By David M. Halbfinger and Miriam Berger
April 21, 2019
Dina Teeti, 23, tries to tune out politics. But a few weeks ago, around the time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said he planned to begin annexing parts of the West Bank, she turned to her father with a heartfelt question:
“What will happen to us?”
Hasan Teeti had always been a big believer that a Palestinian state would become a reality. But now, even he has given up.
“We have always lived with hope,” said Mr. Teeti, 57, who with his daughter runs a wedding-planning business. “In our work, we try to create moments of happiness. But the general feeling is that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.”
The West Bank is awash in such despair.
Palestinians have wanted to shake free of Israeli domination since the West Bank was first occupied in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. For more than a quarter-century they have waited for the United States-led peace process to deliver them a state of their own.
But on the eve of Israel’s April 9 elections, Mr. Netanyahu said he planned to begin applying Israeli sovereignty over West Bank land, which the Palestinians have long counted on for an eventual state. For many of them, his victory has pushed a two-state solution far beyond the already distant horizon, where it existed in the minds of Palestinian politicians.
The people in the West Bank who have taken up arms, gone to jail or spent their lives working, praying or waiting for self-determination are now asking whether all that time, effort and emotion were for naught.
Nowhere are the conversations more poignant than within families and across generations, between young adults who have known only the restrictions the peace process brought and their parents, who believed those would pay off in statehood.
Defeatism is not often heard among Palestinians. But in Hizma, a crowded village near Jerusalem almost completely ringed by Jewish settlements, Jahd Abu Helew, 42, has begun to contemplate what giving up on a state would mean for his five children.
What he once believed would lead to independence has long since become a regime of checkpoints and closures, he said. The trip to the hospital with his ailing father could take just minutes, but obtaining a permit takes weeks. His 14-year-old son, Hussein, has never been to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of Islam’s holiest sites.
From his bedroom, Mr. Abu Helew, who drives a food-distribution route, sees Israeli police at the village entrance. Often he cannot pass.
“The years before the P.A. came were better,” he says of the Palestinian Authority, which has governed parts of the West Bank since 1995. Before that, residents were still under Israeli occupation but had more freedom of movement.
He dismisses the authority as Israeli-owned, largely because of how much Palestinian security forces do, in his view, to aid Israeli control. Life is only getting worse, he said.
His mother, Najah, 61, would settle for living under Israeli sovereignty with equal rights. At least it would be a “normal” life, she said.
“It’s not normal,” her son responded. “Look at the Jerusalemites,” he said of the Palestinians who have permanent residency in Israel but not citizenship. Or the Bedouin Arabs who live in Israel’s Negev desert, he adds. Both suffer discrimination. West Bankers would be treated no better, he argued.
“We want to live like they live, with stability and safety,” his mother countered.
When her son was young, she said, “I imagined his life would be more comfortable” than hers. But she sees only a more difficult future.
With that, Mr. Abu Helew does not argue. He sees no reason for faith that the conflict will be resolved by politicians.
“It will come from our God above,” he says, “not from Israel or from the P.A.”
Jamal Zakout, 61, says he spent 40 years working for a two-state solution. His son, Majd, 31, argues gently that his father’s goal was mistaken all along.
Majd is finishing law school in Toronto. Jamal is semiretired and living in Ramallah, where he served in the mid-2000s as a top adviser to the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister at the time, Salam Fayyad.
Jamal found himself researching why young Palestinians committed a wave of stabbing attacks in 2015 and 2016. What he learned, he said, applied to their entire generation.
“Most feel that no one is protecting their dignity,” Mr. Zakout said.
Whether these young people are from secular families loyal to the more moderate Fatah faction or from religious families affiliated with Hamas, the Islamist militant group, “All of them feel unprotected, unrepresented, and that they should take the initiative,” Mr. Zakout said.
But these young people had yet to coalesce behind a political movement the way his own generation once had, he added.
“They know well what they don’t want,” he said. “But they’re not coordinated or certain enough of what they do want.”
Yet Mr. Zakout has not given up. Perhaps the other side will awaken to what annexation would bring, he said: “Israel and the Israeli society should defend their future from the one-state solution — from apartheid.”
But Mr. Zakout’s son shares neither his hope nor his analysis. Majd Zakout calls it “comical” that Palestinians are reacting so strongly to Mr. Netanyahu’s use of the term annexation.
“He hasn’t said or done anything that hasn’t been de facto on the ground for some time now,” he said by phone.
Acknowledging this makes it easier to focus instead on achieving equality and the basic rights that he says all Palestinians should enjoy, and to let go of what he sees as the fundamentally misplaced, overriding goal of a Palestinian state embraced by his father’s generation.
“The question that I always pose to him is: If tomorrow there is a referendum in Israel and people say, ‘We want to give Palestinians equal rights,’ are you going to say no?” Majd said.
‘We Should Make Peace’
Brothers Rameh and Rand Musmar come from a family of patriots. Their grandfather and father both fought against Israel.
Rameh, 31, used to be a fighter in Fatah’s armed wing. He was imprisoned for three years, then released in a 2008 deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He quit Fatah in 2012.
He and his brother are both disillusioned.
“Most of the people in my family, they’re seeing Oslo as dying, finished,” he said of the Oslo peace process, which started in 1993 and envisioned a land-for-peace settlement.
Rameh said he was on his way from Nablus to a nonviolence seminar in Ramallah in 2015 when he was beaten badly at a checkpoint. His offense? Correcting how an Israeli soldier had pronounced his name. He said he did not defend himself for fear of being shot.
Rand, 35, an engineer, echoes what their father used to say: “We should make peace. That’s it. We are lying to ourselves, and they are lying too. They are lying about the history, and we are lying about the reality. We’re always saying, ‘We’re strong, we’re still alive, we should fight till our last breath.’ No — this is wrong.”
In the mid-2000s the West Bank was embroiled in an uprising against Israeli rule. Since then it has been quieter, but a modicum of economic improvement and a regime of separation from Israelis have not led to a political solution satisfactory to either side.
Both brothers complained that the Palestinian Authority has promoted consumerism as a kind of opiate.
Rameh, an activist and former municipal worker, said that while South Africans sustained the fight against apartheid, Palestinians “are looking out for themselves,” taking loans to buy houses and cars and open businesses, and abandoning the national struggle.
“Nablus has maybe 400 restaurants,” he said. “For what? We don’t have tourists here.”
The gap between rich and poor is widening, even within families. Fatah- and Hamas-affiliated families never speak to each other, the brothers said. And the politicians only look out for themselves.
“We lost our social fabric,” Rand said. “We have a values crisis.”
That will need to be addressed by individuals, families and communities, the brothers say, before Palestinians can achieve anything as a nation.
“I’m afraid of the future, and that’s scary,” Ms. Teeti said.
Dina Teeti didn’t know what she was missing, growing up in Palestinian territory under the Oslo accords, until she landed in Detroit as a high school exchange student and rode to Toledo without the “humiliation” of a single checkpoint, ID check or search.
She returned to Toledo for college and savoured long road trips.
Born after the Oslo accords, she said the Palestinian Authority taught people “not to question stuff.” She learned critical thinking in America.
Back in the West Bank for nearly two years now, her eyes have opened wide.
“In the States, I always was able to plan for the future,” she said. “Here, it’s a survival mode. We just get through the day,” she added.
“I used to have everything planned, months and weeks in advance. Here, I can’t plan for tomorrow,” she said. “But at the same time, unfortunately, and sadly, you get used to it.”
As she awakens to what her life is and is not, her father, Hasan, is awakening to the failure of the peace process — and to the fears that have supplanted his impatience for a brighter future.
“No one wants to go back to the intifada days,” he says of the Palestinian uprisings two decades ago. But when life and hope are both constrained, it pushes people in that direction.
And there will be incendiary moments: What happens after Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority’s octogenarian president, dies or resigns? What happens if the Trump administration’s long-awaited peace plan only reinforces Israeli domination of the West Bank?
“There will be a blood bath,” Mr. Teeti said softly.
His daughter’s nightmare is different: that Israel will seek to expel Palestinians from the land once and for all.
“I’m afraid of the future, and that’s scary,” Ms. Teeti said. “I wish we could just go drive,” she added, after a while. “That would be so cool.”