Middle East Monitor / August 24, 2021
The killing of four young Palestinians by Israeli occupation soldiers in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank on 16 August was a consequential event, the repercussions of which are sure to be felt in the weeks and months ahead. The four Palestinians — Saleh Mohammed Ammar (19); Raed Ziad Abu Seif (21); Nour Jarrar (19); and Amjad Hussainiya (20) — were either newly born or mere toddlers when the Israeli army invaded Jenin in April 2002. According to Israeli officials and army generals at the time, the objective back then was to teach Jenin a lesson, one they hoped would be understood by other Palestinian areas resisting the occupation across the West Bank.
In my book Searching Jenin published a few months after what is now known as the “Massacre of Jenin” or the “Battle of Jenin”, I tried to convey the revolutionary spirit of the place. Although in some ways the camp was representative of the wider Palestinian struggle, in other aspects it was a unique phenomenon, deserving of a thorough analysis and understanding.
By the end of the battle, Israel seemed to have eliminated Jenin’s armed resistance. Hundreds of fighters and civilians were killed and wounded; hundreds more were arrested, and numerous homes were destroyed.
However, even voices sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle have underestimated Jenin’s ability to resurrect its resistance under seemingly impossible circumstances.
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on 10 June 2016, Gideon Levy and Alex Levac described the state of affairs in the small camp: “Jenin, always the most militant of the refugee camps, was battered and destroyed, suppressed and bloodied, by Israel. These days its spirit seems to be broken. Every person is dealing with his own fate, his own private struggle for survival.” The headline above their article was “Jenin, Once the Most Militant of Palestinian Refugee Camps, Waves a White Flag”.
Being suppressed and shattered by an overwhelming force, though, is entirely different from “raising the white flag”. In fact, this truism does not just apply to Jenin but to the whole of occupied Palestine, where Palestinians, at times, find themselves fighting on multiple fronts against the Israeli occupation forces, armed illegal Jewish settlers, and the co-opted Palestinian Authority security forces.
The events of May this year changed so much in Palestine. The Israeli attempt to ethnically cleanse Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, the subsequent Israeli offensive against Gaza, and the unprecedented uprising of unity, bringing all Palestinians, everywhere, together, lifted Jenin and other Palestinian areas from their despondency. The stiff resistance shown in Gaza, in particular, has had a direct impact on the various fighting groups in the West Bank, which were either disbanded or marginalized.
An unprecedented scene in Ramallah on 17 May told the whole story. Dozens of fighters belonging to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which is affiliated to the Fatah movement — the political party that dominates Mahmoud Abbas’s PA — marched on the streets where the authority is based, in a relatively calm environment. The fighters chanted against the Israeli occupation and their “collaborators” before clashing with Israeli soldiers, who were manning the Qalandiya military checkpoint.
This ushered in the return of a phenomenon that Israel, with the help of its “collaborators”, had crushed during the Second Palestinian Intifada (Uprising) between 2000 and 2005. Long-suppressed, occupied Palestinians are ready to rebel, eager to move on, beyond octogenarian Abbas and his corrupt clique, past the stifling factionalism and self-serving political discourses. The only questions are how, where, and when. The Israeli military understands this, and that the May war and uprising have triggered an unwelcome — by Israel — transition in Palestinian society.
This is precisely why Israel is back in Jenin, trying once more to teach the 12,000 refugees there a lesson, one that is also meant for Palestinians throughout the West Bank. Israel believes that if the nascent armed resistance in Jenin is suppressed now, the rest of the West Bank will remain “quiet” later.
According to Palestinian journalist Atef Daghlas, the Israeli occupation forces killed ten Palestinians during their frequent nightly raids on Jenin. Eight of the victims have been killed since the end of the Gaza war alone.
There are two main reasons for the increase in casualties among the Palestinians in the past few months: there have been more Israeli raids, whereby occupation soldiers, often disguised as Palestinians, enter the camp at night and attempt to capture young Palestinian fighters; and a growing number of young people are enlisting in various resistance groups. According to Daghlas, the guns they carry are purchased by the young men themselves, as opposed to being supplied by a group or a faction.
“Blood for blood, bullet for bullet, fire for fire” was one of the chants that echoed in Jenin and its adjacent refugee camp, when the Palestinians buried two of the four young men killed last week. The martyrs’ graveyard is filling up. The fact that Jenin is, once more, openly championing the armed struggle is ringing alarm bells throughout occupied Palestine. Israel is now worried that an armed Intifada is in the making, and Abbas knows very well that any kind of uprising will be the end of his authority.
It is obvious that what is currently happening in Jenin is indicative of something much larger. Israel knows this; hence, the exaggerated violence against the camp. The bodies of two of the young men killed by the Israelis are yet to be returned to their families for proper burial. Israel often resorts to this tactic as a bargaining chip, and to increase the psychological pressure on Palestinian communities, especially those who dare to resist the occupation.
Jenin refugee camp was officially established in 1953, a few years after the 1948 Nakba, the catastrophe when historic Palestine was destroyed and the State of Israel was created. Since then, generation after generation, Jenin’s youth have fought and died for their freedom.
So Levy and Levac were wrong; Jenin never waved the white flag. The battle fought in 2002 had been ongoing since 1948 and has never truly finished.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of the Palestine Chronicle; his latest book is ‘These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons’ (Clarity Press)