How armed resistance survived in the northern West Bank

West Bank Palestinian man Jenin - getty
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West Bank
24 November, 2021
Analysis: Since the end of the Second Intifada, armed activism in the West Bank has almost completely disappeared. Analysts say its re-emergence reflects frustration at both Israel's military occupation and Palestinian political structures.

The recent announcement by Israeli intelligence that it had dismantled a Hamas-linked armed network in the West Bank came after an upsurge in armed activity, the last of which was a shooting by a Hamas-affiliated gunman in Jerusalem's Old City, which killed one Israeli and wounded three others.

The Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, made a link between the alleged network and an Israeli operation in September, during which three Palestinians were killed near Jerusalem and in Burqin, near Jenin.

The northern West Bank district of Jenin and its surroundings have been at the centre of most Palestinian armed activity since August, which has increased since the Gilboa prison break in September.

"There has always been a sense of autonomy and independence in regard to authority of any kind in the northern West Bank"

'An act of defiance'
 

The public parade of Palestinian gunmen in the uniforms of Hamas’s armed wing two weeks ago in Jenin was considered an “abnormal event” by Israeli military officials, said Israeli TV's Channel 12 last week.

According to media analysts, Israeli authorities expressed “rage” at the sight of Palestinian gunmen in Hamas uniforms publicly participating in the funeral of  Wasfi Qabaha, a senior Hamas member and former Palestinian minister of prisoners’ affairs, last Friday.

The Israeli TV channel considered the public appearance of Hamas-uniformed gunmen as “an act of defiance” to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas, who is responsible for security in West Bank cities. “This is not Gaza, this is Jenin city, not far from the Israeli city of Afula,” said Israeli commentators.

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Shortly before the Israeli news broadcast, Palestinian media outlets had been commenting on a decision by the PA to replace the leaders of security forces in Jenin, suggesting the move was in response to the presence of gunmen at Qabaha’s funeral.

The spokesperson for the Palestinian security forces, General Talal Dweikat, told the Palestinian public news agency Wafa that the replacement of the leaders of security branches in Jenin “was a regular decision in consultancy with the security officials, who were named in other positions within their security branches”, denying that the decision was related to Qabaha’s funeral.

But the controversy takes place in the midst of renewed armed clashes between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli forces in the northern West Bank.

In mid-November, Israeli forces exchanged fire with armed Palestinians in the town of Tubas, southeast of Jenin, killing 26-year-old Saddam Bani Odeh.

The day before, Israeli special forces raided the northern West Bank city of Nablus and surrounded a building, engaging in a shoot out with Palestinian gunmen, eventually arresting one and injuring two others.

The city of Nablus had witnessed several similar incidents since August.

"The Gilboa prison break gave the population a boost of morale which led young people back into activism"

Gilboa prison break: 'A boost of morale'
 

The brother of Saddam Bani Odeh, killed by Israeli forces last week, told The New Arab that Palestinians in the northern West Bank are “fed up” with the overall situation.

“The economic situation is miserable, there is no work and grown men often don’t have the means to sustain their families, and on top of that the Israeli occupation never stops assaulting us," he explained.

“People don’t see any political horizon and life is becoming unbearable,” he added. “The Gilboa prison break gave the population a boost of morale which led young people back into activism,” he pointed out, referring to his own brother as an example. 

How armed resistance survived in the northern West Bank
Six Palestinian detainees, including Zakaria Zubeidi, escaped from Israel’s Gilboa prison in September. [Getty]

“Saddam was very emotional about the prison breakers. He would often say that they were spending their life in prison for Palestine but found no support from politicians. This is the way all young people in Tubas and Jenin feel at the moment”.

Since the end of the Second Intifada in 2005, armed activism in the West Bank has almost completely disappeared.

“The re-emergence of this type of action sheds light on the effects of the dead-end to which Palestinian politics have gotten, especially in regards to overcoming the Israeli occupation and the internal Palestinian division,” said Jebril Mohammad, a social researcher at the Bisan centre in Ramallah.

Marginalised after the Intifada
 

Jebril Mohammad explained to The New Arab that “following the Second Intifada, the Palestinian Authority failed to conduct any real economic development in the West Bank, allowing most of the investment to be concentrated in the centre, around Ramallah, leaving the north of the West Bank marginalised”.

According to the researcher, “Jenin and its surroundings were the part of the West Bank most affected by Israeli military operations during the Second Intifada. However, it didn’t receive the attention it needed in terms of protection and development in the years that followed, as its most important economic potential is agriculture, which receives no more than 1% of the PA’s budget”.

Mohammad added that “the lack of social and economic protection by the PA in the northern West Bank weakened its capacity of control. This, in addition to the deeply-rooted culture of resistance in the region, and the relentless Israeli military repression, allowed an armed resistance to survive and begin to rise again”.

"Jenin and its surroundings were the part of the West Bank most affected by Israeli military operations during the Second Intifada. However, it didn't receive the attention it needed in terms of protection and development in the years that followed"

History, brotherhood, and a 'sense of autonomy'
 
Besides economic conditions, there are also other factors that contribute to the distinctiveness of the northern West Bank, and, in particular, Jenin, according to Khaled Odetallah, a professor of post-colonial studies and director of the Popular University project in Jerusalem.
 

“There has always been a sense of autonomy and independence in regard to authority of any kind in the northern West Bank. It is a sense related to a historical experience, which has become part of the collective and even personal mindset of the population of that region,” he told The New Arab.

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Odetallah highlighted that “this sense of autonomy has become part of these social values, which translates into relations of friendship and brotherhood. This produces a kind of social loyalty that survives repression, even when political parties and organisations are weakened or dismantled, which can explain why many employees in the Palestinian security forces have turned to armed resistance themselves, during and after the Second Intifada”.

With Palestinian armed activities seemingly on the rise, most notably since the Gilboa prison break, some analysts believe an organised armed movement could be forming in the north of the West Bank, an area under the PA’s control.

Qassam Muaddi is The New Arab's West Bank reporter, covering political and social developments in the occupied Palestinian territories.