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Israel’s Attempt to Crush Armed Resistance in the West Bank Is Backfiring

Support for the armed resistance fighters in Jenin has increased in the wake of Israel’s scorched-earth approach.

A man walks amid the rubble of a building destroyed during an Israeli army bombing in the Jenin refugee camp in Jenin, on December 15, 2023.

As soon as the sun begins to fade in Jenin refugee camp, Zuhour al-Sa’di clutches her three children along with their bags and schoolbooks, leaving the camp. Her situation mirrors that of many residents escaping the recurring nightly invasions carried out by the Israeli military on Jenin.

Lately, no night passes peacefully in the city and its refugee camp. Incursions by Israeli special forces in the northern West Bank city have increased significantly since October 7, resulting in prolonged invasions that sometimes last for days. During these operations, homes in the camp are destroyed, along with the streets and civilian infrastructure, as well as the roads leading to the camp. Additionally, there are disruptions to electrical power, water lines, and the sewage system, leading to the flooding of camp streets with wastewater.

Every time the residents of the camp attempt to process what is happening around them and repair some of the havoc caused by the invasions, Israeli forces return and tear up the same streets yet again. These repeated acts of wanton destruction are a form of collective punishment that the army imposes on the camp and its inhabitants. Zuhour says that leaving her house in the camp is driven by fear for her children, as Israeli soldiers’ indiscriminate firing during the raids puts them in real danger even when they are indoors. At the same time, the destruction of the streets makes it difficult for her children to reach school the next day once the raid ends.

After school, Zuhour and her children return home with unease, ready to leave at any moment upon hearing the camp’s residents sounding the alarm, alerting the area of an impending army raid.

War Against Jenin Since October 7

Israel has taken advantage of the fighting in Gaza to launch an all-out war on the armed resistance in the West Bank, which it has been unable to root out during the past two years of limited counterinsurgency operations in Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem, and Jericho. The bulk of the Israeli military operations are now taking place in the Jenin refugee camp. These operations typically extend for long hours and sometimes last for days. In each instance, the singular objective is clear: to “eliminate” the resistance that has taken root in the camp, specifically the Jenin Brigade, an umbrella formation of several armed resistance groups. All these incursions are accompanied by military bulldozers that destroy infrastructure, homes, and streets.

However, the nature of the raids on Jenin has changed, and they are now often accompanied by airstrikes through reconnaissance aircraft (referred to by camp residents as suicide drones) targeting youth gatherings. Since October 7, 21 Palestinians have been killed in Jenin refugee camp from airstrikes and army incursions. In total, 35 Palestinians in the West Bank have been killed in this time from Israeli airstrikes.

It is worth noting that the first use of Apache helicopters and reconnaissance aircraft for airstrikes in the West Bank since the Battle of Jenin in 2002 was also in the Jenin refugee camp, in June 2023. This was followed by another airstrike during the military operation carried out by the Israeli army on the camp in July of the same year.

The raids have been ongoing since October, but the military incursions stepped up the pace during the past month. On November 29, Israeli forces assassinated two prominent founders of the Jenin Brigade, Muhammad Zubeidi and Wissam Hanoun. Things have only escalated from that point onwards.

The initial response to the assassinations of Zubeidi and Hanoun came through a drive-by shooting operation on the Dotan checkpoint west of the city of Jenin on December 8, resulting in the injury of an Israeli soldier, as announced by the Israeli army. The operation was later claimed by the Jenin Brigade, which declared that more than one soldier was injured. This was considered a significant blow to Israel in the West Bank, especially as the operation took place outside the camp and targeted a military checkpoint during a period in which Israeli forces were on heightened security alert.

On the morning of December 5, while in Jenin refugee camp working on a report following the conclusion of a nighttime raid the day before, I roamed through the heart of the camp with other journalists to document the latest destruction. Suddenly, alarm sirens sounded — the means by which “the watchers” of the resistance and residents of the camp alert residents of the presence of Israeli special forces in civilian cars and an impending army incursion.

The resistance in the camp had discovered undercover forces entering under the guise of a commercial vehicle. These incursions are often conducted for the purpose of arrest or assassination, and early detection of the incursion meant that the target was likely notified ahead of time and shifted locations. In other words, this particular raid was a failure, as it did not result in the capture or killing of any member of the resistance.

The raid lasted over 11 hours, during which the army arrested dozens of civilians and relatives of martyrs, some of whom were released later on the same day. Armed clashes broke out between the resistance and the army inside the camp and on its outskirts. The resistance attempted to repel the invasion by launching locally-made hand grenades on the Israeli military vehicles deployed in the camp and in Jenin City. These clashes were described as the most intense battle since the army had declared that it had eliminated Zubeidi and Hanoun.

The most recent raid on the camp took place on December 12 and lasted for three days, resulting in the killing of 13 Palestinians and the injury of 33 others in both the city of Jenin and the camp. During this time, Israeli forces besieged the camp, restricting entry and exit, and conducted house-to-house raids, arresting hundreds in a scene reminiscent of the civilian arrests in Gaza.

This assault was the Israeli army’s largest military operation in the camp since the 2002 “Battle of Jenin.” The Israeli army views it as an extension of the war on Gaza and the effort to eliminate Hamas and Palestinian resistance factions. The three-day operation witnessed intense clashes in several areas within and around the camp and the city. It resulted in the injury of 7 Israeli soldiers, as announced by the Israeli forces.

However, the Jenin Brigade announced in a statement after the raid that its fighters managed to carry out several operations and precision strikes on various axes and areas where Israeli army soldiers and vehicles were positioned.

An anonymous source from the Jenin Brigade spoke to Mondoweiss about the invasion.

“[We] targeted an infantry force of occupation soldiers stationed in Jenin camp square with an explosive device, which resulted in direct injuries,” the source said. “After observing soldiers outside the vehicles on the road between the city and the camp, the resistance fighters managed to snipe at least two soldiers, as shown through the media.”

“Another group of fighters, minutes after the sniper ambush, targeted a unit of soldiers positioned in front of the mosque in the New Camp area,” he continued. “The fighters also breached the tight security barrier, and despite the presence of reconnaissance aircraft and sniper teams, targeted occupation soldiers in the Khallet Al-Sawha neighborhood in Jenin city.”

The Jenin Brigade source maintained that the Israeli army’s operation on December 12 was a failure, as it did not result in the arrest of any wanted resistance fighters from the Jenin Brigade, and most of the arrests were of civilians who were later released. The source confirmed that the resistance fighters remained in the camp and the city, and the clashes persisted throughout the entire incursion.

The source also insisted that Israel was attempting to portray an image of victory through vandalism, painting Zionist slogans on the walls, tearing down pictures of martyrs, ransacking and blowing up homes, desecrating mosques and broadcasting Jewish prayers through its speakers, and detaining civilians without cause.

Resistance in Decline?

Israeli affairs expert Anas Abu Arqoub told Mondoweiss that the statements from Israeli military and political officials holding that the resistance in Jenin has ended is belied by the reality on the ground. He asserts that Israeli officials are aware that their own statements are untrue, but are making them anyway to boost the morale of the Israeli public after the the deterrence of the Israeli army was shattered on October 7.

In an exclusive interview conducted by Mondoweiss with a fighter from the Jenin Brigade, we asked him about the accuracy of Israeli media claims that the equation in the camp changed after the assassination of Zubeidi and Hanoun.

“The occupation’s claims are baseless,” he responded. “In 2002, we lost Mahmoud Tawalbeh [a leader in the Islamic Jihad’s military wing, the Al-Quds Brigades] and many other prominent leaders. However, a new generation emerged, carrying the torch once again. In the Battle of the Sword of Jerusalem [launched by Hamas in Gaza in 2021 in response to Israeli settler provocations in Al-Aqsa], we lost Jameel Al-Amouri [an early founder of the Jenin Brigade], and everyone was in pain, but the youth continued, and they carried the banner anew. This will be a new phase and a new beginning, and we will become stronger after the assassination of Muhammad Zubeidi and Wissam Hanoun as well.”

“The repeated operations by the occupation army have two sides to them,” the fighter continued. “On the one hand, there is fatigue and exhaustion for the youth, but at the same time, we become closer to our God in these incursions. The closer the occupation comes to us, the closer we get to God. We become stronger every time we break the barriers of fear from things we experienced before. In the past, for example, we had a fear of [Israeli] missiles, but now we have overcome this fear, and we deal with missiles as something normal. Then we had a fear of [Israeli attack] drones, but now we move about and have overcome this fear.”

“Every time the occupation tries a new approach against us, initially, we feel fear, but later we get used to it,” he maintained. “There is a saying, ‘The beatings that don’t kill us make us stronger.’ With these raids, we gain more experience and become more capable of dealing with them. In this way, the occupation loses. They used everything available to them to threaten the youth. In the past, they threatened us with missiles and drones without using them, but now they have actually used these weapons. They used Apache helicopters, reconnaissance aircraft, and shoulder-fired missiles, and they have nothing left to frighten us with.”

Another resistance member, a leader in the Jenin Brigade, told Mondoweiss that “the revolutionary state and mentality were initially embodied by individuals, and then they evolved into a security institution or a jihadist struggle system. Its focus is not on a specific person relying on their support. Although there are individuals who have a significant impact on the streets, the ideology and awareness present in the community compensate for this absence. Youth now strive to become leaders in this Brigade and among the resistance in general.”

“The departure of Muhammad Zubeidi and Wissam Hanoun undoubtedly has a significant impact, but it will not be the impact that the Israeli occupation desires in the sense of leading to division or stopping the Brigade’s work,” he continued. “The Jenin Brigade has become an institution; one person can cover for another, regardless of their name and influence on the streets. We will continue, God willing, until our last breath.”

He informed us that, in their fight, “there are differences in the balance of power [between Israel and the resistance], and this has a considerable impact.”

“However, this power imbalance has existed between us and the occupation since the beginning of this phase of struggle,” he continued. “We fought the Israeli army with all its weapons and equipment. At that time, we did not exceed 50 fighters, but our thinking, awareness, and belief — the firm belief in victory and the rightful claim to the land — are what make us present on the battlefields. Even if there is a difference in the balance of power, I continue because I am a human who wants to live with dignity and life. If it is a life of dignity, is worth living.”

Political analyst Ayman Youssef says that Jenin has historically had an exceptional role in the struggle and resistance against occupation, and this continues today. He points to the distinctiveness of Jenin’s experience today, where there is coordination and a joint operations room among all resistance factions, embodying national unity in the West Bank. Despite Israel’s success in reaching some wanted individuals and resistance fighters, he considers it unlikely that the idea of resistance and struggle will end, emphasizing that it is an ideological and steadfast concept that transcends generations.

“Jenin, with its social and resistance-oriented character, including the presence of the camp and rural areas, represents a rare case,” Youssef told Mondoweiss, believing that resistance in Jenin will continue to renew and reinvent itself over time. Most importantly, he points out that the resistance in Jenin is not monopolized by a single political faction or group — it is the camp that resists through the various factions. The Jenin Brigade is the current expression of that resistance, and this tradition will not go away.

On the contrary, Youssef argues, the Jenin model has spread over the past two years, replicating itself in refugee camps in the northern West Bank, including the refugee camps of Nour Shams in Tulkarem, Balata in Nablus, Aqbat Jaber in Jericho, and al-Far’a in Tubas. The refugees in these camps, coupled with the absence of social and political justice, continue to fuel and galvanize the national movement, pushing it forward. While these movements may sometimes fade, Youssef asserts, they will undoubtedly renew over time.

War on the People, From Gaza to Jenin

At the beginning of any Israeli military operation in the Jenin area, military convoys are dispatched to the entrances of the Jenin Government Hospital and the Ibn Sina Hospital, the two largest hospitals in the city, in addition to three other hospitals. The army enforces a blockade on all these medical facilities, preventing anyone from entering or exiting, which has hindered the arrival of patients and the injured to the hospitals. The army has even conducted searches and inspections of ambulances, impeding and delaying paramedics, who are not allowed to enter the camp without security coordination.

With every injury transported by ambulances, Israeli forces halt the vehicle and search it, while checking the identity of the injured person — if their name is not on the wanted list, they allow them to pass after much delay. In the last raid on December 12, at least three wounded individuals died en route to the hospital due to the deliberate delays in the army’s search procedures. A child named Ahmad Samara, 13, died after Israeli forces prevented his admittance into the hospital because he was being transported in a civilian vehicle. His father was forced to carry him on foot, and by the time he reached the hospital, it was too late.

The director of the Jenin Government Hospital, Wisam Bakr, tells Mondoweiss that live bullets and tear gas canisters are often fired toward the hospital. On one occasion, a young man in the hospital courtyard was shot and killed with live ammunition by an Israeli sniper.

“With the beginning of any military operation in Jenin, Israeli military vehicles station in front of the hospital gates, surrounding it and preventing the exit of ambulances to transport the wounded, martyrs, or even patients,” Bakr said. “The situation in the hospitals is very critical; it is difficult for kidney patients to reach their dialysis sessions due to the restrictions on people’s movement in the streets, posing a danger to their lives.”

Ayman Youssef suggests that what is taking place in Jenin today is a microcosm of Israel’s recent war in Gaza — from attacking hospitals, schools, and infrastructure to the assassination of journalists, intellectuals, and doctors. This includes besieging hospitals, uprooting national symbols, and destroying streets.

This is because what Israel is doing in Gaza and Jenin, Youssef argues, reflects the implementation of a scorched-earth strategy. This means the destruction of all aspects of life, including civil and community structures, to alienate popular support for the resistance. This strategy also occasionally contains tactical goals, such as uncovering booby-traps and IEDs, but the overarching objective of the scale of destruction is clear: to lay waste to the society of the camp in the hopes of driving a wedge between the people and the resistance.

Youssef believes that such actions will not have their intended effect, noting that such tactics usually follow when the Israeli army has already failed to achieve its goals against the resistance, resorting to destroying human infrastructure.

“All for the Resistance

The Israeli strategy for Jenin is, therefore, to target both the resistance and the people of the camp, hoping that the latter will no longer tolerate the presence of the former after such sustained collective punishment.

Firas Al-Ghoul, a camp resident whose house was raided by the Israeli forces, asserts that the Israeli military invades civilian homes in the camp, destroying their contents and vandalizing them, even when the homeowners are not affiliated with the resistance. The Israeli forces go beyond that, bulldozing areas in front of the houses and the surrounding roads, creating mounds of dirt in front of shops and homes.

“Nothing is spared, neither trees, nor people, nor streets,” Al-Ghoul told Mondoweiss. “This is a systematic policy carried out by the occupation against us to displace us from our homes and evacuate the camp. However, no matter what the occupation does, we will not leave our homes except to return to our lands, from which we were expelled in 1948.”

Haniyya Hassan, a 60-year-old woman living with her 70-year-old husband in the camp, says that they cannot leave their house due to their age and that the Israeli army invaded and ransacked their home. The streets in front of their house were bulldozed in the most recent incursion, and now vehicles can’t reach their home. “Why does the Israeli military invade and destroy our house?” Haniyya says. “A home that belongs to elderly people living alone, with no youth or resistance fighters living with them?”

The repeated destruction is meant to wear down the people of the camp, especially as winter approaches and some homes become flooded with rainwater. Residents attempt to repair certain roads and rebuild infrastructure, but the Israeli military just comes back in and destroys everything all over again.

Yet, in spite of this calculated Israeli policy, when you walk through the camp’s streets and ask people, they will respond with a unified answer: “A sacrifice for the resistance. The important thing is that the youth [resistance righters] are safe.”

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