West Bank's apathy amid Gaza chaos shows Palestinians becoming a divided people

It's not that West Bankers don't care, it's more that physical separation is gradually creating emotional separation

Palestinians participate in a march on November 2, 2017, in the center of the West Bank city of Ramallah to protest the 100th anniversary of Britain's Balfour Declaration, which helped lead to Israel's creation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

For the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Friday was another difficult day.

For the Palestinians in the West Bank, Friday was just another ordinary day — a day for weddings, family gatherings, and, for some, dining at the fancy restaurants in Ramallah and Nablus.

Gone are the days when the deaths of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip (by Israel) would prompt Palestinians in the West Bank to declare a general strike or take to the streets to protest against Israel.

True, there were a few clashes between Palestinian protesters in the West Bank on Friday, but there was nothing unusual about the protests. Such protests, especially in villages in the Ramallah and Nablus area, have been taking place every Friday for several years now.

Palestinians burn tires during clashes with Israeli troops along Gaza’s border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Thursday, April 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Gone, too, for that matter, are the days when the death of a Palestinian in clashes with the IDF in the West Bank would spark protests and a general strike in the Gaza Strip.

During the 70s and 80s, the situation was different, particularly in the years of the First Intifada, which erupted in late 1987.

Those were the years when Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip felt they were one people, and the bond between them was stronger than ever.

However, the physical separation between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which began after the signing of the Oslo Accords and reached its peak 11 years ago, when Hamas violently seized control of the coastal enclave, has moved the Palestinians in these two areas farther away from each other.

Today, there is almost no direct contact between the Palestinians in the West Bank and those living in the Gaza Strip. The vast majority of the Palestinians in the West Bank have never been to the Gaza Strip. For them, the Gaza Strip is not much different than Syria, Lebanon, or Iraq.

‘Have our hearts been hardened like stones?’

It’s not that the Palestinians of the West Bank don’t care any more about their brothers in the Gaza Strip. Rather, it’s the feeling that watching the news coming from the Gaza Strip is no longer all that different than watching what happens in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere around the world.

What comes to mind in this instance is the Arabic proverb that says: “What is far from the eye is far from the heart.” This is an expression that is used to refer to the fact that physical distance often leads to emotional distance.

As Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were demonstrating along the border with Israel on Friday, as part of the so-called March of Return, their brothers in the West Bank were carrying on with normal life. Again, it was as though the events in the Gaza Strip were taking place in another country.

Some Palestinians argue that there’s more to this growing phenomenon than meets the eye.

“I don’t know what has changed in us,” remarked Nader Dana, manager of a medical laboratory in East Jerusalem, in a Facebook post. “Have our hearts been hardened like stones? Have we stopped caring [about what happens in the Gaza Strip]? I think a lot, but can’t come up with an answer.”

Dana’s remark referred to what is perceived as widespread apathy among West Bank Palestinians towards their brothers in the Gaza Strip.

He added that he remembered the days back in the 70s and 80s when the death of a Palestinian “in any part of Palestine” would trigger demonstrations and general strikes. Then, he pointed out, Palestinians would even cancel weddings and other celebrations “in honor of the martyrs and their families.”

Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas (C) attends the “Jerusalem Conference as the Capital of the Islamic Youth” in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

Another east Jerusalem resident, Ahmed Natsheh, attributed the apathy among West Bank Palestinians to economic factors. “People just want to earn a living and look after their families,” he explained. “General strikes only cause harm. When a merchant closes his shop, he and his family suffer. This has no impact on Israel. Today, things have changed and most people act in their own-self interest.”

Ibrahim Deabis, a prominent journalist and former school principal from east Jerusalem, agreed. “People today think and act on a personal, and not national, basis,” he said. Deabis also blamed the indifference on what he described as the “semi-disconnection” between the Palestinians and their leaders.

Illustrative: Scouts and bands roaming the streets of Ramallah in the West Bank, a day before the Eid al-Adha holiday, on September 11, 2016. (Flash 90)

This statement is seen as implicit criticism of the Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank. In the eyes of many Palestinians, the leaders of the PA don’t really care about the interests and well-being of their people and are primarily interested in preserving their seats and enriching their bank accounts.

The PA’s ongoing security crackdown on Hamas and Islamic Jihad figures in the West Bank, which seems to have increased in recent weeks, is also seen by some Palestinians as a reason behind the relative calm in areas under the control of the PA security forces.

This clampdown, which has resulted in the arrest of more than 200 Hamas and Islamic Jihad members in the past four weeks, has deterred many Palestinians, who are afraid to demonstrate public support for the Gaza Strip lest they be targeted by the PA’s various security agencies.

Some Palestinians claim, on the other hand, that the Oslo Accords, which were signed between Israel and the PLO in 1993, have brought with them a “new and different culture” — one that has caused many young people, especially in the West Bank, to run out of motivation to pursue the fight against Israel. They argue that the “Oslo generation” is less enthusiastic to engage in anti-Israel activities, and more interested in making money and improving its living conditions.

The last two decades have witnessed significant changes in the Palestinian arena. Apart from being physically divided into two separate entities — one in the West Bank and another in the Gaza Strip — the Palestinians now appear to be divided into two people.

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