Podcast / On The Nose
On the Nose is our biweekly podcast. The editorial staff discusses the politics, culture, and questions that animate today’s Jewish left.
West Bank Politics
Duration
0:00 / 51:53
Published
October 22, 2021

The past months have been tumultuous in the occupied West Bank. In April, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cancelled parliamentary and presidential elections; in May, during protests following Israel’s assault on Gaza, Israeli soldiers killed dozens of Palestinians; in June, Palestinian Authority security forces killed Nizar Banat, a vocal critic of Abbas, setting off protests against the PA leader. To explore some of the recent developments in the region as well as their broader political context, Senior Reporter Alex Kane speaks with Jewish Currents contributor Dalia Hatuqa and activist and analyst Fadi Quran.

Articles Mentioned:

A Prison Break Liberates the Palestinian Political Imagination” by Dalia Hatuqa

Poll finds nearly 80% of Palestinians want Abbas to resign” by Joseph Krauss

Thanks to Santiago Helou Quintero for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”


Transcript

Alex Kane: Hello and welcome to On The Nose, a podcast from Jewish Currents. I’m Alex Kane, the senior reporter at Jewish Currents, and I’m also your guest host today, taking over hosting duties temporarily from Editor-in-Chief, Arielle Angel. The past six months have been tumultuous in the occupied West Bank. In May, the attempted displacement of Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and the subsequent Israeli assault on Gaza sparked protests throughout the West Bank, during which Israeli soldiers shot and killed 26 Palestinians, including 11 people killed on a single day on May 14, which was the highest number of Palestinian fatalities in a single day since the UN started documenting casualties in 2005. In June, Nizar Banat, a critic of the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, was killed by Palestinian security forces. That led to another round of protests, this time directed at Abbas himself. Meanwhile, a new Israeli Government was sworn into office, Israel’s settlement enterprise continued to grow, and Israeli settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank has spiked once again, as it does every year during the olive harvest.

To talk about all of this and more, I’m happy to be joined by Dalia Hatuqa and Fadi Quran. Dalia is a journalist who specializes in Palestinian and Israeli affairs. She recently wrote the piece “A Prison Break Liberates the Palestinian Political Imagination” for Jewish Currents. And Fadi is an activist and a senior campaigner at Avaaz, where he leads counter-disinformation efforts with a focus on investigating influence operations and pushing for social media platform accountability, Fadi and Dalia, welcome to On the Nose.

Dalia Hatuqa: Thank you for having us.

Fadi Quran: It’s a pleasure to be here.

AK :So Dalia, I’m going to begin with a quite general question: What exactly is the Palestinian Authority? And what is its relationship to Israel and Hamas, the group that rules Gaza?

DH: The Palestinian Authority is a byproduct of the Oslo Accords that were signed between the Israelis and the PLO in 1993. The idea of the Palestinian Authority, or the idea behind it rather, is to have this interim government that would govern specific areas while paving the way for the Palestinians to take over the West Bank and Gaza. Eventually. Now, this never happened. Of course, many people are aware of the Intifada, the Second Intifada, and the aftermath of that. The Israelis pretty much showed their true colors. And they decided that they’re not having any of that; the idea of having a Palestinian state as stipulated in the Accords, was never realized. And so, the PA right now is pretty much a provider of jobs for many people, many Palestinians in the West Bank. Its relationship–the PAs relationship with Hamas–is not very good, to say the least. Fatah, which is the party that the PA is comprised of mainly, has been at loggerheads with Hamas for a very long time. And the reasons being really about the territory and about power, with neither party willing to give up either of these things.

And so, the Palestinians have been left with this kind of situation where they’re divided, both geographically and physically, and also politically. But also, the PA has been accused of being a vehicle, so to speak, for, or a tool for the Israelis to crack down on anyone who is who is basically against the PA or against Israel itself. So, for example, you would see that a lot of protests that happen at flashpoints, like by settlements or by checkpoints, a lot of the times, the PA cracks down on that. Or when there are protests that happen inside West Bank cities, the PA cracks down on those. So I think the last, or the latest poll that I’ve seen, showed that approximately 80% or more–I could be wrong, but this is what I remember–is 80% or more of Palestinians are basically calling for the PA’s President, Mahmoud Abbas, to step down. Ultimately, Palestinians are left in the situation where they’re being governed, so to speak, quote, unquote, by a party that they don’t approve of. And also Palestinians in Gaza don’t really approve of Hamas either.

AK: Fadi, let’s pick up on that thread. Because as Dalia mentioned, 78% of Palestinians said that they want Abbas to resign in a recent poll. And of course, Abbas has been in office since 2005. So he was elected to what, a four-year term? I mean, why is he still in office? How is he still in office? And also, why are so many Palestinians displeased with him?

FQ: Those are those are all good questions. So, let’s start with why he is an office. Mahmoud Abbas came to power after the death of Yasser Arafat. And the way he came to power was within the old leadershi–the old guard, the founders of Fatah. He was one of the only remaining Old Guard members. And at the same time, Mahmoud Abbas had gained the support both of the US administration–at that time the George Bush administration–and he was acceptable to Ariel Sharon and the Israeli leadership at the time. And in that period, as well–as Dalia mentioned, in the Second Intifada–Palestinian society had almost been crushed, right? Thousands of people killed, the economy had collapsed, and so, there were elections. And interestingly, in the presidential elections, no one of significance and no one from any other large major Palestinian party really ran against Mahmoud Abbas. And the fact that leadership, fearing that they were losing power, especially that they had lost elections to Hamas on the municipal level, essentially all supported him. So, he won the presidential elections. But then, less than a year later–and of course, for the last the Palestinian Legislative Council elections that were more competitive in terms of the diversity of those running–but Mahmoud Abbas began to utilize the security support, the military support, the cooperation with the Israeli side, to essentially consolidate his power through different forms of repression, through different forms of use of force, through arresting opposition, and also through using financial aid coming from the international community to build a type of rentier-crony system that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians relied on in terms of the PA wages. And so that’s how Mahmoud Abbas came to power.

Now, why he is still in power, and what has been happening since–why are Palestinians so frustrated by him? Centrally, Mahmoud Abbas has–the best way to put this as he has been a failure. He has failed to unite the Palestinian people. He has failed in pursuing any type of effective liberation tactic to end the military occupation. He has failed to improve infrastructure, he has failed to improve equality. He has, instead of fixing the legal system and the judicial system, he has corrupted, putting in place judges that are completely loyal to him. He has disbanded the Palestinian parliament, and so, there is no legislative council at the moment. He has weakened the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Truth be told, if you look at the key things that Palestinians want, whether vis-a-vis their lived struggle for liberation and an end to the occupation or simply their day-to-day lives, he has been a failure at all those levels. And at the same time, he has been the head of a corrupt system. You know, his sons–Mahmoud Abbas’ sons–one of them ran one of the key advertising agencies in the West Bank and Gaza, and that received hundreds of thousands of dollars from USAID and significant investments in real estate, using their power and leverage, and through their friends and networks, to just amass small fortunes. So there’s really the question, honestly, when the poll came out and showed that 21% of Palestinians were happy with Mahmoud Abbas, everyone was asking, like, “Who the hell are those?” You know, to be completely frank, not the other way around.

AK: It’s sort of tongue in cheek question, but were those 21% employees of the PA themselves? I mean, probably not though, because a lot of the West Bank sort of benefits from the largest of the PA. So I mean, even I imagine–correct me if I’m wrong–that there are workers who worked for the PA, obviously for employment, that are still fed up with the actual rule of Abbas.

FQ: Yeah, definitely. And I think Dalia can also speak to this. But my short answer is the 21% are largely those that profit from the status quo. So I’ve been meeting with a certain subsection of Palestinian businessman, and one of the things Abbas has done is that he has passed through Presidential Decree–over 41, which means he can legislate just as president without any parliament–at least 41 laws that benefit big business and the rich sides of Palestinian society. And then another thing is that the younger generation of Palestinian Security Forces are being trained, and this one that was arrested about a month ago or so became very clear: We’re being trained to think that the if Mahmoud Abbas leaves, if this leadership structure collapses, then they will lose their jobs and then people will be spitting at them in the streets. And so, apart from people just kind of profiting from the status quo, there are individuals that are actually being this uninformed and misinformed to believe that without Mahmoud Abbas, their lives will be over. So that’s probably who the 21% consists of, those profiting from corruption and the few who have been misinformed about the other options if Mahmoud Abbas is gone. But Dalia, maybe you also have insight on that.

DH: I mean, I would imagine that, first of all, polls, aren’t always the most accurate of things. That 21% could be people who are afraid to speak their mind, or like Fadi said, it could be people who are benefiting from the status quo because there exists a small group of people who have benefited from the PA, be it the tight circle around Mahmoud Abbas, like his right-hand men or the PLO Executive Committee, or the high ranking officials from Fatah. I mean, ultimately, these guys, they have what they need. They have everything that they need, so why would they want the status quo to change in any way? You know?

AK: Both of you mentioned that Abbas had the support of the Israelis when he came into power. And so, I just wanted to break down: What is Abbas’s both historical and current relationship to Israel? Because I think people may be confused. They’re like, “Oh, I thought, Palestinians fight with Israel,” or that they’re locked in a conflict, or that there’s these two sides, the Israelis and the Palestinians, and both leadership’s are at loggerheads. But both of you mentioned that Abbas is favored by Israel.

FQ: The way I would kind of go about answering this question–because there are a lot of hidden details–but what we can say kind of for certainty, is that number one, Mahmoud Abbas, of all Palestinian leaders actually from the ‘70s and ‘80s, has had this position where he believes the Palestinian people are generally weak, and that the only path to liberation–and he’s written this, and he’s said that in his historical speeches in the archives–that the only path to liberation is essentially making the superpowers at the time–the Soviet Union and the US, and then later, just the US–happy. And so, Mahmoud Abbas’s thinking has been, “Well, how do you make the Americans happy? Well, Americans want us to protect the security of Israel, so I’m open to that. I will allow American generals, and even Israeli generals, to work with the Palestinian security forces of their choosing, to train them to protect Israel security as a priority.” And Mahmoud Abbas’s key strategy has been–because he believes in the weakness, again, of Palestinian people, per se–his strategy has been, “Well, what can I do in terms of increasing the kind of day-to-day benefits from the Israeli side?” And that has led to Mahmoud Abbas building relations.

And starting from I’d say the ‘90s–again, Mahmoud Abbas was a key figure in the Oslo Agreements, right? And this is also important to note–there were other Palestinian grassroots leaders, Hanan Ashrawi, Haidar Abdel-Shafi that were more respected, that were trying to negotiate a better agreement than Oslo in Madrid. But then Mahmoud Abbas came in through the Oslo Accords and was the key person that negotiated a subpar agreement with the Israelis. But from that moment, the Israeli leadership felt like “Okay, this is a person we can cooperate with, this is a person we can mold. This is a person who is not willing to truly resist us, but is very thirsty to simply engage with us.” And that’s how Mahmoud Abbas, even though his rhetoric can sometimes be strong in terms of talking about liberation, et cetera, his day-to-day policies are all about appeasing those in power. So what I would say is, the question–of course, some Palestinians would claim because Mahmoud Abbas actually meets with the head of Israeli interior intelligence, the Shabak, consistently, and it’s public knowledge–some Palestinians go as far as to say he’s a traitor. That’s unclear. But what is clear is that he functionally acts as an Uncle Tom in the context of Palestinian politics. And that’s why he’s so favored.

AK: Dalia, with that context in mind, how would you explain the moves by Abbas to threaten to–or actually, I don’t think it was just a move, I think it was a decision to pursue Israel in the International Criminal Court, which has become a bone of contention between the Biden administration and the Palestinian Authority. Biden, pressuring the PA to back off–how should we understand that in the context of what Fadi was saying?

DH: I think one word behind this is, that comes to mind, is desperation and a lack of strategy, or lack of long-term strategy. And also the PA’s way of thinking and its actions are reactionary, so they don’t think of things ahead of time. So ultimately, I think that when this happened, when Abbas decided to go to the ICC, I don’t remember exactly what had the backdrop was. But this is something that Abbas does all the time. You know, the last time something similar happened was when he decided to call off the security coordination. And then, I don’t know if it was weeks or months, but he went back to it, and he gave a really silly reason for going back to it. Like no one really believed what he was saying. Nobody believed that going back to security coordination, resuming security coordination with the Israelis, was anything that they wanted. And by no one, I mean, Palestinians. And this is something that the PA does, you know? They basically quash dissent, they hunker down to write out the popular outrage, and then they attempt to placate Palestinians with false promises and empty gestures.

So, the most recent of these gestures was, I believe it was like August 29, end of August, there was that rare meeting between Abbas and Benny Gantz, the Israeli Defense Minister in Ramallah, and it was, I’m going to say the first such interaction between Abbas and a senior Israeli official in more than a decade. And the result was, you know, a bunch of “Confidence Building Measures,” quote-unquote, but the measures were not up to par at all. They included more than $150 million loan to the PA. I think the thing that was important that came out of this meeting was the resumption of family reunification, of Palestinian families–not all of them, obviously. Just maybe several thousand out of tens of thousands. And allowing more Palestinian day workers into Israel, even reviving the peace process that has never brought the Palestinians anything of substance, was not even discussed.

And we were told that the Prime Minister of Israel, Bennett, you know, he told Haaretz at the time, I believe he said that there is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians and there’ll never be one. So because the PA is so short-sighted, they remain willing to accept whatever bone Israel throws its way. And this is kind of a segue to my next point, which is basically another attempt by the PA to appease the public–and this also shows how short-sighted they are–is that the PA is aiming to hold local council elections in villages and towns sometime between December 10th and December 20th. And again, the PAs are misreading the public sentiment, because the Palestinians wanted those elections to be the presidential and the legislative elections that were supposed to happen in the spring, in the summer. But of course, Abbas decided to call them off because they spelled an uncertain future for Fatah and for Abbas himself.

AK: But talk more about those elections, because I think they’re significant. And the moves that Abbas made to cancel them were significant. Obviously, that was sort of the big story in Israel/Palestine in the spring, until, of course, the Israeli assault on Gaza in May. But thinking the month before that, Abbas canceled those elections. What did Abbas say as to why he was canceling the elections? And what were the real reasons behind it?

FQ: So the excuse that President Abbas gave was that Israel was preventing or banning elections in Jerusalem, and that the PA couldn’t go ahead with legislative and presidential elections without Jerusalem, which on its face is actually an important position. The problem is, you know, there are ways to get around Israel’s ban, of having elections and having the electoral campaigns run in Jerusalem. One way that was proposed by many of the independent lists was, we don’t need Israel’s permission, this is like a one-man, one-vote protest situation, where we can force Israel’s hands by just running elections in Jerusalem and finding solutions around it. Some people proposed electronic ballots. There were, and I don’t want to get into the details, but simply to say that sounds like a good excuse, when in fact, it’s no excuse at all.

So that’s what Mahmoud Abbas said. The real reason is Fatah, as the leading party, had splintered into three factions: Mahmoud Abbas as Fatah, and then you had Marwan Barghouti, who’s kind of the most popular Fatah leader, who’s been in prison for over 20 years now, and then you had Dahlen, who’s probably the richest Fatah leader, who has the support of the UAE and the Egyptian government. So there were three factions. And it was clear from the polling that Mahmoud Abbas could get the smallest of those lists and definitely not win. And on the other hand, you had Hamas and other political parties. You also had, and this is an interesting point, I believe it was 29 independent lists. So basically, new parties with new individuals, and new, younger faces in some cases, that were also running. So the calculation that happened internally for Mahmoud Abbas was simply that “If we have elections, it looks like I’m going to lose. and Fatah may be divided as a consequence. And secondly, that will show that I am even more illegitimate than the world already sees me.”

And then the third point for him was actually the US administration–at least based on what PA officials have told me–is that the US administration, seeing that the results may lead to losing Mahmoud Abbas and losing this kind of power balance that exists within the Palestinian areas, actually told Mahmoud Abbas that they were not too worried about elections, and that he could move ahead and cancel them without any significant repercussions. And then, last but not least, this was leaked, but the head of the Israeli general intelligence to Shabak also visited Ramallah, met with Mahmoud Abbas, and gave him the same synopsis. Which is: better for you not to have elections because you are going to lose. And so that’s what led to him basically saying, “Well, if the Israelis and Americans are on my side, and there are no heavy costs, I’m just going to go ahead and cancel and tell people that I cancelled for the sake of Jerusalem,” when in reality he canceled because he doesn’t want to lose his seat.

AK: I want to talk about Nizar Banat. Because his death captured a lot of international attention. Dalia, the killing of Nizar Banat by Palestinian Authority, security forces, set off protests. Could you explain who Nizar Banat was? Why was he killed? And what was the reaction to his death?

DH: So Nizar Banat was a fierce critic of the PA. He was from Hebron. He used to do all these really fiery speeches, mostly on Facebook, and people related to him because they felt like he spoke to them. He talked about the PA’s corruption, nepotism, cronyism, you know, what have you. And he knew he could tell that the PA was not going to sit by and let him be, and let him talk about all these issues that people relate to. And so, I believe it was in June, if I’m not mistaken–sensing that the PA was going to go after him, he was staying at a relative’s house in Hebron. And what happened was the PA security forces entered this area–this area is under Israeli security control. So the PA security forces had to have coordinated with the Israelis in order to go into this area, so that’s a point that maybe we can come back to later. But it’s an important point. Anyway, so they took him. According to the reports, basically, he was beaten up. There was some security, there was some footage that showed up as well, showing that they beat him up/ They beat him with their hands, they beat him with the guns. They maced him and basically, they killed him. And it took three months for what I would call a sham of a trial to begin.

I went to it, actually. I think it was on September 14. And the PA court held its first hearing for 14 Security Forces that were accused of being involved in his killing. All of them are members of the Preventative Security apparatus. This is the internal intelligence agency which is responsible for addressing domestic political dissent, and it’s grown to become one of the most powerful arms of the PA Security Forces. But it’s also known for its detention and human rights abuses of Palestinian dissidents. And the thing that struck me the most was that most of these guys were foot soldiers. The highest-ranking guy was a major, I believe a few others were lieutenants. And the family of Nizar Banat called this a sham because obviously, none of the people who gave any orders, people in the higher echelons, are taking responsibility for what happened. And the last thing I’ll mention about this is something odd that happened at trial, is that the lawyer of these guys, the soldiers and lieutenants, that he didn’t show up. He said that he didn’t know about the hearing date, that he had seen it on social media, and that he had COVID-19. It was very strange, and even the family’s lawyer said it was a bad omen, but it just shows you that not just the family, but people, Palestinians who are watching this trial closely realize that there will never be justice for Nizar Banat’s family.

AK: But that was that big of a threat? I mean, wasn’t he kind of like a guy on Facebook like ranting? I mean, obviously, he tapped into something. But it’s striking that they couldn’t even handle that.

DH: But that’s honestly that’s the modus operandi of Abbas. He can’t handle any kind of dissent and he can’t handle any kind of criticism, and it’s been his style even from the days of Yasser Arafat’s, when the two would butt heads. And then Abbas would sulk and he’d go to Doha and then they’d be like, “Yallah, come back. Oh, oh, don’t worry about it” and like, these aren’t stories. This is history. Obviously, I’m making it sound like it’s silly, but it’s not. This is his character. And this is his style. And he cannot handle anything of the sort. Now, I don’t know who gave the orders, obviously, for this killing. But it’s an outrage that this man who just decided to talk about these things was killed for things that he believed, you know?

AK: Yeah, absolutely. And Fadi, I want to bring you in because you were arrested in August by PA forces during one of those protests after the killing of Banat. I was wondering if you could talk about that experience, and what you think the arrest of you and others shows about the PA.

FQ: The first thing I just want to go back to is the power of Nizar Banat in the sense that he was a deeply articulate person, right? He was an Arabic teacher, a poet, but also a writer. And he was formerly Fatah, you know, he had been imprisoned by Arab regimes for being a member of Fatah. And so he knew and could speak to the history of the party, the values of the party, the mistakes that happened inside the party, probably better than anyone else. And that was one of the reasons that he had a diverse amount of supporters that went beyond–the opposition went beyond the like, whether it was leftist or Islamist parties. And so he wasn’t simply a person, I would say, that was just charismatic online and spreading videos. It was someone who managed to give Palestinians both an intriguing history lesson about the corruption that has happened and the bravery to imagine a better future. And that’s why Nizar again decided to run for the Legislative Council. He was leading one of the key independent parties.

And it is a sign of weakness, of course, that the PA felt the need to go down this path and assassinate him. But it is also something that I have to say is terrifying. The reason we went down to the protests is because we’re already, as Palestinians–let’s remember, the Israeli occupation has Military Order 101, which gives them the right to arrest me for up to two years for having this conversation with you, Alex, and Dalia. And Israeli occupation has restrictions on assembly, which means that if we go on marching in the wrong places, we can be arrested for many years. They have many different ways to silence and crush us. And the fact that we now need to deal with not only the occupation’s oppression, but with the PAs willingness to go as far as to assassinate us, to double down as a subcontractor for the occupation, that it’s not something trivial, and Nizar was trying to break that. And that’s why the PA decided to break him, if not murder him.

Now, the reason I was arrested is because the murder of Nizar led to a dramatic rise in popular protests. And what the PA tried to do was suppress those protests. And my arrest was–and the arrest of activists–was the least of it. They harassed young women in the streets sexually. They threatened people with murder, they beat people, some of them close to death. So what the PA tried to do in this process was literally show that you cannot challenge us in any way or form. And I was arrested because a day before my arrest, the PA had banned protests in the center of town and arrested anybody who showed up to the town center in Ramallah al Manara. So the second day, we didn’t want them to succeed in this battle of controlling the public space. Already, we’re in cages as Palestinians within these Area A cities. And if the PA could put us even in smaller cages, which are our homes, taking away public space, it was kind of like a death sentence to any form of organizing or activism.

So we went back down. We went to a festival that was happening nearby, we raised images of Nizar. Hundreds of people gave us a standing ovation. And it was on live television, which really angered the PA that was trying to silence this work. Now, later, after that event, two police cars came after me, almost ran into me, and basically took me beat me a little bit, and arrested me. They had my picture, as well as pictures and names of, I’d say, five to 10 other leading organizers on the ground, ready, so they knew who I was. And when I went into prison, of course, horrible treatment: small rooms, we couldn’t sleep on our backs, we had to sleep on our sides because there were 17 people in a room that was probably 10 feet by 10 feet. So there was no space to sleep comfortably. A bunch of us went on hunger strike. And so they punished all the other prisoners, to get those arrested on criminal charges, not political charges, to abuse us, to stop us from going on hunger strike. But fortunately, the popular outrage that this caused in Palestine led to my release.

And the ironic bit is that and this shows you how far the PA has gone in terms of its Security Forces being a subcontractor for the occupation. I was interrogated. Part of my interrogation was why I was carrying 25 Palestinian flags, as evidence that I was doing something illegal. And I just had to tell the prosecutor and tell the security men interrogating me, you know, people went to prison for knitting the Palestinian flag in the ‘80s because Israel had made that illegal. And now you come and claim you’re a Palestinian Authority, and you’re arresting someone and interrogating them for carrying flags. So it just shows you the gist, or the irony that we are living in. But what I want to end with on this note, is just to say, when I spoke with the police officers, and I told them what we stand for, and that Mahmoud Abbas and his corruption is a disgrace, the majority of police officers actually came and apologized to me and said that they have no pride in representing this regime. But again, they were afraid of losing their jobs and losing their incomes. And similarly, the prisoners in the cells that I was in–and many were there unjustly–but they tried to not give them food, they took away all their privileges, assuming they would beat me up in prison, or harass me. Instead, all of the prisoners that were there in the room with me under criminal charges stood by my side and also spoke about how they wanted the PA to change.

So in my experience of this whole arrest, and even the days after, what I realized is that literally Mahmoud Abbas and a few people around him are so weak and have lost support of almost all major pillars in society. What people are just waiting for is a vision about how we can replace this Palestinian leadership without being blackmailed, because this is what Mahmoud Abbas does. He tells people it’s either me or chaos. It’s either me or bloodshed. And if people just have a vision about how to replace him and his cabal of bad leaders without any kind of significant costs, then he would be gone within minutes.

AK: That’s intense and wild. I’m glad you’re safe now. Dalia, I wanted to switch to a sort of related but somewhat separate topic, although it is about Palestinian prisoners–this time Palestinian prisoners in Israel. You wrote a great piece for Jewish Currents about the September Palestinian prisoner escape from Israel’s Gilboa prison. And I just wanted to hear from you: What’s your sense of the reaction to that escape in the West Bank, and then their eventual recapture by Israeli forces?

DH: I think when it first happened there was a lot of euphoria, like the prison break was a huge, symbolic victory, not just over the occupation but also the occupation’s infrastructure. Because, as you well know, there’s not a household in the Palestinian territories that hasn’t had like a male relative or loved one who hasn’t been in Israeli prison. So, to many people, it was like a thumb in the eye of the Israeli Prison Service. Especially because the Israeli authorities have long said that Gilboa is like akin to a safe at a bank. like you can’t get out of it. I believe the IPS once said that the Gilboa’s prisoners are like more securely guarded than the money in the Bank of Israel’s safes. So you know, there was a lot of pride that the Israelis had in this prison, and the prison break was a huge victory over that. The thing is that the prisoners themselves, and Israel’s imprisonment of Palestinians, has always been a uniting, galvanizing issue across the occupied territories. And, of course, Israelis like to call them terrorists and whatnot, but for Palestinians, their political prisoners are rightfully resisting an illegal occupation. A lot of Palestinians are in Israeli prisons for things like throwing stones at security forces, or membership in political factions that are bound by Israel. I believe that 20% of the total Palestinian population has been detained by Israel since 1967. And that’s an insane number.

Now, when the six were recaptured, it was definitely a sad moment that you could sense in the West Bank. Like I heard a lot of people saying that their moms cried or their family was upset. I remember there was a sign that was going around on social media, of a store in Ramallah that was shut down on a Monday at midday and it said something like, “I’m too depressed to work today.” And everybody that I spoke with, you could sense there was this palpable anger and disappointment. It showed like, not just on people on the street, but on social media, and there were calls for mass protests in the West Bank and whatnot. But also, I think the initial feeling of sadness and anger, I think it was translated later on into pride and a sense of unity. I think it really got Palestinians together, and it shifted the sense of what is possible, which is what I discussed in that article for Jewish Currents. And I think also it showed that Palestinians are not afraid to resist and that their resistance stands in sharp contrast with the strategy of the PA, which has tended to be more collaborational.

AK: Both of you have sort of sounded some notes that are off-key from the generally depressing and awful situation that is in the West Bank. And I did want to give you both an opportunity to add more, if there’s anything new, or exciting, or hopeful that’s going on right now in the West Bank that sort of keeps you going.

FQ: I think it starts by going beyond the West Bank and even beyond Palestinians. One of the wonderful things that we saw in May is that there is a new generation of Palestinians and of Jews, progressive Jews who, you know, probably are a big portion of the audience listening to this podcast, that have now gone beyond the nationalistic and dogmatic frames of the past into a more aspirational, value-based frame that focuses on freedom, and justice, and dignity for all. And not only is there a generational shift in that direction, but we also saw its ability to build power. On social media, we saw a shift in narrative. We saw many, even younger politicians in the US, but also around the world, shifting their narrative to focus on the need to pursue those values. And on the ground in Palestine, we saw it with the assassination of Nizar Banat, may he rest in peace, with the protests that followed. But also before his assassination, with the general strike that happened across Palestine, the ability of these different networks to work together at these pivotal moments to create not just beautiful marches and efforts on the ground, but significant impact in the way that societies can function together. And that is intersectional, that goes across these kinds of nationalistic ideals.

And so the hope is, these are seeds, right? These are seeds in soil that is actually very toxic. And for those seeds to actually prosper into the types of movements and organizing that we need to achieve freedom and dignity for all the people living in the Holy Land, we need to take care of them, we need to water them, and we need to recognize that they exist. And we need to protect them from harms, whether that’s the PAs authoritarianism, or Israel’s military occupation, or the rise of the far right in the US that is both antisemitic and also that is extremely pro-current Israeli ethno-nationalist policies. But if we managed to protect these seeds, and we build this power and networks, then I have almost certainty that within 10, 20 years, we can achieve a completely new social contract for Palestinians and Jews across the world that actually allows people to simply live a dignified life and pursue their potential. And those are the things that are in motion right now. So let’s just invest in protecting them, right? And because the key thing is also, and I’ll end with this, building this movement, protecting it, making it sustainable and successful, is not only beneficial for the people suffering on the ground; it can actually transform the Middle East. And if it transforms the Middle East, it can transform the world and ensure that our children and grandchildren live in a much safer, more prosperous, more democratic world for many years to come. And so, that’s the hopeful side of things. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s definitely not impossible, either.

DH: I want to add that I’m not as hopeful as Fadi.

FQ: That’s fair.

DH: I’m not as hopeful as Fadi, and I really appreciate hearing him say these things. I would like to see, in my lifetime, a better future for all of us, for everybody that’s living between the river in the sea. I’m just not sure honestly. Maybe being a journalist, you just tend to be more cynical. But just to go back to the prisoners’ escape, I think this is part of the reason why the escape was so important, because not only did people sympathize with what the prisoners faced, but also there was a connection to their situation. Even though Palestinians aren’t in a physical prison, we still do live in a prison, you know, and this prison isn’t something that just the Israelis are imposing through checkpoints and whatnot. But also, as one really smart person who I was speaking with said, it’s not only Israel that’s imposing prison bars, it’s the PA that’s actually enforcing them. And so, it’s this dual system that’s working against regular Palestinians, and you’ve got the Palestinian Security Services, you’ve got the police, the intelligence services. And there’s physical force, there’s intimidation, and it’s happening from both different levels. Obviously, I’m not equating the two but you know, it’s the Israeli occupation and the PA. And I think this is why the escape had this enormous effect on people, because it pierced Israel’s seemingly impenetrable security and unsurveyed surveillance network. And it helped the prisoners, and through the prisoners most Palestinians, to evade this domination. And so it gave them a sense of freedom that I think most Palestinians are yearning for. And so, yeah, I mean, I’m not as hopeful. But I think that that moment, that week, gave people a lot of hope that there might be a light at the end of the tunnel.

AK: We’re gonna leave it at that. Thank you so much to Dalia and Fadi for joining me for this great conversation. And thank you all for listening. Please subscribe to the podcast and rate it so people get to know about it. And as always, subscribe to Jewish Currents and check out our website, JewishCurrents.org. See you next time.

End Credits: Can’t get enough Jewish Currents? Keep in touch with us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And visit JewishCurrents.org to subscribe and see our latest. A very special thanks to Nathan Salsburg for providing us with the music from his album “Landwerk No. 2” and to Santiago Helou Quintero for producing this segment. Thanks for listening. That’s all from us.

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