while Israeli soldiers guard and protect the violent settlers. If the Palestinians try to resist, they are detained or arrested while the violent perpetrators go free, only to continue their pogroms against them.
EVERY NIGHT, tens of young Palestinians are arrested. I don’t think there is a family in Palestine without having had some of their members behind Israeli bars.
Palestinian political culture has long been based on the hope and belief that somewhere someone in the international community will come to their rescue. In the past, it was the Arab world who would pressure Israel through threats of war, but then Egypt broke ranks and made peace with Israel. Later, the Arab Peace Initiative came along with the hope that normalization incentives would bring Israel to the table to trade land for peace. But Israel rejected the Arab Peace Initiative and didn’t even bother to officially respond to it. The initiative was then undone by the Abraham Accords. Now, they hope that the Saudis will rescue them, although there is little hope that their savior will be Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
The Palestinians have grown tired of the Europeans, who are great on declarations but don’t even recognize Palestine while they still murmur the mantra of two states. Zero pressure on Israel comes from Europe and decreasing support for Palestine, while they turn their focus to Ukraine and their own economic woes. The United States is useless when it comes to Palestine.
President’s Biden’s short visit to Palestine is seen by most as an insult at best. The US has backed down to Israeli pressure even regarding direct US interests, such as reopening the US Consulate in Jerusalem. And, of course, the promise of reopening the Palestinian interest office in Washington is off the table. The Jewish lobby in Washington is more powerful than the will and interests of millions of Palestinians.
More than two and half million Palestinians in Gaza are even worse off than the millions of Palestinians in the West Bank. They have been locked in the largest human cage for 15 years with no end in sight. East Jerusalem with its 380,000 Palestinians is a dying city, where the Municipality of Jerusalem has increased house demolitions and the rising cost of living is forcing people to wonder if they have any hope of staying in the city of their birth. The increasing Jewish visits and praying in al-Aqsa (yes, the Temple Mount) is seen as a direct threat in the eyes of Palestinians to the single most important thing that Palestinians are willing to die for.
What will happen?
Where does this leave us? To the very likely explosion of some kind in the not-too-distant future. “How long can we live like this?,” so many Palestinian tell me. For the older generation, the horrific memories of the second intifada are a kind of deterrence. No one wants to return to that, but there is a sharp increase in the belief that the only language that Israel and the world understand is violence.
I don’t know if a third intifada will break out in the near future. I do know that people cannot live without genuine hope for a long time. In the meantime, Israeli society seems oblivious to Palestinian suffering. Will Israel wake up only after another intifada? Is there any hope in Israel that some leader will emerge that will understand that this is the most important and the most existential issue that Israel must confront?
The writer, a political and social entrepreneur, has dedicated his life to Israel, and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. He is now directing The Holy Land Bond.