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No Political Resolution, No Jobs: Palestinians Warn Jenin Refugee Camp Is ‘Ticking Time Bomb’
Palestinians attend a memorial service for Dia Sabarini, 25, who was killed in a gunfight with Israeli troops in the Jenin refugee camp. (Noor Khatib/The Media Line)

No Political Resolution, No Jobs: Palestinians Warn Jenin Refugee Camp Is ‘Ticking Time Bomb’

Al-Quds Brigades, the military arm of Islamic Jihad, is gaining ground in the West Bank camp, and so is Hamas, which has a growing presence, too.

Jenin, located in the northern West Bank, is one of the most well-known Palestinian refugee camps. The camp, which sits on an area no larger than one square kilometer, is home to roughly 17,000 people.

Israel conducted a massive military operation in the Jenin refugee camp in 2002 during the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada, when dozens of Palestinians were killed and hundreds more were arrested. The Israel Defense Forces claims that at least 23 of its soldiers, among them 13 reservists, were killed in the city in just that one day.

Tension spiked in the city of Jenin and the refugee camp in September when six Palestinian prisoners escaped from an Israeli prison; the last two prisoners, who were captured two weeks after the escape, later sought refuge in the camp and the city.

Jamal Hwail, who spent 11 years in an Israeli prison, is a close friend of one of the escapees, Zakaria Zubeidi. Hwail told The Media Line that, following the daring escape attempt, the camp is a “ticking time bomb.”

“It’s always been tense here. But the heroic operation and the subsequent focus on the city and the camp raised tension manyfold,” he said.

The camp residents are refugees, and when there is no political resolution, other problems will emerge from this. We live in overcrowded neighborhoods, there’s a lack of jobs and no real source of livelihood, the economic situation is bad, and poverty is the best incubator for drugs and extremism.

Hwail, who is a member of the Fatah Revolution Council and a former member of the Palestinian Legislative Council who is active in the refugee camp, warns of an imminent eruption and armed confrontation between local fighters and Israeli forces.

He points out that continued Israeli military incursions into the camp, and the arrest of activists, will keep the situation simmering.

“It’s inevitable and may spread to the rest of the West Bank due to the continuation of the occupation,” he said.

Hwail, who holds a doctorate in political science and lectures at the American University in Jenin, says “the continuation of Israeli violations against the Palestinians, the absence of a political resolution, and other social and economic reasons push us to confront the occupation.”

He says that there is a general state of frustration prevailing among the camp youth due to the depressed economic situation inside the camp, which is creating an environment ripe to spiral out of control and “explode in everyone’s face.”

“The camp residents are refugees, and when there is no political resolution, other problems will emerge from this. We live in overcrowded neighborhoods, there’s a lack of jobs and no real source of livelihood, the economic situation is bad, and poverty is the best incubator for drugs and extremism,” Hwail said.

Masked gunmen from different Palestinian factions speak to The Media Line reporter Mohammad Al-Kassim while on patrol at the camp on October 26, 2021. (Noor Khatib/The Media Line)

Jenin has been a major source of headaches for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his security forces.

Many residents of the city and camp accuse the PA of marginalizing them and leaving them out of the authority’s economic plan. While many cities saw economic growth in the last decade, Jenin residents have seen very little come their way.

Abdul Rahman Faraj, 21, was arrested by the Israeli army and spent eighteen months in prison. He says he was released without any charge.

Faraj told The Media Line that he doesn’t have a job, and he says he’s struggling as work opportunities at the camp are almost nonexistent.

“I want to get married and have a car. I have no ambitions. At any moment I could be martyred,” he said.

There is no future. We are here in the camp waiting for how and when we will die. There are no jobs, we don’t work, and we don’t have responsibilities. We live without hope.

His friend, Islam Dabaya, 22 and unemployed, told The Media Line that, when he was 16, he was seriously wounded in the back by Israeli gunfire. Dabaya says young men his age are “at risk of being injured, arrested or martyred.”

Dabaya paints a dark picture for his future and the future of those living at the refugee camp.

“There is no future. We are here in the camp waiting for how and when we will die. There are no jobs, we don’t work, and we don’t have responsibilities. We live without hope,” he said.

Raafat al-Saadi’s story is no different from many others in the refugee camp; he was also wounded and spent nine months in the hospital, undergoing eight operations.

“I am one of many young people who were injured in the camp. Ninety-nine percent of the camp were injured, killed or captured. This is camp life. I got three bullets in my body,” Saadi told The Media Line.

He accuses the PA of not doing enough to help him and the residents of the refugee camp.

“A message to the Palestinian presidency and the world: I invite them to come to see the camps, especially Jenin camp, which presented the martyrs and the wounded, and to see the suffering that we live in,” he said.

The Israeli military has intensified its operations in the Jenin area, and that has put people here on edge.

In the Jenin refugee camp, most of the fighters are affiliated with the ruling Fatah movement, but Al-Quds Brigades, the military arm of Islamic Jihad, is gaining ground, and so is Hamas, which also has a growing presence.

Dozens of young, masked Palestinian gunmen freely roam the streets and narrow alleys of the Jenin refugee camp; they say they are ready to fight.

Embracing his M-16, Bahaa Sabarini, who lost his brother, Deyaa, in a shootout in August with Israeli forces in Jenin, told The Media Line during a memorial service for his brother that he won’t “back down” and will continue on the same path. “We have a message to the occupying state, Israel, that in Jenin camp we will remain steadfast, and we will continue to resist until the last day of our lives. We are not afraid, and all the camp wants martyrdom,” he said.

Many of the gunmen are between the ages of 16 and 30, come from poor families which are struggling financially and have either lost a father, brother or close family member during clashes with Israeli forces.

Hwail says the Israeli media negatively portrays residents of the refugee camp.

“They exaggerate the number of weapons and fighters in the city and the camp, making it sound like we have an army. I don’t know their motive, really,” he said.

He explains that rising tension in Jenin is a result of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians in different parts of the West Bank.

“In the eyes of many, Jenin camp is the capital of Palestinian resistance and armed struggle, and a constant reminder to the Palestinian people that national unity and resistance is the solution to the occupation,” Hwail said.

He says there is an ongoing and systematic war on all levels conducted by Israel against the Palestinian youth.

“Jenin after 2002 has been worked on at all levels,” Hwail said. Israel has brought in experts in sociology in an attempt to reengineer society inside the camp, he explains, in particular harming the camp’s youths by facilitating their use of drugs and available weapons to increase internal violence.

In the eyes of many, Jenin camp is the capital of Palestinian resistance and armed struggle, and a constant reminder to the Palestinian people that national unity and resistance is the solution to the occupation

In the northern West Bank, Israel’s military faces a real challenge in the city of Jenin and in its camp. Unlike other areas in the West Bank, where there are no major confrontations when the Israeli army enters, soldiers are always pelted with stones and firebombs, making storming the camp costly.

Last summer, a bloody clash at dawn between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians inside the camp left four Palestinian residents dead.

Sabarini warns the Israeli army against attempting to again storm the camp, saying that the fighters will not stand idly by.

“My message to the Israelis is that, in any attempt to storm the camp, we will be on the lookout for them and we will resist with all our might; with explosive belts, bullets. (Israel) is an enemy who only understands the language of blood,” he said.

Jibril Zubeidi, whose well-known brother is one of the six prisoners who temporally escaped from an Israeli prison, told The Media Line that the current situation is tense.

Zubeidi explained that the deep political internal division between Fatah and Hamas isn’t felt at the camp.

“There is solidarity among all the resistance fighters,” he said, adding: “It is different at the camp, the social bond in here is unbreakable.”

“Here we have no division. Inside the camp there is no division. No Fatah, Hamas and (Islamic) Jihad and Popular Front. This message must be circulated, and the political echelon must understand it, which is that they leave their narrow partisan differences and not impose them on us as a people. We don’t want a split,” he said.

There is an abundance of firearms in the camp, but it is no match for the Israeli military’s weapons.

“As for the resistance weapon in the camps, it is known that it enjoys secrecy and is not intended for display or personal use; they are very expensive and difficult to get, some are locally manufactured but they are not the best,” Zubeidi said.

Meanwhile, Jenin remains calm on the surface, but it’s not far from the breaking point.

“They may arrest hundreds, and kill dozens, but this people will not be broken and will continue to resist, and this is the inevitable and natural relationship between the occupier and the people,” Zubeidi said.

Palestinian security forces are afraid to go into Jenin refugee camp and have been unable to take control there, even though it poses a threat to the stability of the PA and Abbas’ rule.

We are free people. God created us free. We do not want anyone to oppress us, kill us, capture us. We think about freedom.

Activist Mohammad Rashid told The Media Line that the Palestinian Authority’s security services in Jenin and throughout the Palestinian territories under PA control are weak, “maybe with the exception of Ramallah, look around and you’ll see other factions and they can’t do anything about it.”

The PA under Abbas has attempted to collect all weapons from Jenin, and from many other refugees camp in the West Bank, in an attempt to assert its control and authority. But they’ve failed to find all the weapons.

“We are free people. God created us free. We do not want anyone to oppress us, kill us, capture us. We think about freedom,” says Zubeidi. “We are free people and will stand up to injustice no matter who it is.”

Zubeidi summed up what people in the camp dream about: “You are talking to a 36-year-old person and I have never been to the sea. I don’t know what the sea is. I don’t know what a plane means, I don’t know what a train means. I don’t know technology. Other than Jenin refugee camp and Jenin governorate, I do not know. I am 36 years old. What is the luxury I live? What luxury are you talking about?”

Refugee camp residents say they are not interested in a fight with Israel if it meets their demands.

“The release of prisoners, no incursions into the camps, the return of the bodies of the martyrs. We deserve to live freely, we are not terrorists, we are Palestinians,” Sabarini said.

 

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