Sat Feb 24, 2024
February 24, 2024

The West Bank: The Other Front of the Israeli Attack on Palestinians

In the face of Israel’s genocidal attack on the Gaza Strip, the international media have focused their attention on the situation in this territory. In this article we will try to analyze the situation in the West Bank, the other Palestinian territory under Israeli occupation, which also suffers from the constant aggression of the Zionist state.

By Alejando Iturbe

In order to do so, it is necessary to give a brief summary of its history and how the current situation came to be. What is now called the West Bank (which means “on this side of the Jordan River”) was a part of the British Mandate of Palestine, created by the League of Nations in 1918, following the defeat of the Turkish Empire in World War I and its dissolution. It is the entire territory of that mandate (“from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea”) that the Palestinian people rightfully claim as their land because they have inhabited it for centuries as a specific group of Arabic-speaking peoples.

In the maps of the time, there is no reference to the West Bank as a separate territory. Nor did it appear in the British government’s Balfour Declaration (1917) by the British government, which supported the Zionist project of “establishing a ‘Jewish national home’ in Palestine.” At that time, Jews represented a very small minority of the inhabitants of Palestine. This statement is considered to be the first explicit support of imperialism for what would be the creation of the state of Israel in 1947-1948. It also meant the explicit alliance of Zionism with imperialism in order to serve imperialism.

Following this came the Franco-British agreement known as Sykes-Picot (1916), wherein several European powers actively supported the Zionist efforts to settle European Jews in Palestine. However, they remained a minority in that area, where in 1931 there were 750,000 Palestinians and 175,000 Jews lived in the area.

This immigration of European Jews took a leap during World War II, with many fleeing Nazi persecution and, after the war ended, with many Holocaust survivors. Nevertheless, Jewish residents remained a minority in Palestine, which was home to 1,300,000 Palestinians and 600,000 Jews.

The 1947 UN Resolution

It was in this context that on November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly voted on Resolution 181, which divided the British Mandate of Palestine and granted the future state of Israel and Jewish population (as we have seen, the majority were newly arrived European immigrants) 52% of that territory.

The resolution was voted with the support of U.S. imperialism, its imperialist allies in World War II (England and France) and also by the USSR ruled by Stalinism (a fact that was which the Stalinists later tried to conceal). It is important to note that even in the territory granted to Israel, the Jewish population was a minority: there were 900,000 Palestinian inhabitants and 600,000 Jews, of whom we have already mentioned and who, at most, owned 6% of the of the land and houses.

With this resolution, the UN legalized a terrible theft of Palestinian territory (an objective which was at the root of the Zionist project since the 19th century). The U.S. and its allies pushed and backed this project to create an imperialist military and geographic enclave in the heart of the Arab world with its vast oil resources.

European Jews came from suffering terrible persecution and atrocious genocide by the Nazis, and the world was horrified by it. Who could oppose the creation of a territory where Jews could “live in peace” and “recover from their wounds”? But this righteous sentiment was used by the empire and the Zionists to conceal the true content of what was happening: the Palestinan people had been living there for centuries, and, therefore, it was necessary to rob them of their land and expel them from it.

The Nakba

Zionism, therefore, created armed organizations, such as Ergun, Haga-nah, and Lehi, which acted against the Palestinians. It was the starting point of what the Palestinians call the Nakba: a fierce offensive of ethnic cleansing carried out by the armed Zionist organizations, with bloodthirsty methods. An example of this was what happened in the village of Deir Yassin (near Jerusalem), as early as 1948: in order to expel them from their property, 200 of the 600 inhabitants were killed (including the elderly, women and children).

On May 14, 1948, the date set by the U.N. for the entry into effect of Resolution 181, Great Britain withdrew from Palestinian territory. Israel took advantage of the Nakba and several months of “ethnic cleansing” to seize an additional 26% over and above what had been allotted to them of Palestinian territory by that resolution.

This “ethnic cleansing” (under the beneficence of imperialism and Stalinism) resulted in only 138,000 Palestinians remaining in the territory allotted to Israel. The rest had been expelled. After the Nakba, Israel voted in the “absentee law,” which allowed the lands and houses of the expelled Palestinians to be expropriated by the State and allocated to the “present” Jewish inhabitants, who thus became owners of 90% of the properties. The expelled Palestinians were forced to go to different destinations, such as the present-day West Bank (in some cases, they were forced into refugee camps such as Jenin) or to the Gaza Strip. Others left for exile in Arab countries (especially Jordan, Lebanon and Syria), where many also lived in refugee camps or to more distant regions, such as the U.S. and Latin America.

Thus, these people were divided into three sectors: those living within the borders of the territory appropriated by the Zionist state, those living in Gaza and the West Bank, and those who went into exile.

Thus was born the tragedy of this people, which was caused by the creation of the State of Israel. Thus also began the struggle of these people to regain their historical territory.

Since 1948

The territory of the old British Mandate, which was granted to the Palestinians, was “cut in two” by Israel: an eastern part (from the Jordan River to East Jerusalem) and a western part (the Gaza Strip). The western part (the Gaza Strip), which has been increasingly diminished in area as a result of new Israeli “annexations.” Between 1948 and 1949 marked the first Arab-Israel war, which ended in an Israeli victory. The armistice between the two sides was signed on February 24, 1949. As a result, the Gaza Strip was put under Egyptian administration and the West Bank under Jordanian administration. The document assigns the West Bank an area of 5,860 km2, which includes the eastern part of Jerusalem. There are currently over 3,000,000 Palestinians living in the West Bank.

In 1967, after the so-called “Six-Day War,” which ended with another Israeli victory, Israel annexed and militarily occupied the territories of Gaza and the West Bank. (Since that event, it has become common to refer to them as “occupied Palestinian territories”). The Palestinian people resisted this occupation, and the highest expression of this resistance was the First Intifada (popular uprising in Arabic), which exploded in 1987 with thousands of young people in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem (some of them nearly children) confronting tanks and Israeli soldiers with slingshots and stones. These pictures shocked the world.

Despite the terrible Israeli repression (about a thousand Palestinians were killed), the Intifada continued. This began to create a profound crisis in the morale of young Israeli soldiers who, in defense of Israel, expressed their willingness to kill enemy soldiers and “terrorists,” but could no longer bear to kill unarmed teenagers.

The Oslo Accords

U.S. imperialism and the Zionist t leaders understood that this situation opened up the possibility of a political and military defeat of Israel. Faced with this danger, they began the path of “negotiations” that would lead to the Oslo Accords. The Accords were signed in 1993-1994 between Yasser Arafat, president of the PLO (Organization for the Liberation of Palestine) and the Israeli government with the intervention of Bill Clinton, then President of the United States [1].

Through these agreements, the PLO recognized the legitimacy of the existence of the Zionist state and signed “peace” with it. In reality, it was a real betrayal of the struggle of the Palestinian people. It was a betrayal that the Egyptian regime had already committed with the Camp David Accords in 1979 [2] and the Jordanian regime in 1984.

The Israeli army was supposed to withdraw from the occupied territories and hand them over to a “Palestinian government,” the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), which would administer them. Arafat and Fatah (the main political tendencies of the PLO) defended these agreements by saying that this was the first step on a road that would lead in the future to the constitution of a small independent Palestinian state under the “two states” criterion. On several occasions we have argued against the “false solution” in the Palestinian struggle to regain all of their entire historical territory [3].

The PNA is a Colonial Administration

But even if one accepts the strategy of this false solution, the reality was very different for Gaza and the West Bank, which has never had autonomy from Israel. First of all, because they were “fenced in” and their borders remained under Israeli military control, both in the passage of Palestinians in and out of Israel, as well as to and from Jordan. The same is true of their foreign trade. The Gaza Strip has been squeezed and isolated between Israel and the sea.

 The West Bank has been “divided” into three categories of areas: A, under PNA civilian and police control; B, under joint PNA-Israeli military control; and C, under exclusive Israeli military and civilian control. This last area is the only one with territorial continuity and surrounds and fragments areas A and B. This means that even to go from one to the other, Palestinians have to pass through Israeli checkpoints.

At the end of 2010, there were 99 Israeli checkpoints and 505 various types of obstacles to the free movement of Palestinians in the West Bank. The same goes for any kind of autonomous economic development, which is controlled by Israel. Suffice it to say that the currency of the West Bank is the Israeli shekel. In 2022, the Palestinian economy ranked 157th out of 197 countries, with a dynamic downward trend. In this context, the conditions for survival and employment are very difficult. Unemployment rates are high, especially among young people [4].

It is no coincidence that in 2022, 130,000 Palestinians in the West Bank will be forced to go to work every day in construction, agriculture and even in factories on land appropriated by the Zionist state [5]. In order to do so, they must obtain permits from the Israeli authorities and go through the slow and rigorous checkpoints that sometimes take hours. It is often the only employment alternative they have, and they also get better wages than in the West Bank. A recent film (200 Meters), written and directed by Palestinian Ameen Nayfeeh, shows some of this reality [6] .

Finally, Israel has continued to steal  Palestinian property, both urban areas in East Jerusalem as well as agricultural land. These were taken over by the new Jewish immigrants of Russian origin who arrived after 1990, following the collapse of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It is estimated that there are 800,000 of these “settlers” (200,000 of them are in East Jerusalem).

As if this were not enough, Israel began to build a “separation wall ” between its territory and Jordan, a high, thick wall of cement along most of its border. The project is almost complete. The construction of this wall has not only had the effect of isolating and controlling the West Bank. It has also left East Jerusalem and the “settlements” “inside” Israel. On the other hand, as the UN and Amnesty International have reported, it has meant the destruction of Palestinian homes, olive groves and Palestinian farmland, the increased difficulty of movement between Palestinian villages, increased Israeli army control,  and has had negative effects on the demography and economy of the West Bank [7] .

There are even Palestinian families who have been divided and separated by the wall [8]. Based on all that we have analyzed, the PNA was not a step towards the constitution of a new Palestinian state in the territories. On the contrary, it became an agent of Israeli colonial rule over the territories, whose apparatus and police forces are at the service of this domination. Since the victory of Hamas in the 2006 elections and its break with the PNA, the situation in the Gaza Strip has become completely different from that of the West Bank [9].

The Rise of a New Palestinian Bourgeoisie

The question of the PNA is not only its political role. It is deeper than that, because on the basis of this “colonial agent” policy, even in the terrible general conditions in the West Bank, a Palestinian bourgeoisie has been emerged and “intertwined” with the PNA and Fatah.

This new Palestinian bourgeoisie has risen from the different ways allowed by the “colonial situation.” The first is the management of the funds and institutions administered by the PNA (given to it by Israel), such as a “Palestinian bank,” hospitals, schools, universities, post offices, etc. In addition to the employees who work in these institutions, they also generate “patronage” and dependence by part of the population on the PNA.

Second, traditional economic sectors, such as such as olive groves and olive oil production export their products to or through Israel, and, to this end, increasingly cooperate with the State and Israeli companies [10] .

Some of these “new Palestinian “start-ups” cross barriers without any problems. The aforementioned film 200 Meters shows middlemen in the West Bank who hire Palestinian workers on their way to Israel and make it easy for them to get the necessary permits.

But without a doubt, the most despicable border that they crossed was made public with the outbreak of the scandal over the fact that several PNA ministers and Palestinian companies were involved in the commercial sale of 420,000 tons of Egyptian cement to Israel for the construction of the separation wall. “The alleged perpetrators helped Palestinian companies to earn millions with these sales to Israeli construction companies involved in these works” [11].

A unique but emblematic case of this Palestinian bourgeoisie is that of Munib al-Masri, 79 years old, who has a fortune of one billion dollars and holdings in 35 companies, with investments in Arab countries and other regions of the world. He lives in a luxurious mansion in Nablus, a copy of an Italian villa. Beyond his exceptional character, it is interesting to know that he was a great friend of Yasser Arafat and “rubs elbows” with leaders around the world. Masri actively promotes “peace between Israel and the Palestinian,”, through the policy of “two states” [12]. Today, of course, Masri supports the PNA, led by Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah.

The Resistance Continues and Abbas is Politically Weakened

In the context of this review of the true meaning of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian resistance in the West Bank, especially among the youth, has been sustained through various expressions. At the same time, the discrediting and questioning of the PNA and Abbas has grown. A similar process has taken place among Palestinian youth in exile in Jordan, Lebanon, and other countries.

The Second Intifada, which lasted from 2000 to 2004, expressed this questioning of the policies of the PNA: these young people went out to confront the Israeli forces and settlers using “harsher” methods than those of the First Intifada. Israel responded with bloody repression: it is estimated that more than 4,000 Palestinians were killed. For its part, the PNA sought to co-opt its most active participants after the end of the Intifada and integrate them into its political forces.

In 2011, in the heat of the impact of the so-called “Arab Spring,” an unprecedented event took place: young Palestinian activists in the territories and in exile organized a day to commemorate the Nakba and “pierced” the Israeli borders. They did it from the “outside in” because they had better conditions to do so. They did it in the face of the obstruction and repression of the Arab governments in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt.  They reached the borders and crossed them, where they met some young people from the West Bank who mobilized to welcome them. At the time, we said that “this mobilization and its results were a kind of ‘sketch’ of how the Palestinian struggle against Israel should and can be”[13].

After the beginning of the current situation in the Gaza Strip, large mobilizations were organized in several cities in the West Bank in support of their brothers in Gaza, in rejection of Israel, and to criticize the PNA for its inaction in the face of the genocidal Israeli attack [14] .

The PNA and Abbas have been discredited among many Palestinians. A survey conducted in 2015 by the Palestinian researcher Khalil Shikaki concluded that 57% of Palestinians no longer believe in the “two-state solution,” that two-thirds would want Abbas to resign, and that 42% believed that “only an armed struggle would make the creation of an independent Palestinian state possible”[15].

In 2021, PNA security forces cracked down on demonstrations calling for Abbas’s resignation [16]. It is very important to follow the processes of the Palestinian youth (especially in the West Bank) because of their struggle against Israel. We have tried to do this and, as part of this project, we have done journalistic research. We found a comprehensive and interesting article from 2018 [17], which reports that 40% of Palestinian youth (aged 15-29) were involved in new movements such as Nabd or Jabal Al Mukabir Local Youth Initiative West Bank) and even Gaza Youth Breaks Out (GYBO). All had their origins in the 2011 process and were part of an ongoing formation of “numerous collectives, committees, and associations.”

What they had in common was a desire for the “unity of the Palestinian people” and harsh criticism of the old leaders, especially the PNA and Fatah. A 20-year-old sociology student says that “Fatah and the Palestinian Authority only offer the youth simulated gestures. It’s anything but a serious political action. The regime does not intend to promote a collective mobilization that can really bear fruit. It fears that a politicization of the youth would primarily lead to a revolt against it in the first place.”

So, in addition to suffering from Israeli repression, they also suffer persecution from the PNA. For example, activist Issa Ambro, head of the Youth Against Settlements movement (based in Hebron), was arrested in 2016 by the Israeli army and released in 2017 under pressure from a large international campaign, which included Bernie Sanders. In the same year he was arrested and then later released by the PNA for criticizing them on Facebook. In 2018, he organized a debate at Hebron University on the subject of Israeli settlements and was summoned for questioning by the Palestinian security services.

Many other activists have experienced double persecution: Israeli imprisonment (some are still imprisoned) and being “squeezed” by the PNA. In the context of this repression, a Palestinian list estimates that several of these movements “are closing in on themselves, with the risk that some of them will turn to violent action.” In the face of such actions, other activists “claim to understand these desperate acts and refuse to condemn them.”

The Lion’s Den

It is quite possible, then, that activists from these movements have joined with those from other movements to form “The Lion’s Den,” a “new armed youth militia to confront the Israeli occupation,” which was formed in 2022 [18]. This organization has been a constant protagonist of actions against the Israeli occupation. A Palestinian analyst describes it as “a group of young Palestinian youths who are dissatisfied with the existing political factions in the West Bank or Gaza.” The Israeli army has already attacked and killed several of them.

It is very difficult to know how many effective fighters there are, but it is clear that since the 10  founders established the group in Nablus, it has grown rapidly. The appeal they made from their Telegram channel helped them gain at least 130,000 followers. In a broader context, “a survey conducted in December by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Surve Research among West Bank and Gaza Strip, shows that more than 70% of the residents support the formation of independent armed groups such as the Lion’s Den. Another center of Palestinian self-defense and armed resistance is the Jenin Camp [19].

The Lion’s Den has therefore become a priority target of Israeli repression. But it is also of great concern to the PNA and Fatah because members and supporters of this organization believe that “the PNA is politically bankrupt and cannot achieve political independence by peaceful means.” For this reason, the way forward is via struggle through armed resistance, with the sympathy of the majority of the Palestinian people.

“The top leaders of the PNA and Fatah are not satisfied with the group for many reasons.  Apparently, “they have made a strategic decision to try to cooperate with the group rather than dismantle it by force.” It is using the same strategy of co-optation that it had with the leaders of the intifadas,”the PNA has tried to persuade the group to abandon armed militancy and join the Palestinian security services.” With this policy, “they have succeeded in gaining some members, but the leaders of the group refused to hand over their weapons and insisted that they would continue to fight to the end.”

However, the debate within the Lion’s Den about what to do in the face of the PNA remains open. A Palestinian analyst believes that it is trying to avoid a head-on collision with the PNA for the time being because “going against the PNA puts you in direct conflict, if not with the whole Palestinian public, then with a large part of it. I think they are trying to avoid that.” Let us remember that a large part of the Palestinian population depends on them for their survival, a fact to which we have already alluded.

Some Final Considerations

What is the IWL proposal for the Palestinian people and its youth vis-à-vis the PNA? For us, the starting point is the need to break with the Oslo Accords and the “two-state” strategy with which they were justified. The goal of a secular, democratic, and non-racist Palestine that was stated at the founding of the PLO needs to be taken up once again, as does the need to destroy the State of Israel in order to regain all of the territory of the British Mandate of Palestine.

As a “daughter” of the Oslo Accords, the present PNA of Abbas is an obstacle on this path. We see Abbas as a colonial agent of Israel. Today, Israel is attacking the Gaza Strip and wants to expel its population in a new episode of the ongoing Nakba. The Palestinians in Gaza are resisting as best they can in this very unequal war against Zionism. And Abbas’ PNA remains passive, without lifting a finger for them. This is intolerable. The Palestinians in the West Bank are also constantly suffering from the aggression of Zionism, the separation wall, the oppression of its soldiers, and the permanent theft of land, and they also resist as much as they can. And Abbas does not lift a finger.

We understand that for the sake of their survival, many Palestinians in the West Bank accept the PNA as a “necessary evil.” But a new Palestinian leadership is necessary, one that does not act as a colonial administrator of Israel, but rather a support base for the struggle against Israel, to support the resistance of their brothers in Gaza, and for the recovery of the entire Palestinian territory.

Notes:

[1] Oslo, the peace of the cemeteries for the continuing Nakba – International Workers League (litci.org)

[2] On this issue see: Egypt: The Impact of the Situation in Gaza – International Workers League (litci.org)

[3] On this issue see: Palestine : On the false solution of the “two states”. – International Workers’ League (litci.org)

[4] The situation of the workers in the occupied Arab territories (ilo.org)

[5] https://www.europapress.es/internacional/noticia-israel-aumentara-20000-numero-permisos-trabajo-palestinos-cisjordania-20220615172507.html

[6] https://www.monitordooriente.com/20211214-a-200-metros-filme-sobre-familia-separada-pelo-muro-da-cisjordania-esta-na-netflix/

[7] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – occupied Palestinian territory | Home Page (ochaopt.org)

[8] The film cited in reference 7 shows this situation.

[9] Our Agreements and Differences with Hamas – International Workers League (litci.org)

[10] Israel granted an additional 600 permits for Palestinian businessmen to do business in the country – Infobae and An Israeli and a Palestinian do business in Hebron despite do business in Hebron despite the barriersEL PAÍS (elpais.com)

[11] elmundo.es – PNA investigates if Palestinians sell cement to Israel to build the West Bank fence

[12] https://elpais.com/elpais/2013/07/12/gente/1373648973_031212.html and https://oglobo.globo.com/mundo/noticia/2023/09/01/mansoes-em-area-de-conflito-cisjordania-atrai-empreendimentos-de-luxo-em-meio-a-confrontos.ghtml

[13] On this subject see: https://litci.org/es/la-cuestion-palestina-punto-central-de-la-revolucion-arabe/?amp=1

[14] https://twitter.com/i/status/1714354218344034471

[15] The results of this survey were originally published on http://www.pcpsr.org/en/node/619 (a page now listed as “unavailable”) (http://www.pcpsr.org/en/node/619), and were cited in an article by British journalist David Herst (http://www.middleeasteye.net/fr/opinions/une-nouvelle-intifada-pour-une-nouvelle-g-n-ration-2109668319) from which we take them.

[16] https://www.swissinfo.ch/spa/palestina-protestas_la-anp-reprime-duramente-en-cuarto-d%C3%ADa-de-protestas-pidiendo-dimisi%C3%B3n-de-ab%C3%A1s/46740552

[17] https://mondiplo.com/la-juventud-palestina-no-se-da-por-vencida

[18] https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-internacional-64916046

[19] West Bank: ‘There were dozens of armed men – now there are hundreds’ – BBC News Brazil

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