Palestinians in Jenin arm themselves for violent resistance

Posters of Palestinian martyrs are seen on a wall in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank on September 16. (Corinna Kern for The Washington Post)
Posters of Palestinian martyrs are seen on a wall in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank on September 16. (Corinna Kern for The Washington Post)

JENIN REFUGEE CAMP, West Coast – New after midnight. Young men dressed in black shirts and black masks, tied ribbons with the band’s insignia around their foreheads, and paraded their weapons through the narrow streets.

Israeli officials are concerned that black-market AK-47s, pistols, Kalashnikovs and M16 guns on display in the Jenin refugee camp will target Israelis during the Jewish holidays starting next week, when they prepare for a new chapter of Palestinian violent protest. Expectations about the departure of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – 86-year-old man is a heavy smoker, unpopular who was said to be in poor health – caused a bloodier social order in this occupied city.

In Abbas’s words, “there will be fauda” – “chaos” in Arabic – said Mohammad Sabbagh, head of the Jenin refugee camp’s People’s Service Committee.

“This is the beginning,” he said.

Thousands of young men in Jenin are on Israel’s terror watch list, making them ineligible for work permits in Israel to earn a living. And they’ve been tracking Israeli air strikes that have killed dozens of non-bombers in recent months, making 2022 the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2015. Poverty and anger have made the camp a military hotspot.

Abbas’s strategy of lobbying the United Nations to condemn the Israeli occupation – rather than take up arms against it – has long been dismissed here. Few say they will pay attention to his speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Friday.

Sabbagh witnessed first-hand the growth of the local youth movement. During the first intifada, or Palestinian uprising, from 1987 to 1993, he stabbed an Israeli soldier to death and later spent 23 years in an Israeli prison. After his release, he watched as young neighbors split into smaller groups and increasingly abandoned their classic weapon of choice – the knife – in favor of firearms.

Sabbagh says the new generation is stopping to shake hands with camp residents, trying to ensure that the despised national government is replaced by a local militia that will measure its viability. their legitimacy with guns rather than votes.

“We may soon reach the point where not a single young man is at home; Nasser al-Sadi, 27, an unemployed resident of the camp, said.

Fifty-six percent of Palestinians support armed attacks against the Israelis, and a similar percentage expect Jenin’s armed resistance to spread across the West Bank, according to one June poll of the Palestine Survey and Policy Research Center.

Abbas’s Palestinian Authority (PA), established in 1993 as a five-year interim government to establish a Palestinian state, will turn 30 next year. It has not held elections since 2006, and an independent Palestine is nowhere on the horizon. In April 2021, Abbas canceled a much-anticipated round of elections after polls showed his Fatah party could lose to Muslim rival Hamas, the party that governs the Gaza Strip.

As Abbas remained in office and the influence of his government waned, Jenin emerged as an important flash point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In March, Israel launched military operation “Break the Wave” in the West Bank following a string of the deadliest terrorist attacks by Palestinians in years, some of which stemmed from Jenin. Young fighters here have responded by engaging in gunfights with Israeli soldiers and shooting at civilians near the border.

Members of the Islamic Jihad using M16s or Kalashnikovs, given to them in exchange for joining the group, fought with three days battle with Israel in Gaza last month. However, Israeli security analysts also report a spike in the number of young people from non-militant factions using the “Carlo” submachine gun, a cheap imitation of the Carl rifle. Gustaf was developed in Sweden in the 1940s.

The gun appeared on crime scenes during the first intifada in the early 2000s and has since made its way to the West Coast, where it’s been assembled with auto parts, scrap metal, and objects. other makeshift materials in workshops throughout unmanaged parts of the remote region. north and far south. A Carlo can cost less than $1,000 (the M16 runs around $20,000).

Israel is struggling to control its weapons hoarding. This year, the Israeli military has seized more than 300 weapons – including pistols, Kalashnikovs and M16s – along the border between Jordan and Egypt, nearly double what it was in 2021. The country has also seized 160 firearms in The West Bank, including the AK-47 and Tavors – the standard weapon of the Israeli army – were mostly stolen from Israeli soldiers.

A significant number of weapons have also been delivered from Hezbollah, the Iran-backed group in Lebanon, according to a senior Israeli military official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive security situation. “The PA has the means to deal with these weapons, but not the will,” he said.

With the gun market booming, almost all-night gunfights between Jenin’s young gunmen and Israeli soldiers became increasingly deadly.

Earlier this month, hundreds of young men, armed with guns and explosives, protested against the demolition of the home of Raed Hazem, who fatally shot three Israelis at a Tel Aviv bar in the spring before being violently shot. security forces kill. A 29-year-old resident was shot dead by Israeli soldiers while live-streaming the clash on TikTok; Another 16 people were injured, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Last Wednesday, two Palestinian gunmen in Kafr Dan, a village northwest of Jenin, used a Carlo and another improvised gun to shoot dead an Israeli soldier at the al-Jalama intersection. The men, one of whom was a PA security official, were killed in the ensuing shooting. The Israeli military closed Jalama for four days, halted work permits for Kafr Dan residents, and began arguing for a broader operation in Jenin.

Retired Colonel Miri Eisin, a former senior Israeli military intelligence officer, says the phenomenon of “hybrid” fighters is inspired and only partially linked to organized groups like St. Islamic war, posing a challenge to the Israeli military. The members of this new youth movement, she said, “are young, angry, unemployed members of Palestinian gangs, with no hierarchy — somewhere between lone wolves and the cells of the country.” terrorists”.

In recent years, the gangs have changed their name to “battalions”. “Jenin Battalion” sees recruitment momentum after 2021 prison break of six Palestinian men has family ties to Jenin, and has served as a model for similar “battalions” in Nablus, Tulkarm, Bethlehem and other West Bank towns, Eisin said.

Mansour al-Saadi, Jenin’s deputy governor, said the Palestinian Authority lacks the political will and resources to curb the violence.

“We see some people calling themselves Fatah in the morning and Islamic Jihad in the evening,” Saadi said.

Part of the problem, Saadi said, is that the Palestinian Authority is based 60 miles away, in Ramallah, where residents are often in more direct contact with Israelis living on the other side of the border wall. In Jenin, most young men are isolated, stuck at home with little economic prospects.

Ahmad Qassem, a 24-year-old camp resident, has been unable to find a job since finishing ninth grade, his last year of school. He was recently released from an Israeli prison after two years in administrative detention, during which time he was never charged or tried.

Behind bars, Qassem said he realized: “Twenty years ago we made peace with Israel, but they didn’t respect any of that.”

“That’s it,” he said. “We want destruction.”

Mohammed Najib contributed to this report.

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