Maureen Clare Murphy
The Electronic Intifada / July 6, 2023
Israel withdrew its troops from Jenin refugee camp early Wednesday after a two-day offensive – the largest in the occupied West Bank in two decades.
At least 13 Palestinians, including four children, were killed during the incursion. An Israeli soldier from an elite unit who resided in Beit El settlement was felled in what the military is investigating as a friendly fire incident that occurred while troops were withdrawing.
The armed wing of Islamic Jihad alluded to multiple additional Israeli fatalities in a statement published on Telegram.
An Israeli military spokesperson claimed that 18 Palestinian gunmen were killed.
Thousands marched through the camp on Wednesday during a funeral procession for those killed.
The official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that more than 140 people were injured during the incursion, 20 of them critically.
On Monday, thousands of residents fled during the aerial and ground assault which wreaked widespread destruction in the camp, rebuilt after much of it was razed during a massacre perpetrated by the Israeli military in 2002.
Palestinians said that the Israeli military “actively encouraged them to leave their homes,” the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported, despite the army denying reports that it ordered an evacuation.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported that families told its fieldworker “that Israeli soldiers ordered via loudspeakers the Palestinian families who were trapped in the camp to leave within 10 minutes while they gave other neighborhoods an hour to leave.”
The rights group added that Israeli forces “conducted a mass arrest campaign targeting tens of Palestinians and took them to an unknown destination after subjecting some of them to degrading treatment and interrogation.” The Israeli military said that around 120 Palestinians were arrested.
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said that three hospitals were attacked during the military assault, “severely damaging their operational capacity.”
Israel claimed that Palestinians fired gunshots from within a hospital, “leading to its loss of protection under international humanitarian law,” the rights group added.
“Yet, reports indicate that Israeli forces did not take all feasible precautions in their response to the gunfire – as required by law – and compromised the hospital’s ability to care for patients,” according to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.
Five civilians were injured, three of them seriously, when Israeli forces stormed the Jenin governmental hospital, “firing tear gas and live bullets,” while the facility was “overloaded with patients and staff,” the group added.
Defense for Children International-Palestine said that “Israeli forces destroyed many Palestinian homes by blowing up their walls.”
Additionally, occupation forces destroyed roads and several mosques and bombed the Jenin Sport Club and Jenin Freedom Theater.
“Israeli forces also shut off electricity, water and telecommunications access to Palestinians living in Jenin refugee camp,” according to the rights group.
Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant told military reporters that the army had “fully achieved” its objectives. He said that an explosive workshop was destroyed and the military had secured the ability for occupation forces to move through the camp during future operations.
The Israeli military spokesperson said that the strike on the workshop “significantly impeded” Hamas’ capacity, adding that the army holds the resistance group “responsible for all terror activities emanating from the Gaza Strip and will face the consequences of security violations against Israel.”
Keen to present the invasion as a tactical success, the military and Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, said that thousands of weapons, including ammunition and materials for making explosives, were confiscated during the operation.
Israel estimates there to be some 300 fighters in Jenin refugee camp but during the raid its forces only seized only 10 improvised explosive devices, 24 rifles and eight handguns, suggesting that the military didn’t make as big of a dent in the resistance’s capacity as its spokesperson claimed.
Palestinians in Jenin celebrated after Israel’s withdrawal and resistance factions claimed a victory against occupation forces, with Islamic Jihad stating that fighters had “thwarted the enemy’s tactics.”
Likewise, Hamas characterized the Israeli operation as a failure.
The military’s attempt to present its efforts as a major blow against the armed resistance, while Palestinians celebrate the withdrawal as a victory, fits into the well-established pattern of Israel’s repeated offensives in Gaza.
Israel has termed these operations as “mowing the lawn,” whereby the military attempts to temporarily set back Palestinian fighters, who eventually not only regain their capacity but increase it.
This episodic violence, often partly motivated by Israeli internal politics, is required by Israel in order to maintain its settler-colony regime enforced by a system of apartheid and permanent military occupation.
Yonah Jeremy Bob, senior military correspondent for the rightwing Jerusalem Post, acknowledged that “the Jenin fighters are what matters, and Israel, so far, has managed to destroy only infrastructure.” The improvised explosives confiscated by Israel “are easy to replace.”
To change the equation in Jenin, the military would need to arrest or kill some 300 fighters, “and then it may need to repeat that, again and again” – all while putting its troops at risk of injury, death or capture.
Bob added: “when the [Israeli military] says it neutralized more than 1,000 improvised explosives and weapons, while only killing 12 Palestinians, this really is its backup headline to obfuscate that it launched a massive operation that left most of the fighters at large.”
For all of the military’s boasting, “Israel will likely not get anything more than temporary quiet from Jenin,” according to Bob.
Both Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conceded that the military may need to return to Jenin – a tacit acknowledgement that the military failed to achieve its objectives.
Refusal to capitulate
With each major Israeli military operation, the story remains the same – a claim to the Israeli public that “terror” groups have been dealt a serious blow. In reality, the desire among Palestinians to resist mounting injustices is only galvanized.
Over the past century Palestinians have refused to capitulate to imperialist forces and colonizers, whether it be the British or the Zionist militias that perpetrated the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian homeland, upon which the state of Israel was declared.
The population of Jenin refugee camp is made up of Palestinians who were displaced during the ethnic cleansing during, before and after the declaration of Israel in 1948, and their descendants.
No matter how sophisticated Israel’s warfare and intelligence, “the despair and hatred born out of a military occupation lasting now 56 years, and with no end in sight, is not going to end,” as Anshel Pfeffer, a correspondent for Haaretz put it on Wednesday.
For months, Palestinians in Gaza marched on the boundary with Israel to demand their right of return, even as army snipers killed and permanently injured demonstrators. Similarly, no amount of Israeli violence is going to extinguish the people of Jenin’s demand to exercise their full rights.
The brutality that Israel metes out against Palestinians has meanwhile never secured the safety of its population on either side of the Green Line.
Indeed, eight people were injured, three seriously, in a car ramming and stabbing attack in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, the second day of the incursion in Jenin.
The alleged assailant, Abd al-Wahab Khalaila, a Palestinian from the Hebron area in the southern West Bank, was executed by an armed civilian.
And hours after Israeli troops withdrew from Jenin, a gunman opened fire at an Israeli police vehicle, “causing damage but no casualties,” The New York Times reported.
Such attacks against Israelis are an inevitable consequence of military operations resulting in Palestinian fatalities.
Amos Harel, a correspondent for Haaretz, observed that this “macabre dance is far from over – a fact which no military operation will change anytime soon.”
Trauma and palpable anger
Another inevitable consequence of military assaults is trauma among the Palestinians who endure it.
Families in Jenin described Israeli soldiers blowing up the doors to their homes and ransacking their belongings to look for weapons. Israeli snipers commandeered some Palestinian residences while others were razed.
Residents told Al-Jazeera that they believed Israel destroyed roads and other civilian infrastructure in a vain attempt to turn public sentiment against the resistance, forcing activists to surrender.
Israeli defense minister Gallant’s hope that the incursion in Jenin would boost the Palestinian Authority, which has long lost control in the city, was surely dashed on Wednesday. Al-Jazeera Arabic’s live broadcast showed mourners chasing officials from the Ramallah government out of a mass funeral procession for those killed:
Rather than strengthening the Palestinian Authority – which failed to protect people in Jenin, as it failed to protect Palestinians during recent settler pogroms – the Israeli raid only further exposed its weakness and emboldened Palestinians to express their contempt for it.
Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian analyst and former minister, said that “one of the casualties of [the Israeli invasion of Jenin] is the Palestinian Authority, which is further marginalized.”
The online publication Middle East Eye reported on Wednesday that “a palpable sense of anger could be felt in the streets of Jenin … with many people believing that the PA was negligent and failed to protect Palestinians.”
On Wednesday, independent UN human rights experts said that Israel’s airstrikes and invasion may constitute a war crime.
While Israel claimed the incursion to be a “counterterrorism” measure, the experts said that “the attacks constitute collective punishment of the Palestinian population, who have been labeled a ‘collective security threat’ in the eyes of Israeli authorities.”
“For this relentless violence to end, Israel’s illegal occupation must end,” the experts said. “It cannot be corrected or improved in the margins, because it is wrong to the core.”
Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada