The politics of resentment in the West Bank

Visiting Palestinians is an invitation to hear their bitterness about Arab leaders and discrimination.

palestinian poverty 311 (photo credit: AP)
palestinian poverty 311
(photo credit: AP)
On a recent visit to Ramallah, I am struck by the construction boom across the city, the legislative and political center of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
Just about everywhere, high towers of office and apartment complexes rise above the squalor of old houses, refugee camps, crowded markets and narrow streets of what was once a small town some 10 km north of Jerusalem.
I spent the better part of a day walking the streets of Ramallah; had a surprising encounter with the mayor, a Palestinian-Christian woman of much dignity and warmth; made the required visit to Yasser Arafat’s tomb; and enjoyed the hospitality of simple folks.
There is money here, plenty of it, and those who have it are not afraid to flaunt it. New cars, beautiful residences, fancy stores and restaurants will startle any outsider arriving here with his head filled by the western media about the misery of the West Bank occupation by Israelis.
But there is also poverty, Israeli checkpoints, the fence or wall separating Palestinian territories from Israel and the Israeli settlements.
AND THERE’S the resentment that spill over any conversation with ordinary Palestinians fed a diet of half-truths and endless lies by their leaders.
Visiting with Palestinians is an invitation to hear their bitterness about Arab leaders, and of their experience with discrimination and violence in places such as Lebanon and Kuwait.
They speak of how the Palestinian leadership resembles Ali Baba and his 40 thieves, robbing the people of the money that has poured in as aid from the West.
The term limit of the president and the legislative assembly has expired, and no new elections are scheduled to provide Palestinians with any say on how they are being governed. In effect, those in authority have no mandate, and their fear that Hamas will likely win an election whenever held underscores the contempt of ordinary Palestinians for Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and the men around him.
There is irony in the fact that there are two Palestinian entities between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. If it were not for Israel in the middle, the war of words between these two putative states would become a ghastly shootout between the Iranian proxy in Gaza and mafia dons receiving protection money from the West and its Arab allies in the West Bank.
I have lived among, travelled and spoken with countless Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, and have learned to be cautious about the disconnect between their words, their thinking, the reality around them and their history.
As I sit among Palestinians in Ramallah, or visit with them in Bethlehem or Hebron, I listen to them patiently while avoiding disagreements by not offering my thoughts.
But when they insist on hearing my views, I remind them gently of the verse from the Koran that God does not change the condition of people unless they change what is in their hearts.
Then there is silence and the distress of not knowing how to unpack half-truths and lies – in part of their own making – to become a responsible, free and independent nation.

The writer is associate professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario. He is a columnist for the London Free Press and the Toronto Sun where this article first appeared.