Interview. We spoke with Palestinian activist Jamal Juma about the latest protests. ‘This new government aims to put an end to the Palestinian question. … Today, just raising your voice to a soldier at a checkpoint is enough to get yourself killed.'

Jamal Juma: Palestinians have two options, surrender or defend ourselves

“What has happened over the past year represents a further escalation of violence. We have not had such a high number of people killed since 2005: over 230 Palestinians in 2022. Settler activity, settlement construction plans and ethnic cleansing operations of entire communities are increasing. A war is being waged against the Palestinian people.”

Jamal Juma is among the best-known Palestinian activists: he matured politically at the time of the first Intifada and has been the coordinator of the Anti-Apartheid Wall campaign since 2002 and of the Land Defense Coalition since 2012.

Will the emergence of what has been called the most right-wing government in Israel’s history make the occupation even more severe?

This new government aims to put an end to the Palestinian question, to cement the apartheid regime. It’s talking about a colonial revolution: 18,000 new settler homes, annexation of major parts of the West Bank. Even worse, it does so while killing Palestinians on a daily basis. Today, just raising your voice to a soldier at a checkpoint is enough to get yourself killed. Israel is in a hurry to accomplish some of its goals, such as emptying Masafer Yatta and the Bedouin village of Khan Al Akhmar, building settlements and confiscating land. And it wants to do so without any resistance from the Palestinian side. This is the message: if you protest, you will be killed. This generates great anger and frustration, also in the face of the silence of the international community, which is not condemning any acts committed by Israel, including the most recent ones, such as the massacre at the Jenin refugee camp. We have heard no voice of condemnation.

How do you think the Palestinians should react? Do you expect us to hide in our homes, scared to death? We are talking about a people who have been fighting for a century, since British colonialism, through massacre after massacre, catastrophe after catastrophe, and who have never given up. And it’s not just isolated persons doing it: the attacks of the last few days were committed by individuals, one of them 13 years old. This is not resistance organized by political parties, but actions born out of the desperation of individuals who have no more grounds for hope. While settlers are attacking communities, burning houses and cars under the eyes of soldiers, Palestinians are trying to defend themselves. If this continues, we will see another uprising. The crimes committed against the Palestinians are not an impromptu act – this has been going on for seven decades. And there is no end in sight. There are two options: either we surrender, letting Israel lock us inside ghettos that look like the reservations of North American natives, or we defend ourselves.

The goal of limiting Palestinians to a minimal space in the face of population growth seems an impossible strategy to pursue without reaction.

Today Israel is moving ahead, locking us into ghettos, depriving us of control of our natural resources and access to land. It is a long-term ethnic cleansing: with the creation of so many small Gazas in the West Bank, in 30-40 years those already overcrowded places will be unlivable, with a tripled population. What lies ahead? An unbearable life of isolation and zero economic development that will drive us to leave on our own.

You spoke earlier, regarding the latest attacks by Palestinians, about the actions of individuals, often very young. Does the lack of a Palestinian national strategy result in individual reactions?

One of the attackers was 21 years old, another 13. They lived in Jerusalem, in colonized neighborhoods. Added to that is anger over the massacre committed by the Israeli army in Jenin and frustration with the PNA, responsible for our security, which is doing the opposite, coordinating with Israel for security. All this generates frustration in the younger generation. They see no possibility of a normal life. We will see others coming to the same conclusions.

Between Jenin and Nablus, armed fighters are seen by many as heroes and as the only ones who, overcoming political barriers, are cooperating in the face of political party divisions.

People see them as a source of hope because they have created a national unity, from Fatah to Islamic Jihad to leftist groups. They are together on the same platform, a unique case of unity that brings the younger generation closer together while political parties are unable to overcome the division between Fatah and Hamas, a division that has nothing to do with Palestine but with external agendas. Europe and the US will never allow unity between the West Bank and Gaza and between Fatah and Hamas: it would disrupt the function of the PNA. I don’t think that the armed struggle in the West Bank can have a future in light of the repression by the Israeli intelligence and army and also by the PNA; that is, I don’t think it can become an organized and broad resistance. It will go on like this, with continuous losses given the number of targeted killings and arrests.

How much is the socio-economic situation playing a role? In Gaza, the siege has resulted in unprecedented misery. Is poverty growing in the West Bank, or is there some kind of “economic” strategy by the Israelis and the PNA, in the form of work permits and public jobs respectively, to control the population’s anger?

I don’t think the PNA has a strategy; its strategy is mere survival. Israel, on the other hand, has one: it’s opening the labor market to the Palestinians while confiscating their land and depriving them of natural resources, with 62 percent of the West Bank de facto annexed, the one richest in resources and land, capable of boosting an internal economy. The goal is to make us dependent on the Israeli labor market. A long-term development plan is not possible under occupation: Palestinian trade passes through Israeli ports and airports, taxes are collected by Israel and confiscated in one way or another. There is no economic freedom, even with a neoliberal PNA agenda that has concentrated domestic wealth in a few hands and widened the gap between a small and very affluent middle class and the people, who are getting poorer and poorer.

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