Israel unleashed a major raid on July 3 on Jenin refugee camp, a Palestinian stronghold in Israeli-occupied West Bank, killing 12 Palestinians in clashes with gunmen. Since March 2022, Jenin and outlying areas in the north of Israeli-occupied West Bank have drawn intensified raids ordered by Israel’s nationalist-religious government after a spate of Palestinian street attacks.
In January 2023, Israeli forces killed seven gunmen and two civilians in a raid in Jenin. Last month, Palestinians and Israeli troops waged an hours-long gun battle in which six Palestinians were killed and over 90 wounded. Seven Israeli personnel were wounded by a landmine that crippled their armoured vehicle.
Palestinian gunmen shot dead four Israelis near a Jewish settlement in retaliation, prompting settlers to rampage through Palestinians towns, torching buildings and cars. This slide into some of the worst violence since the Palestinians’ 2000-05 Intifada (uprising) comes amid a prolonged absence of peace talks envisaging Palestinian statehood, an increasingly weak Palestinian political leadership and a steady expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied land under Israel’s most hardline nationalist government ever.
Jenin is a small city in the hilly, far north of the West Bank, near the border with Israel, and contains a teeming, concrete and cinder-block refugee camp by the same name housing some 14,000 people. They are descendants of Palestinians dispossessed when Israel was created in 1948, and most are impoverished and unemployed.
Jenin was the arena of some of the worst bloodshed during the second Intifada, which began after the collapse of US-backed peace talks in 2000 and escalated into an armed conflict between Israel and militant groups. Israeli armored forces carried out a devastating raid on its camp in April 2002 as part of a wider clampdown on areas where Palestinians had exercised limited self-rule under 1990s interim peace deals.
In an escalation of the violence, Israel carried out an airstrike near a mosque in the city. The joint aerial and ground incursion into the camp is the first since the 2002 battle of Jenin during the second intifada, when more than 50 Palestinians and 23 Israeli soldiers were killed in over a week of fighting, including 13 Israeli soldiers in a single incident. Recent events bring the death toll of Palestinians killed this year in the West Bank to 133, part of more than a year-long rise in violence that has resulted in some of the worst bloodshed in that area in nearly two decades.
History has proven that Israeli attacks on Palestinian holy places are guaranteed to provoke a Palestinian response. For Netanyahu and his extreme far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, the price of Palestinian retaliation was worth the political gains from uniting Israelis of all political backgrounds behind them.
Ben-Gvir, in particular, knew that an attack on Al-Aqsa would reassure his far-right religious constituency about his commitment to imposing full Israeli Jewish sovereignty over Palestinian Muslim and Christian holy places in the occupied city of Jerusalem. What Netanyahu and his allies may have not anticipated, however, is the intensity of the Palestinian response. Hundreds of rockets were fired towards the north and south of Israel. These came not only from the besieged Gaza Strip, but, even more strategically important, also from South Lebanon.
However, even a major war could backfire. During Israel’s attack against Gaza in 2014, the occupation state struggled to sustain a single military front as the war lasted 51 days, leading to an Israeli arms and ammunition crisis. Were it not for the decision of the Barack Obama administration to ship supplies of munitions to Israel to refill its depleted arsenal, Israel could have found itself in unprecedented difficulty. The US, though, is no longer able to play the role of emergency weapons supplier, at least for now, due to its own ammunition shortage resulting from the Ukraine war. Israel was thus careful to limit its response to the Palestinian and Lebanese rockets. This episode shall prove decisive, as it will empower Israel’s regional enemies and, instead of boosting Netanyahu’s credibility within his own right-wing camp, it has the potential to undermine it.
Israel’s targeting of the Arab and Muslim identity of Palestine is now being accelerated under Netanyahu’s leadership, but this strategy is a double-edged sword as we have seen in recent days. In the video that went viral of Israeli soldiers beating up Muslim worshippers in Al-Aqsa, the distressing pleas of a Palestinian woman groaning in pain were heard as she cried “Oh Allah, Oh Allah” repeatedly. Palestinian mainstream and social media have published comments that the response by Palestinian resistance groups was specifically in answer to the pleas of the unidentified woman. This is the power of spirituality; it has the kind of logic that Netanyahu and his allies cannot possibly understand.
The writer is Islamabad based regular contributor.