Ibrahim al-Nabulsi turns 19 in the grave

Ibrahim al-Nabulsi; a girl from the Old City of Nablus wearing a necklace of Al-Nabulsi (Shadi Jarar'ah - APA Images)

Mariam Barghouti

Mondoweiss  /  October 26, 2022

On the day he would have turned 19, friends and comrades gathered to reflect on the life of “the Lion of Nablus.” “Ibrahim al-Nabulsi is an idea,” his comrade B. said. “And ideas don’t die.”

On October 13, just six days before Udai Tamimi made his last stand at the entrance of the illegal Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim (after a manhunt that lasted ten days), Ibrahim al-Nabulsi would have turned 19 years old.

But the young fighter never made it to his birthday. On August 9, in one of the abandoned buildings of the Faqous quarter in the Old City of Nablus, the “Lion of Nablus” was assassinated by undercover Israeli special forces, along with Islam Subuh, 32, and Hussein Taha, only 16.

“Everyone is Ibrahim…you are all Ibrahim.” Those were the words that Huda al-Nabulsi uttered as she laid her 18-year-old son to rest on August 9. Nabulsi was the eighteenth martyr from Nablus at the time.

The city of martyrs becomes a den of lions

The Old City in the heart of Nablus consists of eight quarters and a population of approximately 9,000. In recent months, it has become associated with the resurgence of Palestinian armed resistance, becoming a hub for resistance fighters alongside Jenin refugee camp.

The main armed group operating in the Old City has become known as Areen al-Usud (the Den of Lions), consisting of several dozen armed Palestinian men currently on Israel’s wanted list. Many of them were Ibrahim al-Nabulsi’s comrades.

On the 13th, Al-Nabulsi’s family and community held a symbolic ceremony for what would have been the young man’s 19th birthday.

“I didn’t go to the commemoration,” B., a close friend of Al-Nabulsi, told Mondoweiss on October 16.  In a plain olive-colored button-up, he cracked a gentle smile, sitting in Bab al-Saha in the Old City and handing out sweets to passers-by to honor Palestinians killed by Israel. 

In front of B. stood a marble canvas adorned with the names of martyrs from the Old City. The stone contrasts with the posters of Palestinians killed more recently by Israel, and the freshness of the new posters contrasts with the fading color of the older ones.

A brief scan of the people in the Old City, especially the youth, impresses upon you the realization of how many martyrs have been killed from within the city alone, whether they were resistance fighters or non-combatants. 

“I remember he was so excited about giving S. a birthday,” B. recalls, referencing the weeks before Al-Nabulsi’s assassination, as a pained smile spread across his face. “He was so insistent on celebrating S. and the fact that he was turning 21.”

Wearing a black t-shirt and pants as a signal of collective mourning, a young man, K., sighs and says: “look around, the city is emptied. You can find more of us in the cemeteries now.” 

  1. then motions towards a necklace hanging about his neck emblazoned with the images of the slain men he had once known, a testament to the loss he carries with him every day.

Unlike the more common wooden pieces affixed with photographs of those lost that hang by a thread, his necklace was made of metal, and the faces of the slain were engraved rather than printed. Three faces adorned each side, six in total. “If I had more space, I would add the faces of all my other friends and loved ones who have been killed,” he said with a laugh of denial, which somehow broke the grief around him. 

Around him the posters of slain Palestinian men, fighters or non-combatants, remind everyone in the small square of the scale of the assassinations to have taken place in Nablus alone.

Painting a terrorist: the grief of a resistance fighter

In his final months, Al-Nabulsi was photographed and filmed walking in the Old City, carrying his rifle in broad daylight. It wasn’t out of arrogance — Al-Nabulsi walked with a sense of responsibility, carrying with him the confidence and trust of the people around him. 

Even the little children of the Old City would be eager to speak about Al-Nabulsi once they heard his name. He was engaged with the community, but also quietly to himself, as though afraid to associate anyone else with him.

Between the group of men, a young girl, not yet five, stood shyly in a black tank top and black jeans — a fashion sense that has become common to residents of the Old City, especially youth. She also wore a necklace around her neck with a photograph of the slain Al-Nabulsi, now an icon and a legend in the history of Palestinian confrontation and resistance. 

Although she didn’t seem to fully understand the significance of Al-Nabulsi, she signaled a recognition of his importance to those around her by saying “Ibrahim” as she tugged on the necklace. 

“Ibrahim was killed before his assassination,” B. explained to Mondoweiss. “He was killed when Shoshani and Azizi were killed,” he said. 

  1. was referring to the assassination of Ashraf Mubasalat, Mohammad Dakhil, and Adham Mabrouka on February 8 of this year. At the funeral of the three slain men, Al-Nabulsi was photographed carrying the casket while clenching his jaw.

This was the image that would become etched onto the necklaces carried on the necks of Al-Nabulsi’s friends and family. 

The car in which the three resistance fighters drove was riddled with bullets, showcasing the brutality and vengeful nature of the crime. According to friends and comrades of al-Nabulsi, the young 18-year-old had been in contact with the three assassinated men just hours earlier. 

“After that moment of finding out about their assassination, Ibrahim was no longer the same,” B. said with hesitation — perhaps he feared that he had just exposed a personal moment that might break the image of the iconic “Lion of Nablus.” 

Taking a moment to reflect, B. glanced at a photo of Al-Nabulsi which was plastered on his food cart. In a painful recollection he said, “it was after that funeral that Ibrahim began to actively engage in armed confrontations against the military, even more than before.” 

‘He was so shocked at how he quickly became this wanted monster’ – B., a comrade of Al-Nabulsi.

According to B., as well as other boys and men from the Old City who corroborated his story, Al-Nabulsi was shaken not only by the ferocity of the assassination, but by what came after in the Israeli media. 

“After the killing of his comrades, Ibrahim saw his face across Israeli media platforms and online accounts, painting him as this senior commander and leader,” B. said, remembering the days that led up to the 18-year-old’s assassination by undercover Israeli intelligence units and the military

Al-Nabulsi quickly realized that these representations only inflated Israel’s hunt for him. “He was so shocked at how he quickly became this wanted monster,” B. noted bitterly. 

Even researchers and analysts picked up the narrative, noting that Al-Nabulsi was “one of the most-wanted militants” days before his assassination, in a sense piling on the public justification for the extra-judicial assassination that would follow. But the image of Al-Nabulsi as a “senior fighter” or a “commander” of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade has persisted after his killing as well, and is not only limited to the Israeli media. 

Breaking his phone and going into hiding after the funeral of his three friends in February, Al-Nabulsi found himself against one of the world’s most advanced armies and intelligence agencies. “From then on, he acted as though he would be killed at any moment,” B. said. 

The community of the Lions’ Den

“Ibrahim was terrified,” B. said, as K. pulled up older videos of himself with the slain resistance fighter. As soon as he opened the old files, K. began going through one image after the other. There were videos showing the 18-year-old practicing with his rifle one evening, and celebrating the 21st birthday of a friend — also wanted — the next evening.  Angry at the suggestion that Al-Nabulsi was afraid, K. interrupted his exploration of the past on his phone. 

“Well, this is the first I hear of this story,” he said, directing his gaze at B. It was not that B.’s words were disingenuous, but they struck a chord all the same, seemingly rupturing the image of a Palestinian symbol of fearlessness. 

“We are all being hunted, and quickly. We only have each other and what we can find in the community” – K., a close friend of Al-Nabulsi

“No one really spoke with Ibrahim,” K. finally admitted. “It was mostly a few of us, or other fighters.” 

Almost two weeks after the killing of Al-Nabulsi, resistance fighter Muhammad Arayshi succumbed to wounds sustained on August 9. Arayshi was confronting Israeli forces as they attacked Al-Nabulsi in an empty building of the Old City. 

Also wanted by Israel, K. was a close friend of al-Nabulsi, and a confidant in the months leading up to his killing. “We are all being hunted, and quickly,” he said. “We only have each other and what we can find in the community.”

Israel has commonly targeted friends, family, and youth that are related to or in contact with Palestinians that have engaged in resistance against Israel (whether armed or unarmed). The Israeli Minister of Interior, Ayelet Shaked, who has been trying to salvage her reputation within the Israeli Knesset, promised that Palestinians will “pay the price for their family member’s actions.” 

This type of collective punishment not only serves to inflict harm on the extended network of youth who confront Israeli colonialism, but to isolate them from others who might become fearful to remain close to those wanted by Israel. Even children who are detained by Israel reported feeling isolation and different treatment by their community after release.

“Ibrahim al-Nabulsi is an idea,” B. said as he recalled the brutality of Al-Nabulsi’s assassination. “And ideas don’t die.”

While ideas don’t die, people do. Since January, more than 190 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, many of whom were extra-judicially assassinated, reviving the decades-old Israeli policy of liquidation. However, rather than deter resistance, this has only stimulated more confrontation and civil disobedience.

When Israeli occupation forces are not killing Palestinians, they are detaining them in military prisons, notorious for breaking the spirit, psychological health, and endurance of the Palestinian population. In the span of just ten months, more than 5,300 Palestinians have been arrested by Israel, often in military raids in the middle of the night.

Of those, 1,610 have been relegated to administrative detention — being detained without charge or trial, due to alleged evidence contained in a “secret file” with the Israeli Shin Bet, even though the contents of said file are never disclosed, and are not shared with either the defendant or their lawyer.

When Al-Nabulsi’s mother said “you are all Ibrahim,” she did not mean martyrdom — she meant that everyone still living who chooses to fight for liberation was Ibrahim. It was a declaration: that as long as this reality persists, it will continue to give birth to a sea of fighters ready to take up the mantle of resistance.

Mariam Barghouti is the Senior Palestine Correspondent for Mondoweiss