Podcast Ep 72: New generation of resistance does not fear Israel

On episode 72, we speak about the current situation in the occupied West Bank with Abdaljawad Omar from Palestine’s Birzeit University.

In January alone, Israeli police, soldiers and settlers killed at least 35 Palestinians, including seven children, in the West Bank, as the violent repression in the territory that escalated throughout 2022 carried into the new year.

Those deaths include 10 Palestinians who were fatally injured during a raid in Jenin refugee camp – the single deadliest operation in the West Bank since at least 2005, according to a UN official.

Israel’s escalation of violence and collective punishment is targeted against a new generation of Palestinian fighters who, Omar explains, are rising to challenge Israel’s power in the West Bank.

“There’s a rise of new spaces of resistance, if you want to call them – they have made life harder for the Israeli military to enter and arrest and exercise the power of arrest, which has been going on for the past decade or so without much resistance,” he says.

He explains that in addition to Israel’s usual raids and arrest campaigns, the army is using its full force to quell this new generation of Palestinians.

“We’re seeing self-defense zones defending themselves against an Israeli military that is attempting to kill them,” he says.

We also talk about the role of the Palestinian Authority, and its role as subcontractor to Israel’s occupation in the context of its diminishing economic and political power amongst Palestinians.

There is a “form of ideological power that maintains the PA,” he says, “but still, there’s a process of unbinding happening, a process where people are rejecting that.”

Articles we discussed

Video production by Tamara Nassar

Theme music by Sharif Zakout

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Full transcript

Lightly edited for clarity.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Welcome back to The Electronic Intifada Podcast, and welcome to our first episode of 2023. Today we’re joined by Abdaljawad [Omar], a PhD student and lecturer in the Philosophy and Cultural Studies Department at Birzeit University in Palestine, to talk about the current situation on the ground in the occupied West Bank.

As our senior editor Maureen Murphy reported, in January alone, Israeli police, soldiers and settlers killed at least 35 Palestinians, including seven children, in the West Bank, as the violent repression in the territory that escalated throughout 2022 carried into the new year. Those deaths include 10 Palestinians who were fatally injured during a raid in Jenin refugee camp – the single deadliest operation in the West Bank since at least 2005, according to a UN official.

The uptick in fatalities followed a series of deadly attacks in Israel during March 2022, several of them carried out by Palestinians from the Jenin area of the northern West Bank, which has seen a resurgence in armed resistance against Israel’s regime of apartheid, occupation and settler colonization.

Since then, the Jenin area has endured almost daily raids, resulting in dozens of deaths. On January 26th, Israeli forces killed nine Palestinians during a raid in Jenin refugee camp. A 10th Palestinian died from his injuries days later. Two children and a 61-year-old woman were among those killed in the Jenin raid.

Twenty Palestinians were injured, four of them critically, according to the health ministry. Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, said that the raid began with a siege on a home in the camp. Three occupants of the building were killed by Israeli shelling. The military also bulldozed part of a community organization in the camp and targeted electricity generators, cutting off power and internet in the area, including to the main hospital in Jenin, according to the rights group.

Palestinians in Gaza fired rockets towards Israel following the deadly Jenin raid and Israel hit sites in Gaza that it claimed were used to manufacture rockets.

That was from our Palestine in Pictures monthly report by our editor Maureen Murphy, we’ll have the link to that in the blog post that accompanies this episode. Aboud [Omar], thanks so much for joining us.

Abdaljawad Omar: Thank you so much for having me. I’m glad to be here.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: We’re really glad you’re here too. Can you talk about the last month in the West Bank in particular, and what you’ve observed yourself in terms of the escalation in Israeli attacks, and the current atmosphere on the ground?

Abdaljawad Omar: I think I mean, the current situation is as follows, is that we, in the West Bank, there’s a rise of new spaces of resistance, if you want to call them, like they have made life harder for the Israeli military to enter and arrest and exercise the power of arrest, which has been going on for the past decade or so without much resistance. And these spaces have mostly been basically self-defense types of, you know, revolutionary positioning, so they’re not acting or enacting a lot of offensive operations, they mostly handle the military when they enter these areas.

And this has created a situation where Israel is just not having it. So they’re going in and exercising, instead of the power of the arrest, the power of death, of killing and, and of creating this, that what you rendered just previously, the intensity of death that is happening in the West Bank is a direct result of that. So this is what’s happening at this point. I mean, we can talk about why these spaces rose and how they rose and what they tell us about […] economics, etc. But at least in terms of the tactical and military conversation, we’re seeing basically, self-defense zones defending themselves against an Israeli military that is attempting to kill them.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Yeah, let’s talk about why they’ve reappeared in especially areas in the northern West Bank, in Jenin and in Nablus, where the Lions Den is located and is defending the communities there. You know, especially in terms of the lack of real defense by the Palestinian Authority, which is, you know, supposed to be in charge of defending Palestinians in the West Bank. But, as we all know, the Palestinian Authority has remained basically a subcontractor of the Israeli occupation.

In the last week or so we saw the PA announce that it would be pausing its so-called security coordination with Israel. You know, they’ve said that before, and of course, no pause happened. Can you talk about what it, you know, really the role of the Palestinian Authority and how that fits into the context of what we’re seeing with the Lions Den, for example, other resistance factions, really stepping in to provide civilian defense.

Abdaljawad Omar: I mean, it’s a long story. But to make it short, I mean, I think the PA is central to all of this. The PA since 2006, because in the second intifada, it was basically mostly destroyed as at least an institutional existence and was resurrected in an attempt to provide again, the Israelis with the power to expand in terms of territorial settlement expansion, etc., while the PA handles the people, the Palestinian people living the West Bank, specifically, excluding Jerusalem, of course. So in this sense, what we had is this kind of door, wall where we have where you have a military occupation that enables settlement expansion and a PA, which deals with the people, civil issues, security coordination and other realms.

But the PA has almost always sold the Palestinians a very ideological stance that this current situation is only temporary, that it’s working towards the realization of a state. And that its realization of the state is built on the strategy of legal international lawfare, that it’s built on, you know, pressuring the EU, the US to interfere in the conflict by proving their ability to maintain security on the ground. The idea was that eventually, the Europeans and Americans will come in and give us a state. And that never really [happened], you know. I mean, since 2012, the EU and a lot of international organizations declared Palestine ready to become a state, but the state never actually has borne fruit. So you have the situation where its basic ideological premise that it sells to the people basically is crumbling.

Therefore, we’re seeing this kind of unbinding process, if you want, from the PA, even among Fatah caterers who are somewhat tied to the PA, at least present or represent the social base on which the PA relies to maintain its control, its social power in society, and particularly the north of the West Bank, beyond its long history of resistance to the Israelis and the Zionist – and Zionist colonization, I mean, it goes back before ‘48, beyond that memory of resistance that plays a role in its resurgence today, has not been really an essential part of PA planning, economic development, institutional building.

So you also have this kind of neglect that also, you know, have a lot of social antagonisms, about how the PA dealt with its, you know, placing Ramallah as a central place for its existence. So where all the ministries are, where most of its developmental aid goes to, and actually joined a lot of people from areas like Jenin and Nablus to work into Ramallah, no? So actually, the people who might serve as, let’s say, an echo of PA ideology, in the north of the West Bank, are mostly living in Ramallah, which means that we can see the north of the West Bank is one of the areas where PA ideological power, social presence, is the weakest. And, therefore, it provides, under the current situation on the ground, the pretext for why a lot of these new movements are rising and, you know, holding arms, developing the self-defense strategies that I talked about.

I mean, it goes also to the presence of other Palestinian militant groups like the Islamic Jihad, Hamas, people who are in Fatah, but are unhappy about the current leadership or other parts of Palestinian political parties that are basically pushing for a new configuration and new presence on the ground. One that is built, generally speaking, on a new generation of Palestinians, people from 18 to 35, who are willing to take [up arms] and who are presenting or representing this kind of new spirit of resistance in different ways. We can also talk about that later, but at least my reading is that the north of the West Bank seems a logical place for such a resistance in its current form as a self-defense zone, I mean, because remember, resistance exists everywhere else, but it takes just different forms.

But in the north of the West Bank, it’s one of these places where the social marginalization of these places, and the ideological unbinding from the PA, but also a hugely important point, which is the existence of a lot of refugee camps, old cities – and these are very narrow spaces or cramped spaces, if you want, which enable the development of like self-defense, civilians, armed and capable of engagement, military engagement with the Israeli army. So I mean, these cramped spaces are the [hotbeds of] resistance right now, because they present like a cover, you know, a social, but also an urban cover for these resistance fighters who are attempting this kind of self-defense zone-making in the north of the West Bank. Yeah.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Right. And, you know, consequently, Israel is doing – I mean, the massacre that happened in Jenin just a few weeks ago, where, you know, Israeli jets were, you know, dropping missiles on Jenin, which hasn’t happened for more than a decade and a half – the reaction by, you know, the Israeli apartheid government, and also the PA has been pretty vicious. And, you know, how does – What happens during a massacre like that? What is the intention of Israel? And how is the resistance, you know, maintaining despite all of these attacks against it?

Abdaljawad Omar: I mean, what enables resistance is this like, position that the resistance fighter is taking in the Palestinian context, right now. I mean, what we see with this new generation is this unwillingness to actually surrender or negotiate. It does happen sometimes, but mostly they’re unafraid of that – they have this wager with death, they accept that they might die, they accept this probability. And that’s what makes them very […] and perhaps revolutionary, you know, like, because this kind of acceptance of this makes them outside the ability of Israeli power to enact itself. So the intensity of violence actually represents Israel losing control, it doesn’t represent Israel actually maintaining control.

I mean, to retain control, it uses this, you know, Israeli power, air power and discussions over how to tactically kill these groups, intelligence information on these groups, special forces and the use of it, whether there should be a large scale military, military operation, or whether they should just sustain this kind of like, pressure on these groups by creating like, you know, special types of operations that they enter refugee camps or the Old City in Nablus, you know, targeting a specific, let’s say, cell and then they leave. The Israelis are attempting a different mix of tactics. But what is essential here is that, for the first time, at least in 16 years, you have hundreds of Palestinians if not more, and a surrounding environment that accepts this wager with death. And that’s why, you know, you see Israelis acting the way they act.

And I think it also has reasons with the Israeli mentality when it comes to enacting military operations. They don’t want to lose any soldiers. They want to go in without having anybody killed. So they enact operations where they use heavy fire, they have heavy firepower. Remember most of these fighters didn’t ever actually kill an Israeli, didn’t ever actually commit operations that actually led to any Israeli death. But despite that, they’re treated with this kind of heavy-handed military, you know, and security mentality by the Israelis. The insistence in Israel on protecting its soldiers means that when they enter any area, they’re willing to use firepower mostly indiscriminately.

And this leads to these – to what happened a week ago or 10 days ago, in Jenin, of 10 people being killed in one operation, and a lot of other people being injured, severely, etc. So this is the problem. This is the dynamic that is happening. And I think, you know, historically Israel has lost some of its, let’s say, you know, heroism, its capability of entering areas, land areas, there’s an Israeli insecurity about this, you know, in Lebanon, they were defeated, in Gaza, it wasn’t easy. And, therefore, this type of heavy-handed approach policy comes also from this long history of actually meeting resistance fighters in Lebanon, Gaza, and other places and being defeated on the ground at least. So I mean, this reliance on firepower, on airpower is partially the result of this failure, of this historical failure. So they’re using their technologies, their good intelligence, special operations, go in and out without any injuries on their soldiers, and therefore they’re willing to commit whatever is necessary to do that.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Right, I mean, they thought that they had successfully quelled the resistance in the West Bank, you know, for the last 16, 17 years. Can you talk about this new generation of fighters that you mentioned? And how these factions are emerging with, you know, relative success at this point?

Abdaljawad Omar: I mean, yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of debate about, you know, how you can measure success, because success always is like a very, let’s say, instrumental, rationalist type of, like, thinking, no? It comes to the rise of this new generation, I think, and this is actually in Israeli reading. The Israelis read this, as this is a generational fight. We have a new generation of Palestinians. These guys are not scared to die. And we need to remind them of Israeli power, and maybe we need to remind them of what Israel could do, we need to create yet another trauma.

And, therefore, again, this goes back to our earlier question of why the use of, you know, firepower in the way Israel is using, I mean, this new generation of Palestinians, that has not been a witness to the second intifada, or the first intifada, has not been truly arrested or gone through the motions of mourning or gone through the motions of interrogations in Israeli prisons, this new, fresh, if we want to say, generation of people that, you know, that has this, like, will to power, will to engage the Israeli military, need to be reminded of Israel’s power, of Israel’s military capabilities of its – military intelligence of Israel’s ability to kill, to choose who to kill, to choose who not to kill. And, therefore, you see this kind of like also, enactment of trauma on the, you know, why Israelis are, you know, excessively using firepower and not only in Jenin and Nablus, actually all over, you know, the West Bank because they’re reading it somewhat as a generational fight that they need to win. They need to make sure that this new generation of Palestinians also understands that they cannot be successful, that they cannot challenge Israel’s power in the West Bank, that they cannot make a difference.

And, therefore, this excessive use of killing, arrests, et cetera. And I mean, if you look at the last year, the policy has been an expansion of arrest, even what is called in Israel, like, you know, administrative detention was, is a form of preventive arrest, it’s attempting to kill any form of political leadership arising around this form of struggle, by, you know, choosing people who they think might provide, you know, the infrastructure for the rise of a new leadership, a leadership that could prove an alternative to the current PA leadership and the class interests it represents.

So at this moment, the Israeli strategy of containment and maintaining pressure on the self-defense zones, of these new spaces of resistance, and attempting to close, you know, the wall at the beginning of the year, make sure the security wall is actually a security wall like that no Palestinian could enter into the heart of the settlements and in 1948, this whole policy that they’re there, they see it as something that is going to escalate, that’s something that is gonna, you know, roll on in the next couple of months, even years, and, therefore, they need to be ready. And, therefore, they’re kind of like, you know, trying to eat Palestinians for lunch before Palestinians eat them for dinner. I mean, that’s the logic, you know, I’m not sure if it’s gonna work because they’re also creating the space [and] escalation in the conflict. Yeah.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Abboud Hamayel, part of part of this, like, you know, this, this escalation of violence is, I mean, it’s part and parcel of, like, what a settler colony does, you know, it deputizes its citizens to be part of the, you know, security apparatus. We see this now, just in the last week, the Israeli government announced that it would be expanding licenses for personal firearms for Israeli settlers. You know, and this is – I actually was surprised, I didn’t think there were many licenses to begin with or, you know, or restrictions on, like, how many firearms Israelis can carry. But what does this signify in terms of national political policy with this new Israeli government, and what could be the result of, like, the escalation of literal firearms in the hands of Israeli settlers?

Abdaljawad Omar: It’s actually ironic, because in many cases where they expanded the existence of firepower, you saw Israelis killing Israelis, no? I mean, and mistaking another Israeli … You know, Israeli society is also like, conflicted, that has different ethnicities and groups, and, you know, a Yemenite Jew, or, you know, a Sephardic Jew is different than Ashkenazi. And this creates a lot of different problems. And it happened actually, repeatedly, where, you know, this fear of the rise of, let’s say, another form of resistance in the past couple of years, which was based on what is called in, like, let’s say, military literature like, the lone wolf phenomenon. I mean, I think it’s a wrong description of this phenomenon.

But what’s happening is that, beyond the self-defense zones, and this is what happened after Jenin, you saw operations happening in the heart of Jerusalem, you know, in East Jerusalem, the settlement of Neve Yaakov and other places. So Israelis, in their war in the north of the West Bank, are getting also, you know, attacks by Palestinians, in the south of, you know, in the Negev, in the heart of Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem, in other places, and one of the most important elements of that is that they cannot actually predict it, intelligence doesn’t work here, no?

Because it’s not an organized phenomenon […] actually have, you know, predictive capacity or infiltrate a specific group or understand the specific, you know, organization and its network of operations. It’s somebody who has the will to go and act, you know, an operation, and Israel just doesn’t have a real response for that. So you see this kind of, like, you know, spiraling of different policies, where Israel is trying to maintain what it calls Hata’a in Hebrew or, or what is it called, you know, deterrence, you know, so, you know, if somebody attacks Israelis, or settlements, or settlers or soldiers, we’re gonna, like, kidnap his body, that’s the first, we’re gonna make his family pay a price, you know, a very tribal approach as well, you know, you killed one of us, so we’re gonna, like make your family hurt. It’s also something that is under international law, you know, rejected under any law actually, is also rejected …

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Collective punishment, right.

Abdaljawad Omar: Collective punishment, closing or destroying somebody’s house. Now, they’re talking about maybe deporting people or doing other types of stuff, increasing the presence of what you just said, you know, licenses for guns. So this kind of like – this kind of spiraling of policy, of trying to maintain like some sort of deterrence, despite its failure historically, despite that it didn’t really actually create the deterrence that they wanted to create, means they’re in a very hard position, it means that they’re, you know, they don’t really know what to do, they don’t really know how to solve this problem, they don’t really know how to solve this phenomenon.

And that shows, you know, the weakness of the current Israeli mentality of dealing with the Palestinian issue only on a security, military basis. So it’s not a political issue, it’s just a security issue. And they can enact whatever security issue they want. But as we see over and over again, throughout the history of Palestinian confrontation with Israeli colonialism, since the first Zionist settler came in, resistance has just a way of coming back in different forms, in different generations, different Palestinians. And it has a way of, you know, exploiting these types of weaknesses, even on the level of what we just said, this lone wolf phenomenon that they have no real answer to.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Finally, let’s talk a little bit about how you’re seeing the situation kind of unfolding. I know, it’s impossible to predict or to speculate. But based on what we’re seeing with, you know, as we mentioned, like the resurgence of these West Bank factions, with Gaza continuing to be a pretty strong force against Israeli colonization, and with this new generation being willing to fight, how do you see the – also and with the Palestinian Authority in the state that is continuing to sell out, continuing to work with Israel and the EU and US and Canada? How do you see the situation playing out as best you can predict at this point?

Abdaljawad Omar: I mean, I think this is the problem of the space that we are in historically, it’s one where, you know, you see resistance resurging, but you don’t see, at least in current discourse around resistance, and even among the resistance fighters themselves or among the wider society, as sort of futurity, like something we can actually build on politically. Where does this lead us, you know, what is possible, politically, to achieve? So this is one of the problems of fighting in the current moment.

And this is why I think it’s also, like, one of these unique moments that people are fighting despite the fact that these large-scale narratives pertaining to Palestine or liberation or, you know, it’s, you know, these type of, you know, meta-narratives have, you know, have lost their capacity and power to ignite people’s imagination. Remember that, you know, there’s that one of the, you know, we can read resistance currently developing as a symptom of PA weakness, you know, on a social level, on an economic level or on ideological level. But it still retains a lot of its power.

The PA has two things going on for it. The incapacity of Palestinians to think of an alternative to the PA. So it’s very crippling […] we just don’t have an answer, a concrete answer of what to do if the PA doesn’t exist anymore, specifically on an economic level, specifically, because it employs 32 percent of the Palestinian workforce. And this type of economic power and incapacity to think of an alternative is quite crippling on a political level. What do you do without the PA? How would you organize society without the PA?

I mean, this is one of the elements that makes this moment a moment where I think we’re going to see kind of resistance coexisting with another form of, you know, continuity in the, you know, horizon, of a consumer society that has malls in Palestine, of you know, day to day life that people are basically clinging on, a sense of like clinging to the PA because at least we can survive Israeli power.

And you can see it, Nora, because I mean, even PA discourse coming from its leaders, justifying security coordination at this moment, is one where it says like, look, security coordination, protects you from Israeli death, protects you from Israeli power, protects you from Israeli ability to go crazy, no? I think we’re – what we can do is only cooperate with the enemy to maintain our very existence, you know, and this is something – this is also a form of ideological power that maintains the PA, you know, but still, there’s a process of unbinding happening, a process where people are rejecting that, a process that we can see it, you know, becoming material in terms of, like, the rise of resistance groups and their power.

So I see them kind of coexisting together. I see resistance, and the day-to-day life moving on, at least for the moment. I don’t see intifada in the way we saw it historically, in the first intifada, or even in the second intifada. I see a reluctance among people to go all in, you know, but I see also a willingness of these, the return of this capacity to act in the world, this capacity to resist, what will it actually lead to? So I think this is the type of like, you know, scenario that I see at least for the next couple of months or the next year or so. I mean, but you know, anything could happen, you know, predicting the future, as always, you know.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: You have to go with caution on that one, yeah, of course, especially in Palestine, things can change in an instant.

Abdaljawad Omar: I mean, but it also doesn’t mean that we don’t have, you know, these flashes, you know, this spontaneous rise of, like, large-scale rebellions. But the problem is, how do you sustain them? That’s a different question. They could rise, but they could also, you know, easily fade away. I mean, I see that also reappearing, but I don’t see it necessarily being able to create itself in a very, you know, uniform way, different rhythm. But I think things have […] been since 2012, you know, since 2012, there was not a single operation or Israeli killed or injured in a single operation coming from the West Bank the whole year. You know, it was one of the quietest years in the history of the Israeli occupation, from the eyes of, let’s say, Israeli intelligence and Israeli military and Israeli security establishment.

And since 2012, we have this slow, but intensifying resurgence of resistance in different forms, you know, in terms of demonstrations, large-scale rebellions in Jerusalem, within even 1948 [Israel], among the 1948 Palestinians [Palestinian citizens of Israel], and also in the West Bank, taking these varied forms […] of the West Bank on other areas, throughout. So this intensity, this intensification is happening. And it’s rapidly increasing.

The PA is losing power everyday, its infighting is also making it even weaker. But still, I still think that the PA is more powerful than people give it, you know, give it credence. It has this economic power, it has this binding power to it. And it has this capacity to make us not think of an alternative to it. So this is one of the problems that we have at least on a political level. How can we fill our imagination? What could we do politically? What is possible? That’s still something that nobody can really answer.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: I think that’s a good place to leave it. Abdaljawad [Omar], you are a PhD student and a lecturer at Birzeit University in the West Bank in Palestine. We’d love to have you on again. Thank you so much for joining us today on The Electronic Intifada Podcast.

Abdaljawad Omar: Thank you, Nora. Thank you. I’m glad to be with you again.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).