Elmer is a journalist and researcher, and he co-hosts The Brief Podcast with Nora. He spent years as a reporter inside Palestine, covering the situation in Jenin and in Gaza in the early years of the second intifada.
The Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz recently reported that senior Israeli military intelligence officials are complaining that the bank of targets in the Gaza Strip has become “very problematic,” with the “quality of available targets being lower than the army would need to mount an effective operation.”
Meanwhile, the Israeli army announced it is considering deploying attack helicopters over the occupied West Bank, specifically to Jenin and the Jenin refugee camp.
Israel is also reportedly debating the use of armed drones that are capable of dropping grenades – methods that haven’t been used in the West Bank in nearly two decades.
This comes, Israeli media report, after an Israeli commando from a so-called counter-terror unit of the police was killed by Palestinian resistance factions in the Jenin camp.
We also discuss Israel’s assassination of Al Jazeera’s iconic Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh on 11 May in Jenin. Israel initially blamed Palestinians for Abu Akleh’s death and later walked back those claims, but Israeli police continued to attack her loved ones and mourners in the days after she was killed.
Elmer notes that there at the time Abu Akleh was killed, there was no crossfire between Palestinian resistance fighters and Israeli soldiers, as Israel and Western corporate media initially claimed.
“It’s a single shot from a sniper, who takes a deep breath and squeezes his trigger,” Elmer explains. “The situation is I think really shocking for Palestinians, because it really does feel like, you know, if you can take her, then you can take anybody. There isn’t anybody immune from it.”
Elmer talks about his own experience in Jenin refugee camp in the early days of the second intifada, when Israel’s armed helicopters would stalk residents overhead.
“The helicopter gunship is a psychological weapon,” he says.
“I was working in Jenin, so I was in a lot of situations where I would be sitting with people who I’m interviewing because of the work they do, and you’d be sitting around and you’d see the helicopter come up on the horizon and just do what a helicopter does, they can loiter. And it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying because there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Articles we discussed
- “Jenin fiercely resists Israel’s constant attacks,” Tamara Nassar
- “Even in death, Shireen Abu Akleh exposes Israel’s lies,” Maureen Clare Murphy
- “Israeli intelligence: Gaza target bank ‘very problematic’,” Haaretz
- “IDF mulling use of attack helicopters, drones to protect troops in West Bank raids,” Times of Israel
- “Podcast Ep 36: How Palestinian resistance defeated Israel,” The Electronic Intifada Podcast
Video production by Tamara Nassar
Theme music by Sharif Zakout
Subscribe to The Electronic Intifada Podcast on Apple Podcasts (search for The Electronic Intifada) and on Spotify. Support our podcast by rating us, sharing and leaving a review, and you can also donate to fund our work.
Lightly edited for clarity
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Welcome back to The Electronic Intifada Podcast, I’m Nora Barrows-Friedman with Asa Winstanley. We turn to the situation on the ground in Palestine. The Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported this past week that senior Israeli military intelligence officials are complaining that the Bank of targets in the Gaza Strip has become “ ‘very problematic,’ with the quality of available targets being lower than the army would need to mount an effective operation.”
Meanwhile, the Israeli army announced it is considering redeploying attack helicopters over the occupied West Bank, specifically to Jenin and the Jenin refugee camp, and is reportedly debating the use of armed drones that are capable of dropping grenades. This comes, Israeli media reports, after an Israeli commando from a so-called counter-terror unit of the police was killed by Palestinian resistance factions in the Jenin camp.
And of course on May 11, Al Jazeera’s iconic Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was executed by an Israeli sniper near the Jenin refugee camp. Israel initially blamed Palestinians for her death and later walked back those claims, but Israeli police continued to attack her loved ones and mourners in the days after she was killed. Live coverage of her funeral showed Israeli officers using batons against the pallbearers carrying Abu Akleh’s casket, nearly causing them to drop it.
We’re glad to have our good friend Jon Elmer back on the show today to help us make sense of all of this. Jon is a longtime journalist and researcher and he’s my co-host on The Brief Podcast. Jon, welcome back to The Electronic Intifada.
Jon Elmer: Always happy to be here.
Asa Winstanley: Great to have you on again. Your last appearance was – which I think was the first on video, once we introduced video, it went really crazy, you know. People are really hungry for that kind of deep analysis you were giving. So it’s great to have you on again.
Jon Elmer: Yeah, looking forward to the discussion.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: So Jon, first off, your initial thoughts on Israel’s execution of Shireen Abu Akleh and the attempts to not only blame Palestinians for her death, but not one corporate media outlet that I’ve read in the past week or so explained what the Israeli army was doing in the first place in Jenin camp. Give us some context in your reaction as a journalist and as someone who knows Jenin camp intimately.
Jon Elmer: Yeah, I mean, it’s shocking, not surprising, I guess is the term, right? The stature of Shireen in the Palestinian media community obviously made the situation particularly salient to everybody. People grow, like growing up, watching her cover, you know, watching her cover their homeland, and often while they’re not in their homeland, while they’re banned from their country watching outside. And so she wasn’t just any other reporter, she really had kind of come into, you know, grown up in the age of these Arab, like pan Arab satellite channels, international satellite channels like Al Jazeera, which really, for the first time was bringing that traditional news format, the satellite TV news format, where you can run without commercials for long periods of time on the ground – and that’s one thing that you know, one of the reasons that people, the kids in Palestine talk about Shireen is because sometimes she would be on a story for four live hours, right, like sometimes you’d watch all afternoon while she navigated her way around the the Israeli incursion into Ramallah during the first intifada.
And that kind of footage not just from Al Jazeera, but from local television as well, that was a critical, critical pillar for Palestinian unity in the intifada, the, you know, as a way of spreading the sort of collective courage when people were seeing what was going on, not in a clip, but with reporters that were actually remaining there, not to just get a couple of shots and some b-roll, but really spending the day with the people. And at times in the day, you know, she would have to take cover, we would all have to take cover in somebody’s home. And so then all of a sudden, you know, you’re getting depths, the depths, the layers to her reporting, all function like that. So she became, you know, seemed to a lot of people as like, basically a family member. And really the only reason that she’s getting any coverage in North America, and even the coverage she’s getting has been terrible. The CBC in Canada, where I live, was terrible on it.
But these deaths are what happens, like daily, right? Like the fact that she was wearing a flak jacket and a helmet – I mean, there was times in the intifada for journalists where we decided that you shouldn’t wear a helmet and a flak jacket, because they’re just going to murder you anyway, this idea that that a random bullet is going to hit you, it’s just really not how it works. I mean, maybe if you were a journalist, and you turned and ran away down an alley or something, something like that might happen, but – and Ali Samoudi who was with her at the event, they described it. And it sounded like any day in Jenin working, you interact with the soldiers, the soldiers aren’t coming out of some mysterious place.
They’re on an arrest raid, they’re blocking streets with their armored vehicles. And journalists are there in a group, everybody sees everybody. And this is where, you know, words like execution or assassination start to creep in, because they were there, they – that wasn’t the moment they pulled up, they had been there for 20 minutes, half an hour, sometimes you’ll sit on a story in Jenin for eight hours, waiting for the tanks to go. And in the daytime, the shooting in the daytime is very, very minimal. Palestinians aren’t going around shooting, carrying shootouts in the middle of a workday, in the middle of the sun, against a far more violent army. And so there was no back and forth, that they were like caught in between.
It’s a single shot from a sniper, who takes a deep breath, you know, and squeezes his trigger. It’s – it’s a murder, whether they knew it was her is unclear. Because usually it’s somebody that, you know, speaks Arabic and is on a lesser known network, or, you know, God forbid, works for Hamas television station, in which case, they’re celebrated as legitimate targets. So it’s, yeah, the situation is, I think really shocking for Palestinians, because it really does feel like you know, if you can take her, then you can take anybody, right like that there isn’t anybody immune from it.
Asa Winstanley: Yeah, she was a big name reporter, right? She was a household name all over the Arab world.
Jon Elmer: And she’d been covering situations like that up and down the West Bank, you know, particularly in the intifada in 2000 to 2003 or 2004 specifically. Yeah, I mean, she wasn’t reckless, like her job wasn’t to do the most dangerous thing. She was a people’s person. She wanted her crew to be safe. And you could see her on the day of the action. She has professional body armor, military grade helmet, you know, you can tell that they’re being careful, she wasn’t reckless or you know, this isn’t something like the Israelis say like, oh, you know, you get your nose in crossfire and it’s a dangerous – it’s not like that. It’s not like that. There’s not two sides standing and trenches shooting across at each other.
There’s an invasion by the Israelis. They like – they call it a raid. But essentially they’ll have, maybe they – may be only one, but they might have two or three names, almost assuredly school-aged children, that they’re going into the house to arrest. And in order to carry out that arrest, they have to come in – I mean, they can either come in secretly, dressed up as Arabs and try to grab them under stealth, but more often than not, what they do is they actually just come in and armored vehicles, hold down the block where the person lives, and that’s, that’s the arrest raid. And anytime the Israelis do that, anytime they mass armor, I mean, you guys know it better than anyone, anytime they amass armor, they get hit by stones. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, anytime there’s an Israeli military presence, it’s met by stones and resistance.
So you can see how all of those situations are very, in terms of like, military terrain, they’re very logical. She was a veteran reporter who was working with other veteran reporters. Ali Samoudi, the journalist who was shot first, I mean, he’s, he’s like a veritable librarian of the resistance in Jenin, he’s been covering it for, you know, for longer than Shireen. And in Jenin alone, he’s lived in Jenin, and he, you know, he’s been through, I wouldn’t even want to put a number on it, but, you know, 500 of those days. So there is a – there’s a logic to both sides to how Palestinians fight, to how the Israelis operate, to how journalists operate, especially ones who know what they’re doing like that. And that’s part of the tragedy is that essentially, you know, you don’t take cover as a journalist, you do the opposite, you actually want to put yourself out there, essentially, to say, it has to be a murder.
You know, we can’t be running down an alley and getting a shot skip off a wall and hit you. Your best bet is to just put your hands in the faith that the Israelis won’t murder you in cold blood. And then, you know, if you’re, if you so happened to be born in Jerusalem, and you want, your family wants to have your funeral in Jerusalem, they’ll attack the funeral at that time too. So it’s, yeah, it’s been, I think, for everybody, journalists, and Palestinians alike it’s just been, you know, it’s just cold. It’s a cold reality that we know. And really, nobody is immune. If anyone were to be immune, someone like Shireen was. She was not reckless. She was very much covering people’s stories. She was just as happy to duck into a refugee camp home and drink tea, and wait till the, you know, the action outside calms down. But there’s no – eventually, eventually, you do it enough days, and they killed her.
Asa Winstanley: Yeah, it happened – the killing happened last week as we’re filming this. And I just found the whole thing really depressing, because it’s, it’s like you said it was not surprising, but it was shocking in the sense that you kind of, I don’t know, I guess sometimes we kind of credit the Israelis with more intelligence, more common sense than they actually have – of well, you think well, they wouldn’t do this for someone so well-known, but like you said, it could have just been the whim of a particular soldier who decided, well, this is just some Arab journalist, and I’m not going to get any kind of repercussions for this. Nothing’s gonna happen to me. And if anything, I’ll probably be celebrated as the hero.
So you know, I could get away with it. And I’ll do it just because I can. And that’s kind of the logic of colonialism, and it had this massive impact on the Palestinians. I remember, I read one person in, I think it was in Jenin, a young man who was saying, I had friends who have been killed, I didn’t cry for them but I cried for Shireen. And I think it just says something really, about the sheer brutality of the nature of Israeli occupation.
Jon Elmer: And the reach of it. I think there’s something about a reach of it, because when they watched her on television, she had this kind of, you know, a kind of distance – she didn’t, she was very ground to earth, but, you know, the like, that they can take anyone, you know, I think it was just a real, like, yeah.
Asa Winstanley: It was sending a message.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Of course, and then, you know, even in death they attacked her, and they attacked her family. I mean, they went the day after she was killed they went to her family’s house in Jerusalem and, you know, started brutalizing family members and mourners, taking down, you know, telling them they had to take down the Palestinian flags outside their house. And then the day after that was the funeral and they attacked the pallbearers.
And then we have, you know, right-wing, Jewish communal newspapers, I think they ran this in Canada as well as the US, these op-eds, you know, Shireen Abu Akleh, should we mourn, you know, the death of an anti-Semitic journalist. So, this like this – this ongoing constant vilification and dehumanization of an icon, of a journalist.
Asa Winstanley: They murdered her twice.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Exactly.
Jon Elmer: Or her colleagues, right? Like even our colleagues, the professional colleagues at BBC, at the CBC in Canada, people who are journalists through and through, still, still weren’t able to pull through on this one story, you know, you can listen to them saying in their interviews, like, oh, well, they’ll jump in and say, well, we don’t know, we don’t have proof yet. You know, like, that’s, that’s the one thing they want to make sure in their news report that gets through is that we don’t know yet.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Right, still giving Israel the benefit of the doubt at all times.
Jon Elmer: With this kind of, you know, real collective cowardice. When it’s one of your own – like, there’s not even the elements of a basic union. Like, you know what I mean? There’s just rallying around your tribe and saying, like …
Asa Winstanley: Yeah, there’s not even any basic professional standards. It’s just pure ideology.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Not when it comes to Palestinians. Yeah.
Jon Elmer: Yeah. I mean, two weeks after they, you know, awarded a Pulitzer Prize to all journalists of Ukraine, right? For what, like just kind of meaningless gesture. You compare that to the way that they, you know, we could talk about the New York Times forever, but the way that – they Palestinians just magically die on their front pages is really unbelievable. And when you have – like she was in a press pool, when she was shot, there were eight other people in that situation.
Asa Winstanley: Um, we still don’t know, we still don’t know. It’s so mysterious, right?
Nora Barrows-Friedman: There were – there were eyewitnesses.
Jon Elmer: Many of them, and everybody around the edge of the camp was looking in and watching and like, yeah, and not even that. They could watch it. The journalists at the CBC could watch the video, and then probably wouldn’t jump to the, you know, to feeling like the most important interjection in the entire interview is to say, oh, excuse me to the, you know, female Palestinian journalist, you know, oh, excuse me. We don’t actually know that yet.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Right.
Jon Elmer: Slovenly. Like, yeah, it’s just kind of, yeah, it feels dirty. It feels dirty when you watch it happen. Jenin is a town that many journalists have been killed in. And so, you know, in terms – in Jenin terms, people were shocked. But you know, when, when there’s time to rebuild Palestine, there’ll be monuments to the journalists that were killed in Jenin, and she won’t be alone on that list. And this, this idea that Israel is able to make it seem like it was rare, like a rare occurrence like, Oh, we don’t we didn’t even know how this could happen. It’s ridiculous. Just ridiculous.
Asa Winstanley: Let’s shift pace a little bit and talk about recent events in Jenin. Jon, you spent time – you spent a lot of time in Jenin, you were in Jenin during the early days of the second intifada, which began as a an armed popular uprising, and increasingly became militarized as a response to Israel’s violence against Palestinian unarmed protesters.
And just recently, Israel made an announcement – or it came out in the Israeli press that they might – that they’re considering, once again, to deploy Apache attack helicopters in the West Bank, and specifically to Jenin. Could you talk about the significance of that announcement? And what does it say about the power of Palestinian armed resistance factions recently, especially in Jenin, but also about the collapse, or the coming collapse of the Palestinian Authority’s power structure which has helped Israel to undermine those factions for the past decade or more.
Jon Elmer: Yeah, so I mean, Israel’s helicopter gunships have played a really important role since the intifada, the second intifada began, and they carried out deep assassination campaigns using helicopters, Hellfire missiles, launching them on taxis, launching them on people walking down streets. They also used other forms like death squads that dress up like your neighbors and kill you. But the helicopter gunship is a psychological weapon. When you’re sitting in Jenin, you know, and I was working in Jenin, so I was in a lot of situations where I would be sitting with people who I’m interviewing because of the work they do, and you’d be sitting around and you’d see the helicopter come up on the horizon and just like, do what a helicopter does, they can loiter. And it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying, because it’s, there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re just kind of like, it’s a bolt coming from the sky.
And who’s this one aimed at? Psychologically, it’s significant, especially in a place like the West Bank where things are tight. And yeah, there was a lot of collateral damage from those attacks. But I think it’s signaling – I see it as a signaling of the return of the assassination policy. And Israel’s assassination policy was one of the critical pillars in destroying the Palestinian national movement, particularly during the intifada, they have assassinated, you know, dozens of leadership from each faction. And if you can imagine just eliminating, and what that leaves you with, you know, it leaves you with 20-year-old commanders, because your 35-year-old veterans are dead. And the biggest problem for Palestinian resistance has been to regenerate this, to bounce back from this assassination program in the West Bank that numbered 400 and 500 people, depending on how you count activists and leaders.
The capacity of those groups needs to be built back, and right on the heels of the assassination campaign, when they started to wind it down after Hamas won elections in 2006, then you had the Dayton plan which – so then you had the IDF and Palestinian security forces, so you had you had a two-pronged struggle now. Often, you’d get arrested from one and – and you’d get arrested by a PA and then you get arrested by Israel and get interrogated with what you told the PA. So the resistance in the West Bank got these multiple layers, and then – and then they walled it off. And so we haven’t really been able to, and I don’t think Israeli intelligence has been able to, to know for the last five or 10 years, how the re-emergence of the armed factions in the West Bank are going to play out.
And I would posit that neither did the armed factions know how it’s going to play out because it’s a - it’s a unique situation, you know, to create ghettos that are surrounding you. The difficulty of getting in and out of those ghettos, the ability to mount, you know, like critical actions like to get enough people when you’re walled off inside of these ghettos in the West Bank, like it is in Gaza. There weren’t a lot of ways for – once the Israelis left, there weren’t a lot of ways for people in Gaza to interact with the Israelis. And so they built a rocket program. They built a tunnel network, they built an indigenous arms manufacturing capacity.
The West Bank is a bit different, though, because the West Bank is completely encircled by Israel. And so getting things to the West Bank is very difficult. I mean, just selling your vegetables in the West Bank is difficult, right? So it’s, it’s – I still don’t, and I don’t think they do, have a clear answer about how it would escalate. What would an escalation look like?
The Israelis I think were saying that they’re going to escort their troops into Jenin. Like bring the helicopter gunships, because people in Jenin have been shooting back. And Jenin is one of the last places, maybe the last place in Palestine that actually still has gun caches. You know, like they have gun caches elsewhere, but a lot of them are homemade weapons. But legitimate fighting, like assault rifles, Jenin is pretty much the only place that has those at this point.
So they do fight back, they do shoot back, the the Israelis don’t get to just drive around and get hit by a paint bomb. They’re getting shot at and I mean, you can read, you can read the soldiers and, you know, Yediot Aharnot, or what’s the Channel Seven, the settler news, like you can you can hear the soldiers talking about getting shot at is up. You know, there was a bit of a downtime in the, you know, in the, in the 2010s, I guess.
But between last year’s unity action where the West Bank and Gaza seemed to be in unison on those actions around Haram al Sharif, and then even in ‘48, even in ‘48, there was demonstrations and things that I think was, if you remember back to the beginning of the first – the second intifada, those demonstrations that happened inside Israel, Palestinian demonstrations, those were seen as – and you know that Israel massacred 13 of them – those were considered a very crucial unification that hadn’t happened quite that way in the history before that. Their history, Palestinian history is always such in such flux, that it’s hard to say that it’s not like they didn’t think about it before. But it gave them an opportunity for that, I think in a way that hadn’t been before.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Thanks Jon. I wanted to bring it over to Gaza. As Asa mentioned, we had you on last year, almost exactly a year ago, to talk about the situation when Israel was bombarding Gaza for 11 days. Now, the Israeli army, as I mentioned before, has said that it has a, quote, problematic number of high-quality targets in Gaza. In the past, the Israeli army’s assessment of low-quality targets in Gaza, meant that it wantonly bombarded civilians in their homes and destroyed key facilities and infrastructure, just carpet bomb policy.
So the assessment that they announced this week is significant for two reasons. One, obviously that it is pre-admitting war crimes against Palestinian civilians, the next time they decide to bomb Gaza. But two, that their surveillance and intelligence matrix inside Gaza is sweeping, they know who lives in every home, they can somehow attach some sort of, you know, metric to low-quality versus high-quality, just a stupefying, you know, dehumanizing label to begin with, but you know, and they possibly know the rank of each resistance faction member. How do you think Israel has been assessing another assault? And what can you say about the capabilities of the resistance in Gaza now?
Jon Elmer: Yeah, I mean, there’s a certain deterrence, I think that they’ve reached. And these are – I just see these as verbal, verbal threats, essentially saying, like, we’ve knocked out all your military stuff, and now we’re coming for your families. But I mean, that’s something I think that they always do. They definitely have a lack of targets. Islamic Jihad and Hamas have been for 15-plus years building an underground network, which consists of tunnels, but also crucially consists of like office spaces and training areas and areas to keep what might be targeted above ground away from the targets.
I mean, one of the frustrations that Israel has is that following the Hezbollah war in 2006, that Qassam buried its launchers. So they have rocket launchers that come up from the sand, fire and then buried, and they have, like a heat suppression blanket over the top. And so there’s no, the Israelis get really frustrated that they can’t fly around and target the thing that just launched the thing that just launched on YouTube, and we all watched it on Twitter, whatever, and the Israelis can’t do anything about it. And then the other parts of the target bank are they’ve destroyed the country like destroyed the enclaves. They’ve destroyed the ghetto, like, what, six, seven times in the last 15 years or whatever?
Like, some stuff gets rebuilt and it’s amazing what Palestinians do, reusing the concrete and re-straightening the rebar and stuff like that. But yeah, your target bank is smaller because you’ve carried out, you know, four of the most brutal wars of oppression …
Asa Winstanley: They already bombed everything.
Jon Elmer: Right, like on a trapped people. It’s just – and then they’ll take out entire – I mean I mean go back to the Jenin camp, they took out the entire area of the Jenin camp where the most famous ambush happened, where the soldiers were going through the narrow alleys and got pulled into what they call the bathtub by a teenager. And they lost 13 of them in the camp at that time. And they just lost their minds. And that’s what led them to bulldoze the entire camp.
So then you can see them saying a few years later that Jenin has a few less targets in the target bank, right? Because they literally demolished the entire place. And they don’t make any distinctions in the Gaza Strip, either, right? Because it’s a Hamas government, it’s a Hamas telecommunications company, it’s Hamas police officers, it’s Hamas teachers. It’s yeah. So there’s, yeah, they’ve never shown any problem going outside of their target bank. But I think it also is a sign that they don’t, they don’t have the on the ground intelligence that they used to have, right? They used to live inside Gaza. They used to – Palestinians used to get arrested inside Gaza and taken to Israeli bases.
There was an interaction, there was a, you know, there was a presence that’s just not there now. The Israelis, for the Israelis to get spy information from Gaza, it’s not as easy as it once was. Because it’s got to be done, you know, in ways that are easier to be caught. And so, yeah, I think that they don’t have very good intelligence on the ground. And I don’t think they have a very big target bank, because they don’t have very good intelligence on the ground.
I mean, some of this Israeli stuff, some of it’s like inter-agency debating, right, like trying to get more assets pointed at this thing. So when one head of one branch of the military says we need more, you know, target acquisitions as a message to the intelligence side to try to figure out, you know, because the thing is, what are the targets that they’re targeting? If the group is underground, and has the capacity to move all around underground, and your forces, Israel, are quite clearly not going to be invading Gaza anytime soon based on what happened last time, and the fact that they’re now however many years since 2014, their tunnels are that much better. I don’t see a ground operation happening. And so it’s the Air Force in, to a degree, saying, like, give us more targets, because if all we can do is drop bombs from the air, we need to have a longer list.
Asa Winstanley: Yeah, I think the point you make about intelligence is a good one, because Hamas – since Hamas was elected to power in 2006, they’ve been quite determined to root out collaborators and informants, and, you know, they control the Gaza Strip, in a quite singular fashion, whereas when the Palestinian Authority was in charge before 2006, they were notoriously corrupt for one thing, but also, the Palestinian Authority is an entity whose whole reason for existence is to collaborate with Israel.
Like you mentioned, the resistance fighters would be interrogated by the PA and then re-interrogated by the Israelis who then use – basing their questions on what they were told by the PA and, of course, you know, another notorious example of that, which I think was talked about before was the kidnap, essentially by the Israelis of the – of Ahmad Sadat, the the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in when was that? 2005 2006?
Jon Elmer: Yeah, even later, 2007, because he was in the prison for a couple of years. Right.
Asa Winstanley: So he was – he had been held by the Palestinian Authority in kind of a collusion agreement between the British government and the Israelis. And but even that wasn’t enough for them and they invaded, you know, they invaded and bulldozed the prison and kidnapped him. So yeah, I mean, I think the the lack of targets has got to do – a lot to do with lack of good intelligence on the ground in Gaza, like you said, but also it is just, they’ve bombed everything already, essentially. And the military infrastructure, as you’ve mentioned, in Gaza is so much more sophisticated now than it used to be. You know, it’s done this stupendous job of these kinds of Viet Cong-style resistance tunnels underground, this huge network that we’ve seen so much about and heard so much about.
Jon Elmer: Yeah, and that makes it so that the Israelis – I just don’t think there’s any way there’s a ground invasion happening, if you can imagine that. I think I said it on the show when we’re talking last time, but can you imagine 30 Israeli soldiers sitting in a circle deciding who’s going down the tunnel first? It doesn’t seem like it’s gonna happen.
Asa Winstanley: They’d get wiped out. What do you make of this whole recent upsurge? And this has been a kind of return of armed resistance to the West Bank. This is quite significant, quite a significant development. You know, like you said, the armed resistance in the West Bank really came to an end quite some time ago now, you know, I mean, we could date it back to certainly the end of the 2010s. And, you know, of course, there have been individual armed attacks that have been carried out but it seems only recently in the last year, really, that there’s been a real guerrilla base, an upsurge in Jenin. That’s how it seems to me.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Yeah, since the attacks on Gaza last year.
Asa Winstanley: Yeah, of the armed factions, of organized armed factions. And and we can’t as well underestimate the effect, the psychological effect of the six escaped Palestinian prisoners too, so what what do you make of the significance of the return of armed resistance to the West Bank base in Jenin and what do you think its prospects are for success in a – to develop in a similar way to what has happened in Gaza?
Jon Elmer: Yeah, I mean, I think Jenin is a complicated story. Jenin is held, like the areas around Jenin are held by Islamic Jihad. And in the city, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades are a strong faction within the city. And they are ostensibly opposed to the PA, which creates this really interesting sort of, you know, there’s a real independent streak in Jenin …
Asa Winstanley: But the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is, you know, began as an armed faction of Fatah.
Jon Elmer: Yeah. So you have the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades attacking the legislative offices of the Fatah and the Palestinian Authority when they were, you know, to hold the line on what – there was a number of agreements about standing down militants in Jenin. And they were given a chance to, you know, sort of be absorbed into the PA security force. So they created this dynamic where there’s an armed security force in Jenin, PA security force, which hadn’t happened since the intifada, but was – what the dream originally for Israel was was that PA guys in Jenin would be security for Jenin. I mean, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Jenin were anti-Arafat when I was living there.
Arafat came after the massacre in the Jenin camp, the war in the Jenin camp, and he came in by helicopter. And Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades members fired at the helicopter because it didn’t want him and Saeb Erekat to land because they were – they felt they had been sold out by that situation. So the weapons in Jenin are in part because the camp is virtually impenetrable.
And there was some stuff on the Shireen story that she was in the camp but she was not in the camp. She was on the road on the outside of the camp. And the road that the Israelis were on, on the outside of the camp because they’re not going into the camp. And that, that allows their possibilities for gun caches, something as simple as a hidden gun cache where you can not get raided and lose them all. And Jenin has been able to apparently protect those.
And Jenin also has links to Northern Israel. So they trade, I mean, the wall prevents that now, but there’s at least to some degree, like a criminal smuggling possibility from the north, into the sort of, into the Galilee areas, so they do have guns. Whereas in Hebron, or in Jerusalem, you’re seeing people with like handmade Carlo guns and stuff like that. But Jenin is firing back with real weapons and …
Asa Winstanley: And where are these weapons from? Because for – I mean, it’s a hard question to answer, but a lot of them look to be American weapons.
Jon Elmer: Yeah, a lot of them are, I think, just straight up, a lot of them are sold by Israelis. They’re sold on the criminal market in Israel. And between the Arab, you know, the Palestinian Israelis and the Israelis themselves. Before the fence was there, Jenin had very intimate relations in northern Israel. And then some of the funniest stories, we would be sitting drinking a cup of tea and somebody would come race and down the road and a brand new car and pull the e-brake and spin it around the town square, and it’d be some Israeli’s car that he had just stolen by hitching into town and whatever, and their phone’s in the car.
And yeah, so there was a lot of that – there’s a lot of the criminal smuggling to get weapons and then there, yeah, like, I think I, I mean, I’m not – I don’t know this, but I’m assuming that the cache, the place that they’re storing them, is better than in any of these other places that get raided. And, you know, over the last 20 years, we’ve seen a number of places where they’ll put four or five guns on a table and say, like this, we caught this from this, you know, metal foundry shop or whatever. It doesn’t take all that many guns to make Israel realize they’re contending with weaponry.
You know, when they came when they left town, after picking up Zakaria Zubeidi and the others that broke out of the prison, they got followed on motorbikes, they were being shot at from motorbikes, which is an interesting tactic that hadn’t seen too much before, but highly effective. But yeah, in reality, when they come in, in all that armor, there’s not a lot that you can do. It’s shooting at an armored vehicle, unless you’ve got some kind of particular inside information, is just – Palestinians just unfortunately, don’t have the weaponry right now. And they don’t have the raw explosives that they used to have access to when there was not a wall all around Jenin.
And it makes – it’s made it a lot tougher. And I think that’s something that’s, I mean, maybe it’s going on internally, and we just haven’t seen it yet. And when the intifada in the West Bank breaks out, we can say okay, that’s what they were doing. We can see it after the fact. But what – from what we know right now. You know, there’s been a war on militants in the West Bank for 22 straight years, and it was – 15 of it was the Israelis, and they smashed them, they killed hundreds of them. They killed their family members, they destroyed their schools and their shops, and their, you know, they missed years of going to school.
And then just as that ended, you know, Hamas gets elected, and – all through the West Bank, by the way, Hamas gets elected and Israel puts together an international coalition of trainers including Canada, including the UK to – and led by the US – to train indigenous Palestinians to fight the other Palestinians that still want to fight. And so those two groups haven’t fought. Palestinians haven’t shot at each other. But there’s a layer below that, that just – like they wiped out all the charities. They wiped out all the community centers, you know, anything Hamas, anything church related, all those, you know, church events, they were destroyed. The Imams were fired, you know, the PA fired the Imams so they couldn’t be on the mosques.
The war, yeah, it just took on a new shape. And in that war, Palestinian resistance has chosen not to shoot back at Palestinian – like they’ve clearly made a choice not to shoot back at Palestinian agents, which just makes it difficult for us to know how many weapons there are. Because for the most part, Israel’s playing it pretty safe. They’re – they’re not trying to get killed. They’re always trying to play it safe.
I mean, guns aren’t the only thing we remember like that raid last year, two years ago on the camp outside Ramallah, where the where the kid, the teenager dropped a slab of tile off the roof onto the soldier because – he didn’t have any guns, because his family’s home was raided, and they didn’t have any – you know, and it took a slab of tile of concrete and dropped it off the thing. So it’s, you know, they’re always, they’re always in a state of resistance. It’s difficult from the outside to know how much stockpile has been able to be amassed because the wall, the wall around most parts of the West Bank is very formidable.
There’s parts around Jenin that are less so but the amount of space that you have to cover and just – it’s a lonely space when you’re out there without an Israeli ID. So there’s just real limitations, like physical geography, like manmade geography, limitations that are very difficult to – like this ghettoizing of Palestine is a strategic, it’s a strategic move for Israel. And it’s going to, I think, be reckoned with in the next, you know, like, the – the next intifada is going to have to reckon with these walls, with these ghettos with, you know, and the Palestinian security forces themselves are going to have to decide at some moment, are we going to shoot on our own people? Or are we going to turn our guns in the other direction?
And I think it’s, it’s not clear where we’re at at that point, if you’ll remember the second intifada began, began with Palestinian security forces turning their guns on Israelis on mutual patrols, you know, like on a shared patrol, just turned and shot him with this gun. And that was basically for Israel, you know, that was when they were like, they changed all the rules about who gets to be trained. That was Dayton, Keith Dayton. And that was the, you know, the famous quote by Dayton that they were going to “create new men.” This isn’t this wasn’t going to be the PLO that was armed. Because after, you know, after the first peace agreement, there’s a significant element of the Palestinian population that wants a Palestinian security force.
Like people, good people, principled leftists, you know, principle national liberation strugglers said, if they’re gonna give us guns, and money to train and create our own army, it would be stupid for us to not do that. Right? So there’s legitimate voice early on in creating the Palestinian security forces that Palestinians said, yeah, let’s get guns. Let’s get a base like in Jericho, let’s train. Let’s do these things, because it’s a way to train our fighters. And then by the first, by the second intifada, Israel could quickly see that that couldn’t work. And they had to, they stood them all down immediately. And then when they rebuilt them under Keith Dayton, they said, these were “new men.” And then they did all these things where like, all these sociological things, right? Like, they didn’t put people in their own village. Because that would be humiliating. So they would move people to places strategically because they know what they’re doing is illegitimate. So those were the changes to attempt to – yeah, I mean, and it’s true.
Those PA guys that were armed by Israel became the second intifada. That’s where the guns came from. And the PA guys at the beginning of the intifada people went to them, you know, like, Marwan Barghouti went to his men and he said, You don’t have to fight. You don’t have to fight in this uprising. But you gotta give us your guns. And so he went around and collected from all these PA security officials who collected all their guns, and gave them a way to say, you know, like, I’m not against you. I don’t want to get killed by the Israelis for doing it. But I’m putting my weapon, my service weapon, into the pile.
And that’s, boom, that’s when there were weapons all of a sudden in the hands of West Bank communities who for the three or four days before that were just getting massacred in the streets, right? Israel was just opening fire on demonstrations. And then there was a couple of demonstrations where Palestinian security forces shot back at Israel. And then that was mayhem, and so Marwan Barghouti organized people and said, like, we can’t be having this on a one-off basis, like, let’s collect all the weapons, let’s you know, and that’s how the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades were formed, and the Tanzeem by saying, like, let’s redistribute the weaponry that Israel in the United States has fashioned us, and the military training, in theory, that they had been working on for, you know, a decade after Oslo.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: In the coming weeks and months, you know, I mean, it feels right now like tensions are super high and thick in the West Bank, you know, as well as Gaza, but but especially in the West Bank, in the coming weeks and months, what, what kind of terrain would Palestinian resistance factions be facing? You know, if a – if an uprising, if another intifada were to break out at this point? I mean, what could that look like?
Jon Elmer: I mean, I think this is the question. And I think it’s the question I’m sure that’s happening in cafes and living rooms all over Palestine. Israel has, for 70 years, had a, you know, a divide and conquer policy that’s so obvious to see that they literally put concrete walls as their divides, right. And, you know, people have three different types of ID at least, because some of those IDs break down into multiple IDs themselves. So where can you have congregations? I mean, if you look at even Shireen’s funeral, it was like tens of thousands of people, but there were – they were stopped at this checkpoint. There were thousands at that checkpoint, there was thousands over there.
So it’s going to be – Yeah, I don’t think Israel knows either. I’m not sure Israel knows, either. I think the idea that Dayton trained “new men,” it seems unlikely. I believe that if the tribe, if the community is locked in struggle, and for Palestinians, it’s virtually an existential struggle at this point, that a popular uprising is inevitable. But I – I don’t know how soon, I don’t know how soon I see that. But I don’t think anyone doesn’t. People don’t see all the great moments in history often, so, but I’m optimistic for sure. And I think that it’s important to note that Palestinians paid a brutal price for their uprising.
And they lost a lot of family members, scientists, you know, journalists, doctors, mathematicians, artists, you know, grandmas and grandpas, young brothers. So the toll is high, and they know the toll is high. And I think that the thing about Palestinians is that should an opening, should there be an opening, should an open an opportunity arise, and always seems like, you know, rallying the troops is not not the hard part – there’s a significant amount of unity that I think maybe faded a bit in the last, you know, decades.
The Syria war definitely made things complicated for Palestine solidarity stuff. But I think we should be able to at this point, you know, be part of an international, you know, consensus or operate set of operating principles that makes Palestinians have as much space as possible in the meantime, through BDS, boycott, divestment, sanctions campaigns, and various things like that. And then when the time comes, to be ready.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Jon Elmer, you are a journalist and researcher and my co-host on The Brief Podcast at TheBriefPodcast.com. Your website is JonElmer.ca, and you’re on Twitter at @JonElmer. Jon, thank you so much and we’ll have you back on real soon.