When will the US finally act to hold Israel accountable?

Early in the morning on April 6, my cousin Layan was taken from her home in the occupied West Bank by Israeli soldiers. She was seized during a raid on the town of Birzeit, situated in the heart of the West Bank and home of Birzeit University, where Layan is a graduate student.

Layan is one of 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank, living in a limbo as a Palestinian on her ancestral land, in a town where she and I can trace back the stories of our ancestors for thousands of years but where life has been made all but impossible by Israel’s military occupation, now in its 56th year. While the world focuses its attention on Israel’s brutal onslaught against Gaza, violent repression by Israeli soldiers and settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank has surged to levels not seen in decades.  

My family does not know why Layan was taken. What we do know is that she is one of over 9,000 Palestinians illegally detained by Israel, and one of over 3,500 being held under so-called “administration detention” without charges or trial — meaning we might never know why she was abducted.

The use of administrative detention has skyrocketed in the last six months. As the number of Palestinian prisoners has increased by over 100 percent this time last year, conditions in Israeli prisons continue to deteriorate. Palestinian prisoners describe widespread physical and sexual abuse, torture, poor sanitary conditions, and lack of adequate food, water and medicine. Human rights groups have long decried Israel’s administrative detention system. Israeli soldiers have disclosed the routine beating and humiliation of Palestinian children during arrests. Israel will even hold onto the bodies of deceased Palestinians, in what is called post-mortem detention, refusing to return them to their families.

We have no idea where Layan is being held. As is typical for Palestinian detainees, she does not have access to a lawyer and she cannot contact her family or friends. We have no way to know how long she will be held or who to contact for information.

This is not the first time that Layan has been imprisoned by Israel’s occupying army. In July 2021, she was abducted and detained for participating in nonviolent protests at Birzeit University. Then, like now, Layan was abducted from her home in the middle of the night. She was taken to a prison within the 1967 borders of Israel in direct violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an occupying power should not remove residents of that territory outside of the occupied territory.

If my grandparents had not been forced to leave Birzeit, I might be where Layan is now. I spent much of my college years engaging in the American democratic process and protesting policies I believed were harmful. This includes policies that directly impact my family in occupied Palestine, where billions of our U.S. tax dollars provide unrestricted military funding to the Israeli government each year.  

Today, Layan is a prisoner in the land of her ancestors, unable to protest or go to school without crossing Israeli military checkpoints; she cannot sleep at night without fear of soldiers invading her home. She does not have the right to due process or basic prisoner’s rights. As an American, I wonder if my tax dollars paid for the handcuffs around Layan’s wrists or the cage that holds her. I wonder what my parents would do or feel if it were me and not Layan. I wonder the same about the over 9,000 other Palestinian prisoners, about their families.


While the U.S. has waged war in the name of spreading democracy, it blatantly refuses to hold Israel accountable for its deeply undemocratic actions and violations of international law in Gaza and the West Bank, including its treatment of prisoners like my cousin. There are many days when I wake up and I feel like I’m in the twilight zone. As a Palestinian, the gaslighting rhetoric of the Israeli and American governments feels deeply dissonant. On one hand, I am force-fed the American values of democracy, justice and morality, while on the other I watch my people slaughtered by Israeli soldiers using weapons and tax dollars that we give them, abducted and imprisoned without regard for human rights or international law, all for the purpose of maintaining a brutal system of apartheid.

The Biden administration and our elected representatives must heed the overwhelming demands of their constituents to hold Israel accountable for its decades of oppression, to pressure Israel to end the wave of repression in the West Bank terrorizing those like my cousin, and to join the call of millions of Americans for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.  

Shereen Naser is an associate professor at Cleveland State University.

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