Podcast Ep 81: A look inside Jenin’s guerrilla resistance tactics

On episode 81, Abdaljawad Omar and Jon Elmer return to talk about Israel’s July invasion of the Jenin refugee camp and to analyze the growth of Palestinian resistance.

Thousands of residents fled during the aerial and ground assault which began on 3 July, wreaking widespread destruction.

Israel withdrew its troops from Jenin on 5 July. It was the largest invasion in the occupied West Bank in two decades.

At least 12 Palestinians, including four children, were killed during the incursion. More than 140 were injured during the invasion, 20 of them critically.

“The ground assault comes in a very or a highly politicized moment within Israel itself,” says Omar, a lecturer in the Philosophy and Cultural Studies Department at Palestine’s Birzeit University.

“The settlers are pushing for a wide-scale military invasion of the Jenin refugee camp, and they’re in the government. So there’s a very political dimension to why this operation happened now, at least from the perspective of internal Israeli dynamics and antagonisms,” he explains.

Elmer is a journalist and researcher who 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.

He tells us that Jenin “has been a focal point of resistance for the entire history” of the Zionist colonial project in Palestine.

Elmer talks about the significance of the 2002 Israeli invasion when more than 50 Palestinians were killed. Resistance fighters killed 23 Israeli soldiers.

“It’s important to say that the people in Jenin don’t call [the incidents of 2002] a massacre. They call it a battle,” he explains.

“It’s the Battle of Jenin. And it’s a significant source of pride within the militant movements. And whenever these kinds of incidents come up, where Israel goes into Jenin, of course, everybody talks about it. The fighters have that esprit de corps in them from that moment, and 2002 in the Jenin camp was a real turning point for the Palestinian resistance,” he says.

We also discussed the failure of the Israeli military’s objectives, the growing numbers of young Palestinian fighters and why Abdaljawad Omar calls the Palestinian Authority “an active participant in the counterinsurgency campaign.”

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. As we reported, Israel withdrew its troops from Jenin refugee camp on July 5, after a two-day offensive, the largest in the occupied West Bank in two decades. At least 13 Palestinians, including four children were killed during the incursion. The official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that more than 140 people were injured during the invasion, 20 of them critically.

On July 3, thousands of residents fled during the aerial and ground assault which wreaked widespread destruction in the camp, rebuilt after much of it was razed during a massacre perpetrated by the Israeli military in 2002. Today, we’re taking a deep dive into the context around what happened in Jenin and what the Palestinian resistance fighters were able to achieve in defense of their community.

Joining us are two friends of the EI Podcast, Abdaljawad Omar, a lecturer in the philosophy and Cultural Studies Department at Palestine’s Birzeit University. And Jon Elmer, a journalist and researcher, he also co-hosts The Brief Podcast with me. He spent years as a reporter inside Palestine covering the situation in Jenin and in Gaza in the early years of the second intifada. Welcome back, both of you to The Electronic Intifada Podcast.

Jon Elmer: Thanks for having us.

Abdaljawad Omar: Thank you.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Abdaljawad, let’s start with you. This came after a series of settler pogroms across the occupied West Bank, assisted by the Israeli army, who are settlers in uniforms. Can you situate this latest rampage in Jenin for us, what it’s been like on the ground in Palestine over the last few weeks?

Abdaljawad Omar: Well, I mean, the ground assault comes in a very or a highly politicized moment within Israel itself. The settlers are pushing for a wide-scale military invasion of the Jenin refugee camp, and they’re in the government. So there’s a very political, or there’s a very political dimension to why this operation happened now, at least from the perspective of internal Israeli dynamics and antagonisms. But it also has to do with the spilling out and the containment of the Lion’s Den movement in Nablus, which was the major concern for Israelis in the past couple of months. Nablus, as you know, we’ve spoken about this, I think before but Nablus is in the crossroads of much of the settlements in the north of the West Bank.

And therefore it poses more of a risk for the everyday life of settlers and the Israeli military and special forces and intelligence were more focused on what’s going on in Nablus rather than Jenin. Jenin is relatively a free zone from settlements. It has some settlements, but they’re far away from the center of Jenin itself or the refugee camp. Which means that Nablus was the major concern for the Israeli security establishment. And after a lot of pressure, they were able, at least to prevent the establishment of a self-defense zone in the old city of Nablus in the likes of what’s happening in Jenin or the Jenin refugee camp to be more precise.

So yeah, this is the context. This is why it’s happening now. And even the pogroms that you spoke about, actually were part of the settlements’ pressure on the government to place more military pressure on the Palestinians, and to engage in more of a wide assault on the Palestinian society, including within Jenin. So I mean, that’s the basic context of what was happening at this moment. Yeah.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: And, Jon, you were in Jenin in 2002. Tell us about that massacre and the resistance operations that fighters engaged in, why it matters to talk about what happened 21 years ago in order to understand what happened this past week, this past month, especially as Abdaljawad said, in Nablus as well.

Jon Elmer: I mean, I think Jenin has been a focal point of resistance for the entire history of the Israel-Palestine conflict going back to the Arab Revolt. Izzadine al-Qassam was based out of Jenin during the Arab Revolt. The people that live in Jenin, the Jenin refugee camp, are all exiles from 1948 living in a half a square kilometer, densely populated area in the north of the West Bank. It’s an agricultural city with – the green city, city of greenery, that it has a history of resistance and that resistance came to the fore in particularly in the second intifada, as many militants were the basis of the uprising, in many ways, was in Jenin and dispatched fighters throughout Israel during the campaign of suicide bombings that were extremely effective against the Israelis.

In 2002 the Israelis mounted an operation to retake the West Bank, Operation Defensive Shield. It wasn’t just Jenin, it was also of course, pretty famously in the old city of Nablus. But what happened to the Israeli army in Jenin in 2002 is the kind of thing that, you know, songs are written about, and people will talk about for generations to come, because instead of fighting or lobbing artillery, or dropping bombs from the air, the Israelis actually attempted to go into the Jenin refugee camp. And that had been previously a no-go territory. And so the fact that they showed up on the ground ready to fight was something that Palestinians had always kind of asked for, right, like a fair fight, don’t just drop bombs from the sky, come in and fight us. And when they did, basically the death toll was one to one for Israeli and IDF fighters. Most famously, the IDF was drawn into an ambush by a teenager in an alleyway. And 13 Israeli soldiers were killed at once, and it was a spectacular ambush. And it was being watched on live feed by the Israeli military command.

And so when they watched the humiliation happening, basically all the commanders were there and, and urged an intensification of the attack on Jenin. And that’s basically what introduced the world to the D9 Caterpillar bulldozer where basically Israel had to lead – their fighters had to be led by these massive bulldozers, armored bulldozers. And they basically wiped out, like, erased, the middle of the camp in Jenin after that. And there was some talk by the PA after that it was a massacre because people believe that these houses were dropped on top of fighters and on top of people. But as it turned out, the fighters were mostly, many of them were able to escape. And people were able to move around, because it’s their own community, their own land, their own territory. Civilians, as well as fighters, were able to move around and move out of the way – some people talk about being, you know, in houses with 200, 300 people in a house because everybody moved from one house to the next.

But that kind of control or territorial control by the Palestinians really set the Israelis back at that time. Like I said, the death toll one to one in a guerrilla battle with a superior armed force is significant. And so I think that it’s important to say that the people in Jenin don’t call it a massacre. They call it a battle. It’s the Battle of Jenin. And it’s a significant source of pride within the militant movements. And whenever these kinds of incidents come up, where Israel goes into Jenin, of course, everybody talks about it. The fighters are, you know, have that esprit de corps in them from that moment and 2002 in the Jenin camp was a real turning point for the Palestinian resistance.

Asa Winstanley: Yeah, well, on that let’s talk about Israel’s military objectives, such as they were, and why the Palestinian armed factions are saying now that Israel’s operation in Jenin, in the refugee camp, was a failure. The Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant told military reporters that the army had quote “fully achieved” its objectives. He said that an explosive workshop was destroyed and the military secured the ability for occupation forces to move through the camp during future operations.

Our colleague Maureen Murphy wrote that “keen to present the invasion as a tactical success, the military and Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, said that thousands of weapons including ammunition and materials for making explosives were confiscated during the operation. Israel estimates there to be some 300 fighters in Jenin refugee camp. But during the raid its forces only seized 10 IEDs, improvised explosive devices, 24 rifles and eight handguns.” So this is according to their account, “suggesting that the military didn’t make as big of a dent in the resistance’s capacity as its spokesperson claimed.” That’s what our colleague Maureen wrote. Jon, first of all, and then maybe Abdaljawad, maybe you can chime in. Can you talk about the status of the Jenin brigades and their military capabilities? And what does this say about Israel’s objectives?

Jon Elmer: Yeah, I mean, if we draw this back, right, then the increasing activity in Jenin goes back a couple of years now. But even if we just look at the past couple of weeks to a month, there was a series of raids that were thwarted by the Jenin brigades, by intelligence, counterintelligence that saw mistaravim, like death squads dressed as Palestinian civilians coming in, in, you know, various types of vehicles, milk trucks in one case, and they were exposed in the shoot out, they weren’t able to enter the camp to carry out their operations.

And then last week, or two weeks ago, maybe it was if we remember, they went into the camp with a bunch of armored vehicles, and those armored vehicles were dismantled, blown up by roadside bombs, and then sort of famously dragged, like towed through the city by other Israeli armored vehicles. And those kinds of symbols are really potent. When I was –

Asa Winstanley: Yeah that was a real sort of keystone cops moment to be honest, yeah, the you know, there was this massive armored vehicle that was really immobilized and was just sitting there prone for a long period you can see in the videos for a long period of time –

Nora Barrows-Friedman: On fire –

Jon Elmer: Well there were multiple vehicles like that. Yeah, and then the vehicles – they had blown up several, as many as seven different vehicles were hit by bombs. And parts of the vehicles were all over Jenin, the kids were going around carrying wheelbarrows, with – carrying trailers with all the parts and Israel kind of famously never leaves anymore – they used to – never leaves their vehicles behind. So when I was in South Lebanon after the 2006 July war, the Lebanese – the first thing that they would always say is, because you could tell on the hillside how far the tanks had made it up the hill, and then disabled and then dragged back down the hill by other tanks and you could see the tracks dug in the ground, and of all the kinds of stories to tell about the war, people were always – that was always kind of the first one that they would laugh at, because the spectacle of it, to watch these disabled vehicles be dragged through town, that – that was, to my mind, of course, as Abdaljawad said, the beginning, the settler pressure on an operation in Jenin has been significant.

But this kind of humiliation of watching their vehicles be dragged through town is – that’s the kind of thing as it was in 2002 that spurs the sort of call to action to being humiliated by the resistance and you know, those weapons tallies that you read, I didn’t see those guns, they had the IDF put out multiple videos of like guns on the table kind of thing after a raid that you see. And they didn’t even have receivers, like the triggers weren’t there for the guns. It was barrel stocks, butt stocks. It was like wires. And then there was like –

Asa Winstanley: So it was like it wasn’t even weapons. It was weapons parts.

Jon Elmer: Weapons parts, yeah. And then a box of pipe bombs which are made in kitchens right? Palestinians make them in their kitchens. So it’s like, you see on the one hand that they didn’t capture the actual weapons that are in Jenin, which are significant, and we can talk about why that is later when we talk about the PA, but they clearly didn’t get those guns. But then on the other hand, they’re showing you that basically this is a pure guerrilla movement building their own weapons to fight for their own refugee camp. And if you look at those two and put them together, it’s difficult to see how you could call that a successful operation. It is true that they did go deeper into the camp than they have in 20 years. And they did need bulldozers to dig up the roads on the way in to do that.

So in some senses, they were able to do that. And that’s what they’re bragging about. Because for all the last two years, when they talked about operations in the Jenin refugee camp, they weren’t in the camp, they were on the outskirts of the camp. You know, like where Shireen [Abu Akleh] was shot was on the outskirts of the camp, they weren’t able to actually penetrate the camp. So in this sense, they did that. But they came under fierce resistance. You know, people talked about the roadside bombs being significant, well placed, the Israelis were unable to have freedom of movement in the way that they wanted, everything had to be – they were protected and moved extremely slowly. In the 2002 war, they were moving 50 meters a day. That’s how long it took to penetrate through the resistance lines.

Asa Winstanley: Abdaljawad, what do you make of the Jenin brigades’ military capabilities and the claimed military successes of the Israelis in this particular invasion?

Abdaljawad Omar: Yeah, I mean, I think I do agree with Jon, almost completely, in the sense of, there’s a big, big, over exaggeration of these tactical successes, like I can’t, like emphasize this more. And we’ll talk about why, even on – in terms of the movement of the army itself, because the army when it entered Jenin refugee camp was actually avoiding close combat with the resistance fighters. So they wanted a battle, or they wanted a penetration of the camp without a battle, which meant using or utilizing the air force, it meant also, using the sniping power that they have, using grenades, but they wanted it from a distance, and they were always avoidant of any form of engagement in close to close, or, you know, combat that is very close, very intimate between you and the resistance.

And the resistance itself also played it well, because it actually avoided clashes from a distance in large. So it actually waited this out, it did not engage when it was not necessary to engage, and only engaged when the Israeli military entered certain specific points within the camp. And when the Israelis were withdrawing, which was like the weaker point of their whole operation, which actually led to the killing of one soldier, eventually. So you have this situation where Israel was basically utilizing remote control warfare, while also touting its, you know, infantry entering the camp. So that’s one element.

And the second element that Jon said, which is the D9 and trying to take out all forms of IEDs, through taking out the whole streets so they can actually enter and penetrate the camp. And the third component is what tactical successes – I mean, capturing some parts of weapons or I don’t know, reaching out, I’m not trying to say that there’s no relative success. There’s always relative success in a sense that you’ve entered, you know more about the resistance, its capabilities, you have more intelligence, you can redesign your operations. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into this. And I’m not saying anything like that, but you touted one, you placed 1000 soldiers in what is supposed to be a two-day campaign to retain authority over the camp, and you basically failed, and not only you failed, you actually provided another spectacle of humiliation in the eyes of the Palestinian people.

So because most people have read this as a success for the Jenin brigades, as a success for the military resistance of the camp, as a success for this sovereign space that is now also a haven for a lot of the Palestinians who are wanted from other parts of the West Bank, who have conducted operations or who go for the refugee camp to get cover, and to get safety from Israeli arrests or assassinations. So in many ways, I think this is the start of a new chapter in military engagement. I’m not saying this is the end of it. But I think at least at this critical point and juncture, I think the Israelis are over-exaggerating their successes.

The second element, I’m just gonna speak very fast on it, is that the way they actually designed their objectives from the beginning, it was very, very kind of ambivalent, no? Because at the start of the campaign it was one thing, as it rolled, it was another thing. At the start of the campaign, it was the capturing of resistance fighters, the killing of the resistance fighters, that slowly moved into these small tactical gains. Slowly they tried to reframe it through the IDF spokesperson in a different – in different elements, in different lights. and trying to present it as some big success even Netanyahu went to the, I think, Salem crosspoint, if I’m not wrong, or the checkpoint, or he was close to the operation, taking pictures. So in many ways, I think that you can see how the Israeli military tried to navigate the changing of their objectives as the battle continued.

And as they were sitting there, as you know, fatigued, tired, nothing much to do, and not able to really, truly engage in the resistance in the heart of the camp itself. So I think in many ways, you had, you had a new symbol of victory, again, without many casualties on the Palestinian side, or the resistance side, and with a lot of success in terms of the resistance in maintaining the capacity to resist and the capacity to engage with the Israeli military. And I think this is even different than 2002. For me, Jon talked a lot about the experience in 2002. It’s a bit different, in a sense of the use and utilization of the IEDs. The ability to engage the Israeli military at specific points where the Israeli military is stretched out, or is in a weak position, the avoidance of battle when it’s not necessary.

So there’s a lot of these elements that is going on, I think, within the camp, which shows some sort of tactical maturity on the part of the resistance and the brigades that I don’t want to like over-exaggerate it, but I think it does exist, and we can see it in terms of the performance in the in the battle and the past two days. Yeah.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Jon, did you have anything to add to that?

Jon Elmer: No, I think that’s right. And I think one of the things that’s important to note is that, you know, people talk about this as being a new generation of resistance fighters, it’s important to note that the last generation of resistance fighters were assassinated, they were jailed. They were, you know, the assassination campaign in Jenin alone ran 20, 25 deep in each organization, wiping out the top leadership. The top leadership of the fighters, as it appears on the ground in Jenin right now, are in their late teens and early 20s. So if this is a new generation of fighters they’re already multiple years in their short lives into learning these lessons that were, you know, passed down from their, from their brothers and from the previous fights.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Let’s take a look at the Palestinian Authority. Last time we had you on, Abdaljawad, in February, you talked about the PA’s ongoing and entrenching role as a subcontractor of Israel’s settler-colonial project. This past week in Jenin, we saw the PA abandon Palestinians, just as it did during the recent settler pogroms elsewhere in the occupied West Bank. Tell us about the legitimacy of the PA at this point. And you know, of course, Asa wrote a couple days ago, a piece in which he quoted Netanyahu saying we need the PA, it does our job for us, et cetera. So what can you make of the PA’s role at this point?

Abdaljawad Omar: I mean, I don’t think the PA is only abandoning the camps or abandoning the protection of the Palestinian people. But I think it’s deeper than that. It’s an act of, at least in parts of it, it’s an active participant in the counterinsurgency campaign. So this, at least we need to place that firmly. Because it’s not simply not doing anything, it’s actually doing a lot. That’s on the one hand, when it comes to the internal intelligence, we saw a breakdown in the refugee camp, in the funerals of the martyrs when some of the leaders attempted to come and speak and pay condolences to the people.

But they were met with screams of people, they were shut down, and they were kicked out from the funerals. So it already tells you, you know what legitimacy? I don’t think that there’s legitimacy in the eyes of the vast majority of the Palestinians when it comes to the current leadership. Now, the danger of this, as I say it, is that the Israelis are also saying the same thing, no? They’re placing the onus of blame, at least the hasbara, the pro-Zionists, on this breakdown of legitimacy on the PA, but they don’t see how they feed into it.

They don’t see how they are part of the process of delegitimizing the PA, historically speaking, by not engaging in negotiations, currently speaking by pushing the PA to be more active in counterinsurgency. So the PA is under these two pressures – the societal pressure to protect, a societal pressure to also if you want actually abandon, not do anything, just stay there, not being active intelligence gathering, not spreading rumors, not trying to buy out fighters, not trying to arrest or attempting to arrest some of these fighters. So a lot of the people are just telling them just sit in your own garrisons and don’t do anything, please. Don’t harm us.

But at the same time, the PA leadership is under pressure to create this internal antagonism within Palestinian society, because one of the successes of let’s say the counterinsurgency campaign is not only the military tactical battle that we spoke about, it’s not only the resistance’s ability to, you know, sustain its capacity for resistance over time. But I think what is very central is this political fight happening within the Palestinian society. And in that sense, the Israelis want some sort of – want the internal antagonisms within Palestinian societies to surface and become even more, more violent, taking away the pressure from the enmity towards Israel, and directing it towards enmity within between the PA and the resistance fighters.

Unfortunately, that’s part of the process that we’re seeing. That’s part of how things are rolling. There’s still a lot of consciousness around avoiding any form of internal fights, elites, in terms of, you know, gun battles or fighting. But I think this is the situation of the PA when it comes to dealing with the resistance in Jenin, and also the larger or wider Palestinian society. So yeah.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: And, Jon, you had mentioned earlier the relationship between the PA and the availability of weapons. Can you talk a little bit about that? Explain that further.

Jon Elmer: Yeah, well, Jenin is a different case than most of the West Bank. It’s not part of the Dayton – the Keith Dayton army that’s set up to create the Palestinian security force. In a lot of cases, the PA fighters in Jenin are the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades who were demobilized in a deal in the like, what was it like in the early 2010s? That included a lot of people from the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades that basically yeah, were not – didn’t believe themselves to be as openly part of the counterinsurgency war as the sort of Keith Dayton’s like “new men,” as he called them. That was more of a traditional demobilization of an armed group and an integration into the security force.

So historically, in Jenin, that the access to weapons from the PA, particularly at the beginning of the second intifada, played a critical role in the uprising. The PA played two critical roles in that, by originally sharing their weapons if they weren’t going to fight and then of course, later releasing the people that – the fighters that Arafat had in jail that were in significant elements of the second intifada, the Islamic Jihad fighters the Qassam fighters. And so Jenin is complicated in the way that they treat the PA. The PA security forces attack the PA political forces and burn their offices in Jenin.

When Arafat and Saeb Erakat came to visit Jenin after the 2002 invasion, their helicopter was shot at, they were chased – basically chased out. So that’s – resistance is deep, and the PA you know they were chanted out of the demonstrations – or chanted out of the funerals, but they’ve been even stronger against the PA in that area. It was a no-go zone for Arafat. And so yeah, the the fact that the weapons of the second intifada were in significant measure, like were recalled by Barghouti and spread out through the fighters – people that if you didn’t want to fight, if you’re PA you had a weapon you didn’t want to fight, you turned your weapon in and they redistributed their weapon which is one of the reasons why Israel destroyed the Palestinian Authority in the early, in the early second intifada – that was their first targets was all their police stations and all their barracks and whatnot.

So yeah, it creates an interesting dynamic in Jenin, because of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades who were – who are a small but significant portion of the armed rebellion in 2002. Part of it, of course, was that Zakaria Zubeidi was, you know, one of the leaders of the resistance and he demobilized and he and a number of his members demobilized. They later reneged on that, of course, and then he was part of that prison break, the spoon and tunnel prison break. But yeah, the PA it – I mean, for just for listeners, of course I’m sure if they’re listeners of this podcast that they know that the PA hasn’t held elections in 20 years because they’re not allowed to have elections, because they’ll lose. And so they’ve basically been banned by the international community with scare quotes, you know from running elections.

But yeah that demobilization of the fighters was an interesting thing, because I think that there’s at least a part of the anger of the stepping aside was, was the belief that their PA security forces worked as deep collaborators, I don’t know if we’re nuancing this too much, but that they weren’t as deep collaborators as other elements of the PA security forces, which actually attempted to go into certain cities in the West Bank and take weapons from fighters. That does not happen in Jenin. If anything, there’s the argument would be made that the PA provided some sort of security like Netanyahu was asking for, which actually makes smuggling easier, actually makes hiding fighters like Abdaljawad said, from elsewhere in the West Bank come to Jenin to hide out, though for the for resistance group to have that capacity, to have almost like a safe haven, is a critical element. So it’s a complicated matter, but there’s no question that the PA has no legitimacy anywhere.

The only minor nuance that you would put on it in Jenin is the demobilization of the fighters and the use of the weapons of the PA in the second intifada, and you can see just in the, in the fighters, like in their jihadi videos and their promotional videos, you can see them all standing with their weaponry, they all have, you know, the most updated weaponry, they have the most, you know, there was a lot of weapons in the Jenin camp. And if eight or 12, or what I saw was none were taken, then there’s still a lot of weapons in Jenin and the success of the operation, you know, if it further alienated the PA, if they didn’t capture the guns, if their fighters understand how hard the fight is, if they do ever actually attempt to go into the camp, it’s difficult to see, to see those as any kind of a success.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: And Netanyahu even said that the military may need to return to Jenin. You know, many people have been saying that this was one of the operations that are known as mowing the lawn, trying, you know, which they do in Gaza, repeatedly. What do you think the next operation could look like in Jenin? And how do you think the brigades inside the refugee camp, especially, would change their tactics, if at all?

Abdaljawad Omar: So in essence, I think the Israelis have, you know, two options: either to do more of the same, which is what they’ve done right now, which is a large-scale military operation like the one before, but this time, they would actually be willing to choke the resistance go to close combat risk, you know, risk being killed in battle, risk being entrapped in an ambush, like what happened 20 years ago, which is something that actually hovers around the design of this operation, yeah? It’s like, also, Israelis remember this as a painful memory. And that’s why they’re also avoidant of the battle itself. So they have this option, they have the option of using airpower, which is, you know, you direct your firepower without risking anything, from a distance, it needs accurate intelligence, it needs, you know, a sense of where any fighter is at any moment. It needs that type of engagement.

Or the other, or the third option that has been on the on the ground in the past two years was the special forces, the small units that come in, they surround a specific cell, they kill this cell, but then you have like a small backup of infantry coming in and also supporting this operation, what Jon explained a bit earlier. So these are the three major options. I’m not sure what the Israelis will choose in terms of how they will operate. And I’m not sure how the resistance will actually react. But I do think that the people, you know, learning the lesson of the current battle, of the current engagement would be significant for both sides of who can actually maintain this capacity of resistance. But I think one of the basic elements of what’s happening is also that now resistance, at least in Jenin, is becoming a much more attractive enterprise for a lot of young Palestinians.

Every success that the resistance has, it can regenerate this hope among the new generation, but also older generations, and can actually increase its recruits and increase and expand its presence, whether it’s in the refugee camp or in the Jenin area. Because I – we have to mention that we’re focusing a lot about the Jenin refugee camp. But it’s also important to place, you know, the Jenin rural areas, and the Jenin city as part of what’s happening in the refugee camp, because a lot of the fighters are also from the surrounding areas, and have a good relationship with the people within the camp. So there’s this give and take between the rural areas of Jenin and the Jenin refugee camp.

Jenin refugee camp is a place where people basically are concentrated, condensed, where you can have a self-defense zone, where the fighters primarily maybe turn to in the case of invasion, or they spread out, I’m not sure I don’t really have any kind of ground analysis on this specific part, what they do, actually, in terms of the invasion, but at least in many instances, this is not only an enterprise within the camp, it also engulfs the whole rural areas, and Jenin city as well. Because I think just one last point, I was I basically went off-ramp – But you know, one last point, I think, one of there’s no legitimacy for the PA, that’s true, but the PA, currently holds one component of power, ideological power, which is the sense of loss that people are investing in sustaining. What I mean by it is that the Palestinian people, in many cases, don’t have a very clear picture of what an alternative to the PA, economically and socially would be.

And that’s what sustains it – it’s the lack of alternative, it’s this dystopic image of what would happen if the PA breaks down, especially specifically in terms of the middle class and the upper classes in the West Bank, which are fearful of this kind of situation. So the PA has this power of saying we’re the only ones in town, we’re the only ones that can provide you with economic security, we’re the only ones that can provide you with a sense of economic grounding, to relieve some of the anxiety of being under a settler-colonial regime, in a sense of this economic persistence. And, and that’s, that’s a very, of course, self-destructive position in the long term. And it might lead to the Palestinian people paying the price in the medium run, or the long run, especially specifically in the West Bank.

But it’s one that is still pertinent to what’s going on in the West Bank right now. So the resistance and its success in Jenin, what it’s doing, it’s kind of shattering this kind of narrative, this melancholic, this defeatist narrative, it’s kind of saying we can do it, look at the Israelis, they don’t – they even fear to engage us. If the battle is not, you know, 100% guaranteed to not result in a soldier’s death, we’re not going to engage in it. They’re not as strong as you believe that they are. And we’re here. And we’re going to stay here. And we’re powerful. And we’re building and we’re creating, and we’re experimenting with new methods and tactics. And we’re going to continue to do that. And we’re going to maintain our capacity to resist.

And that’s, I think, the basic, important political message that the resistance is sending, despite its playing with death and martyrdom, that it’s actually a message of hope. So that’s my, that’s my take at least also on that dynamic. And that’s one of the important at least outcomes of the battle of Jenin, the current one.

Asa Winstanley: Yeah, I think that’s really important. I mean, I think that’s really the main reason for the successes of Palestinian armed resistance is that it is completely counter to the narrative in the West that it’s a sort of cult of death and all this kind of stuff. That it is a message of hope as I think that’s a really good way to put it, that people are hoping for freedom. It does – I mean, that’s what it comes down to, you know.

Jon Elmer: The fighters are extremely popular, there’s no other way to say it. And for people who don’t have the experience on the ground seeing it, it’s remarkable – the depth of it is remarkable from house to house. The support, the ability for the fighters to move from house to house, I mean, you just saw little things like when they were the fighters move from house to house and ate the food in one of the houses and they leave apology notes, you know, they – the celebration after, you know, people come out of their house immediately, all generations, all ages, all factions, you know, this idea, people always kind of talk about Palestine is really factionalized.

In Jenin, that’s not the case at all, the fighters fight under the same banner, as we said, we’ve been calling them the Jenin brigades, they’re Islamic Jihad, Qassam, Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, they’re not sectarian in that nature when it comes to the organization of the fight – and the popularity and endurance of the popularity for resistance tactics of all types is deep in Palestinian society. So these aren’t people on the fringes carrying out, you know, violent action when other people are saying, you know, we should be marching in the streets or, you know, having peaceful demonstrations, everybody in Palestine understands that the peaceful demonstrations end up as massacres.

And that they need, they need the resistance to make their community safe, to make it hard for Israeli armor to come rolling down your street and traumatize your children, and destroy your infrastructure and take your jobs and turn off your water and your electricity. You know, shut the bakeries, encircle the town – like all of these things are real, tangible, living experiences that people have. And the resistance, you know, as Abdaljawad said, offers hope, it offers – but not hope in a utopian way, a hope and a practical – like yesterday, they were coming here with death squads. And nobody in Jenin thinks the death squad is coming tonight, you know? That – those are victories within the population as well. And they’re tangible things that make it harder for the Israelis to destroy Palestinian ways of life in all various ways.

Abdaljawad Omar: I agree. And I just wanted to also like, I think, yeah, it is this desire, this deep desire of freedom, but you know, a fighter, you know, he turns towards death – because most fighters when they start fighting, they know, they’re ultimately doomed men, in most cases, no? They’re either going to prison, or they’re, you know, going to be martyred. But they’re also – in this resistance, this the position of the resistance now in Jenin and Nablus and other places, is that we know that we’re doomed, we turn toward death, and we don’t like death, we’re going to expand as much as possible our life as people who are turning towards death. And that’s what provides them with this power within Palestinian society.

Because on the one hand, they’re not afraid of death. They’re not afraid of the Israeli intelligence officer threatening them. They’re not afraid of the Israeli military coming in. And they’re not afraid of death itself. But they’re trying to expand their life in this liminal zone, if you want to call it that, and engaging with the military and being serious about it. So this is not a tragic battle, but no, like, it’s not try, they’re not trying to be the tragic hero, the one who fights a losing battle, but yet, you know, fights it, they’re actually trying to build, you know, successful tactics they’re trying to maneuver with whatever capacity they have, maneuver around Israeli movements, engage in from position of, you know, closeness to the Israeli military, engage, or hide it out if it’s better to hide it out.

So they’re actually trying to preserve this capacity to resist and trying to maintain it, and not only maintain it, to actually expand on it. And that’s what makes it significant – is that there’s a deep desire here for an actual military battle that enables a symbolic political success and that message of hope to actually truly spread because the military battle is the condition for the message of hope. Without it, there’s no message of hope. The success itself is the message of hope. So yeah, that’s, that’s what I just wanted to say.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: I think that’s a good place to leave it. That’s the voice of Abdaljawad Omar, he is a lecturer at Birzeit University in the West Bank. And Jon Elmer, he’s a journalist and researcher and my co-host over at The Brief podcast. Jon, Abdaljawad, thank you so much for being with us, and we’ll have you back on very soon.

Jon Elmer: Thanks, Nora. Good to meet you Abdaljawad.

Abdaljawad Omar: You too, Jon.

Jon Elmer: That was great.


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).