The plight of Palestine: Conditions in the West Bank and Gaza

Open Discussions/Gulf Cultural Club 26th January 2024

A New Year, new realities in the Middle East. While many started the year with a great deal of optimism and hope, some did not have that luxury. The people of Gaza, in particular, had to endure endless bombing by the Israeli occupiers. The rest of the Middle East is naturally influenced by these events that have led to charges of war crimes and are being investigated by the International Court of Justice in the Hague. The New Year started with new political turbulence in the region. While Gaza remained under bombardment, Yemen received its share of American attacks for actively supporting the people of Gaza. So what does the future hold for the Middle East? How will the Palestinians fare in the unbalanced war that has continued unabated?

Julia Ana Katarina:  So I was there from 2008 – 2012 when things were relatively quiet. It was not intifadah time for which I thank God. One of the most massive bombardments of Gaza happened in the winter of 2008 – 2009 and we were trying to go there to visit. So at the time I was in Palestine what happened in the West Bank were daily incursions by the IDF when they would come in and kidnap the young men in mostly Zone A  of the Palestine Authority Area but it was not considered newsworthy. It is amazing what they managed to keep under wrap as not news worthy because the situation has been going on for such a long time.

For example I would go to Jenin and be told by a couple of doctor friends there that they had entered somebodies house, shot their teenage son and walked out again. That kind of thing was part of the normal daily grind . It did not hit the news because the body count was not high enough and it seems that even in Gaza it only becomes news worthy when it goes into the tens of thousands.

And what is happening now is unprecedented in terms of scale. Except when there are  demonstrations against the wall or on anniversary days  like 15th May you are unlikely to experience violence and you could live a fairly normal life. In some ways it was like a bit like a bubble. In Ramallah you could almost forget about what was going on and people frequently did when they went to work for NGOs. It was only when you travelled between the cities that you could see the expansion of the settlements, experience what people have to go through on a daily basis, travelling from one place another, the check points that they have to go through.

Now of course with the current  situation they can get much more under the radar than they could under normal circumstances. So what is happening  in the West Bank is mainly overlooked because what is happening in Gaza is so extreme and even before that they managed to bomb Jenin camp over a prolonged period without anyone taking very much notice of it.  The world had become so hardened and the situation has been going on for 75 years.

The only kind of resistance that is not met with aggression and a massive loss of life is cultural resistance that I was involved in that through  teaching at the Freedom Theatre.  But my boss was assassinated in 2011 in Jenin camp and the mystery still isn’t solved even though it is fairly obvious what is going on and all the evidence was handed over at Jalame  check point and then people were randomly arrested even after they had told the Palestinian Authority that there would be no murder investigation conducted. They were randomly arrested and questioned at the checkpoint on the pretext of conducting a murder investigation. Meanwhile the Palestinian Authority had been told you can conduct an investigation if you want minus the evidence.

Subsequently the theatre was surrounded by 50 soldiers and bombarded with no defence other than a 16 year old boy who was on vigil  there at the time. So even something as benign and non threatening as a theatre can come under attack. The first one was completely demolished in the camp during the intifadah and subsequently rebuilt.

Another  cultural resistance organisation in Bethlehem called Al Rawad (dutiful resistance). They work with arts and crafts and the folklore of the country which is being appropriated by the occupiers. They try to keep that going to maintain the cultural identity of the local Palestinians in Aida in Daheisha in Bethlehem. They train young people in traditional Palestinian arts and crafts.

They recently  sent out a newsletter saying that hundreds of people had been expelled into the West Bank and just randomly dumped in West Bank cities. They were working for companies inside what we call the territory of 1948. Israeli companies had been exploiting these people as cheap labour and after the events in October they decided they were surplus to requirements and they could just be scattered round the West Bank. They did not know anyone there or have any friends or family there and had nowhere to go. So it fell on the camps to accommodate them. They were accommodated in schools and gyms fed and clothe because no government organization was taking on that responsibility. There were suddenly hundreds of people with nowhere to go.

So at the end of the  presentation I will put up a few links so you can do some further research into how you can get involved if you want to and generally learn more about the situation which does not get a lot of coverage. I am not going to talk about Gaza because it is to upsetting and I am not an expert. I have never actually managed to get there myself but there are organizations like the Amos Trust and Rawad and  Friends of Rawad in the UK who can get help to that area. The Amos Trust is one of the few organizations that can get into Gaza. It is mainly only the big charities and NGOs who can but even for them it is difficult for them.

Nadin Burqan: Coming from a conflict-ridden area, I strongly believe in the rule of law and the pursuit of justice. As a young woman who was born and raised in Jerusalem, my hometown and the epicentre of the Arab-Israeli conflict, I have witnessed and experienced a plethora of injustice, violations of freedom and human dignity. These experiences strengthened my desire to become a lawyer.

Living in Jerusalem, is living through complex legal statuses, and overlapping exclusionary and inclusionary circles. For example, you can be subjected to Israeli civil and military laws, Jordanian and Palestinian laws, as well as to international laws. You can hold an Israeli I.D. card and travel documents, and hold a Jordanian passport, all while being stateless. 

Family members in the West Bank whom we love dearly are restricted in participating in the most important moments of our lives; births and birthdays, weddings, funerals, graduations, visiting a family member or experiencing illness. These are all subject to  the approval of the Israeli Government and often rejected. Normal family moments cannot be experienced if you are a Palestinian.

Al Aqsa is  the third holiest site for Muslims and  it was the first Qibla for Muslims. The Al Aqsa Mosque is mentioned several times in the Quran. And it’s located in the heart of the old city.

And what gives al-Aqsa mosque an additional significance is the fact that Al Aqsa is the only known location on earth where all the Prophets of Allah prayed together at the same time, led by the final Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. And while Muslims understand that this land has a shared sentiment through all faiths in the region, the notion that this spot was that gateway to the heavens has a fundamental importance to Islam’s adherents, which means that the land is an integral part of the religion of Islam.

Provoking Palestinians and preventing them from praying in the al-Aqsa Mosque is a breach of international law and the freedom of worship. Last but not least, I hope the war ends,  there is an immediate ceasefire and that what has been destroyed in Gaza is rebuit.

Fatema Valji: I wrote this poem whilst considering how racial injustice and power structures collude and coincide and how the repression and liberation of black Americans and Palestinians is connected in various ways. Oppression  is systemic and global and so solidarity must also transcend particularity and exclusion because in the end, truly, none of us are free until all of us are free. 


I know

The blood-curdling dread

Of a gun’s cold barrel pressed 

Into my clammy neck,

Arms twisted so far back, 

I feel a searing, jarring crack,

Before all goes black 

I know the choking pain 

When the cool muzzle is replaced

By pressure so suffocating, 

There’s no relief

Until my writhing limbs  

Go limp

I know

Prison cells

Dark as hell, 

Designed to dehumanise,

Control and terrorise

And yet,

The struggles of black Americans

And stateless Palestinians


Beyond our partially parallel lives

Our fate and fight are intertwined 

By American-Israeli collusion and lies 

Enabling the world’s last white settler colony to  thrive 

On the blood and brutality of war crimes,

Checkpoints, curfews, and apartheid

So as I’m suffocated by white cops 

And close my tired eyes 

Your tears and agony are also mine, 

For the powers that threaten our black American lives,

Also sanction and support

Palestinian Occupation, 




Palden Jenkins: I came into this business because my grandfather was part of General Anders force in WW1. My father fought in Egypt for British interests there and a few of my distant relatives were killed in the holocaust. One of them was Jewish and one was Roma. That is where I am coming from.

The problem of Palestine ties up with so many complicated threads of history and it is not a local issue between the Israelis and the Palestinians. To some extent it is a microcosm of the whole world and violence which goes on in the world in its various forms. And there is a deep historical issue around the Sykes Picot agreement at the end of WW1 when the Middle East – or West Asia – was divided up by the English, and the French. The root  of this problem lies in the idea that Israel should be a state with its own borders but in this case it is a very extreme form of border.

The Middle East has always been a multi cultural, multi ethnic region where different ethnic groups have lived  together for many centuries under a larger rule which has mostly been an empire. In a way I think we can say that there is a lot of talk about a one state or two state solution.  Geo politically this will  not get resolved until the whole of West Asia comes together again as an Arab nation. This is a long vision or idea and we are faced with the situation at the moment where we have the rather hypocritical situation. It is not viable and it is unlikely that Israeli settlers will be willing to leave the areas they have occupied for peace. So it presents a situation where sovereignty for the Palestinians is very difficult under the current circumstances and generally the sovereignty of Israel itself is at risk because  of the internal tension which have got buried by the current conflict in Gaza.

But there are fundamental structural  problems.  Israel is undermining its own fundamental need for security in the area. In the end the security of  Israel will only be established through a  fundamental psycho-social change which needs to come primarily from the Israelis and  involves confronting a deep shadow of pain which is the Israeli psyche from the past. We have to look at the current situation and the evolving situation in the world and the top priority is conflicts like this.

Conflicts like this are in a way totally unnecessary and superfluous compared to the really important issues  going on in the world today one of the key ones being social justice world wide. This is the key ingredient in many of the issues that we are facing today such as the climatic ones. We cannot really face the future without a degree of consensus and agreement on a local, regional and global level. Without this we will really be undermining our complete situation here in the world.

So the Palestinian issue is very much tied up with wider questions and issues. How much prerogative  does the international community have in interfering in the sovereign decisions of the different countries in the world. Most the big countries are very jealously guarding their sovereignty so there are big global issues here which are important but they do not take into account the needs of the Palestinians for a decent life.

One of the positive things that might come out of the current conflict is a shift in global opinion which is quite fundamental and historic and in this sense the people of Gaza are embodying something for the world. There are armies which just wipe out things and people who just get victimised  in a thoroughly inhuman  way. There is no way that the Palestinians deserve what is happening to them.

The Palestinians are making a great sacrifice for the wider world and one of the things I think will be valuable in the long term is  that the Palestinians are going to be the big aid givers in the future. It is strange to say this but what is happening is that the Palestinians have more expertise than anyone in the world in dealing with dire situations. They can  advise the Ukranians in dealing with their situation. This is where the Palestinians can give their resilience to the world, their samoud and their determination to keep their society going. One thing that I have been hearing in the news is the way in which we do not see the outbreak of major diseases in Gaza. The Gazans are dealing with their situation better than any group or nationality in the world today. 

There is no comparison with the way in which the Palestinians are working together to over come or tolerate the situation that they are in. They have been in it for so long.  I have been associated with a school which is in a very difficult situation trying to build bridges between sides. They teach  Hebrew to their Arab children. They teach about life on the other side. The Palestinians as they grow up have a way of talking to officials in their own language. Israelis used to come to the school until the time of the first intidadah. The school had  great difficulties as they were regarded as traitors and their work was not seen by some people as harmonious with the concept of resistance.

Despite all that has happened it is all very tragic but  I still feel there is a glimmer of hope .

Sakina Datoo; Before we speak of the future, let’s cast a quick eye into why things are as they are in the Middle East. I believe politicians across the globe are to blame for a violent and corrupt world we live in, where even a genocide can unfold live, with the entire world watching it but being unable to stop it. 

My role model of all times, an astute politician in the Middle East when Islam was still young after the Holy Prophet of Islam, Imam Ali was the kind of leader that we need for the world today to find peace. 

When he was threatened with losing  the caliphate, he said the power and position of a caliphate, in his eyes, had the value of the sneezing of a goat or  is of less worth than his old and patched up shoelaces.

The only reason, he said, he had  taken up the position was because there was a pledge between Allah and the learned, to the effect that they should not acquiesce in the gluttony of the oppressor and the hunger of the oppressed.

His mission was therefore to fight oppression and so his politics originated from his spirituality and morality which benefitted  the people he led.

Unfortunately, we don’t see these values in the Middle East today. This is the reason why the Muslim and Arab world  (except for a few like Iran, Lebanon and Yemen) are not only not helping Palestinians, but are complicit in the genocide by providing economic and territorial support to the Zionist entity of Israel. Most of these nations are puppets of  Western imperialism and the  colonial West. The values of Imam Ali – of morality and spirituality- do not exist. 

So then, what does the future hold for Palestine and the Middle East? I believe this genocide of Gaza will not end anytime soon. Even if there was to be a ceasefire of some sort, the violence will continue. Resistance cannot be dismantled with a genocide, in fact, given Israel’s barbaric treatment of Palestinians, the resistance will resurface even stronger. 

According to Prof. Ilon Pappe, Professor of History at the University of Exeter, of Jewish Israeli heritage and an expert on Israel and Palestine, the war will go on for two years. But after that, he said, Zionism will come crashing down. 

This is the beginning of the end of the Zionist entity. This is believable given how much  public opinion has changed towards Israel where the grassroots in the West now are pushing their governments to end support of the genocidal nation of Israel. 

I believe the change will come through activism, not in the Middle East where people don’t have a say, and freedom of the press is limited, but in the West. Despite the challenges we face, we are going to be the agents of change. Like South Africa, we must bring change and liberate occupied Palestine. 

This change needs to start at the polls – we need a new party with new values. We need a leadership like that of Jeremy Corbyn. It won’t be easy or quick or smooth – but we are sitting on the cusp of changing history. 

Will this lead to a one state or two state solution. I don’t know. What I know is that Zionism will collapse. 

Will that be the end of violence in the Middle East and in the world? I pray it is but I don’t think it will on its own. 

Israel is the cancer in the Middle East, but it’s tentacles have spread throughout the globe and won’t allow peace. 

Jewish Zionism’s tentacles can be seen in Christian Zionism and Muslim Zionism. The Zionist ideology is very much alive around the globe and always awaiting an opportunity to create carnage. 

The fight between the good and bad will go on for a long time in my view, a global war but played out in the Middle East due to its oil resources as well as trade routes. The Red Sea has made that very clear to us. 

For those of us who believe in the coming of the Messiah, the violence will only end at that time. 

So why does it matter for us to be in the forefront of activism? 

For me, it’s about being on the right side of history. It’s about siding with the values of Imam Ali :  morality and spirituality. 

Palestine will be free one day – but what side of history will you be on? 

    *Nadin Burqan is a Labour lawyer. She was born in Jerusalem.  She holds a law degree from Al-Quds University and CTLS Cemore for Transnational Legal Studies, Kings College London. Nadine also performs Palestinian songs with Julia Katarina. They both worked with the late Suhad Jarrar-Brown in her Bayt exhibitions, arts and folklore. 

**  Palden Jenkins born 1950, is a polymath thinker with interests in world history, geopolitics, social development and matters of the spirit. He has worked as an event organiser and community leader, a counsellor and adviser, book editor, researcher, teacher, webmaster, archaeologist and humanitarian aid worker (Middle East and Africa). He has written ten books and a number of big public resource websites. Palden started thinking about the future when studying social sciences at the London School of Economics in 1968-71. After this he entered a period of deep questioning and soul-searching following the partial failure of the summer of love and the student revolutions of the time, in which he was involved. 

***Julia Ana Katarina is a classically trained singer and multi-instrumentalist with an MSc in Applied Music Psychology from Roehampton University, who taught for nearly 4 years in music schools in Palestine. There she learned Arabic and embraced Islam 15 years ago in the holiest place one can, without already being Muslim, Masjid al-Aqsa. Music and Jesus AS led her to Islam via the third holiest site for Muslims, the next logical step after the ultimate Christian pilgrimage. Julia has a completed an MA in Islamic Law, researching views on music in 7 jurisprudential schools. She has been blessed to perform all the major Islamic pilgrimages in the holy lands of the prophets, including Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine and the Hijaz.

**Sakina Datoo is an experienced journalist in both print and broadcast media. She has led small and large teams of media personnel and managed various different media outlets in Tanzania and the UK. Sakina is an award-winning writer, celebrated newspaper editor with many years of TV production experience and expertise. She holds BA Journalism from Edinburgh Napier University. She took further studies at the University of Westminster and University of Missouri-Columbia. Sakin speaks five languages and is described as “an excellent interviewer”.  

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