A large Israeli military force raided the northern Palestinian town and refugee camp of Jenin on 19 June, from multiple directions. Not only did the raid fail, though, but it also backfired. Moreover, it also created a precedent in Israel’s decades-long war on the ever-rebellious Palestinian region.
Israel killed eight Palestinians and wounded 91 more, following hours of fighting involving Israeli soldiers on the one hand, and unified Palestinian resistance groups on the other. The Israelis only admitted to eight of its soldiers being wounded, with some Israeli media outlets speaking of critical injuries among the invading troops and others claiming only moderate wounds.
The reality on the ground, however, suggested that an extraordinary battle had taken place. Locally produced videos showed Israeli military vehicles blown up, engulfed in clouds of flames and smoke, among them the Panther troop carrier — known as Nimr — a monstrous, well-fortified vehicle used in moderate to heavy combat.
A total of seven vehicles, along with a military helicopter were blown up or damaged in what was meant to be a routine Israeli raid on Jenin, the like of which has often resulted in the killing of several so-called “wanted” or “militant” Palestinians, a reference to fighters who resist the Israeli military occupation.
The military wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad — the main resistance forces in Jenin, along with Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades — issued statements detailing the courage of their fighters and celebrating the legacy of those who have been killed in the fighting.
However, not all of the Palestinians killed were fighters. Israel targets civilians as a matter of course, including children, women, medics and journalists. One of the Jenin victims was a 15-year-old boy named Ahmed Saqr. Another was a 14-year-old girl named Sadeel Ghassan Turkman. Journalist Hazem Emad Nasser was wounded.
One of those killed was Amjad Aref Abu Jaas, the father of a Palestinian youth, Wasim, who was killed by the Israeli army during a previous invasion of Jenin on 25 January. The fact that a father and son were both killed by Israel a few months apart is indicative of the occupation state’s relationship with Jenin. Israel sees Jenin as the beating heart of Palestinian resistance — armed or otherwise — in the occupied West Bank. Hence, it has been Israel’s main target for decades, simply to downgrade — it can never crush — the intensity of the resistance there.
Israel knows that crushing Palestinian resistance in Jenin is not possible. Although the far-right ministers in Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government are constantly making such a demand, the Israeli military understands the difficulty — in fact, the impossibility — of such a task.
The Jenin refugee camp was established in 1953 by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The inhabitants of the camp are refugees who were expelled by Zionist militias and terrorist gangs during the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine in 1947-48.
The camp has grown in terms of size and population over the years; poverty and neglect have remained its main features. The history of the camp and its inhabitants has been the main driver behind their ongoing resistance to Israeli occupation.
In my 2003 book Searching Jenin, I detailed the accounts of many of the camp’s residents as they described the legendary battle and the subsequent massacre of April 2002. The pride and toughness of the residents of Jenin struck me, although I am quite familiar with the tenacity of the resilience of Palestinians in general. Despite the killing of dozens of its inhabitants, the wounding of hundreds, the arrests of many and the destruction of entire neighbourhoods, the Jenin residents insisted that the resistance was not over and that the next generation would continue what they had begun.
Writing about Jenin in recent months, I realise that many of the family and clan names are repeated in the last names of the latest fighters and martyrs, as well as those of journalists, medics and other civilian victims of Israeli brutality. Somehow Jenin — in near complete isolation, ongoing suppression and utter neglect — has been resurrected from the ashes of the past.
I wonder if the young Israeli soldiers who invade Jenin today to kill a few Palestinians every time they do so actually know anything about that history; about where these refugees came from, and that, no matter how violent and well-armed their bloody quests can be, Jenin will never surrender. Do they know, in other words, that for Israel the battle for Jenin is already lost?
Jenin terrifies Israel, because it is a representation of a much greater fight undertaken by Palestinians in besieged Gaza and throughout the occupied West Bank. They know that all Palestinians are watching the events underway in Jenin, Nablus and its environs, Al-Khalil (Hebron), Jericho and other occupied cities. When Jenin resists, Palestinian resistance rises up in unison.
In April 2002, during Israel’s invasion of major Palestinian cities across the West Bank, the destruction of Jenin was meant to be the tragic end to an equally tragic Palestinian story. The survivors eventually trickled back into the camp, collected and buried the bodies, often in mass graves, looked after the wounded, and slowly began rebuilding their shattered lives.
All of Palestine was bleeding; Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Gaza were reeling under the heavy weight of Israeli tanks, which left massive destruction in their wake and a high death toll. Israel emerged bruised but triumphant. The Palestinian Authority’s police force was restructured around Israeli priorities and with US training and funds. Palestine, it was thought, was well and truly defeated.
But the words of those I interviewed two decades ago turned out to be true: resistance was not over, and the next generation would soon continue what had been begun.
Since then, many of the eyewitnesses to whom I spoke have died of old age, broken hearts and Israeli bullets. Some are in prison. But others are still alive to remind us that freedom is precious and that the desire for justice can never be killed or defeated, no matter how great the enemy’s firepower is, or the sacrifices that are required, because it is innate and God-given; and because Jenin knows its history too well. Its extraordinary Palestinian residents will not surrender.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.