Earlier this week, Palestinians in the occupied West Bank witnessed the bloodiest and most violent Israeli military operation in recent memory. Over the course of 48 hours, Israeli land and air forces besieged the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, killed 12 Palestinians, and wounded over a hundred others. For the first time since the Second Intifada in 2002, the people of Jenin refugee camp came under heavy aerial bombardment, and witnessed Israeli bulldozers wreak mass destruction on their roads and infrastructure.
While the city of Jenin, and the camp in particular, have been the subject of countless Israeli army raids over the past year targeting Palestinian resistance groups, the events of the past few weeks have witnessed a clear change in Israel’s military strategy in the city.
On June 19, Israeli forces deployed helicopters during a deadly raid on the camp and fired rockets towards a building in the refugee camp, marking the first use of helicopters in Jenin in more than 20 years. Just two days later, on the 21st of June, three Palestinian fighters were assassinated in a targeted airstrike on their vehicle outside Jenin. At the time, the use of helicopters and drone strikes caused alarm among Palestinians in Jenin, who feared it could mark a return to Israel’s military tactics of the Second Intifada, and the 2002 Battle of Jenin, when more than 50 Palestinians were killed inside the camp.
Just over two weeks later, on Monday July 3, the camp’s fears were realized. Over the course of the two-day invasion, Israel deployed everything from helicopters, drones, bulldozers, and thousands of ground troops. Residents also reported electricity and water outages.
Though Israeli military officials have tried to downplay the scale of the operation, the most recent raid marked a clear departure in Israel’s military strategy when it comes to raiding West Bank cities like Jenin, which usually features raids that last a few hours and are conducted by special forces on the ground. Many Palestinians and political analysts likened the events of the past few days to the way Israel operates in Gaza — a total siege, the constant humming of drones, and using airstrikes as its primary mode of destruction and killing.
And though the raid ended with both sides claiming victory, Israel has made it clear that this is not the end of its operations in Jenin, with Israeli media saying the next raid could happen in as little as just a few days.
So, is Israel moving towards a Gaza-type model in Jenin? And what will future raids look like in the city?
‘Mowing the Lawn’
You’ve likely heard the term “mowing the lawn” or “mowing the grass,” most commonly associated with Israel’s military strategy in the Gaza Strip. The idea is that every few years, or months, Israel “weeds out” the growing capabilities of Palestinian militant groups in the strip. When military capabilities of groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are viewed as becoming too strong, or in many cases Israel needs to score a political win, it goes into Gaza, drops some bombs, and “mows the lawn.”
Amjad Iraqi, a member of the Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka and senior editor at +972 magazine, says that this is the same policy Israel seems to be employing in Jenin.
“Israel doesn’t really have a full solution of what to do with Palestinian resistance. The only thing it can rely on is this doctrine of what it describes as ‘mowing the lawn’ or ‘mowing the grass’,” Iraqi told Mondoweiss on the second day of the army’s operation in Jenin.
“It’s this idea of just trying to constantly undercut or put a lid on Palestine militant groups when they get exceptionally active, as we’ve been seeing in the past few months especially,” he continued. “And that’s like you’re ‘cutting the grass’, just to keep stopping it from getting too long. And this is the only real strategy that they currently have in these West Bank cities.”
Israeli military officials have been clear that the operation this week was a precursor to what can be expected for future operations in Jenin. “There is a series of operations here,” the chief of the Israeli army’s Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, said on Monday. “Just like we were here a week ago and two weeks ago, we will finish this operation, and we will come back in a few days or a week, and we will not allow this city of refuge for terror.”
As Israeli media pointed out, this week’s operation “had no intention of being a magic bullet” for quashing Palestinian resistance in Jenin, but rather “aimed to be the start of a restoration of Israeli deterrence.”
Essentially, Israel wants to be able to go into Jenin and other hubs of Palestinian armed resistance in the West Bank and “do what it wants,” while the Palestinian Authority, which technically rules the area of Jenin, sits aside, Iraqi said.
It’s a policy of “conflict management” and maintenance, rather than solutions, and is a “run of the mill” strategy for Israel, Iraqi said.
Israel’s mentality, in essence, Iraqi said, is “until we can find a permanent solution, our solution is to maintain the apartheid regime, military dominance, the power of the settlers, and the status quo.”
He added, however, that despite Israel’s messaging of fully erasing Palestinian resistance, what the Israeli occupation will never admit to, is the reality that this policy of “mowing the lawn” is not a deterrent for resistance, but rather serves to reinvigorate it.
“The occupation itself is what regenerates resistance. Whether it is in Gaza, Jenin, or elsewhere, the occupation is what Palestinians are fighting against; the theft of land, robbing of dignity, etc.”
The ‘Gazafication’ of Jenin
What was most clearly demonstrated this week is the fact that Israel is drastically changing its military approach in Jenin and the West Bank, returning to a style of warfare previously used in the Second Intifada. Iraqi says that what is happening in Jenin could be understood as the “Gazafication” of Israel’s military approach to dealing with the resistance in the city.”
“We have seen that what’s happening in Gaza isn’t isolated from what’s happening in the West Bank,” Iraqi said, adding that Israel is shifting towards a more “Gaza style of management” in Jenin.
Gaza has been turned into a bantustan, with Israel using various systems of blockades and siege, making sure to keep the people in cages and controlling everything that goes in and out of the strip. When Israel feels that the military factions in Gaza are pushing the boundaries too much, the army conducts airstrikes or invades.
The airstrikes in Jenin, Iraqi said, shows “the extent to which the Israeli military is seeing Gaza as the model.” Israel is asking itself, “how do we create little Gazas in the West Bank?”
This process can also be seen, Iraqi added, in the way Israeli officials and media are talking about Jenin. By using terms like “city of refuge for terrorists” and “a hotbed of terror,” Israel is actively demonizing Jenin in the public consciousness, as a justification for its current and future invasions, and for the bombing and targeting of densely populated civilian areas, like the refugee camp. It’s the same tactics that have been used to demonize Gaza for years, Iraqi said.
“The first goal of settler-colonial regimes is to erase and expel the native population. When that is not possible, the next goal is what we are seeing as Gazafication,” Iraqi said. It’s the creation of bantustans, the concentration of centers of “unwanted Palestinians,” all while the colonial power “swallows more land and gains more control.”
Maintaining Apartheid the Ultimate Goal
No matter the policy that Israel decides to use in Jenin or Gaza, the end goal is apartheid, Iraqi said.
“If expulsion isn’t possible, then maintenance of apartheid is viable and necessary. This maintenance is what gives way to the idea of mowing the lawn. If you can’t get rid of them, you can tame them,” he said.
Israel does not want a political solution, he says. And so, they resort to the idea of “constant management.”
“We see this in the way Israeli apartheid is structured. It has no new ideas, because it doesn’t want to give Palestinians any aspects of their rights. It isn’t interested in a two-state solution or real full equality. The state is entirely premised on Jewish supremacy from the river to the sea,” Iraqi said.
“Even when the army will end the operation, whether in days, hours, or weeks, we can still expect the Palestinians of Jenin to experience the military. Whether through constant raids and incursions, or through airstrikes.”
Iraqi added that while it is still too early to tell the full extent to which Israel’s military strategy will evolve in Jenin, in the end, “the occupation is going to remain” and “Palestinians are going to remain denied of their basic rights in all forms.”