'What's happening in Gaza is another ethnic cleansing, a repeat of what happened in 1948.'
'That is why people do not want to evacuate. Either you evacuate or you die.'
Hanin Barghouti has lived 29 years under Israeli occupation in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank. A new mother, Hanin, heads the Ramallah office of Gift of the Givers Foundation, the largest disaster response, non-governmental organisation of African origin in Africa. The Foundation also works out of Gaza in Palestine, apart from Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Turkey, in the Middle East -- focussing on countries of conflict.
Since October 7 when the Gaza war began, Hanin says she starts her day asking her colleagues in Gaza if they are alive. Answers can take up to hours or a day depending on Internet connectivity, or none at all -- the Gaza head of Gift of the Givers was killed in an Israeli airstrike earlier this month.
More than 14,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since October 7, according to Gaza's health ministry, with most of the dead women and children.
While the eyes of the world are on a Gaza afire, less than 100 km away, the West Bank smoulders with increased killings by Israeli settlers, land grab and displacement of Palestinians.
According to the United Nations, Israelis have killed 201 Palestinians, including 52 children, in the West Bank, since this war began.
"To understand what occupation is, you have to live under occupation," Hanin tells Rediff.com's Swarupa Dutt in the first of a two-part interview.
The attention of the world is on Gaza since this war, but the West Bank has been closed off since October 7 as well.
Your towns have been raided, curfews imposed, arrests and detentions made.
You live in Ramallah in the West Bank, what is your experience?
These actions in the West Bank have been taking place since 1967, which is when the West Bank along with Gaza, was occupied by the Israelis. In this year alone, the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) killed nearly 200 Palestinian civilians [including 52 children] in the West Bank. Killings, raids, random arrests have always been a part of our 'daily life' as Palestinians.
After October 7, the intensity of these attacks increased significantly. The Israelis are taking advantage of the media focus on Gaza to destroy property and attack people in the West Bank.
I live with these struggles on an everyday basis -- from being stopped and humiliated on the Israeli check points, to getting my house raided and my brother arrested for no reason, except that we are Palestinian.
Palestinians say this war has unleashed a new wave of provocations in the West Bank.
Villages have been stormed by Jewish vigilantes and settler attacks have surged, thousands of olive trees have been destroyed, says the UN.
Tell us what is happening.
Before October 7, attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians, especially in the villages near illegal settlements were happening on a daily basis, but those attacks increased manifold to around seven attacks a day since the 7th.
Twenty-two Palestinians were killed by Israeli settlers between 2010 and 2019, but since this war, as many as nine Palestinians have been killed in less than 40 days. The Israeli settlers attack houses and burn them, destroy cars, burn and damage olive trees, and destroy our shops and markets.
The world and media is focussing on Gaza and the Israelis are taking advantage of that in the West Bank. We face constant attacks on our homes and at refugee camps in the West Bank.
Israeli attacks on villagers, destroying olive trees and stealing land is not new for Palestinians. Living under occupation means facing these issues and being forced not to react to them.
What makes it hard for the Palestinians to react to these attacks and protect themselves is that 80 per cent of the Israeli settlers living in the West Bank are armed and willing to kill. And they know there will be no consequences for their actions.
Can't Palestinians approach the police? What happens if you do?
Israeli settlers are protected by the Israeli police. Even the settlers that have committed crimes against Palestinians are set free after trials. But any Palestinian case against Israelis is taken up in a military court not a civilian one, so we can never hope for justice.
How do the settlers move in? Tell us exactly how this happens?
The Israeli government offers incentives to the settlers to come and live in illegal settlements. After these settlers arrive in Palestine from different countries, the Israeli government gives them a house, a monthly payment and all life essentials to guarantee that they stay back in the settlements.
Israel has been accused of apartheid in the occupied territories. Do you face apartheid in Ramallah?
I am a Palestinian who lives in Ramallah in the West Bank. So, what does apartheid mean to me? Every day when I wake up in the morning and leave for work, the Israelis stop me at gates and checkpoints between cities in the West Bank. I am late for work, because I have to wait for hours at checkpoints.
Apartheid means that my father is in an Israeli prison. In fact, I have spent most of my childhood without my father, because they consider him a 'threat to the State of Israel'. He is being held without charges. He did nothing. [As of October 1, Israel held 1,264 Palestinians in administrative detention without trial or a charge based on secret information, the highest number in more than 30 years, according to Human Rights Watch. That number had jumped to 2,070 by November 1.]
Apartheid is the wall between the cities in the West Bank and the wall that separates Jerusalem from the West Bank. [The Israeli West Bank barrier, comprising the West Bank Wall and the West Bank fence is a separation barrier built by Israel]. I'm not allowed to go to Jerusalem to practice my religion.
I have a Palestinian ID, so I'm not allowed to visit the villages where my ancestors lived because that is now land occupied by Israel.
We face constant attacks from illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
We cannot live freely or move around freely as people outside Palestine do. I can't visit all the places in my country, I can't live with my whole family around me because some of them are in prison, while others are prevented from coming to Palestine. That's apartheid for me.
Palestinians who live in Jerusalem and hold a Jerusalem or Israeli ID use the same transportation as the Israelis, and they face discrimination. In fact, the injustice is true for all aspects of life under occupation.
When did you last meet your father?
My father has been in and out of prison for eight years. This time he was imprisoned a year-and-a-half ago, so I haven't met him since then. I gave birth to my daughter and he wasn't there to be a part of our happiness. He hasn't held my daughter, embraced her, met her. She will be a year now. He only knows her name. So it's really hard.
And you are a representation of what most women in the West Bank face?
All Palestinians living in the West Bank and in West Jerusalem face similar hardships. Before this war, there were 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons and in administrative detention as they call it, which means we are not given any reason for imprisonment or detention. It's like a secret file that they have which they don't share. That is what my father is facing.
Every house in Palestine has its own story of living under occupation.
You mentioned checkpoints. Has surveillance increased since October 7? Much of the West Bank's main highway has been closed to Palestinians. Has this increased your commute?
Since October 7 most checkpoints and gates between the cities of the West Bank are closed and civilians have to take use alternate roads. We are stopped for hours at the checkpoints, we are searched and humiliated or not allowed to pass through at all.
In the West Bank, all the roads have Israeli checkpoints on them and all villages and cities have gates that are controlled by the Israelis. Even before October 7, the Israelis would close these gates, which makes moving around a major obstacle for Palestinians.
I live in a village next to an Israeli settlement and I am forced to pass through a check point and a gate every day. Since this war, this gate has been closed and I have to take different routes that take triple the time to reach my office.
Do you think Palestinians can live peaceably with Jews even when this war ends?
The Israeli occupation of your land is unlikely to end and that is the root of your problems.
Let's go back a little bit in history. Before 1948, Palestine was a land where all Muslims, Christians and Jews lived peaceably. The Jews, the immigrants from Europe, came to Palestine after the Holocaust and the Palestinian people welcomed them with open arms, as their guests; we gave them houses to live in.
We don't have a problem with Judaism itself. The problem we have is with the Zionists, who are supporting the occupation of our lands. Those Jews who supported Zionism, those very people we welcomed, attacked us.
A huge displacement happened in the 1940s, with hundreds of 1000s of Palestinians killed, as many displaced, women raped. The Jews who committed these crimes even have videos talking about what they did back then.
There are thousands of Jews outside of Palestine who are against the occupation. We don't have problems with them just because they are Jews.
We have a problem with those who support the occupation, who commit these genocides with impunity.
You can't force a woman who lost her husband, her son, her whole family to live next to the Israelis responsible for the deaths. It is an impossible situation. To understand what it is to live under occupation, you must live under occupation.
We want freedom for our country, our lands back, our prisoners freed. There are around 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. We do not want the word occupation in our language.
Do you have any interpersonal relationships with Israelis?
I don't have any social relationships with them. The only interaction that happens with Israelis is when they stop me at a checkpoint, when they barge into my house to arrest my father or when the Israeli settlers throw rocks at my car when I am going to my work.
I don't see any other interactions going to happen, because they are they are occupiers and I am the occupied. They are the colonisers, and I am the colonised. There can be no social interactions or regular interactions with them in these circumstances.
Israel first told Gazans in the north to evacuate to the south. Hospitals have been asked to evacuate. How do you evacuate a home?
Earlier generations in Palestine have been through this. Is this now a part of life for your people?
We have no clue how to evacuate; if we knew how, it would have been easier. For instance, they told Al Shifa hospital to evacuate in an hour. Can you just tell me how a hospital full of patients -- some of them unable to walk, some in a coma -- how are these people going to evacuate?
Nobody wants to evacuate from their homes; they were forced to do so because of the continuous bombing. They evacuated leaving behind all their belongings with barely a bottle of water -- if they did have water. Children too small to walk are strapped on to the backs of the parents. They just have the clothes on their backs, and remember, the weather in Palestine is getting colder each day.
I don't envy the doctors. They have to choose -- to leave the patients or to stand by them and get bombed. They know the patients they leave behind are going to die, they know if they stay back in the hospitals, they will die with the patients.
Your grandparents were forced to leave during the naqba of 1948. Do you believe this is another 1948?
What's happening in Gaza is another ethnic cleansing, a repeat of what happened in 1948. That is why people do not want to evacuate. Either you evacuate or you die. And a lot of people are preparing to die instead of evacuating. If there are no international interventions for a ceasefire and to stop this genocide, 1948 will be repeated.
Do you believe there will ever be peace in the region?
I hope and believe as a Palestinian that we will find freedom one day, maybe in this generation or may be the next. But I can't I can't imagine what that peace is going to be. As a Palestinian I can't comprehend the idea of a two-State solution.
Why am I forced to leave my land? Where are the refugees going to go? Are they going to live their whole life as refugees?
So I don't think there is going to be peace soon. The Palestinian Authority, who are working with Israelis since 1994 in a peaceful manner, are following international laws and so on, but the Israelis are doing the opposite.
So you can see the results. The Israelis are expanding the settlements. They are killing us, committing genocide. They are not following the peaceful solutions they claim to be following. They don't follow international law or the agreements they have signed with the Palestinian Authority.
- Part 2 of the Interview: 'Are you alive? Please tell me you are alive'
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com