On the brink: Jenin’s rising resistance  

Yumna Patel

Mondoweiss  /  March 5, 2023

The Israeli campaign to quash armed resistance in the West Bank continues to intensify. However, a new generation of fighters says they will continue to resist due to the reality of living under occupation.

It was the bloodiest few hours the West Bank had seen in years.

Ten Palestinians were killed in a single Israeli army raid, and dozens more were injured. 

Palestinians described it as a massacre – and it all took place in an area of less than half a square kilometer.

In the Jorat al-Dhahab neighborhood in the heart of the camp, the home of the Al-Sabbagh family came under fierce attack from Israeli forces, who were targeting a group of armed fighters inside. 

By the end of the raid, three of the fighters inside were killed, a fourth was critically injured, and Israeli forces arrested a fifth. He was identified as Ziad al-Sabbagh, the son of a former fighter in the camp who Israel killed in the Second Intifada. 

The house was raided and bombed without any prior notice. The people inside the home were severely injured,” Mohammad al-Sabbagh, Ziad’s uncle, told Mondoweiss, standing outside the bombed-out remains of his family’s home. 

Mohammad said the raid was unlike anything he’d seen in years.

The fighters who were inside the home were targeted with unending rockets and bombs. Even after they knew the young men inside had been killed, they continued to fire rockets and damage the home,” he said. 

“This is just the latest installment of Israeli oppression and violence against the Palestinian people.”     

The raid

The Jenin refugee camp is home to over 15,000 Palestinian refugees, the descendants of those who were forced out of their homes by Zionist militias in 1948, during the creation of the state of Israel. 

It is also home to a number of armed Palestinian groups, who routinely confront Israeli soldiers during army incursions into their camp. 

On the morning of January 26th, its residents were thrown into a war zone. At around 7:00 am that morning, Israeli special forces entered the camp in private civilian vehicles, and almost immediately, the battle began. 

Armed groups in the camp began firing back at Israeli forces who were launching an attack on Al-Sabbagh family home and the fighters who were inside. 

As more troops began to arrive, Israeli soldiers positioned snipers on rooftops across the camp, breaking into people’s homes and ransacking them in the process.

“They broke down the door and started destroying everything in the house,” Siham Abu Siriya, a resident of the camp who lives nearby Al-Sabbagh family home, told Mondoweiss from the kitchen of her family home, which was covered in rubble from the raid the day before.

They came in through the kitchen and the living room and put snipers everywhere. Anyone who got close to this area, they would shoot with a sniper.”

A video released by the Israeli army shows its soldiers firing a rocket launcher toward the al-Sabbagh family home from the kitchen window of Abu Siriya’s house. 

“They attacked the home that the fighters were in from here, from this window,” she said. 

The explosion caused extensive damage to the neighboring homes, injuring many of the residents with broken glass and crumbling rooftops

Our house, all the neighbors’ houses, were affected. The glass on all the windows is broken, since yesterday, people have just been cleaning the houses,” Abu Siriya said.

How are we supposed to feel? Of course, we are sad, but it’s okay. It’s all for the benefit of the homeland, and of the youth, and for all of Palestine.”

Civilians become targets  

The Israeli army raid on the camp lasted close to five hours. The military claimed it targeted Palestinian fighters who “posed a significant risk” of carrying out future attacks against Israelis.

But the residents of the camp say the military targeted everyone – both fighters and civilians. 

Among the nine people who were killed were two children, 17-year-old Abdullah Mousa, and 16-year-old Waseem al-Ja’es. Abdullah was shot by a sniper, while Waseem was run over by an Israeli military vehicle. 

The ministry of health said the lacerations to his head were so severe it could not determine if he also suffered bullet wounds to his head. 

In another part of the camp, 61-year-old Majida Obaid was sitting at home reading the Quran and praying when she was shot through the window of the top floor of her home. 

Her daughter Kefaya was with her. 

“My mom stood up here after she prayed, she wanted to look outside and see what was happening. I was still downstairs. She stood up to look, and immediately she was shot in her neck and another shot to her heart. The bullet went over here and through the TV,” Kefaya told Mondoweiss

“I came and saw the chair had fallen down and she was on the floor bleeding. I held her as she bled. You can still see her blood on the floor,” she continued. 

“She was clearly a woman. Could the sniper not see she was unarmed?” Kefaya asked indignantly, saying the family was “sure it was a sniper” that shot her mom.  

“Maybe the first bullet was by mistake, but what about the second bullet?” she asked. 

“She was a woman, unarmed. She didn’t have any weapons or anything. She just wanted to look and see what was happening in her neighborhood. And they shot her. In the matter of a second she was killed.”

Preventing medical aid

During the course of the raid, Israeli forces closed off all entrances and exits to the camp, preventing people from coming or going – including ambulances and medics. At least one ambulance was shot at with live ammunition. 

“The ambulances were prevented from coming in. There were people bleeding on the ground. The ambulances weren’t let in,” Kefaya Obaid said. 

“What did they do wrong? The medics need to be here to help treat the wounded and save people. Why target them? Why?”

Khaled al-Ahmad and his crews from the Palestinian Red Crescent were at the scene almost immediately after the raid began. But he told Mondoweiss that for more than one and a half hours, Israeli soldiers prevented medics and ambulances from entering the camp to treat the wounded.

“At the camp’s entrances there were lots of troops, very heavy [presence]. There was no way to enter at all without security coordination. We tried to enter many times, but our attempts failed. We were not allowed to enter. There was no way,” Al-Ahmad said. 

If the ambulances tried to enter the camp, he said, “we would get blocked, or shot at.”

Mondoweiss asked Al-Ahmad how he felt as a medic, to see people that are injured but not be able to help them. 

“It’s an indescribable feeling. It makes you cry. I think, what if that is my son, or my uncle, or daughter. How are you supposed to feel? There’s no words to describe that feeling,” he said. 

“It’s really terrible because you know that maybe they are still alive and that if I had stopped his bleeding or helped him, that maybe he would live.”

On the morning of the raid, nine people were killed in the span of just a few hours. A few days later, a 10th Palestinian, also a fighter in the camp, succumbed to wounds he sustained during the raid. 

Al-Ahmad told Mondoweiss he believed that if his crews had been allowed into the camp to treat the wounded, the death toll would have been lower. 

A history of confrontation

The Jenin refugee camp has a long history of confrontation with Israel’s occupation, and for Palestinians, Jenin refugee camp has become synonymous with armed struggle over the years. 

In 2002, in the midst of the Second Intifada, the Israeli army launched a massive invasion of the Jenin refugee camp following a number of suicide bombings inside Israeli territory. 

During the invasion, the army killed more than 50 Palestinians and destroyed more than 400 homes in the camp, displacing more than a quarter of the camp’s entire population.

More than 20 years later, the effects of the 2002 invasion are still felt in the camp today.

“Every home in the Jenin camp has martyrs, prisoners, and injured. From the scale of violence, they have become used to it. People have become used to killings and violence. When you oppress an entire people, there won’t be peace for everyone,” Jamal Hweil, a community leader and activist, told Mondoweiss

Kafaya Obaid echoed similar sentiments, saying, “During the [2002] invasion of the camp, they [Israeli army] were destroying homes, and our house was one of them.”

“Everyone in this camp has suffered the same. If you go from house to house, if there is not a martyr, there is a prisoner, if there is not a prisoner, there is a martyr. It’s well-known. This is our reality,” she said. 

During January’s raid, Mohammad al-Sabbagh witnessed his family home being destroyed for the third time.

The first demolition was carried out in 1991, in the midst of the First Intifada, after Israeli forces arrested Mohammad, who would eventually go on to spend 22 years as a political prisoner.

By 2002, as Mohammad marked 11 years in prison, his brother Alaa had also joined the armed resistance and actively fought against Israel’s invasion of the camp that year. 

Much of Alaa’s life was captured in the 2004 film, Arna’s Children. Alaa al-Sabbagh was killed in November 2002, and the Sabbagh family home was destroyed for a second time.

Two weeks before he was killed, Allaa had welcomed a baby boy, Ziad. 

During the army raid on January 26, 21 years after his father was killed, Ziad al-Sabbagh barricaded himself alongside his comrades inside his family home during the army’s assault. Though he made it out alive, he was arrested by Israeli forces. 

And the Al-Sabbagh family home was once again destroyed. This is our fate as Palestinians. I spent 23 years in prison.

“You don’t get used to anything. The loss is hard. Losing the house with all its history and its memories isn’t easy. But this is the fate of the Palestinian people.  As long as there’s occupation, there will be resistance. As long as there are raids, there will be self-defense,” he said. 

Back in 2002, the army framed the deadly invasion of the camp as a defensive measure to prevent future attacks against Israeli citizens. The raid on January 26 was justified for the same reasons.

But the residents say that Israel’s frequent raids over the years have only created more resentment and motivated more people to take up arms. 

“Any person who wants to know the truth has to ask, is the resistance a result or a cause? The cause is the presence of the occupation. The cause is the existence of the [refugee] camp and the displacement of the Palestinian people and the persistence of the refugee issue,” Jamal Hweil told Mondoweiss

“The cause is the presence of an occupation of our lands. Resistance isn’t the cause. Resistance is the result.”

On April 7, 2022, one week after an Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp killed two Palestinians, including a child, 28-year-old Raad Khazem left his home in the camp and made his way to Tel Aviv.

That night, he shot and killed three Israelis and injured several others on Dizengoff street in the heart of the city. 

Raad was shot and killed by Israeli police early the next morning in Yaffa. 

He was one of 17 Palestinians from the Jenin refugee camp who were killed by Israeli forces in 2022. The vast majority were killed during army raids on the camp, though at least two, including Raad, were killed after they carried out shootings targeting Israelis.

Whoever thinks that killing and destruction is going to bring peace and safety to its people is delusional,” Mohammad al-Sabbagh said, referring to the Israeli government’s policy in the West Bank. 

“This policy will force everyone to pay a price, whether it’s the Palestinian or Israeli people. The policy of killing and destruction will not bring people peace, safety or security.”

A new generation of fighters

In 2022, the Israeli army conducted over a dozen incursions into the Jenin refugee camp. 

The raids were part of Operation Break the Wave, the military’s answer to a growing wave of armed groups that were cropping up across the West Bank. 

For the first time since the Second Intifada, Palestinians were collectively taking up arms in the name of resisting Israeli oppression, and the Jenin refugee camp was paving the way.

“The world must know that we are not terrorists, as the [Israeli] occupation claims,” a young fighter with the Jenin Brigade, a local group of armed fighters in the Jenin refugee camp, told Mondoweiss

“We are fighters in the name of God. We came out of our mothers’ wombs into this world to fight this occupier, who has stolen our religion, our customs, our traditions, and who has killed our fathers and our brothers.”

“The world needs to know we aren’t terrorists. The occupation is the only terrorist in this world,” he said. 

When asked what motivated him and other young men like him to join the armed resistance, the fighter told Mondoweiss “What pushed me towards resistance are my own personal convictions, from what I’ve seen in my life.”

“We were brought up as kids in the middle of this, every day an army raid, every day an operation, every day someone is arrested, everyday youth are executed, women are executed. The occupation enters the camp and the city without differentiating between the old and the young. It will kill whoever is in its way,” he continued. 

“This is a reality we grew up with as kids, so of course we’re going to become fighters, we’re not going to be sitting at desk jobs.”

The Jenin Brigade was started in 2021 by fighters affiliated with the Islamic Jihad movement but has since evolved to include fighters from a number of factions in the camp. 

The new cross-factional model has since inspired the birth of other groups outside Jenin, who spread messages of Palestinian unity against Israeli occupation.

It’s a message that hadn’t been heard in years, and it has appealed primarily to young men, who have grown increasingly disillusioned with their own leaders after decades of political infighting and a stalled peace process. 

When asked why young men like the fighter who spoke with Mondoweiss join the armed resistance, Jamal Hweil said, “it is simple.”

“It’s the loss of hope. The loss of hope in a just political solution that would establish a Palestinian state, in which we can live as citizens in dignity and peace with our neighbors,” Hweil said. 

“It’s when you lose hope and feel that the existing leadership is unable to achieve anything. The land is occupied, the occupation controls border crossings, controls the air, controls the sea in Gaza. When this generation witnesses this frustration, when it sees a dead end on the political horizon, when it sees the worsening economic conditions, what do you expect from these youths?” he asked.

“These youth who live in these alleyways that you see here? In these cramped neighborhoods for the past 75 years. As we always say, the revolution is born from despair. It’s all connected. The political situation, the economic conditions, the constant Zionist terror, it would even make the stones themselves speak and say: ‘I will resist the occupation’.”

‘Tired of negotiations’

On January 26, at least six of the Palestinians killed during the army’s operation in the camp were fighters. 

Four of them were in their 20’s. Ammar Salahat’s younger brother, Izz al-Din, was one of them. 

In the Jenin camp we’ve become used to this situation. Every day there is a martyr, every day. We’ve gotten used to it. What else can I say? For the past two years, there is not a night or day where we sleep. The day has become night, and night has become day. This is the reality in the camp.”

When asked why his younger brother was motivated to join the armed resistance, Ammar responded: “We are surrounded on all sides. We can’t travel, or move about freely. The young men are under pressure, we’re under pressure from all sides.”

“Someone’s dad is a martyr, or his brother, or his uncle. When they grow up they want to be like their uncle or brother. When you turn on the news, it’s all about Jenin. People need to take action,” he continued. 

“Enough of the ‘negotiations.’ These negotiations have brought us nothing. Since I was born I’ve been hearing about negotiations, and it’s all been for nothing. You can’t negotiate with Israel.”

Tensions rise under new Israeli government 

On the evening of Friday, January 27, one day after the deadly army raid in the Jenin refugee camp, news broke that a Palestinian gunman had shot and killed seven people inside an illegal Israeli settlement in occupied East Jerusalem 

The young man who carried out the shooting was identified as 21-year-old Khairi Alqam, a resident of East Jerusalem and the grandson of a Palestinian who was murdered by an Israeli settler in 1998. 

Though Alqam was shot and killed on the scene, celebrations broke out across the occupied territory, including in Jenin, where people viewed the shooting as a clear response to the army’s raid the day before. 

The Israeli government’s response to the shooting was swift, announcing sweeping measures that rights groups warned amounted to collective punishment. 

Within one day of the shooting, more than 50 of Alqam’s family and friends were arrested, and his family’s home was sealed off in preparation for demolition. 

Israeli ministers called for his family to be deported and to loosen gun restrictions to make it easier for Israeli citizens to carry weapons. 

At the same time, Israeli settlers in the West Bank carried out a series of “revenge” attacks against Palestinians, burning people’s homes and cars, hurling rocks at Palestinian vehicles, and even shooting at Palestinians with live ammunition.

It was reported that in a single night, settlers carried out close to 150 attacks against Palestinians and their property. 

Back in the Jenin refugee camp, residents said that as long as Israeli violence and occupation persist, so will Palestinian resistance to it. 

“The Palestinian people are no different from the other peoples of the world. They will not accept subordination, they will not accept occupation, they will not accept humiliation,” Hweil said. 

“Jenin [refugee] camp will remain a symbol of pride, dignity, freedom, and justice for everyone in the world.”

When asked what she hoped for the future, Kefaya Obaid said, “God willing, this camp that is stuck here, in the throat of the occupation, will stay there until it suffocates them and they get off our land.”

“They came and occupied us, not the other way around. They came to our land, we didn’t go to them. And God willing, the occupation will end,” she said. 

Mohammad al-Sabbagh insisted that until freedom is achieved for the Palestinian people, everyone will continue to suffer. 

“It is only by giving the Palestinian people their right to stability and freedom and safety, will the Israeli people, and the people of the world, be able to enjoy these same rights.”

Yumna Patel is the Palestine News Director for Mondoweiss