Inside the Jenin resistance

A scene from the joint gathering of Palestinian factions in the Jenin refugee camp to commemorate martyrs, April 15, 2022 (Shatha Hanaysha)

Shatha Hanaysha

Mondoweiss  /  April 22, 2022

 Shatha Hanaysha speaks with residents and leaders in the Jenin refugee camp about living under the constant threat of Israeli raids, and the history that is driving the Palestinian resistance.

Last week, in the middle of the night, you could hear singing in the alleyways of the Jenin refugee camp as young men came to protect the camp. They sang as they blockaded the camp’s entrances with dirt mounds and rubber tires. Then they waited for the occupation army to storm the camp following several threats from Israeli authorities.

The young people sang patriotic songs for their friends – the martyrs who had been killed by Israeli forces – amid other chants heard throughout the camp. They divided the tasks between them, one group would distribute water and food to those present, another group would close the entrances to the camp, another traveled between strategic locations in the camp, and a last group with perhaps the most important role: watch the entrances from the city for fear of a sudden attack.

Since the beginning of this year, Israeli forces have killed 15 Palestinians in the northern West Bank city of Jenin according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. In recent weeks, the resistance in the Jenin camp has returned to the fore in the West Bank, especially following the April 8 announcement that the Israeli government would start a massive operation in the area following an attack in Tel Aviv carried out by Jenin camp resident Ra’ad Hazem, which killed three Israelis. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned at the time, “there are not and will not be limits for this war. We are granting full freedom of action to the army, the Shin Bet [domestic intelligence agency] and all security forces in order to defeat the terror.”

Since then, Israeli forces have been met with fierce resistance whenever they have attempted to enter Jenin camp. When they do it is often either disguised as civilians or with overwhelming armed force that result in armed clashes. Oftentimes these raids end with the killing of innocent bystanders as anyone in the street becomes a target. 

Fears of sudden raids in Jenin camp have also increased since the Israeli military intelligence announced they would raid the camp unless Fathi Hazem, Ra’ad Hazem’s father, turned himself in.  This month alone, eight Palestinians, including 17-year-old Mohammad Zakarneh, have been killed by Israeli forces during raids to assassinate or capture members of the Hazem family. In another instance, 19-year-old Hanan Khaddour died on April 18 after being shot by Israeli forces during a raid to arrest Fathi Hazem while she was on her way home from school. The elder Hazem says he is ready to turn himself in once he has had a chance to say goodbye to his son. “Hand me the body of my son to embrace and bury him, and I will surrender myself afterwards,” he said in a statement posted to Facebook.

Israeli forces are increasingly being met with armed resistance when raiding any area of the Jenin governorate, whether the refugee camp, the adjacent city, or the surrounding villages. Individual cells have formed in these villages, and resistance fighters from the camp travel to these villages to confront Israeli forces and repel incursions. 

M.J., a resident of the camp, says that every time Israeli forces attempt to carry out a military operation in Jenin camp and fail, it begins targeting civilians in the streets and firing live bullets at them. “They are using civilian casualties as a method to punish the resistance and to hide its failure from the Israeli citizens.”

“Ra’ad was not the cause of everything that is happening in the camp and what Israel is doing to the people there, but everything that happens and happened in the camp is the reason for what Ra’ad did,” he adds.

Root causes

According to Atta Abu Rmeileh, the Secretary of the Fatah Movement in Jenin, the recent incursions into Jenin camp are not because of Hazem’s attack in Tel Aviv but rather can be traced to a much earlier point. Abu Rmeileh told Mondoweiss that Israeli authorities have been in a continuous state of revenge in the camp ever since the battle of April 2002. Abu Rmeileh says the Israelis understand that they were humiliated and defeated in that fighting 20 years ago and have ever since carried out continuous incursions, assassinations, arrests, siege and suffering inside Jenin camp.

He explains that the new generation in Jenin camp has lost hope without an economic or political horizon. The Israeli authorities have killed all its ambition; and Israel does not want a solution or peace. 

“We say no. Our dignity is more important than economic conditions. Everything the new generation has lived through has been either murder or crime. They have seen blood, tanks, Apaches, bombing and demolition; tanks that were running over people, over civilians, and crushing their bones,” Abu Rmeileh adds.

When I ask him if what is happening in Jenin camp is new, he says, “During the Al-Aqsa Intifada the Israeli forces carried out massacres against our people, and still up until this moment we denounce what happened. So, what happened before and to this day has generated a reaction in this generation. This generation is stressed, and this pressure has created an explosion, like the one in Tel Aviv.”

I asked Abu Rmeileh if Ra’ad Hazem is the inspiration for the young men who are resisting today in Jenin camp. He told me that the martyrdom of the camp’s youth who preceded them is the most important reason this generation lacks hope and a political horizon. Abu Rmeileh says that in Ra’ad’s thinking he was moving the battle from the camp to Tel Aviv.

As to why Jenin camp seems to serve a special role in inspiring the West Bank unlike other camps, Abu Rmeileh says, “The camp, and the events it has gone through, have led to a rising sense of patriotism, and there is a conscious sense, readiness, and high morale among the people and the new generation. We have reached the certainty that we will not lose, and that there is nothing left to lose. The only path that the Israeli occupation has left us to take is the path of resistance.”

He adds, “This new generation is ready for this stage, and those who are fighting today are the sons of fighters, the sons of martyrs, and the sons of prisoners, who fought in the battle of Jenin camp in 2002. We are proud of these patriotic actions everywhere, including Jenin camp, for they are a model to follow and are raising the morale of all generations.”

Mondoweiss was also able to obtain an interview with the official spokesman for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the military arm of the Fatah movement, in Jenin camp. Nicknamed “Abu Muhammad”, the spokesman told me that what we are witnessing today is caused by the increase in the pace of daily arrests of Palestinians and the direct targeting of the camp, stressing that what is happening is not new for the Jenin camp.

He continued, “The Palestinian weapon that young men carry today is the weapon of will, and the weapon that Jenin camp has been confronting this occupation with for more than 70 years. Twenty years ago, the April battle, the battle of steadfastness and defiance, took place here. We are replicating that spirit today, and there is national unity inside this camp.” 

“This generation in Jenin camp has lost its father, its brother, and its friend. It is a generation aware of the crimes of this occupation, and the violations of this occupation,” he adds.

Abu Muhammad explained that the resistance cells inside the camp are scattered in all the alleys and all the corridors, and that they will defend this camp, and will surprise the Israeli occupation, if it raids the camp.

He also added that the resistance in Jenin camp is different from others. “In Jenin camp the resistance is diligent; from every house, and from every balcony we shoot out at the occupation. Everyone here is resisting in Jenin camp, the Palestinian woman is resisting, the Palestinian child is resisting, the sheikh is resisting, and the imam of the mosque is resisting.”

Abu Muhammad warned Israeli forces against, “committing any foolishness towards the great national leader, Major General Fathi Hazem, the father of the martyr Ra’ad, the son of the Fatah movement,” which he said would, “ignite the region, and it will reach a bloodbath, and there will be no truce with this occupation.” “Major General” is a nickname that Hazem received in Israeli prison due to his strong personality, and the role he played as a leader in the Jenin camp fighting in 2002.

He added, “Fathi Abu Ra’ad, this steadfast, calculated person, who is being pursued by the occupation with all its capabilities and techniques, this man who has survived in prison and presented his son a few days ago as a martyr, and the occupation planes are chasing him, and the occupation tried to target his wife, the sister of the two martyrs and his two sons. This occupation is ruthless and shows no mercy to women, nor a young man, not a child, nor an old man.”

Unified resistance

The most important characteristic of Jenin camp, according to Abu Rmeileh, is the unity between the people and the factions. “The occupation comes to the camp to kill, and does not differentiate between this organization or that, and accordingly we are in complete understanding that we must meet on the battlefield,” he says.

Abu Rmaileh stressed that the factions in the camp are working to resolve their partisan and personal differences as soon as possible. Faction leaders have a clear understanding they need to stand together against any obstacle or internal conflict, and thus there are no family disputes among the resistance in Jenin camp which encourages them to maintain focus and stand together.

On April 11, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades announced a general mobilization in the Jenin area and that its members would join the resistance fighters in the defense of Jenin camp against the incursions and threats of the Israeli forces. Abu Muhammad tells Mondoweiss that the resistance is in a state of permanent alert, and that confronting this occupation is a decision that will not be retracted.

He said that igniting the West Bank at the present time will lead to great losses for Israel, “This occupation must understand that ending the occupation of our land is the only safety for the occupation and its settlers.” 

Last Friday, the national and Islamic forces in Jenin camp organized a festival to commemorate the martyrs of Jenin Governorate, in the presence of the martyrs’ families and the camp’s residents. As part of the festival dozens of armed men from all Palestinian factions appeared together in public for the first time.

They said in a joint statement that they hold the Israeli occupation fully responsible for the damage caused by the assassination of the resistance fighters in Jenin camp. The statement continued, “We absolutely will not allow the policy of assassinations, and we will translate this on the field and militarily on the ground. There is no force on the ground capable of restraining Israeli occupation forces, and they affirmed that the Palestinian resistance still upholds the covenant and promise to serve as the protective shield for Palestine.”

Shatha Hanaysha is a Palestinian journalist based in Jenin in the occupied West Bank