Jenin: The centre of a nascent Palestinian armed resistance?
Armed clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces have repeated in recent weeks at a rate unprecedented in the occupied West Bank for years, mostly in the northern Jenin governorate.
On Thursday, Israeli forces clashed with Palestinians while raiding the city of Nablus and the town of Kufr Dan, west of Jenin. At night armed clashes erupted in the town of Qabatia, south of Jenin. In late September Israeli forces raided the village of Burqin near Jenin, again clashing with armed Palestinians.
The raid ended with the death of one Palestinian and the injury of two Israeli soldiers. Simultaneously, three Palestinians were killed in an Israeli raid on their hide-out west of Ramallah. The Israeli army claimed to have found weapons and explosives at the site.
In mid-September, Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian gunmen at the Jenin refugee camp while arresting two of the six Palestinians who had escaped from the Gilboa prison. In the days prior to the arrest of the escapees, armed Palestinians had paraded through the camp, vowing to confront the Israeli army if it entered.
Since the Gilboa prison escape, Palestinians have also been opening fire on, and throwing local-made explosives at, the Jalamah Israeli checkpoint north of Jenin.
"Armed clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces have repeated in recent weeks at a rate unprecedented in the occupied West Bank for years, mostly in the northern Jenin governorate"
Palestinian factions have praised these incidents, saying that they represent the beginning of a new phase of Palestinian resistance in the West Bank.
Palestinian media reported that the Secretary-General of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad called the families of Palestinians killed in Jenin and west of Ramallah, declaring that “their blood has lit the way to liberation”.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) also said in a statement that the latest incidents “demonstrate that the Palestinian people are marching towards a total Intifada”. However, beyond political speech, the recent incidents in the West Bank seem to be a phenomenon whose nature and consequences are too early to be determined, observers say.
Shatha Hanayesh, a Palestinian journalist based in Jenin, told The New Arab that the current situation “evolved out of the aftermath of the Gilboa escape in early September”. According to Hanayesh, “Israeli threats to invade the camp following the escape were met with acts of defiance by Palestinian activists, who showed an armed, seemingly organised force for the first time in years, and this caused tensions to rise in the region”.
Hanayesh also explained that Israeli raids and repeated armed confrontations have impacted the daily life of Palestinians in the area. “People are wondering on a daily basis if the Israeli army will eventually launch a wide attack on Jenin. There are less people in the streets and markets, commerce has dropped back and some businesses have been closed in the past weeks”.
According to Shalash, the fact that these incidents have taken place mostly in the area of Jenin also has a reason. “Jenin has been away from the centre of the PA in Ramallah, practically in the margins of the West Bank, where little control is possible," he said.
"Especially in the Jenin refugee camp, where armed forms of activism never disappeared since the Second Intifada”.
Qaher Abed, Secretary of the Fatah movement in the west Jenin area, noted that "when I speak to young people in Jenin, they tell me that they are fed-up of life under constant military raids, arrests and closures. Some of them have been through prison several times at a very young age, and they have lost all fear".
Abed also highlighted that "these youngsters are not, for the most part, members of organisations. They come out and clash with Israeli forces because raids happen in their towns and neighbourhoods, and most of them are armed by nothing else but stones".
"Jenin has been away from the centre of the PA in Ramallah, practically in the margins of the West Bank, where little control is possible"
Bilal Shalash agrees with Abed. "What happens in Jenin is the same that happens in the rest of the West Bank, when youngsters throw stones at the Israeli forces. The difference is that in Jenin, there are more firearms available, and a strongly rooted culture of armed resistance". However, Shalash stresses; "It's only one step away from real organisation, and there are indicators that this transformation is already happening".
From her side, Shatha Hanayesh believes that “the Israeli army is trying to contain Palestinian activists through targeted raids, without risking a wide confrontation, especially at the Jenin refugee camp”.
Hanayesh pointed out that “Palestinian activists' reaction might increase, but nobody can guess where things might lead in the coming days”. Although Bilal Shalash insists that “there is a bit of exaggeration about what is happening in the West Bank”, he holds to the idea that “anything can happen”.
Qassam Muaddi is The New Arab's West Bank reporter, covering political and social developments in the occupied Palestinian territories