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Israel’s raid left Jenin in rubble. Palestinians are blaming their leaders.


Drone footage showed the extent of destruction after Israel ended a two-day operation in the Jenin refugee camp on July 5. (Video: Reuters)

Steve Hendrix, Shira Rubin, Sufian Taha and Hazem Balousha, The Washington Post, July 5, 2023

JENIN REFUGEE CAMP — Israel on Wednesday ended a two-day operation in the Jenin refugee camp that killed 12 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier, forced thousands from their homes and sparked new tensions between locals and the Palestinian Authority meant to be governing them.

Residents threw rocks at the security headquarters of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the city, with many expressing frustration that its security forces had allowed the Israeli forces to operate freely in the camp.

The protesters — less than a day after the deadly Israeli operation — were met with tear gas fired by Palestinian security personnel. Memes on social media ridiculed the PA, saying that if it was not going to fight the Israelis, it could at least hand out ammunition.

“We have to put our trust in God, not in the PA,” said one protester, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Israeli troops leave Jenin after two-day incursion, trade fire with Gaza

In the aftermath of the Israeli raid, the Jenin refugee camp — long a haven for militant groups — was in shambles and filled with tension. Masked men in black clothes with insignia of local militias escorted bodies of the dead through the camp, firing their weapons into the air and chanting, “The martyrs are beloved by God.” Participants in one procession shouted for the representatives of the PA to leave.

Israel said the incursion, the largest in two decades and the first in that time to involve airstrikes, resulted in the seizure of hundreds of weapons and hundreds of thousands of dollars in “terror funds.” The operation was necessary, Israel said, because the PA had abandoned the camp to the militants involved in armed attacks against Israel.

The incursion follows a more than year-long Israeli attempt to clamp down on new militant groups, especially in the Jenin camp and the surrounding area, home to many of the 50 Palestinians who have attacked Israelis recently.

“Israel’s broad operation in Jenin is not a one-time event,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as the troops began to withdraw Tuesday night. “We will not allow Jenin to go back to being a city of refuge for terrorism.”


A gunman fires a weapon in the air Wednesday in Jenin in the Israeli-occupied West Bank during the funeral of Palestinians killed in an Israeli operation. (Raneen Sawafta/Reuters)

Itamar Yaar, a former deputy head of Israel’s national security council, said the mission would give the PA a chance to reassert its control. “Based on this military success, Israel could engage with the PA, and the PA could have a very important role,” he said.

But after Wednesday’s clashes, anger against the PA is soaring in Jenin. Many scoffed at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s declaration that he would cut all security coordination with Israel in response to the incursion. They pointed to the scars of the two-day operation throughout the camp — churned asphalt and mangled cars, windows and doors smashed in by military bulldozers. Bullet casings and burned tires littered the streets; water and power supplies were cut.


Palestinians try to move a damaged car Wednesday after the Israeli army’s withdrawal from the Jenin camp. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

On a steep hill, a small crowd gathered by the semi-collapsed wall of al-Ansar Mosque. The Israel Defense Forces said the mosque had been harboring militants and weapons and that after a fierce firefight, soldiers who went in reported finding bombmaking materials, explosive devices and the entrance to a militant tunnel. The tunnel was visible Wednesday amid sandbags and rubble.

An Israeli military spokesman condemned the use of a house of worship as a base of military operations. But if any of the neighbors shared that anger, none said so publicly Wednesday.

“People know that what the fighters are doing serves a purpose that will help eventually,” said Ishmael Hussam, 24, a Jenin camp resident. “We grew up here with violence. We support the resistance.”

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Wednesday that Israel viewed what it described as the lack of civilian casualties as one of the mission’s successes.

“Just as we acted in Gaza two months ago in a precise operation against Islamic Jihad, so, too, did we act against all of the terror organizations in the Jenin refugee camp, and that is something that we know how to copy and paste everywhere else,” he said. He referred to a May campaign of purportedly “pinpoint” Israeli military airstrikes in the Gaza Strip; 10 civilians were killed in that operation.


Mourners marched through Jenin on July 5, carrying the bodies of Palestinians killed in clashes during Israel's two-day operation in the refugee camp. (Video: Reuters)

Amid the spiraling West Bank violence, Israel has repeatedly asserted that it goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties. But the bloody battles being fought and weapons being used on the streets of Jenin are reminiscent of the 2000 to 2005 Palestinian uprising, known as the second intifada. So far, 2023 is on pace to be one of the deadliest years for Palestinians, with more than 150 fatalities. For Israelis, it is the deadliest year in more than a decade, with at least 29 killed.

Fathya al-Sadi, a 69-year-old widow, said she spent all of Monday, the first day of the incursion, hiding at the back of her house with her son, grandchildren and dozens of her neighbors, some of whom feared their houses were on Israel’s target list.

“The children were screaming; I had to hug them all the time,” she said. At one point, an Israeli soldier broadcasting from the ruined streets exhorted residents to leave, she added.

“He said, ‘Get out, get out, get out! We will protect you,’” she recalled. She filled a few plastic bags and backpacks and made her way between soldiers and military vehicles to her brother’s apartment outside the camp in Jenin city, where she and her family slept on the floor until Wednesday morning.

How Israel’s raids on Jenin led to a major West Bank military operation

On her return to the camp, she found that her home was still intact but that a neighbor’s had been heavily damaged by an airstrike.

Surveying his house, also heavily damaged, Hussein Shibly swept bullet casings from his floor. The home was hit by an Israeli shoulder-fired missile, then used by Israeli soldiers as a firing position, he said.

“They targeted us because they said one of our youths was in the resistance,” Shibly said, spreading his hands. “He is not, and we had 50 people downstairs.”

Israel has claimed that all 12 of the Palestinian men killed were combatants. Amid the fighting, some 4,000 of the 12,000 residents of the camp fled Monday night, according to Jenin Mayor Nidal al-Obeidi.

Israeli authorities have not addressed the estimated 100 injured Palestinians, many of whom were being treated. They needed to be evacuated from the hospital Tuesday afternoon when a firefight broke out nearby and Israeli soldiers hit the hospital with bullets and the courtyard with tear gas.


Outside a mosque, some of the damage resulting from the Israeli operation in the Jenin refugee camp. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

Tear gas fired by Israeli troops caused a stampede of Palestinians into the medical wards, said Gabriel Naumann from the international aid group Doctors Without Borders, which assisted hospital staffers as they worked throughout the incursion.

“People were throwing up. Some became unconscious,” said Naumann, who also said he had vomited because of the gas. “We had to close the ER for about an hour. We were treating patients on the floor back here.”

How much the fighting capabilities of Jenin’s militants had been degraded was not immediately clear, said Adi Carmi, a former official in Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service.

“Israel will need to wait and see if it’s bought itself some time,” he said. “But what is clear is that Israel will need to do what it needs to do to show the terrorists that Jenin cannot be a safe haven.”


A gunman attends the funeral in Jenin on Wednesday of Palestinians killed during the Israeli operation. (Raneen Sawafta/Reuters)

Many of the fighters fled during the Israeli operation but would be returning soon, said a 29-year-old fighter from the camp. On Tuesday afternoon in the Jenin hospital, he wore a white T-shirt drenched in blood after having carried his 18-year-old brother, a bomb technician who had engaged in a shootout with Israeli soldiers, to an ambulance.

The man declined to give his name because he is wanted by Israel. But he said that he and other militants would return to the Jenin camp through tunnels and other clandestine routes.

“The Israelis think they control the camp, but it is easy to move around,” he said. “They want to take over, but we will never break.”

More Photos

CORRECTION
An earlier version of this article misidentified a resident of the Jenin refugee camp. He is Fadi Shibly, not Hussein Shibly. The article has been corrected.

Rubin reported from Tel Aviv.

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