Growing armed activity in the West Bank

Mohamed Abu Shaar , Tuesday 26 Jul 2022

Recent weeks have seen increasing numbers of armed Palestinian operations against the Israeli army in the West Bank.

Growing armed activity in the West Bank
A Palestinian boy inspects the damage to a house after Palestinian gunmen were killed in an Israeli raid in the Old City of Nablus in the West Bank (photo: AP)


At dawn on Sunday, the Israeli army killed two Palestinians during a raid on a house in Nablus in the Occupied West Bank. Israel claims that the men were wanted in relation to a series of operations against the Israeli army. The incident was a key development as it is part of a growing number of similar Israeli operations in the West Bank.

Israel admitted to using missiles during the operation, which it rarely uses in the West Bank. It also admitted to facing fierce resistance when its forces surrounded the house, with Israeli soldiers coming under heavy gunfire from Palestinian militants. Israel failed to capture the man it wanted most in the operation, named Ibrahim Al-Nabulsi.

Al-Nabulsi appeared in a video participating in the funeral procession of his fallen comrades hours after the Israeli operation. He has already survived several assassination attempts and has become an icon for the armed resistance in the West Bank.

The obstacles encountered during the operation sounded alarm bells in Israel, due to a growing trend of armed activity in the West Bank against the Israeli army. This is another security concern for Israel as it has expanded from the Jenin Refugee Camp to Nablus and even Ramallah, where an Israeli task force came under fire during a raid last week.

Previously, Israeli forces had operated in these cities with relative freedom after the 2002 invasion of the West Bank, called Operation Defensive Shield by Israel. Israel then dismantled armed cells in the West Bank and destroyed the infrastructure of paramilitary groups belonging to Fatah and Islamic Jihad.

Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) also have military cells in the West Bank, but these are not as active.

A report on Israel’s Channel 12 TV channel stated that the Israeli authorities expect there to be an uptick in armed activity in West Bank cities, especially since the Palestinians were disappointed by US President Joe Biden’s recent visit to Israel and the West Bank.

The report said that the Israeli army was facing immense operational difficulties when confronting armed formations in the West Bank.

It said that recent military operations by the Israeli army in the area had revealed complex activities in refugee camps and Palestinian cities. It was difficult for Israeli special forces to operate in some areas that are very familiar to Palestinian fighters, it added.

The Israeli Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported that the goal of the Israeli operations was to make the Palestinian resistance holed up in these areas feel that they are no longer a refuge. Even though it is dangerous to enter the old city of Nablus, the Israeli army believes that the operation is necessary in order to prevent attacks in Tel Aviv, it added.

It continued that security circles in Israel believe that Nablus has joined ranks with Jenin as a stronghold for the Palestinian resistance, with 75 per cent of shootings targeting Israelis coming from there. For this reason, the Israeli army had sent in its Yamam Special Forces, the newspaper said.

Israeli analysts say that the number of armed fighters in the West Bank cities is growing due to the weakness of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its absence on the ground. There have been many incidents using weapons, whether when battling with Israel or domestically.

Recently, an attempted assassination of Nasser Al-Shaer, an academic and former Palestinian deputy prime minister and minister of education, saw him shot in Nablus. The attack was strongly condemned by the Palestinians.

There are several reasons for the PA’s weakness in the West Bank, most notably the failure of the political track in the negotiations with Israel and Biden’s inability to break the stalemate between the PA and Israel during his mid-July visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

After the Israeli forces raided Nablus, the PA once again indicated it would implement the decisions of the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) regarding withdrawing recognition of Israel and ending security coordination with it, the last form of cooperation between the two sides.

This could escalate attacks against Israel and spread further armed activity on the West Bank.

“PCC decisions cannot be endlessly delayed,” said PA Spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh. “They are on the table. The region will remain in a cycle of violence until the end of the occupation and the reaching of a just peace.”

The PA decision to withdraw recognition of Israel and halt security coordination with it on the ground would mean detonating conditions in the West Bank. The PA has been cautious about considering this “suicide option” despite repeated threats to do so in the face of Israeli intransigence blocking political progress between the two sides.

Israel accuses the PA of turning a blind eye to the growing number of armed men who largely belong to Fatah, the backbone of the PA. There are concerns that Fatah could adopt the same approach as former leader Yasser Arafat, who supported armed operations against Israel and provided safe havens for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades as the main agents of the armed resistance in the West Bank.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 July, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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