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Jenin refugees: displaced yesterday, but fighting back today and tomorrow

July 6, 2023 at 8:05 am

A view of destroyed street and damaged infrastructure after the Israeli attacks in Jenin, West Bank on July 4, 2023 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

Jenin is featuring a lot in the news these days, particularly its refugee camp known simply as Jenin Camp. The city is in the very north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with deep roots in the land of Palestine going back long before the State of Israel came into existence.

The refugee camp, though, only came into being in 1953. It is a small piece of land, about one kilometre west of Jenin city centre, built on an area of less than half a square kilometre, yet it is home to nearly 18,000 Palestinians. It is one of the most densely populated places in the world, with an estimated 33,000 people per sq. km.

When it was established 70 years ago, like most Palestinian refugee camps it was meant to be a temporary home for a few hundred people who were displaced forcefully when Israel was created in 1948. The current population’s average age is less than 20 years, meaning that they are the third and fourth generations of displaced Palestinians from different parts of their occupied homeland.

READ: 80% of homes in Jenin damaged in Israel raid

In 1967, ever-expanding Israel occupied the entire West Bank, including Jenin, displacing many of the camp residents for the second time. After the notorious 1993 Oslo Accords which established the Palestinian Authority, the area including the camp came under its ostensible rule. That did not change much for the people living there. The Jenin Camp, like the other 52 refugee camps in the West Bank, lacks basic services and has the highest rates of unemployment in the region.

The camp became a headache for Israeli army and security establishment particularly during the Second Palestinian Intifada. In 2002 the Israelis fought a ten-day bloody battle in Jenin destroying homes and killing and displacing more civilians. Ever since then the place has been associated with fierce resistance against the Israeli occupation. Palestinians nickname it the Martyrs’ Capital and Israel believes that over half of the legitimate resistance operations against its army and hordes of illegal settlers over the past decade originated in Jenin. The emergence of the Jenin Brigades as a united fighting group more recently appears to have altered the way that the Palestinians fight back against the Israeli occupation.

In such a case, you might think that the wisest solution to end the violence in Jenin and everywhere else in occupied Palestine is a simple one: let the Palestinian people return to their homes and land, as is their right under international law. Refugee camps and associated issues would disappear more or less overnight.

Israel drowning in its crime - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Israel drowning in its crime – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Of course, wisdom is not part of the Israeli mindset; the occupation state is hell-bent on “expansion” and more land grabs within Palestine and beyond. It is the only UN member state that has never declared where its borders are. The result of that is clear: regular Israeli army and security agency raids on Jenin and other refugee camps, as we have seen over the past few days, displacing hundreds of civilians for the second and maybe the third time, making resistance the only viable option for those left behind.

What was notable about the Israeli invasion of the camp on Monday was the number of ground troops and the use of drones and helicopters, said to be a rare occurrence in the West Bank in recent times. Israeli media estimated that more than 1,000 troops were sent into the overcrowded narrow alleys of the camp. This suggests that the apartheid state is really worried about what the Palestinians in Jenin are capable of. As its troops started to withdraw, the Israeli army claimed to have dismantled bomb-making factories, confiscated weapons and destroyed command centres. They did the same before and Jenin managed to recover and resist; and it will again.

Israel might declare victory over Jenin Camp but it will be a shallow and shameful victory by one of the best-equipped armies in the world against mostly civilian freedom fighters with almost no fighting experience or training. Israel’s superior military capabilities will not kill the “Jenin Syndrome” that the state is suffering from. The will fight back against the occupation state has only increased, and will never be killed completely as long as there is an occupation to resist.

This week’s military assault by Israel will not be the last, as Israeli officials themselves acknowledged as their troops started to withdraw. According to military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, “The Israeli military will have to return to operate in the area in the future.” Any Israeli victory in Jenin is purely temporary, and will soon be forgotten, as the next battle waits for a trigger to kick it off.

Israel’s aggressive polices have made Jenin famous for all the wrong reasons. The world will not forget that veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed there while she was covering another Israeli incursion into the rundown camp on 11 May last year.

The “Jenin Syndrome” is likely to grow further within the Israeli establishment as the current Israeli government, the most far-right and neo-fascist in Israel since 1948, implements its election agenda. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government includes the most right wing and racist politicians ever seen in mainstream politics in Israel, such as Internal Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. They call openly for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians; the grabbing of more of their land; and converting the small colonial outposts into larger settlements. They also want to form their own militias to kill more Palestinian civilians.

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At the top of the Netanyahu agenda is to expand Israel’s colonisation of the West Bank. His government has approved the building of thousands more housing units for the illegal Jewish settlers living on stolen Palestinian land. Israel and its supporters, including the US and UK, know that it is illegal for Israel to build on occupied land, yet the rogue state is allowed to act with total impunity and with utter contempt for international law, humanitarian law and relevant UN resolutions calling for it to end its brutal military occupation of Palestine.

With apparent disregard for diplomatic protocol, the US ambassador to Israel appeared in a video said to have been shot on 30 June near the Lebanese border, wishing the army “Shabbat Shalom” and with women Israeli soldiers in the background. Why the ambassador posted such a video at the time of heightened tension around him is baffling.

Unlimited US support for Israel is nothing new, of course, but even that will not change the simple fact that the Palestinians displaced yesterday will always come back to fight, no matter how strong their enemy might be. When will Israel and its slavish allies understand this reality?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.