Who Protects Palestinians?

June 2024

Waiting for Two States feels like waiting for the Messiah. Okay, okay, but when? And meanwhile, what? 

Asking a civilization that is hemorrhaging – one whose civilians have no government whose primary concern is to protect them, and no place where they feel safe – to go about constructing a state is an exercise in make believe. It is so implausible, so outlandish a demand one can’t help but suspect that is not a serious one.

Surely if the United States was serious about Two States it would be working to make the proposal practicable. 

Let us consider the conditions on the ground in the West Bank, setting aside for the duration of this essay the horrific conditions in Gaza.

People who live in the West Bank live in small ghettos. There is no communication between the little bubbles which serve as neighborhoods. Movement inside the West Bank is so difficult that whenever I meet friends from back home while we are in the diaspora, we make ritualistic promises to meet up when we return to the West Bank, but we never actually keep those promises because it’s so complicated and dangerous and time consuming to go from Ramallah, my home, to Jenin or to Hebron. But movement of that kind is essential for a healthy politics. So any possibility of a robust and democratic Palestinian leadership developing on the ground between the river and sea is all but impossible. Political agitation is not possible. Working together to organize our own forms of protection is not possible.

The neighborhoods we live in are heavily monitored and controlled by Israeli armed forces as well as by the Palestinian Authority – whose primary concerns are its own interests and wellbeing. We are stuck in a kind of suspended animation. Life does not move forward. Waiting is our constant mode. For two years while I was living in Ramallah I debated whether or not it was worthwhile to buy a car. I needed one, but I also didn’t know how long I would be there – could I really raise a child there?  –  and so I wasn’t sure it was worth the investment. Palestinian life is suffused with that sort of debilitating precarity. We don’t think long term, we are conservative even in our joys because the specter of tomorrow is always bleak up ahead. Why take out the garbage? Why get out of bed? Why go to school?

And while we are all frozen, the settlers continue to bulldoze us off the land we do have. Especially in area C of the West Bank, heavily armed settlers have free range to go on to Palestinian lands and threaten to destroy entire villages if the people there don’t leave of their own accord within twenty-four hours. Sometimes they abandon that routine and simply set fire to homes.  There are no police forces for Palestinians to call to protect themselves from these vigilantes: Palestinian police have extremely limited jurisdiction in the West Bank.

There should be an international presence of some kind on the ground in the West Bank protecting Palestinians. American armed forces would do just fine. Anyone with a mandate to protect Palestinians – any armed guards that can be trusted to keep the peace. Israel won’t like that proposal. Neither will Abbas, come to think of it. But it is necessary. The United States and Europe say repeatedly that the only solution is two states. But in order to hasten a day when two states is a serious possibility steps must be taken to ameliorate the lives of the actually existing Palestinians on the ground. 


Before October seventh, since Covid, the Palestinian economy suffered dramatically. Quality of life was immensely low already because of that. Many of the restaurants and bars that closed in the early days of the pandemic never opened again. The vast majority of Palestinians are employed by the Palestinian Authority – which is of course an economic configuration ripe for corruption – and all those who are employed by the PA have not received full salaries in years, since Trump imposed sanctions which severed most of the Palestinian aid, and Israel simultaneously imposed cuts on tax returns. The world got more expensive – wars beyond our borders have raised the price of oil, for example – and we got poorer.

Since October seventh, conditions have deteriorated dramatically. There is no tourism, there are no construction jobs which were one of the best we could hope for, movement into israel is impossible so any of the people who were lucky enough to get work there before are unemployed. I have a friend who was always very proud of the fact that, because he worked for a cigarette company, he would always have a job. Who could possibly be more secure in their employment than a man who sells cigarettes in the Middle East? This is what he thought. His optimism was misplaced. He was fired. People can’t afford to buy foreign cigarettes – now they all smoke locally made terrible substitutes instead. Another man I know took the pots and pans he had in his kitchen to a metal shop which bought them from him by the kilo so that he could afford to feed his children.

Every system under which Palestinians in the West Bank live instills in them the understanding that their lives do not matter. These are not the conditions for creating future leaders of a democratic state. But they are perfect conditions for breeding radicalism. Crimes have skyrocketed. And of course these kinds of vulnerable and desperate and furious people are exactly the sort that are susceptible to Hamas recruitment. 

We don’t want this. We don’t want Israelis to suffer. We don’t want radicals to gain more power in our communities. 

Israelis are in an emotional state in which they cannot see right from wrong. They are traumatized, too. The world should consider that Israeli stability and safety is threatened when Palestinians are stripped of both those necessary goods. If the United States means what it says about its commitment to Israel’s safety, make good on that pronouncement by protecting Palestinians.

Give us the safety and stability to imagine a different way of life, to dream of a future worth living for.


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