On invading Jenin on Monday, Israel claimed it aimed to thwart the infrastructure of armed Palestinian groups affiliated to Palestinian factions in the West Bank, after a series of serious security incidents that took place there recently.
This is the largest operation since the mass invasion of the West Bank as part of Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, two years after the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada. The invasion two decades ago targeted all the cities of the West Bank, including Jenin, which the occupation army almost completely demolished.
The army began military operations in Jenin with an opening strike of heavy aerial bombing of allegedly military targets, and a house it claimed housed armed Palestinians. This was followed by the deployment of more than 150 military vehicles including personnel carriers and military bulldozers into the city.
Israeli bulldozers blocked the main streets leading to Jenin Refugee Camp, and erected barricades at main streets to prevent the entry and exit of cars. The occupation army also deployed snipers on the roofs of tall buildings in areas surrounding the refugee camp.
Jenin Refugee Camp is part of the larger city inhabited by about 353,000 Palestinians, and is one of the most densely populated camps in the northern West Bank. Despite repeated incursions by the Israeli occupation army in recent months, Tel Aviv had avoided storming the refugee camp because homes are closely packed and it is difficult to take control on the ground with armed Palestinians fortifying themselves in populated areas in a terrain they are very familiar with.
In a statement, the occupation army said that it does not intend to reoccupy the city of Jenin, nor expand the operation to include other areas in the West Bank, refusing to describe its actions in Jenin as a military operation. Instead, it said it is an intense military effort in the city to debilitate “terrorist infrastructure.”
A few hours into the invasion, the occupation army announced the seizure of high explosive devices, a launch pad for rockets, weapons and ammunition, and a factory for manufacturing explosive devices. It also said that it bombed a site used by militants in Jenin as an operations centre, and arrested dozens on wanted lists.
The Israeli invasion killed nine Palestinians and wounded more than 80 others, many of them seriously, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Occupation soldiers prevented medical staff and cars belonging to the Palestine Red Crescent from reaching victims and evacuating the injured, especially from inside Jenin camp. The army also directly bombed Al-Amal Hospital in Jenin, and seized two cars belonging to the Red Crescent. The latter urged that pressure should be put on Israel to provide safe passages to remove the wounded from Jenin, noting that the number of wounded and injured is rising.
The Palestinian presidency described the invasion as a “war crime”, and declared that in the light of Israel’s non-compliance with the Aqaba and Sharm El-Sheikh understandings, these understandings are no longer valid. It also decided to halt all meetings and contacts with Israel, and end all coordination.
At an expanded meeting of the secretaries-general of factions in the Palestine Liberation Organisation, it also decided to immediately reach out to the UN Security Council for the implementation of Resolution 2334 and the resolution on international protection for the Palestinian people, as well as completing its membership in the rest of UN and international organisations.
Additionally, the organisation called on all Palestinian agencies and bodies to play their part in defending the Palestinian people, without indicating whether this includes engaging with the Israeli occupation army, which is repeatedly storming cities in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority (PA) also called on families to file cases with the International Criminal Court against occupation forces.
Israeli assessments indicate that security circles in Israel want a limited military operation, because the occupation army does not want to cause significant damage to its forces. Accordingly, it entered the camp quickly and with heavy firepower to eliminate the infrastructure of armed elements in Jenin. Israeli officials do not want escalation to spread to other areas in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.
Armed Palestinian factions, however, declared they would not allow Israel to pummel Jenin, according to separate statements of the joint chamber of Palestinian factions – an entity that includes the military wings of factions such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad asserted in separate declarations that they had informed mediators they would not allow the occupation army to implement a new formula in Jenin.
Despite the grave risks involved in the Israeli operation in Jenin, the military analyst at Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper Avi Issacharoff doubts the assault will resolve the security problems in the northern West Bank, since the operation is merely a stopgap solution.
Issacharoff noted that the main dilemma facing Israel is that “within a few weeks it will find itself once again in an intense military operation in the city, especially in the absence of a real body such as the Palestinian Authority” in reference to the absence of any security role for the PA in Jenin.
Mohamed Jarbou, a Palestinian analyst, believes Israel has systematically worked to weaken the PA in the West Bank and create chaos there. However, it has recently realised this was a mistake.
Jarbou told Al-Ahram Weekly that “Israel’s excuse of the PA’s inability to control security in some cities in the West Bank is due to repeated incursions into the West Bank, especially the cities of Jenin and Nablus in the north.”
Jarbou pointed to the dim political prospects resulting from the policies of successive Israeli governments, their failure to be responsive to the efforts of international parties sponsoring the peace process, and the lack of any genuine will by the US to put pressure on Israel to return to peace. All these factors have undermined the project led by the PA, which calls for a solution based on the 4 June 1967 borders, and East Jerusalem as the capital for the Palestinians.
Jarbou asserted that Israel is merely looking for pretexts to continue its operations against the Palestinians, to cover up the crimes of Judaisation and swallowing up the West Bank with settlement construction, which is currently at a peak.
The new security situation imposed by Israel in the West Bank, especially by once again resorting to fighter jets and large-scale invasions of Palestinian cities, has cast a long shadow on the PA’s future as it struggles with a political crisis and grave economic pressures.
Earlier, Israeli officials warned that the collapse of the PA is closer than ever, which prompted the head of Shin Bet Ronen Bar to discuss the matter during his visit to Washington last month. However, despite Israeli fears about the PA collapsing, observers assert Israel’s policies are accelerating this fate, especially with the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 6 July, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly