The Palestinian resistance factions of the West Bank are no longer fractured and in disarray, and the results speak for themselves
The Israeli army’s recent incursions into the cities and refugee camps of the northern occupied-West Bank are not going as smoothly as before.
The occupation army’s incursions into the city of Jenin and Jenin refugee camp in early September required the mobilization of large forces, including special units and armored vehicles – in scale, unprecedented since 2014.
On the night of 6 September, a force of about 100 vehicles carried out a raid in Jenin, supported by air with drones, and on land, by hundreds of soldiers from Israel’s elite military units.
Their task? To demolish the house of Ra’ad Hazem, who carried out the Dizengoff attack in Tel Aviv on 7 April, 2022. More than anything, this excessive military build-up over a single home demolition illustrates that the Israeli military can no longer operate in the West Bank as they did before the May 2021 ‘Sayf Al Quds’ conflagration – and its subsequent developments.
After the 6 September operation – which resulted in the death of three Israelis and wounded 14 – the occupation army launched Operation ‘Break the Waves’ in response to the rapid expansion of Palestinian resistance factions and fervor in the West Bank.
The re-emergence of resistance in the West Bank
Break the Waves’ objective, according to then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, was to “attack without borders in order to stop the [resistance] operations” – four of which were carried out in cities in occupied territories – and to destroy the infrastructure of the resistance factions in Jenin and Nablus.
Five months after the Tel Aviv attack, the situation in the West Bank remains tense and is heading toward further escalation. In the interim, three new resistance battalions have been announced in Nablus, Tulkarm and Tubas.
Between 2007 and 2021, the resistance factions, particularly Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), remained stuck in a vicious cycle. The enemy’s surgical strikes were hindering their proactive initiatives, and until 2020, their activities were limited to the formation of fighting cells that were able to carry out one or two attacks before being incapacitated.
Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Palestinian Authority (PA) security services have fully collaborated with the occupation authorities to pursue these resistance factions, for fear of having the Gaza model repeated in the West Bank.
The genesis lies in Jenin
The rejuvenation of resistance in the occupied West Bank can be attributed to the martyr Jamil al-Amouri. A prominent figure in the Jenin camp, Amouri was considered the most “wanted” by the occupation state for carrying out several shooting attacks against Israeli positions around Jenin, during the 2021 battle of Sayf al-Quds.
He effectively contributed to the formation of active military cells inside the camp, which later went on to form the nucleus of the Jenin Brigade.
In early June 2021, Amouri was assassinated, along with Lieutenant Adham Yasser Tawfiq Alawi from Nablus, and Captain Tayseer Mahmoud Othman Eissa from Jenin. The deaths of a PIJ commander along with two officers from the PA’s Military Intelligence effectively broke the ice between the PIJ on the one hand, and the Fatah movement and members of the security services in Jenin and Nablus, on the other.
This also led to a subtle change in the popular resistance factions’ perception of the PA security services, who for years have been accused of being agents of the occupation.
As political researcher Muhammad Dargham told The Cradle: “The martyrdom of Amouri with two officers from the security services removed the veil from the eyes of many supporters of the [Palestinian] Authority and the Fatah who woke up after thirteen years and found themselves guards of security coordination with Israel.”
PIJ and Fatah: setting aside differences
According to Dargham, the killing of Amouri, Alawi, and Eissa created harmony – at least in the Jenin camp – between the Al-Quds Brigades and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades – the respective armed wings of the PIJ and Fatah.
Three months after Amouri’s murder, five Palestinian prisoners belonging to the PIJ movement, along with the leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Zakaria Al-Zubaidi, managed to escape from Gilboa Prison, the most fortified of all Israeli prisons. Two of the six, Ayham Kamamji and Monadel Nafeat, managed to reach Jenin refugee camp.
By 19 September, 2021, all escapees were re-captured. However the date is also notable for the establishment of the Jenin Brigade – the first semi-organized resistance formation in the West Bank in 17 years. Importantly, while the Brigade was founded by PIJ operatives, it also consists of members of the armed wings of political rivals Hamas and Fatah.
Resistance spreads like wild fire
For many years, Israel ruled out the success of any semi-organized resistance action in the West Bank cities and refugee camps. This is due to the occupation’s adoption of a “maximum integration” policy that linked all aspects of the daily lives of Palestinians in the West Bank to Israel.
The occupation also adopted its “mowing the lawn” policy, which sought to target all resistances cells by arresting or killing its members.
These strategies were designed to send the message that any attempt to resist is doomed to failure, and the fate of those who undertake it will be life imprisonment or assassination.
However, what transpired in September 2021 was different from all Israeli estimates. The Jenin Brigade maintained its military continuity, and the attempts to storm the Jenin refugee camp became much more costly for the Israelis.
Previously, any Israeli force that invaded the camp was met with stone-throwing and firecrackers. But over the course of a year and three months, the alliance of Al-Quds Brigades and Al-Aqsa Brigades raised the bar considerably, and stands as testament to the benefits of a united armed front for the resistance.
This was noticeable about a year after the launch of the Jenin Brigade. On 24 May, 2022, clashes erupted in the area of the Prophet Joseph’s tomb, near Balata and Askar refugee camps, east of Nablus. Israeli settlers used to enter this area without any confrontation except for stone throwing.
On that day, though, the confrontations developed into an armed clash that seemed organized and with purpose. A few days later, Al-Quds Brigades issued a statement announcing the launch of the Nablus Brigade.
One month earlier, three resistance fighters from the Al-Quds Brigades were killed in a clash with the Israeli army. One of the three, Saif Abu Libdeh, from the Ain Shams camp in Tulkarem, had worked for months to establish the infrastructure for a group that would be announced six weeks after his death, under the name Tulkarem Brigade. This was followed by the formation of another battalion – the Tubas Brigade in June.
The occupation state: feeling the heat
According to the Israeli army’s Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, the occupation forces have foiled “hundreds of operations” since the beginning of the Operation Break the Wave, and carried out more than 1,500 precautionary arrests.
Indeed, the first half of this year witnessed more than 3,700 Palestinian attacks in the West Bank, during which 21 settlers were killed and 316 wounded, including 2,692 attacks with stones, 577 with Molotov cocktails, 542 with burning tires, 33 with explosive devices, 30 with fireworks, 25 with paint bottles, 14 shootings, 1 case of hit and run, 4 cases of stabbing (with 7 foiled).
However, these numbers maybe underrepresented. For instance, in one week alone (28 August to 3 September 2022), 12 soldiers and settlers were injured, and about 90 points of confrontation were observed, including one stabbing attack, 22 shooting attacks, and 15 throwing explosive devices and Molotov cocktails.
Point of no return
There is consensus among the Israeli security establishment, think-tanks, and military analysts that the situation on the ground in the West Bank has reached a point of no return. The question that worries Israel is: Is it possible to eliminate the new resistance developments – or at least keep them confined to the northern West Bank and prevent their expansion to southern cities such as Hebron and Bethlehem, or central cities such as Jerusalem and Ramallah?
This Israeli concern is justified considering that the beginning of September bore serious consequences for the Israelis. On 4 September, three Palestinians from Jenin (a father and his two sons) shot at a bus carrying Kfir unit recruits in the Jordan Valley, injuring more than seven Israeli soldiers.
Until now, the results of the investigations have not been announced, but it seems that the attack was carefully planned in terms of timing, and choice of location, where there were fewer surveillance cameras at work.
A few days later, the Israeli army aborted an attempt by a Palestinian youth from Nablus from carrying out an operation in central Tel Aviv. The police suggested that the young man “infiltrated through a hole in the wall in the Tulkarem area,” where the army deployed three infantry battalions to thwart further attempts.
There is yet another event that suggests the resistance action in the West Bank is growing. At dawn, on Thursday 8 September, members of the Jenin Brigade detonated a locally manufactured explosive device targeting a military jeep during a raid of one of the neighboring camps.
It turned out that the device was controlled remotely, which represented a major technical development for the resistance factions, whose infrastructure was destroyed at the end of the Second Intifada.
Israelis are fanning the flames
The Israeli Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv believes that the PIJ has succeeded in transforming the northern West Bank into a hotbed of resistance, as well as in smuggling weapons and money to Palestinian cities and camps.
These concerns coincide with expressed doubts over the efficacy of Israel’s “mowing the lawn” policy, which has fueled the “vicious cycle of blood,” according to Amos Harel, a military analyst writing for Haaretz newspaper.
In an article he wrote earlier this month, Harel asked whether the Israeli army is quelling the West Bank’s flames, or actually fanning them.
Avi Iskharov, an analyst in Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, opined that Israel is facing a “new situation” that is not similar to the two previous intifadas of 1987 and 2000, pointing out that “there are pockets of Palestinian gunmen in Nablus and Jenin (in the northern West Bank), who clash almost every night with the army and shoot at Israeli targets.”
Sources close to the resistance brigades in the West Bank told The Cradle that “Israel’s concerns are exaggerated for use in the upcoming election campaign.”
“What we are seeing today is the result of years of [resistance] efforts. As the train has set off, returning to the starting point means acceptance of our mass killing, and this is out of the question,” says one Palestinian source.
Israel: The PA is not collaborating enough
The Israelis have sought to place the blame for their inability to eliminate the resistance brigades and to abort operations in the occupied territories squarely on the PA in Ramallah, who they feel are failing to fulfill their obligations.
Israel’s Kan channel quoted an Israeli official as saying that “the Palestinian security services should increase their activity in the cities of the West Bank to prevent further escalation.”
As for the Palestinians, the corruption-ridden PA is too weak to play a pivotal role in curbing the resistance which enjoys broad Palestinian popular support. Any further association made between the PA with the Israeli security campaigns will make it lose what is left of its flagging legitimacy.
The Hebrew Walla website quoted Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh, the PA’s channel of communication with the Israelis, as saying: “It is Israel that has weakened the [Palestinian] Authority through daily incursions into the Palestinian areas.”
“The authority cannot accept a reality in which the army storms the occupied territories every night, then we are asked to work during the day against the militants,” added Sheikh.
A dawn of a new era in the West Bank
Meanwhile, the US has been keen to help prop up the PA and help it “restore stability,” by taking measures such as “increasing the number of work permits for Palestinians” in the occupied territories, “pumping economic aid to the Authority from various sources,” and facilitating the movement of Palestinians.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf, who recently visited Israel and met with senior security officials, warned that “the situation in the West Bank is worse than it appears and the future of the entire PA is under threat.”
In the early hours of 20 September, PA security forces in Nablus arrested Musab Shtayyeh, a Hamas commander wanted by Israel. Later that day, clashes broke out between the PA and hundreds of Palestinians who hit the streets in protest.
Resistance factions are demanding Shtayyeh’s immediate release and are threatening to bar the PA from Nablus until this is done.
In a video addressing the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian resistance in Jenin cautioned: “we do not want to fight with you, but stay away from us. If you deal in kidnapping, we will also deal in kidnapping.”
The Authority’s unelected President Mahmoud Abbas is in a bind: he fears mutiny from within for collaborating with Israeli security, and fears punishment from Israel for not doing so.
By not adopting a conclusive direction, on a daily basis Abbas drains the PA of further legitimacy and authority, as demonstrated in Nablus today.
In terms of the prospects for Palestinian national liberation, this at least will be a welcome development, as the decline or demise of the western and Israeli-backed PA will open a wide door to revitalized armed resistance in the occupied West Bank.