While the eyes of the world are correctly focused on the genocide in Gaza, the occupied West Bank has also erupted in a calamitous escalation of horrific settler violence, Israeli repression, and heroic resistance. The situation is critical.
For years now, leading up to October 7, the West Bank has been ready to explode. While the violent machinations of Israeli settler colonialism have rapidly intensified, its trajectory has been developing for years. In the occupied West Bank, Israel is using the pretext of its genocidal war on Gaza to speed up its policy of annexation. Israel seeks to break the steadfast resistance of Palestinians that continues to rage against the walls of the Oslo prison.
In the West Bank, there have been regular and consistent outbursts of resistance that encompass a broad demographic of Palestinians living under occupation. These can be traced back to the “Knife Intifada” of 2015 that started among young people many of whom were children or had not yet been born at the time of the Second Intifada. Despite the impasse of the political factions, people took action, often in unorganized, asymmetrical ways, in response to the entrenchment of the surrender of Oslo. The most developed of these surges of resistance was the Unity Intifada of 2021 in which all of historic Palestine rose up. Since 2021 there have been outbursts every few months that were repressed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) or quashed by the Israelis.
Last year these outbursts became larger and included the formation of new armed resistance groups in the cities of Nablus, Jenin, al-Khalil (Hebron), and Tulkarem. These are all places where the most substantial Israeli invasions took place during the Second Intifada. These new formations are different from those of the Second Intifada in that they are multi-party brigades organized locally. They have engaged in more daring resistance acts and have endured violent attempts to repress them and murder their leadership.
On the Israeli side, the far right has been advancing and settler violence has been increasing. Itamar Ben-Gvir’s rise in the government has given the settler organizations a go-ahead in a way that has not been seen before. Even prior to October 7, they have become more bold in assaulting Palestinian villages and occupying Palestinian land. Events, like those in Huwara, have become more and more common. In that village, in February 2023, settler organizations carried out what an Israeli general described as “a pogrom” with the support of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). In response, Bezalel Smotrich, Israeli Minister of Finance, publicly stated that “Huwara needs to be erased” giving a green light to settler violence. The whole situation has been ready to explode.
In the last seven weeks, using the pretext of October 7 and the Israeli’s subsequent genocidal assault on Gaza, the settler violence in the West Bank has evolved from first uncoordinated acts of revenge to an organized campaign of ethnic cleansing. This involves the intimidation and murder of Palestinians and systematic arson and property destruction. Settlers will enter into Palestinian towns and set them on fire, then set up roadblocks and randomly shoot at Palestinian cars (Palestinian and Israeli cars have color-coded license plates).
In dozens of villages, like in Wadi al-Siq, armed settler organizations have literally driven out entire communities of Palestinians to steal their land under threat of death and force of arms. In the town of Qusra, settlers attacked and killed four Palestinians then returned the following day and attacked the funeral killing two more. All of this is happening during the olive harvesting season during which settler violence often increases because Palestinians have to travel away from the town centers in order to carry out the harvest.
Three years ago, during the massive Unity Intifada, many people thought: “here it is, the Third Intifada we have been waiting for, that we have been building towards.” But it wasn’t. It was a very significant, special event but it was not “the thing” that the people had been waiting for. It did not spread and sustain enough to reconfigure the political moment. The need—that some expressed at the time—to cohere a new revitalized political charter for liberation did not have time to coalesce in a real way due to a variety of factors, Israeli repression chief among them.
Nonetheless, when October 7 transpired everyone was astonished, surprised, proud, anxious, a whole spectrum of feeling. And then everyone started moving, all the different elements that had taken part in different uprisings, different acts of resistance, over different timelines in the past few years, started working together. This was because: 1) the mass bombardment of Gaza created an urgent need; and 2) people saw the opportunity to do something to try to change the status quo; and 3) anything we could do might help take some of the pressure off Gaza where Israel shifted a massive focus of the IOF. After the first three days, there were mass demonstrations and a few small acts of armed resistance. This has increased as the brutality in Gaza became more intense. In all the cities of the West Bank there have seen daring resistance acts and a flourishing of every kind of tactic—armed and peaceful —with all the players doing the same thing: resisting. The Palestinian Information Center said there were two thousand resistance acts in the West Bank in this past month alone, over six hundred were armed resistance acts.
Israel has responded by carrying out proactive mass arrest campaigns in the West Bank that are so broad that it is easier to list who was NOT arrested. Israeli mass raids basically round up and arrest whole villages, the whole student union, and give them all administrative detention for six months while Israel determines how to respond. They want to take anyone who they think might do anything to resist. But of course “anyone who might resist” is basically everyone. Prominent activists like Iyad Burna, have been arrested, and political activists whom we know sleep with their clothes and shoes on in anticipation of being raided in the middle of the night. These acts of collective punishment have inflamed things even more.
And while the release of political prisoners accompanying the temporary pause in Israel’s genocide is being met with great joy and elation, even if all 150 Palestinians are reunited with their families, it is a drop in the bucket in Israel’s carceral regime. And the cost has been great. Even the conditions of their release reflect the tension in the West Bank as Palestinians awaiting the return of their loved ones at Ofer prison have been greeted with tear gas and shooting.
Along with the mass arrests, there has been an increase in Israeli military incursions into the cities. Jenin has been invaded six times since October 7 with an intensity we have not seen since 2002. Three weeks ago an airstrike destroyed a mosque, again harkening back to the days of the Second Intifada. Last week the IOF murdered 14 Palestinians in Jenin in one day. This is happening in Nablus, Tulkurum, everywhere. In response, the size and militancy of the mass demonstrations and resistance acts from our side approach those of the Second Intifada. If it wasn’t for the catastrophic acts happening in Gaza, people would clearly call this the Third Intifada in the West Bank. All this level of activity continues despite the fact that over the past year, many leaders have been killed and many activists have been arrested. While that has had its toll on the level of resistance it is still very intense.
The political mood of the resistance in the West Bank shows that collectively the Palestinian people have moved beyond the political parties. Of course, these parties exist and they have their leadership and their adamant followers, but the majority of the people don’t see a substantial difference between them. All of the parties have been touched by Oslo. This was even the case with Hamas when they went into elections in 2006 and took on governing Gaza. All the parties have, to some extent, been politically dishonest. They have not treated the people with the needed level of respect and independence. This is of course most clearly exemplified by the PA. But the Left also is not a Left anymore. The only parts that are still “Left” are in the student movement though there they are relying more on the legacy of the Left parties and not on any actual Left party currently existing. If you analyze the speeches of their leaders you will find that they are like a slightly modified PA speech, it criticizes the PA, but with a gentle tone. They are ineffective. All of the resistance movements—especially in the West Bank—have moved beyond parties.
In the different cities, the resistance is made up of unity of the different factions working together, but each local faction is not reporting to, or following the directive of their respective leadership. Individuals personally have their political leanings but their activity is not being done “on behalf” of their parties. Rather it is a sort of unity from below that characterizes their activity. The only common thing holding them together is their location and their personal connections with each other. In Nablus, for example, you see everyone living in the old town, and here you have the baker’s son, and here you have the barber,, and here you have the plumber and they have all been carrying out resistance acts that have been more brave than all the parties together.
Even with Hamas today, people’s opinion of them has not changed. If you had a fair election now the existing polls would generally not change. People have a strong positive opinion of the resistance wing of Hamas, they will listen to the Abu Obaida speeches but they will not follow Ismail Haniyaand they don’t care what he says.1 They will chant for Mohammed Deif but don’t mention the name of anyone from the political wing. If you ask them, “What do you think about Hamas?”, they will say right now they are all supporting the current resistance. But their overall opinion of Hamas hasn’t changed, it is only the resistance acts, the resistance wing itself, that the people are supporting. It can’t be described as political support. Of course, there are some PA leeches that hate Hamas and will tell Western media that you have to destroy them. But when you talk about normal people that is not the opinion held. We know many people who—for example—strongly oppose Hamas because of their religious leanings and conservative views but right now if you ask them they will listen to Abu Obeida and wish him well.
Another example involves Fateh. People love Marwan Barghouti and think very highly of him. In 2021, when he was going to run independently of Fateh in the imaginary future election the PA went crazy. His popularity and legitimacy made him someone who could challenge Mahmoud Abbas not because he is Fateh or even because of his political views but because of his role in the resistance and his being in prison now. This same schism of opinion is present in regards to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade—which is officially aligned with Fateh but played an instrumental role in the creation of many of the brigades, like in Nablus, that Fateh in the PA now is trying to repress.
That Palestinians, in the course of the current resistance, have moved beyond political parties in their traditional sense might have to do with the fact that there are few connections to any formal democratic practice. We don’t have elections other than the student unions in the West Bank. Oslo has muted all the differences between the political parties, they are all different shades of the same color. It is the resistance acts that the people are cheering for and have a high opinion of, not the political party itself, not the right, nor the Left, or Fateh. What shape or form this will take, and what this means for the resistance is not yet clear. In any case, it is clear that an actual progressive Left, unaligned with authoritarian regimes is needed.
This is a critical moment. In the face of a settler state whose racist violence is its central core; people struggle. They do so with the knowledge that defeat could put the movement back decades but also with the hope that the prison walls of Zionism can indeed be torn down. Popular resistance beyond the boundaries of what was thought politically possible, beyond the barriers of the old politics, needs to continue to grow. This is equally true for the movements of solidarity internationally against the Zionist entity and its imperial backers both in the West and within the region. While the moment is uncertain in many ways, what is certain is that explosive struggle and resistance will continue.
Glory to the martyrs, long live the intifada, free Palestine from the river to the sea.
Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons; modified by Tempest.
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Najla K. is a Palestinian from the West Bank. Her name has been changed for her own security. brian bean is a socialist organizer and writer based in Chicago, a member of the Tempest Collective, a part of the Rampant Magazine editorial collective, and an editor and contributor to the book Palestine: A Socialist Introduction from Haymarket Books.