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‘We Are Not Very Far From an Explosion’

As the world focuses on the war in Gaza, pressure is mounting on the West Bank. Israelis and Palestinians live worlds apart, separated often by a single road — or roadblocks. They are united only by a sense of growing anger and resentment.

[Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times]

One recent morning in Huwara, a Palestinian man maneuvered a front-end loader back and forth, clearing rocks and rubble that Israel Defense Forces soldiers had piled into a roadblock. Four young soldiers looked on, fingers tensed on triggers, as the machine’s claws heaved shattered masonry from clutching mud. A crowd of approving Palestinian onlookers gathered. The barrier, put in place to prevent access to a main street that has been a battleground over the past year, has infuriated the 7,000 inhabitants of this town in the northern West Bank, who are now accustomed to eking out survival as Israeli forces close stores and control their every movement. The mayor, Moin Damidi, told me that Huwara has become a ghost town. Surrounded by Israeli settlements and traversed by the major north-south highway, it has also become a center of violence. “The greater the pressure, the bigger the explosion,” he said.

Jihad Odeh, a city official, pointed at the soldiers. They opened and closed the road 10 times in the past year, he said. “The roadblock is for the settlers, to make them feel comfortable on our main street.”

Almost a year ago, a Palestinian militant shot and killed two settlers as they drove through Huwara. In response, settlers swarmed down from the adjacent hilltop settlement of Yitzhar. They burned cars, businesses and homes, killing at least one Palestinian and injuring many more. The I.D.F., nominally responsible for keeping order, did not prevent the riot, and in the aftermath many right-wing politicians celebrated it. Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s finance minister, called for Huwara to be “wiped out,” and not by lawless settlers — “the state of Israel should do it,” he said.

In Huwara, Israeli soldiers are seen as the settlers’ army. Smotrich, under a coalition deal struck in early 2023 with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, oversees the administration of settler affairs in the West Bank. He himself lives in the West Bank, in a settlement called Kedumim, a 15-minute drive from Huwara. Israel’s minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, is also a settler who lives in a suburb of Hebron.

Israeli soldiers on patrol in Huwara. [Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times]
An I.D.F. checkpoint in Huwara. [Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times]

“Soon they’ll come back and close the road again,” said Sami Sosa, a naturalized American citizen who owns a supermarket at the corner where the roadblock stood. “They’ll probably close my store, too, just because I watched!”

For almost 50 straight days after the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack that, according to Israeli estimates, killed about 1,200 people, most of them Israeli civilians, and took about 240 hostage, Israeli forces shuttered every store in Huwara; indeed, most were already closed because of clashes there two days earlier. Sosa invited me into his shop to see the effect of these measures, intended to keep Palestinians from congregating. He opened his cash register; it contained 130 shekels, or about $35. “We are caught,” he said. “Ben-Gvir arms the settlers with automatic weapons and tells them to do what they like, and where are we supposed to go?”

On a TV screen in Sosa’s store, as in every Palestinian home, Al Jazeera footage from Gaza looped in a hypnotic, incessant reel: small children dying, flattened homes, dazed Gazans sobbing, dust and debris and desperation and death. This — Israel’s retaliatory bombardment of Gaza, in which more than 25,000 people have been killed, according to Gaza authorities — is the daily diet of Palestinian rage.

Watching the news unfold, I recalled the brief conversation I had with the soldiers, about their mission in the West Bank.

“Do you have something against the roadblock being removed?” I asked.

None of the soldiers had an immediate answer. Finally, one said simply: “We are checking.”

Above Huwara looms Yitzhar, population 2,000. It was established in 1983 as part of the sustained government-backed movement of Israelis into what they call Judea and Samaria, the biblical hills where, thousands of years ago, the Jews became a people of the land. What for much of the world is the illegal settlement of the West Bank, under international laws governing belligerent occupation, is for countless Israelis the ultimate act of return.

This steady colonization since Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in 1967 has led to a disastrous impasse. A half-million settlers now live in explosive proximity to three million Palestinians. An inept, feckless and unpopular Palestinian Authority, a voiceless Palestinian people, armed settlers and an Israeli military with an ambiguous mission coexist in the treacherous vacuum of putative but ever-more-inconceivable Palestinian statehood. This impasse has persisted for decades, with spasms of violence — including two intifadas, or Palestinian uprisings, lasting more than a decade in total.

The question today is whether the gyre of slaughter can be broken, a third intifada averted and something new emerge from the West Bank’s disintegration and Israel’s invasion of Gaza. Is there any lingering basis for the “durable, sustainable peace” imagined by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, involving the pursuit of a Palestinian state through a drive “to revitalize, to revamp, the Palestinian Authority”?

Any such basis is hard to discern. “The Palestinian Authority is hopeless — there is no there there,” says Jeffrey Feltman, a former United States assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. “It suffers from self-inflicted wounds, and Israel has undermined it. As I used to tell Israeli officials, most people treat their security subcontractors better.”

Colonized but not annexed by Israel, sliced into nonviable Palestinian pockets of partial self-governance, the West Bank is suspended in the decades-old limbo that a shattered Oslo peace process left behind. This was the so-called status quo, upended by the Hamas attack, that Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, the president of a Palestinian Authority that cooperates with Israel on security, tacitly favored. Abbas enjoyed the wealth and privileges accorded him, his family and his cronies; Netanyahu has made it his life’s work to prevent a two-state outcome. They had the effective backing of the United States, or at least were assured of its inertia.

Now violence is everywhere. Settler evictions of Palestinians from West Bank villages have surged since early October, generally with impunity. Livestock has been stolen, olive groves uprooted and burned. In a marked escalation, Israeli security forces killed 492 Palestinians in the West Bank in 2023, according to a United Nations human rights office report; Palestinians there killed 29 Israelis. (The I.D.F. says the number is 41.) Settlers, most of them armed, are jittery. “The script is written since Oct. 7,” says Oded Revivi, the mayor of the large West Bank settlement Efrat. “Written in people raped and burned alive. We now know exactly what we are trying to prevent.”

The view from a home in Khirbet Zanuta, a tiny village in the hills of South Hebron that was abandoned by Palestinians after months of settler attacks. [Daniel Berehulak | The New York Times]

“I have never seen such a terrible situation since I became aware of this Palestinian-Israeli reality,” Mohammad Shtayyeh, 66, the Palestinian prime minister, who directs policies set by Abbas, told me in an interview in Ramallah, the de facto West Bank capital.

“We are not very far from an explosion,” Shtayyeh said. “Israel has lost balance and is behaving like a wounded bull. They’re acting in a mood of revenge, killing for the sake of killing.”

On Oct. 5, two days before what Israelis now call the Black Sabbath, a 28-year-old Palestinian named Jamal Mahmoud Majdoub opened fire on a settler couple driving down Huwara’s main street. The couple escaped unharmed, but — in a reprise of the riot last February — settlers swept into the town to carry out retaliatory attacks. Israeli security forces killed Majdoub and, in the chaos, an armed settler also shot and killed a 19-year-old Palestinian, Labib Dumedi, early the next day.

Hundreds of Palestinian mourners gathered to carry Dumedi’s body through town in a funeral procession. But Zvi Sukkot, a 33-year-old Israeli settler from Yitzhar, had chosen to erect a sukkah, the festive temporary hut traditionally built during the Jewish harvest holiday Sukkot. He positioned it, for maximum provocation, on Huwara’s main street.

Sukkot is not only a settler but also a member of the Knesset, under the banner of Smotrich’s Religious Zionist Party. He claimed to be acting on his authority as an M.K. in placing what amounted to another roadblock.

“As a member of the Knesset, my role is to ensure security, so I put up the sukkah,” Sukkot told me when I met him at his home in Yitzhar in December. “Jewish presence anywhere is not a reason for violence. An Israeli couple had been attacked.”

The I.D.F. abruptly moved a battalion from the southern border near Gaza to Huwara, an ill-timed move that would later come under considerable scrutiny. This was the last day of the Sukkot holiday and, as it transpired, also the last day of a certain Israel, one that had believed itself progressively more secure through normalization agreements with several Arab states, including Bahrain and Morocco. The Hamas attack shattered every Israeli assumption of might, superiority and security. One Israel has died; another is yet to be born.

A winding road leads up past vineyards to Yitzhar. The physical distance from Huwara is short, but the leap from one world to another is large. Israel, of which Yitzhar is a de facto part, is a $50,000 per capita economy, compared with the West Bank’s $5,600. The settlement, its streets and vegetation manicured, feels more like a modest American subdivision than a neighbor to Huwara’s misery.

There is nothing manicured about Zvi Sukkot’s home, however. He is away for long hours most days at the Knesset in Jerusalem, where, as an elected representative, he heads a subcommittee on the West Bank. His lawn is unmown, littered with the toys of his six young children. There is no time to hang pictures straight.

Zvi Sukkot, an Israeli lawmaker, looking across the West Bank from his home in Yitzhar. [Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times]

His yard commands a sweeping view. To the west, the Mediterranean and the Israeli coastal city Netanya are just visible, and to the east, a faint outline of the mountains of Jordan. A single glance takes in the entire width of the Holy Land, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. Many Israelis argue that the country’s pre-1967 border, nine miles wide at its narrowest point, was indefensible.

The sight of Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, and between them modern-day Nablus (the biblical city known to Jews as Shechem), is a daily reminder, Sukkot said, sweeping his arm dramatically, that he stands at the place where God’s promise of the land to Abraham was made. “This is where the Jews became a people. Of course we belong here.”

He is less inclined to cite the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit the transfer of nationals of an occupying power into occupied territory.

Chaya, Sukkot’s vibrant 31-year-old wife, was at first reluctant to show me around the house, noting the mess, but she finally relented. The couple’s 6-month-old son, their first boy after the birth of five daughters, was asleep in a stroller. She exuded energy as she busied herself around the house, making tea and picking up toys. Then we sat down to talk.

She grew up in Elon Moreh, a nearby settlement and the first established in the northern part of the West Bank — Samaria, in Israeli parlance. (Judea is the southern part.) Her father, Hillel Lieberman, was an American rabbi born in Brooklyn who immigrated to Israel in 1985. “My father was all about love — for the Torah, and for the land and people of Israel,” she said. “When he came here, he saw the Bible before his eyes.”

At the start of the second intifada, in 2000, Palestinian militants killed Lieberman in Nablus, where he would go regularly to the holy site known as Joseph’s Tomb and to an adjacent yeshiva where he liked to study. It took two days to find his body, which was riddled with bullets. He was 36.

The killing occurred, as it happened, on Oct. 7, 2000, 23 years to the day before the attack from Gaza. “The cry that was in my heart for so long, now I feel that the whole world has heard it,” she said.

To her, the cruelty of the Hamas attack was not new. “We always knew we were facing people who are killers. Nobody listened to us. It’s hard to grasp the magnitude of Oct. 7, but it’s not a surprise to me. We left Gaza in 2005, and look what happened. If we left here, the same thing would happen in Tel Aviv.”

Nineteen years ago, Israel dismantled 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and withdrew its army as part of an evacuation of the area, even as it maintained a blockade, backed by Egypt.

For the Sukkots, the settlements are irrelevant to the war. “This is not about Judea and Samaria. It’s about the whole state of Israel, in fact the whole world, where, for Hamas, there must be no place for Jews,” she said.

But what, I asked, of the three million Palestinians in the West Bank wanting the same land and often displaced from it?

“What should Palestinians do?” Zvi Sukkot exclaimed. “Go to work, raise their children, and if they could stop killing us, that would be great! There is no reason to kick anyone out, but if someone fights us, we won’t apologize for fighting back.”

He rushed out for a meeting in another settlement on improving cellphone service, only to return five minutes later.

“I forgot my gun,” he said, tucking a pistol into the back of his pants.

Since its unexpected battlefield victory in 1967 that swallowed the West Bank and extended Israeli power to the Jordan River, Israeli democracy has been shaped by the temptation of holding all the Land of the Prophets and by the mythologizing of that idea. If Israel, through divine providence, had gained control of Judea and Samaria, it could not, in the view of the increasingly powerful nationalist religious right, cede them in a land-for-peace deal like that brokered by the United States with Egypt in 1979.

Hubris won the day. Israel ceased to have clear borders, never a good thing for a democracy. Government after government treated the West Bank as part of Israel, a territory for settlement by Israelis, but under military occupation when it came to ruling Palestinians. Governance with the consent of the governed applied to some, not to others. Equality before the law ended.

As the Israeli journalist and historian Gershom Gorenberg has written: “The rule of law, in its substantive sense, is essential to a democratic state. By increments, the settlement project hollowed out the rule of law.”

Israel moved steadily right, corroded by an impossible dilemma. Annexation of the West Bank would presumably mean millions of additional Palestinian voters and the end of the Jewish state. On the other hand, decades of military occupation could only eat away at Israeli democracy.

An Israeli woman on a water tower in the Israeli village Matan looks out at Hable, a Palestinian village in the West Bank. [Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times]

The Israel of Ben-Gvir, Smotrich and Sukkot — an Israel that has veered toward maximalist territorial claims — is not some coincidence. It represents the culmination of a process engendered by the capture and retention of the West Bank, with consistent fiscal and security support for settlers.

The Israeli punt on the West Bank was, of course, also a decision. It has led to two intifadas and the violent situation today, from Hebron in the southern West Bank to Jenin in the north. It has left Israel with a leader, Netanyahu, who seems to reflect some internal decay.

The prime minister has been weakened by the debacle on his watch of the Oct. 7 defeat at the hands of Hamas; by fraud charges whose judicial consequences have been deferred by the war; and by an extreme-right government so obsessed with settlement expansion that it was busy defending the settlements around Huwara despite warnings of a Hamas attack. Nahum Barnea, a prominent Israeli journalist, has observed in Yedioth Ahronoth, a daily newspaper, that the government’s direct responsibility for the biggest defeat in Israeli history “is making it hard for them to make the right decisions.”

Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister from 2006 to 2009, describes the situation more bluntly and more personally. “Mr. Netanyahu is a greater danger than the war, in fact than all our enemies put together,” he told me.

Given the growing divisions in Netanyahu’s government, Feltman, the former assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, believes the United States must lay out a concrete political horizon for the day after the war, possibly in the form of “a United Nations resolution that sets a path to two states.” The Biden administration is working to present Netanyahu with a stark choice: either the legacy of the worst defeat in Israeli history, or normalization with Saudi Arabia on the condition of acceptance of a Palestinian state.

“Since his first speech after Oct. 7, Israelis have appointed Biden president of the Zionist movement for life,” Olmert says. “He has the leverage, and he does not have much time.”

Nablus, the major city of the northern West Bank, is just four miles from Yitzhar. Sara Abdullah, 26, lives with her mother atop one of its many hills in a comfortable apartment with a view that is a realtor’s dream; her uncle, a real estate agent named Bilal Abdullah, owns the apartment above them. Divorced, Abdullah has two children, a son called Shadi, 5, and a daughter, Eliya, 3. They live mainly with their father.

On June 9, Sara Abdullah decided to carry out a potentially suicidal attack on Israelis at the southern Huwara checkpoint, about a half-hour away.

“Nobody told me to do it — I decided because I was so angry about what has happened,” she said, seated in an armchair with family looking on. “I took a knife with me and chose Huwara because it’s close and there are many Israeli settlers and Jews at the checkpoint.” She did not tell her children, or anyone in her family.

To this woman of level voice and expressionless bespectacled gaze, dressed in a black sweatshirt with “Oxford University” emblazoned on its front, it was evident, as she put it, that “children without a childhood, young men without prospects, living a life of harassment and humiliation” will consider risking their lives to attack Israel. In almost every Palestinian family, are there not relatives imprisoned, killed or maimed by Israel?

Her uncle and some young cousins sat listening. For weeks, like children throughout the West Bank, they have had no school. Teachers cannot get to classrooms. Most laborers who once worked in Israeli factories and construction sites, or in settlements, can no longer do so. The tens of thousands of people who work in the public sector for the Palestinian Authority are unpaid or only partly paid as Israel withholds tax revenue. Desperation feeds violence. “I knew my children would be fine,” Abdullah said. “There are so many children who have no mother or father because of the occupation. They would have grown up to be proud of what their mother had done.”

Sara Abdullah, who spent several months in prison after attacking an Israeli soldier, at her uncle’s home in Nablus. [Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times]

Her mind made up, she boarded a taxi to Huwara. At the checkpoint, she approached a female Israeli soldier and stabbed her as close to her neck as she could, but the soldier pushed her away and the blade did not penetrate deeply. Soldiers fired stun guns at Abdullah’s legs. Both women fell to the ground.

The soldier survived. Abdullah was taken first to Hasharon military prison in central Israel, where she was interrogated for four days. Eventually Israeli security forces took her to Damon prison, near Haifa, where she faced a possible eight-year sentence.

Held in a cell with five other women, she had access to TV and a water heater for coffee and tea, and she was able to buy cigarettes and food from a canteen. All that changed on Oct. 7. When news of the Hamas attack broke, Abdullah said, “We began to celebrate, like any Palestinian, and cheer and sing political songs.”

The prison staff beat and pepper-sprayed the inmates, removed TVs and radios and denied them access to showers and the canteen. One woman, she said, was removed to solitary confinement for refusing to stop her chant of “Palestine! Palestine!” The Israel Prison Service did not respond to questions.

On Nov. 24, a month and a half later, Abdullah awoke to the news that she would be included in an exchange of Israeli hostages in Gaza and Palestinian prisoners. She left Damon prison that day and was freed near Ramallah. “The people want Hamas! The people want Hamas!” a crowd chanted as her family greeted her.

Her young son hugged her when she got home. “Don’t leave me again,” he said.

“I would not do what I did again,” Abdullah told me. “I suffered a lot.”

“If I had known I would have grabbed her and stopped her,” her uncle said.

“I am very proud that Hamas forced Israel to release us,” she said. “Israel had all the power before. Who cares that a lot of their civilians were killed?”

“No,” her uncle interjected. “Some Israelis are human, and I hope we can live with them one day. I am happy to talk about our future. But when they elect a right-wing fascist government, it becomes difficult.”

“We will continue to be knives in their necks,” Abdullah continued. “We cannot share the land. We did not come and break down the door and take their homes.”

“The bloodshed on both sides is wrong,” her uncle insisted. “But they don’t want peace. Who killed Rabin? Us or them?” Yitzhak Rabin, the former Israeli prime minister who pursued a two-state peace through the 1993 Oslo accords, was assassinated in 1995 by an Israeli religious-nationalist fanatic.

I asked Abdullah what she planned to do now with her life. “I would like to marry again,” she said. “And I will wait for my land to be liberated.”

The shelves in Ahmad Odeh’s small supermarket near the gas station on Huwara’s main street were bare after weeks of closure. So, along with his four children, he stopped by an improvised fruit-and-vegetable shop that Mohammad Hamarsheh had set up in what had been a boutique run by his wife.

The back of the once-thriving store was full of dresses and other attire. Hamarsheh himself sat slowly tugging leaves from cauliflowers and peeling onions. “There is a saying here that if you have nothing to do, you peel onions,” he said, then laughed. “It’s better than looking up at the settlements and feeling oppressed.”

I asked Odeh what he felt about the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. “When I saw what was happening, happiness filled my entire body, even if all of Gaza is destroyed,” he said. “I was happy because of everything done to us and our children in Jenin, in Nablus, in Tulkarm, in Ramallah.” He paused, lost in reflection. “But this won’t change anything in the conflict. The achievement will be zero.”

Ahmed Odeh, owner of a grocery store in Huwara, and his son Amir. [Daniel Berehulak | The New York Times]

There is little doubt that Oct. 7, 2023, will go down in Palestinian history as a day of liberation — the day that millions of Palestinians whom Israel wanted to render invisible through walls, barriers and fences became visible again in what they see as an act of heroic resistance to occupation. No Palestinian I talked to in the West Bank would offer unequivocal condemnation of the Hamas terrorist attack in the face of those Gaza images of children killed by Israeli bombs.

For Israelis, this same date will be that of a heinous Palestinian crime against humanity that summoned from the collective Jewish subconscious images of Jew-slaughter through the ages, culminating in the Holocaust. These seemingly irreconcilable views are one measure of the Israeli-Palestinian chasm any peacemakers would have to bridge.

I had asked Shtayyeh, the prime minister, if the Palestinian Authority, which in theory maintains administrative control over parts of the West Bank and pays civil servants in Gaza despite its opposition to Hamas, bears any responsibility for its own unpopularity. He said: “No, it’s not something we did wrong. It is all in the hands of the Israelis.” Later, he asked, “How is it possible for our government to be popular when Israelis confiscate land every day?”

As the buck is passed, lives are shattered. Each side dreams of the impossible disappearance of the other. The maximalist claims to all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, made by Hamas in its charter calling for the destruction of the state of Israel and by the Israeli nationalist right, can only result in the prolongation of the cycles of violence that, every few years, send more young people, denied their promise and their hopes, to their graves.

A few days later, I went to Odeh’s house, where he generously served a delicious lunch of baked goat. The TV was on, and the usual Gaza reel of death rolled on. His son Ameer, 13, watched. I asked if he was frightened. “No, because if I have to fight one day, I will not use weapons. I will use my education and my mind.”

I recalled something Odeh said while buying onions and peppers. “My children watch the news and see all the children dying in Gaza. Even in an unrelated movie, if there is shooting, they ask: Is that the Jews?”

For a long time, Netanyahu played a game of divide and conquer, seeking a tame but viable Hamas in Gaza to act as a counterweight to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and ensure that there was no progress toward a Palestinian state. Now Israel faces an entirely different strategic quandary.

The United States, the ultimate guarantor of Israeli security, has suddenly revived, with urgency, the idea of a two-state outcome, which Netanyahu has resisted for decades. Israel is more internationally isolated. Settlers are demanding a rapid ratcheting-up of forces in the West Bank; and in many cases, with little training, they are themselves being recruited into the military that is charged, at least officially, with preventing them from attacking their Palestinian neighbors.

Hamas has only become more popular in the West Bank, and the Palestinian Authority remains weak. Abbas, who has ruled without an election since 2005, is now 88, and he has no clear successor. An educated younger generation of Palestinians finds itself without any hope for its future.

Weapons have flooded into the West Bank from Jordan and elsewhere. Shtayyeh, the Palestinian prime minister, says that Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are “under tremendous pressure” because “the people want us to do something, they want us to launch war on Israel.” Abbas has never publicly condemned the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, which infuriates Netanyahu.

A third intifada is not impossible. The level of Palestinian anger, combined with settler violence, is combustible. But prodded by the United States, Shtayyeh says “we have been using every possible way and measure to disengage the West Bank from what is happening in Gaza.”

Mohammad Shtayyeh, the Palestinian prime minister, at his office in Ramallah. [Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times]

For all the increased violence in the West Bank, there is no indication of a broad uprising. But how a remote and undemocratic Palestinian government can ever become a more credible body remains unclear. In practice, until Abbas and Netanyahu are gone, progress looks doubtful.

Abbas seems unlikely to change his way of governing: detached and by many accounts corrupt. One prominent executive in Ramallah, who asked not to be named, told me of a large donation given by his company to the Palestinian Authority for a planned hospital. It was never built. The money disappeared.

Ben-Gvir and others on the Israeli right have said that they would like settlers to move into Gaza and rebuild it to expand Israel’s borders. That is far-fetched. The formal position of the government is vague, but it has suggested that it does not want to administer the territory beyond controlling it enough to prevent terror attacks. The most plausible candidate for administering a postwar Gaza, then, is the Palestinian Authority, an idea the Biden administration has advanced but Netanyahu has rejected.

Of course, this Gaza scenario would more or less reproduce the dysfunctional arrangement in the West Bank, where Israeli forces do what they want anywhere, even in the 40 percent of the territory that the Palestinian Authority wholly or partly controls.

Sitting in Darna, an upscale restaurant in Ramallah, Anwar Jayosi, 64, gazed at the TV images of Palestinians dying in Gaza. The chief executive of Faten, a nonprofit organization that provides funding to small entrepreneurs, especially women, he has led an unusually successful West Bank life. Still, it feels hollow. “Sometimes you feel your tears are dry,” he said. “No more tears. They evaporated.”

In 1977, Jayosi was jailed for raising the Palestinian flag in school. During the reforming push of Salam Fayyad, the former prime minister who left office in 2013, he was threatened for urging Palestinian laborers to stop working in Israeli settlements. In the 2014 war in Gaza, he said, 35 Faten-funded entrepreneurs were killed. “We tried passive resistance, armed struggle, a peaceful solution, and nobody is listening,” he said.

Persistent humiliation has been a theme of Jayosi’s life — seeing his family’s well bombed when he was five, waiting seven hours to cross the Allenby Bridge into Jordan, listening to Israeli officers telling him “to go home to Ramallah” when he complained about treatment at the crossing into Gaza, now watching the demolition of the Gaza offices of Faten. What was most apparent in all of this, he felt, was Israeli contempt for the subjugated. “Fear makes us brutal to each other,” he said. “We are the victims of the victims who suffered the Holocaust.”

I pondered the fate of this reasonable man, prepared to accept a fair division of territory and acknowledge that “we did to each other what we should not have done,” and wondered if anything could break the radicalization of the conflict. The longer they live in proximity, it seems, the less visible Israelis and Palestinians become to each other.

Outside a pizzeria largely reduced to rubble by Israeli security forces because its manager was said to have shown sympathy for the Hamas attack in a Facebook post, Bilal Khmous stood assessing the damage. Married to an American, he divides his time between the West Bank and Memphis. “This building belongs to me and my brother, but the Israeli Army has occupied it since October,” he said. As he spoke, a group of Israeli soldiers strolled into what remained of the building.

A new Huwara bypass road, intended for settlers and as a means to reduce tensions on the main street, was completed recently after the seizure of large tracts of land. Olive trees skirt the road, but the picking of olives within 110 yards of it on either side is forbidden.

Huwara, a Palestinian town surrounded by Israeli settlements. [Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times]
The Ferris wheel at Luna Park, one of the few amusement parks in the West Bank. [Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times]

Khmous had been building a house on the far side of the new road, but it, too, has been seized by the Israel Defense Forces. “They never pay,” he said.

Rising above the northern end of the new road, we could see a rusted Ferris wheel, the leading attraction of Luna Park, one of the few amusement parks in the West Bank. We went over to take a look. The swimming pool was full of fetid water. The bumper cars were rusted. In a large wedding and banquet hall, tables adorned with plastic flowers stood empty beneath chandeliers, awaiting some unlikely lovers. “Nobody wants to get married now,” Khmous said.

I asked the owner if the Ferris wheel still worked. He set a team of three young boys to work on fraying wires in a control box. After five minutes, the wheel creaked into life.

I boarded a rickety metal tub and from the summit of the wheel looked down on the bypass road, the olive groves now partly inaccessible to Palestinians, Khmous’s occupied house, the tormented town of Huwara and the settler-controlled hills behind it.

All the conflict and violence contained within this West Bank scene could not quite efface the beauty of it, as if the possibility of peace still lived somewhere, awaiting some unlikely rebirth of statesmanship.

Beneath me I saw the three young boys. They waved. They were laughing. They had made a small thing better. In their paralyzed world, something had moved.

A correction was made on Feb. 7, 2024: An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misidentified the location and subject. The photo depicts the Israeli village Matan, not El Matan, and the woman in the photo is Israeli but not a settler. 


Ⓒ 2024, The New York Times

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