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Reflections on one state from the West Bank

The first time I went to my current sublease in Bethlehem, I noticed something strange on the floor — the Star of David. When I moved into the place and looked closer at the pattern, I noticed a menorah. Here I was, in the heart of a Palestinian city, and the floor was “Jewish.”

Hand-painted floor tiles in an old, pre-state home in Bethlehem. The design depicts the Star of David and a menorah. (Photo: Mya Guarnieri)

My apartment is in a home that is at least 100 years old. Hand-painted floor tiles were common in wealthy homes — Christian, Muslim, and Jewish — throughout pre-state Palestine. While I know that the land wasn’t always divided, the current context makes it hard to imagine a Palestinian family putting such tiles into their home.

But here the floor is and it gives me hope. It reminds me that the land has seen better years and that better years might be on the horizon. Not in a divided land, because we’ve already seen that division doesn’t work, but in a land where symbols of Judaism or Christianity or Islam might appear in one another’s homes.


Those who are opposed to a shared, democratic state sometimes cite security as a reason that Israel must remain a Jewish-majority state. But a one-state solution would privilege the security of every individual rather than that of an individual religious (and/or ethnic) group. And to those who argue that the separation barrier has lead to a drop in suicide bombings, I offer a basic from Statistics 101: correlation doesn’t equal causation. Further, the fact that tens of thousands of Palestinian workers come into Israel without permits everyday suggests that if a suicide bomber really wanted to get in, he or she could. (The fact that some people manage to come in without permits does not mitigate Israeli restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement).

Some opponents of a one-state solution also say that the state’s character must remain Jewish for purposes of identity. But why?

If anything, having a Muslim partner has actually strengthened my understanding of and deepened my connection to Judaism. He is very curious about the religion and customs. Not only did he study up on Rosh Hashanah before he came to the holiday dinner, he had questions for...

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Why West Bank Palestinians avoid traveling at night

Something so basic, so normal, so human — like going home late from work, visiting family or a loved one in another town — becomes an overwhelming and frightful task in the face of the occupation.

An IDF checkpoint in the West Bank [illustrative photo, by Ahmad Al-Bazz/

Last night, when I was headed from Ramallah to Bethlehem, I went through a checkpoint. As the service taxi I was on slowed down and approached the checkpoint, I saw an unusually large number of soldiers. There were two armored jeeps and a police car. I counted more than 10 soldiers. They were searching a small car. A man, presumably the driver, was on the ground on the side of the road, handcuffed and blindfolded.

The scene was disturbing to say the least. A ripple of fear ran through the passengers on the service taxi, even though the soldiers didn’t stop us. Everyone craned their heads to see what was happening. Once the man was out of sight, passengers continued to shift in their seats and speculate about what was happening.

The image of a human being, bound and left on the ground, stayed with me all night. When I woke up this morning, I wondered about the man. What happened to him? Was he detained? How will he feel driving at night in the future?

A lot of Palestinians I know don’t travel between West Bank cities at night. For one, public transportation shuts down fairly early in the West Bank. Secondly, the army seems to be more active at night than it is during the day (although, the daytime is difficult in other ways – as I wrote about here) and this creates an environment of fear that is especially pinned to the night.

A Palestinian colleague explains to me that the tendency not to travel or go out at night started during the First Intifada, “when there were curfews, when people stayed in and parents were overprotective because going out meant facing soldiers.”

“It’s that fear which is…” he trails off and taps his chest to show how it’s been internalized. He says that when friends ask him to go out at night, it’s reflexive for him to suggest they...

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Stepped up Israeli harassment leads to clashes in Abu Dis

The presence of Israeli security forces around Al Quds University in Abu Dis has led to clashes with students twice in the past week. Israeli forces, who have used rubber-coated bullets and tear gas, are trying to provoke the students, the university’s executive vice president claims.

File photo of Israeli border policemen in East Jerusalem (

Yesterday, while I was teaching my 9:30 a.m. composition class at Al Quds University in Abu Dis, I heard the crack of rubber-coated bullets being fired outside. A few of my students jumped in their seats. Eyes wide, they looked at me for a cue. I continued teaching, although I saw students running past the window and the hallway next to my classroom was soon full of students coughing from the tear gas they’d inhaled outside.

As I was inside teaching, I didn’t see firsthand how the clashes began. But according to Ma’an News Agency, “[an] Israeli border police patrol stopped and searched several students at the main gate of the university in Abu Dis, inspecting identity cards and detaining several students for over an hour.”

When Israeli forces then tried to enter the university, which is located in Area B, staff stopped them. As the staff is unarmed, it is safe to assume that they used nonviolent means to prevent the armed Israelis from going on campus. Israeli forces then fired tear gas and rubber coated bullets at the school. Dozens of students suffered from gas inhalation; Ma’an also reported that eight were treated at the Abu Dis Emergency Center after they were hit by rubber-coated bullets.

This was the second time in less than a week that Israeli soldiers came to campus, causing clashes to break out at Al Quds University. Last Wednesday morning, as I walked in a side gate around 9:30 a.m., I heard rubber-coated bullets being fired. Inside the campus, I found students choking and coughing from tear gas and crowding the hallways of a building as they sought refuge from the clashes between heavily armed soldiers and a small number of youth who had nothing but stones.

Speaking to Ma’an, Al Quds University Executive Vice President Imad Abu Keshik said, “Israeli forces claim that they are stationed near [the] Al Quds University campus to oversee construction and maintenance work on the separation wall.”...

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Palestinians struggle to remain in 'unified' Jerusalem

As Israelis march today to celebrate the ‘reunification’ of Jerusalem, Palestinian East Jerusalemites struggle against skyrocketing rents and building restrictions to remain in municipal borders. 

Garbage piles up in the Kufr Aqab neighborhood of East Jerusalem (Photo: Mya Guarnieri)

Every day, investors knock on the door of a small home in Kufr Aqab, a village on the Palestinian side of the separation wall but inside Jerusalem’s municipal borders. The tidy, one-story, two-room house is surrounded by new apartment buildings, some reaching nine stories high. Contractors are currently finishing more than 1,000 units in the area; billboard advertisements suggest many more are to come.

The same phenomenon is occurring in other Palestinian neighborhoods that are technically part of Jerusalem, but separated from the ancient city sites by the huge concrete wall.

Apartment buildings are popping up like mushrooms in these areas. The sound of construction fills the air.

Kufr Aqab – once full of open, green spaces – is now “crowded” and “dirty,” says Amira, an 18-year-old Palestinian woman who lives here. She asked not to be identified by her real name out of fear of endangering her Israeli-issued Jerusalem residency permit.

Residents pay taxes to the Jerusalem Municipality but receive far fewer services than the neighboring Jewish districts of Jerusalem. While Palestinians constitute approximately 35 percent of the city’s population, only eight to ten percent of the municipal budget is allocated to their communities. “We have to hire someone to come and take [the garbage] because the city won’t come,” Amira says. “They will pick up everything on the main street but not behind it.”

Refuse collection is a long-standing issue for Palestinian East Jerusalemites; even Israeli officials have raised concerns about the issue, and the influx of new residents means things will only get worse.

Numerous requests for comment from the Jerusalem Municipality for this article have been unsuccessful.

Unplanned growth has already stretched Kufr Aqab’s infrastructure to the point of breaking, Amira and other residents say. “What once was a spacious entrance into the neighborhood is now a small, rough, tight road that does not allow cars to pass through it. The entrance [has been narrowed] by two new buildings on each side that have taken space from the road to...

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Palestinian university shuts down in wake of violence, teacher strikes

Critics often say that Palestinians should concentrate on state-building rather than fighting the occupation. But the prolonged closure of a Palestinian university is a reminder that Palestine can’t get on its feet when it’s under Israel’s boot.

It’s been 10 days since I’ve seen my students at the Palestinian university in the West Bank. A week and a half ago, I was in the middle of teaching one of my afternoon classes when a number of my male students got up to leave. “Sorry, Miss Mya,” one said. “But there’s a fight outside.”

It was the latest flare-up in a long-running family feud between two clans—one from Abu Dis, the other from a neighboring village. This round included stone-throwing and gunshots. It took place right outside the university gates.

According to the Oslo Accords, Abu Dis is in Area B, which means that it is under Israeli security and Palestinian administration. This also means that there are no police in Abu Dis. Thus, in situations like this, there is no one to restore order. This is a common problem in Palestinian areas of the West Bank, including those that are part of the Jerusalem municipality but are on the Palestinian side of the wall. While I was reporting in one such area recently, locals told me that whenever there is crime, the villagers—who pay taxes to Israel and hold Jerusalem residency—have to handle it by themselves.

Abu Dis is in a similar situation. Parts of the village are, technically, inside Jerusalem’s borders; the university is right next to the separation barrier. When the Israeli army heard about the violence, they came and fired tear gas at the crowd, thinking that the fight was about the occupation. The gas wafted into the building I teach in. When the soldiers realized that the feud was internal, they left.

For students’ and faculty safety, the university was shut down. Everyone went out the gates on the opposite side of campus, away from the fighting. For security reasons, the administration decided to keep the university closed until Saturday.

When I got word of the closure, I gave up on holding office hours on Wednesday as I had planned. I was disappointed—several of my students had made appointments because they needed help with their work. With the week prematurely over, I left Abu Dis and headed back to Jerusalem. On my way out, I saw...

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Palestinian prisoner dies in Israeli interrogation center

A Palestinian man died in Israeli custody, reportedly during or after being interrogated by Israel on Saturday. The death comes amid spreading West Bank protests in solidarity with hunger striking prisoners. Near Nablus, settlers reportedly shoot a Palestinian man in the stomach.

Ayalon prison facility, near the city of Ramla (photo: Activestills)

A 30-year-old Palestinian man, Arafat Jaradat, died while in Israeli custody today. According to Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq, Jaradat is believed to have died either during or shortly after he was interrogated in Meggido Prison.

Speaking to the Agence France Presse, a spokeswoman for the Israel Prisons Service confirmed the death. She claimed, “It was probably a cardiac arrest.”

But Al Haq reports that Jaradat, who was arrested on February 18, had no known health conditions. Jaradat was from the West Bank village of Sa’ir, which is north of Hebron. He is survived by two children and his wife is reportedly pregnant with their third child.

Palestinian prisoners will go on hunger strike in protest of Jaradat’s death, the Palestinian news agency Maan reports.

According to B’Tselem, more than 4,500 Palestinians are being held in Israeli prisons; 178 of the detainees are being held without trial in administrative detention. The UN reports that approximately 700,000 Palestinians have been held in Israeli prisons since the occupation began in 1967. Many of these prisoners have been held without charge on administrative detention orders. Children have also been jailed. In 2012, 143 children between 16 and 18 were held in Israeli jails, including 21 minors under the age of 15.

Jaradat’s death comes as Palestinian prisoner Samer Issawi has been on hunger strike for over 200 days. Al Haq reports that Issawi’s family is being harassed by Israeli forces. Issawi’s brother, Shadi, was arrested last week; Issawi’s sister, Shirin, was detained for 24 hours in December and was put on house arrest. On New Year’s Day, Israeli forces razed the home of Issawi’s brother, Rafat.

As Samer Issawi’s condition deteriorates, protests and clashes have spread throughout the West Bank. Dozens of Palestinian protesters were injured in demonstrations throughout the West Bank on Friday, including one who was shot with live ammunition in Hebron.

On Saturday, 26-year-old Hilmi Abdul Azizi was reportedly shot in...

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Violence sells: When the media profits off the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

In my third post about publishing–or, rather, not publishing–my book about migrant workers and African refugees in Israel, I examine the role of violence in the media and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And then there was a ray of light. In the wake of the May 2012 race riot in Tel Aviv, the mainstream media was suddenly paying attention to African refugees in the Jewish state. My agent called to say that we might be able to ride the wave of violence to sell my book about migrants in Israel.

There’s something wrong with an industry that only sits up and takes notice when things get bloody. There’s something sick to me about riding the riot and the asylum seekers’ fear and suffering. But, hey, sex and violence sells. As a number of my students pointed out, when blood is spilled, the international community pays attention to issues that the world usually ignores. And it seems the only way to force Israel’s hand.

During and after Operation Pillar of Defense, my university students in the West Bank were divided on the role armed struggle should play in Palestinian resistance. Some felt that violence only begets violence and chastised their classmates who rejoiced in seeing footage of Tel Aviv residents dashing to bomb shelters. When one young man told the class that he was happy to see “Jews running like chickens” to take cover, a girl in hijab turned around and yelled at him, “Haram!” She went on to upbraid him for enjoying anyone’s suffering, including that of the Jews.

Others felt that the frightful images coming out of Gaza—and the lopsided body count—might call the international community to action. And then there were those who were conflicted: violence sucks, they said. But sirens in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem made Israel pay attention to Gaza and to ease the blockade a little bit. That proved to them that, as awful as bloodshed is, fighting back is the only way to “peace.”

It’s all too easy to blame the Israeli government for ignoring Palestinian demands for human rights. It’s comfortable to point the finger at journalists, editors, and publishers who follow a sensationalistic “if it doesn’t bleed it doesn’t lead” line. However, at the end of the day, the fault lies with a public that, to put it simply, just doesn’t care.

Or does it? Noam Chomsky and others...

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What do Palestinian teenagers wish for in 2013?

New Year’s resolutions offer us a glimpse into the hopes of the children who live under Israeli occupation.

A colleague of mine, a fellow journalist and writer, teaches English to Palestinian children in Hebron. I visited her recently in the West Bank and she generously shared her teenage students’ New Year’s resolutions. They are published here, sans names, with the students’ permission.

From a teenage boy:

*Study hard

*Be lovely

*Don’t hurt others

*Work better

*Keep your mouth closed

*Imagine well

*Never give up

*Eat healthy food

*Hate injustice

*Like to help others


*Fight bad insects

The next one list was written by a girl who seems unusually self aware for a teenager. The most heartbreaking entry in her list was number 11, which she’d drawn a line through. It shows how hard it is for her trust the world around her and alludes to the severe impact it makes on her personal relationships:

1) Focus more on my studies in class

2) to Work more on my relationship with God.

3) Stop and think before I do anything.

4) Fix my relationship with my dad and mom

5) Stop talking when the teacher is talking

6) Watch fewer programmes at T.V.

7) Stop listening to music that’s not good

8) Have breakfast before going to school

9) Take real things seriously.

10) Try to tell everybody how you feel about him or her

11) Stop believing every body lies

Another young woman’s list shows, again, how hard it is for these children to have faith in the people around them. No surprise given the fact that their lives are so unstable and can be changed on the whim of an Israeli soldier.

1) Study hard

2) Prepare myself to Al-Tawjehi

3) Start to make my dreams a fact

4) See my life in another way

5) Don’t trust people so quickly

6) Don’t tell my rivals in school my marks

7) Enjoy my school day with my friends

8) Eat pizza

That these lists do not mention the occupation does not mean that living under Israeli military rule makes no impact on the children’s lives. Rather, that the students don’t talk about freedom of movement or seeing their brothers, uncles, and cousins released from Israeli prisons suggests that it doesn’t seem like a realistic hope.

The New Year’s resolutions...

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Media misconceptions: Is the conflict really about Jews vs. Arabs?

In the second post of my three-part series about media and publishing, I examine some misconceptions about the Israeli-Palestinian ‘conflict,’ and the ways in which the media feeds into a binary that leaves non-Jews and non-Palestinians out of the spotlight.

When my agent and I shopped my book about Israel’s migrant workers and African refugees around, we got a lot of those “We love it but it’s not right for us” and “This is an important book that needs to be published. But there’s no audience for this” kind of responses.

But perhaps the most common response was, “Where are the Palestinians?”

The Palestinians are there, of course. They are discussed directly and indirectly. As migrant workers were first brought to Israel during the First Intifada to replace Palestinian day laborers—a fact I take care to mention in my book—you can’t talk about the state’s treatment of foreign workers without alluding to those they replaced. And with most Palestinians locked behind the separation barrier, migrant workers and African refugees—the “new” non-Jewish “others” in Israel—have become more convenient stand-ins for the racist sentiments that have long been channeled towards Palestinian.

But, no, publishers who haven’t set foot in Israel—much less covered it as a journalist for years on end—insist that the “conflict” is about Jews vs. Arabs, Israelis vs. Palestinians, not Israel versus all non-Jewish others. Tell that to the families of migrant workers who are being deported by the state; tell the African refugees who face prison without trial that Israel’s conflict is with the Arabs.

And tell that to the many Israeli politicians who readily admit that the issue is preserving a Jewish state.

Further, Israel has tweaked the 1952 Entry to Israel law and the 1954 Infiltration Prevention law—both of which discriminate against Palestinians—broadening them to apply to migrant workers and African refugees. Israeli politicians use similar rhetoric and separation methods (read: walls) against all of these non-Jewish groups.

As I wrote in The National:

In 2003 Mr Netanyahu, then finance minister, called Arab citizens of the state a “demographic problem” adding that the separation barrier would stop a “demographic spillover” of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories. Fast forward to 2010: Prime Minister Netanyahu calls African asylum seekers a “concrete threat to the Jewish and democratic character of the country” and promises another separation barrier, this one to run the length of the border between...

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Eviction of Palestinian family in East Jerusalem temporarily postponed

The eviction of  a Palestinian family from their home in Sheikh Jarrah, planned for today, has been delayed by two months. 

Two Palestinian children in front of their house in Sheikh Jarrah, February 7, 2010 (photo: Anne Paq/

The Shamasneh family was slated to be evicted from their home at 2:00 p.m. today, December 31, so that the Israeli Custodian for Absentee Property could take possession of the house. The Jerusalem District Court ordered the eviction to be postponed until March 1, 2013 after the family’s lawyer appealed to Israel’s high court.

Activists and politicians who support the Shamasnehs in their fight to stay in their East Jerusalem home emphasize that this is just a temporary postponement in the eviction, and that the family of 10 is still in danger of losing their house. They also point out that it is just one of many examples of Israel’s lopsided, discriminatory application of the law that is leading to the “Judaization” of East Jerusalem.

In a number of cases, the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property has handed over Palestinian homes to Jewish settlers after Israeli courts have ruled that the properties in question were owned by Jews prior to the 1948 war. Palestinian refugees who were forced or fled from their homes in the same period, however, are not allowed to sue for the properties in Israeli courts.

The Shamasneh family has lived in their Sheikh Jarrah home since 1964, three years before Israel occupied East Jerusalem. In 1980, Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem, a move that remains unrecognized by the international community.

Speaking yesterday of the Shamasneh’s case, Dr. Saeb Erekat of the Palestine Liberation Organization remarked, “We hold Israel accountable for any consequences to their illegal actions and we call upon the international community to end the culture of impunity for Israel and treating Israel as a state above international law.”

Palestinian family in Sheikh Jarrah days away from eviction
Fact sheet: Israel’s tightening control over Jerusalem
Spotlight: Sheikh Jarrah

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It's a man's world: women in journalism and publishing

Over five years of on-the-ground research. Almost three years of writing and rewriting. And my book about migrant workers and African refugees in Israel just isn’t selling.

I’ve spent more than two years addressing everything in my control (with the help of an excellent literary agent who has sold some very big books). My experiences as a journalist–and some appalling numbers from the publishing industry–leave me to conclude that editors are passing on my book because I’m a woman.

I’ve also gotten the sense that publishers aren’t interested because the discourse about Israel-Palestine is locked into an overly simplistic discussion of a bilateral “conflict” when—as Israel’s treatment of migrant workers and African refugees shows—the conversation needs to be about the Jewish state’s denial of human rights to ALL non-Jews.

And then there’s the issue of violence. As the old journalism adage goes, “If it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t read.” My experiences with the publishing industry suggest that this holds as true now as ever.

In this post, the first of a three-part series, I’ll talk about what it means to be a woman in journalism and publishing.


I should have known that I was battling gender bias the moment my agent asked me if I could turn my original draft—a journalistic, semi-academic, discussion of non-Jewish, non-Palestinian “others”  and their place in Israel—into “Eat Pray Love meets migrant workers.”

Yes, memoir was big at the time. But can you imagine an agent asking a male journalist to turn his investigative work into something less deliberate? Can you imagine a male journalist being urged to write about how “you bumped into this person who introduced me to that person”?

And doesn’t the term “male journalist” sound funny? That’s because we’re not used to hearing it. Male journalists are the norm and we don’t bother describing norms. We only describe the exception to the rule. Articles exclaiming how far “female journalists” have come or the “Unique advantage of ‘female war reporters” actually suggest that we haven’t come that far… otherwise, participating in our profession would be unremarkable, so unremarkable it wouldn’t need to be discussed in an article.

That’s not to say that my agent is to blame. He’s  just a salesman—he’s a conduit for and reflection of market forces. And when it comes to publishing, women are relegated to particular corners of the industry.

Writing in The Washington Post...

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Palestinian family in Sheikh Jarrah days away from eviction

On December 31, as Americans celebrate New Year’s Eve and Israelis lift a glass to “Sylvester,” a Palestinian family will be evicted from their East Jerusalem home to make way for Jewish settlers.

The Jerusalem District Court has ruled that the Shamasneh family must leave the house they have been living in 1964—three years before Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem began—by 2:00 PM on Monday afternoon. Ten people currently live in the home, including six children.

The court has granted ownership to the Israeli Custodian for Absentee Property, which was represented by lawyers who also represent settlers’ organizations, including the Israel Land Fund.

According to the Israel Land Fund’s website, the organization’s goals include “acquiring all the land of Israel for the Jewish people.” The ILF “strives to ensure that Jewish land is… reclaimed and in Jewish hands” rather than “hostile, non-Jewish, and enemy sources.”

The ILF has been behind a number of different settlement projects in East Jerusalem. Activists believe that the Shamasnehs’ home will be handed over to Jewish settlers after the family is evicted.

The Jerusalem District Court’s decision breaks a three year lull in such evictions in Sheikh Jarrah. The al-Kurd family was evicted from their house in Sheikh Jarrah in 2008 and were left homeless; two more families were dispossessed in 2009. Jewish settlers now occupy all of the houses.

The wave of evictions led to weekly protests in Sheikh Jarrah that were, for some time, popular with Jewish Israeli activists.

In the below letter, Ayoub Shamasneh, asks the international community to help him and his family. He also points out that Jews the world over can claim properties in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories based on previous ownership–however tenuous those claims–while Palestinians are not allowed to reclaim the properties they were forced to leave during the 1947-1948 conflict.

To whom it may concern,

My name is Ayoub Shamasneh and I live in Um Haroun, Sheikh Jarrah. My wife and I are living here with our son, Mohammed, his wife Amaal, and their six children ranging from the ages of 11 to 22 years old. We have lived in this house since 1964, it is where we built our family and raised our children.  In 2009, after decades of living in our home, the Israeli General Custodian’s Office informed us that our rental’s agreement will not be...

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E1 doesn't matter: One-state reality is here

Those who think that E1 is the nail in the coffin of the two-state ‘solution’ are willfully blind to the fact that a one-state outcome is already on the ground and that the Zionist militias started building it before there ever was an Israel.

I know this is a little late. The big brouhaha about E1 was, what, a few weeks ago? I wasn’t paying that much attention because, as someone who spends a lot of time traveling between Jerusalem and the West Bank–and noticing the one unequal state already on the ground–I didn’t quite get the fuss about E1. It’s just more of the same; it’s part of the process that began in 1947.

Every day, I take a Palestinian bus from East Jerusalem to Abu Dis, in the West Bank. We go through Sheikh Jarrah and then through the tunnels, popping out in the Palestinian land next to the Israeli settlement Maale Adumim. We pass through Azzariya and then take a winding road to Abu Dis.

People were up in arms about construction in E1 making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible. As though there were any possibilities left. The West Bank has been carved up already. Israeli settlements dot East Jerusalem and the West Bank and the Palestinians are confined to separate bus line that connects their Bantustans. I see it on my commute every day as the Palestinian bus passes Israeli bus stops full of settlers. As we pass Maale Adumim. As we share the road with all the yellow-plated Israeli vehicles traveling to and from settlements that are even deeper in the West Bank than Maale Adumim neighboring E1.

Of course, it’s awful that Israel will expropriate privately owned Palestinian land for settlement in E1. It’s shameful that the Palestinians who live in the areas surrounding E1 will find their (already non-existent) ability to expand to accommodate for natural growth further limited. But those who think that the tiny piece of land known as E1 is what will make or break a Palestinian state don’t realize that the Palestinian state was broken from day one; those who think that E-1 is the nail in the coffin of the two-state “solution” are willfully blind to the fact that a one-state outcome is already on the ground and that the Zionist militias started building it before there was an Israel.


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