The situation in the West Bank continued to deteriorate in 2022. Karim A.*, Palestinian coordinator of the partner organisation Seekers*, spoke to Katharina Ochsendorf in January 2023 about the developments of the past year, the current situation in the West Bank, prospects for the future and the consequences that political developments have for binational dialogue work.

Katharina O.: Hello Karim. How are you doing? How is the dialogue project going?

Karim A.: Literally drowning in my work, it was a very busy year so far. (…) But more or less (…) And the project – it is at a point where it is turning from talking and planning to doing the actual practical work. It is between talking to people, finding participants, building a team and building a schedule for the year. It is almost done. We are putting the final touch on it.

I had difficulties with the group because the Israeli army entered the house of one of our activists, Rita*, and vandalized it. The family’s clothes were lying around everywhere in the house, (…) the family had to wash and clean everything. They took their car. And this time for the first time, well, they were bringing female soldiers, and were physically checking the women in the house including our participant and they were not doing it kindly. Rita was very shocked by this. And she was mad. I understand her anger, I understand her feelings and I understand where they come from.However, she now doesn’t want to speak or interact with any Israeli. And that has radiated to other participants in the group and slowed down our group process in preparation for binational meetings. I know that this is a feeling and that it will take a joint process to work through it. Next week we have planned a meeting of the Palestinian group, I hope it will take place. Sometimes very unexpected things happen here that slow down processes or mean that we have to change all our plans again (…).

KO: So, when did that happen, when did the army enter her house?

KA: That was 4 or 5 days ago. The army is currently in the city almost every night. They were here last night and someone was shot dead here. Actually, the new year may only be eleven days old, but seven or eight people have already been killed, including four children. (…)

KO: That’s incredible bad. So how is the situation in your city now? Did they end the siege situation you told us about some weeks ago?

KA: Yes, they ended it after they killed the leaders of what is called “the lions”1 (…)

There was a time in 2022 when I myself lost some friends in army attacks. But now everything is – I hate to say everything is back to “normal” because it is not normal – back to the “usual” let’s say. Anything can happen here at any time: The army could come, there could be a shooting, a killing, (…) sometimes the Israeli army comes, shoots someone and is literally gone after five or ten minutes.

Last Friday, someone was arrested in my grandfather’s neighbourhood. There was a lot of gunfire and an explosion and the neighbours there called me. (…) Six or seven windows of the house were shattered by the explosion and glass fell on people’s heads. So, I had to repair the windows. (…) It’s Intifada. Maybe people don’t see it, or they can’t see it but this is worse than the  Second Intifada nowadays. If we look at statistics, it’s worse than during the Second Intifada. Because last year we are talking about, I cannot remember the exact number, but it’s more than 200 Palestinian who got killed.2

And now there is a new government in Israel. It is starting the first lousy new law that is supposed to legitimize the revocation of the citizenship of all Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who can somehow be linked to the resistance against the occupation or who receive money from the Palestinian Authority (…) and then send them to the West Bank or Gaza. (…) They will vote on it in a fortnight3 (…).In the USA, the first reaction to the election result was: „We are not very happy about working with people like Ben Gvir4.” Even the USA, Israel’s strongest ally, says so. (…) He is such a terrible person. Netanyahu is not in the best situation, he had to make a lot of compromises to form a coalition. De facto, he is doing this to stay out of jail. And the Palestinian population has to bear the brunt of all this.

KO: Thinking about 2022, can you identify certain points which apart from the election were turning points? I remember the killing of the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, but a lot of things happened over the year.

KA: Shireen Abu Akleh is one of the few people I don’t know personally and yet I cried a lot for her. She was somehow connected to every single Palestinian, she was a „partner“ in our pain, through the Intifada. But another turning point, (…) I think in May 2022, was when a man from Jenin formed a small group to resist violently (…). The special thing is that the group doesn’t belong to any political party, (…) there is no division, they are all under one flag, their „flag“ is the struggle for resistance. The group started to grow and spread throughout Palestine. They have become very popular for two reasons: firstly, because everyone is fed up with the current political parties, regardless of which one.  Because today they are fighting openly with the Israeli government against the Palestinians, whereas before they were doing it covertly, „from under the table“ as we say in Arabic. (…). And that is also where the group „Lions‘ Den“ originated, which was then founded.  (…)

The other reason why people support this kind of resistance is not because they are in favour of violent resistance in principle, but because these groups are basically the only people defending them. The only ones defending their rights, the only ones who are there when the army enters the city or whatever. Yes, they do stop and do attack the army and there are deaths and injuries. But let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter whether we agree or we don’t agree on violent resistance, it’s a right under any international agreement to defend yourself. If we say, following the Oslo Accords, that the West Bank and Gaza are the „Palestinian state“, it is a right to defend ourselves. But you know me, I am not on the side of violent resistance, I am in non-violent resistance. (…)

There were many turning points last year (…), it was one of the most terrible years ever, it was a really tough year. People are losing hope, people have lost hope. They have lost hope because, you know, like for example when Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in front of the whole world, it was very obvious who killed her. I was in front of the TV, I was working, but I was constantly watching the news (…), everyone was watching the news (…). People were very hopeful that there would be some consequences, that finally someone would be punished for doing such a thing you now, and now, months later, nothing has really happened and people have lost hope.Because who am I compared to Shireen Abu Akleh? If I myself get killed, who is going to stand up for my rights? Who am I if my government is fighting against me? And they say it out loud, like “You don’t like it? fuck you, we shoot you”. There were clashes with the PA last night and then in the middle of the night there were clashes with the Israeli army on the same day.

There is nobody to defend our rights. The corruption in our government is so fucked up, it’s very obvious they would say it straight out “Yes we are corrupt and we don’t give a shit about you, if you don’t like it we just send you to Jericho prison” – which is the worst prison ever, it is comparable to Guantanamo.

KO: So, if people have lost hope, who is then going to come to participate in Seekers*?

KA: People who still have some hope, like me. Let me say it this way: the look on your face, your reaction now, after I finished talking was the same reaction which Hamza*, one of our facilitators, had after the West Bank group meeting before the binational weekend. This was in December, so last month. He said to me “I was very optimistic when we started the meeting, when we finished, I was very depressed”. But what I wanted to say is: this is where we are getting our hope from. We draw our hope from depression. You get to a point where you’re faced with a decision: either I just lie down and cry about the situation and cannot do anything about it or I (…) try at least to change something, even if it is a small thing. It is a kind of mental attitude.

KO: How was the binational meeting in December?

KA: (…) Not everyone was able to attend, but there were about 12 people. It wasn’t a very big group, it’s almost impossible to get everyone at the same time. (…) The participants had all been active with Seekers for some time. (…) Seekers really managed to create a space for the participants, to listen to them and allow them to talk and to share, and that is one of the main elements of these dialogues. We see it again and again: people are depressed, disappointed, they come with a lot of issues they want to talk about and which they want to share. (…) It’s important to process these feelings. We go into the seminar depressed, (…) with all our disappointments, and we usually leave without them. It’s a place where we (…) empty our chests, take the weight off our shoulders. I was particularly impressed by this last binational meeting in December. (…) One thing I heard from more than one of the participants was “finally we feel like we are about to do something practical, more than just talking”.

KO: Where do you get your hope from?

KA: When I was 12, 13 years old, it was the middle of the second Intifada. (…) It was the time I got my childhood trauma. It was a very tough time. There was literally a tank in front of my house and there were snipers everywhere on all the surrounding buildings. They were shooting anything that moved, any animal, cat, dog, human, it didn’t matter. So, we covered all the windows. And we stayed, me, my dad, my mum, my siblings, in one room for 15 days, literally laying down on the floor. There was no water, no electricity, there was no food and we needed to manage with whatever was left in the fridge. In the first days we felt very wealthy because we were having breakfast, lunch and dinner with meat, chicken and fish because these foods soil the quickest (…). At that time, my grandparents and my uncle and his family also lived in our town. In those days, there was no connection, there was no phone, there was no electricity. My mother had some batteries and we listened to the radio, very quietly, so that nobody would hear and suddenly I could see in my father’s face that something was wrong. He said he had heard his brothers voice shouting that they destroyed the house above his family’s head. Thank god it wasn’t my uncle, but we didn’t find that out until a week later. But it happened to someone else’s family, and it happened to a lot of families at that time.  

What I want to say and why I am telling this story is that despite all this, when I was in eighths grade, there was a teacher who was somehow connected to Seekers, I don’t know what his exact role was in the organization, and he introduced Seekers to me. He asked to see my dad. I was excited, I was a kid, I was like “wow, I’m going to Italy” I don’t even know where Italy was at this age. My father really welcomed the idea. Years later, I asked my dad this question: “Why, despite everything we have been through, all the killing, the destruction of your parents’ house and everything that happened to you, why did you allow me to meet the other side?” And he said: “We have tried resistance for many years, maybe it’s time to meet the other side in a non-violent way. Maybe it’s time to see the other face of the other side.” He also was in an Israeli prison for a couple of years during the first Intifada not the second one. Hope always exists, you know. But sometimes you either need to get help from people to show you where to find the hope or you have to show the people around you how to use the hope and where to find it.

KO: How do you see this coming year of 2023? Are you optimistic, scared…?

KA: (…) I am very optimistic about 2023 on a personal level. (…) I am very optimistic about the coming months of the project. After our binational weekend I have the same feeling like our participants. You can see something tangible that we are going to do, we are going to achieve in the project this year. That is my view within the small circle in which I work. If I enlarge the circle, the bigger the circle gets, the more depressing the prospect becomes. (laughs) I’m a very optimistic person. (…) Give me any story, give me any occasion, give me any situation, I’ll show you a positive side of it. (…) I don’t know how I do it, but that’s how it is. (….)

KO: I remember our last call when the new Israeli government was just elected. You commented that this new government might be a good thing in certain way because it would make people see the reality of the political situation. Do you still see it this way?

KA: Well, every situation has its advantages and disadvantages. When I said that, I was quoting what my father was saying and I was convinced of what he was saying. It might be a slap for the Israelis themselves because they are attacking each other. Like Ben Gvir, who is attacking Netanjahu, because he is supposedly destroying the country, leading it into a civil war (…) But it is a very high price that Palestinians are paying. And it’s just the beginning.

We started to see it more obvious what Palestinians are going through now, because the Palestinian government appealed to International Court of Justice in The Hague and the results were not very favorable for the Israeli government. So, the Israeli government decided to collectively punish the Palestinian government and all the Palestinians. This has been happening for many years. (…)

This is done, for example, by withholding tax money. The PA receives tax money from border traffic, imports and exports, as Palestinians that is our right. This money represents a big percentage of the Palestinian income. The average monthly salary is 650 Million Schekel. This is for the government employees like doctors, teachers, whatever. Withholding this money means that the PA is not able to pay the full salaries. That was happening a couple of months ago, people were getting like 90 or 85% of their salary. Now they are doing it more and more and we are expecting a really difficult situation the next couple of months because the economic situation is really a key issue in our conflict. They can easily control the Palestinians and their actions though the economy.

But what they cannot understand yet is that the more pressure you put on the Palestinians, the more attacks you will get. That’s what happens. You cannot drive people crazy and then think that there are no consequences. There were a lot of stabbings since 2015, some people called it “the knife Intifada”. These attacks were done by individuals, not by any specific group or political party. The number that was given for those attacks they were not real. For example, there was a woman like in her 40s in her 50s who held a knife in her hand and walked towards a checkpoint. She couldn’t even run with it. We have seen this a lot in recent years.  The woman had lost hope and so she decided to die. Suicide is forbidden in her religion, but if you are killed by an enemy, you’re a martyr. Some people think that this is how it works. So that’s what they decide to do: they have themselves shot by the army. Because they have lost hope, because they cannot feed their children anymore, because they don’t have any more choices.

It is a kind of a strategy to keep the Palestinian people on the edge of the poverty line. When all your basic needs are met, then you’ll decide to start thinking about how to leave the island of the occupation, how to end the occupation. But if you live below the poverty line, if you cannot supply food for my children or whatever, (…) then you lose hope. (…)

  1. Also „Lions‘ Den“, militant resistance group in the West Bank ↩︎
  2. B’Tselem and other organisations report that 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians in this conflict since 2004. breakdown at: ↩︎
  3. The law „Deprivation of citizenship or residence status of a terrorist who receives compensation for the commission of a terrorist offence“ was passed at first reading on 30 January 2023 and finally adopted in mid-February. The law makes it possible to revoke citizens‘ citizenship for „terror“ offences. It stipulates that „persons found guilty of terrorism“ can be deprived of their citizenship „if it is proven that they receive money from the Palestinian Authority for their actions“. It also allows these people to be resettled in Palestinian autonomous areas. ↩︎
  4. The far-right politician is the Israeli Minister for National Security and Chairman of the „Otzma Yehudit“ party. ↩︎