Jenin cityscape. Jenin cityscape. Source: Catholic Church of England and Wales © Mazur/ - Flickr / cropped from original / shared under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Don Davies argues that the attacks on Jenin are part of a growing tide of brutal repression against the Palestinians

You have nothing to lose but your chains and your [refugee] tents

(George Habash)

On Thursday 26 January, we awoke to yet another unfolding horror story from the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin, in the northern sector of the West Bank.

Israeli Occupation Forces had entered the camp. In the few hours, they were there they killed 9 people, injured many more (4 of them critically), destroyed homes, flattened vehicles, and made a number of arrests. 

Amongst those killed and injured were men and women, young and old. As the dead, the dying and the injured lay on the ground the Israeli forces barred medics from the Red Crescent from moving to help and treat them – or even to remove the bodies. In the Jenin hospital, the Israelis fired a barrage of tear gas canisters into the hospital, forcing people to flee.

While the attack was taking place, Israeli politician and Knesset member Almog Cohen took to his social media accounts to declare “nice professional work for the soldiers in Jenin, keep killing them”

The Jenin refugee camp is a regular target for the Israeli forces.

If you enter the camp today you pass a large statue of a horse (a symbol of resilience and steadfastness). The monument was constructed from recovered materials from the destruction of the camp in 2002 – including the remains of the Red Crescent ambulance that was destroyed by Israeli forces. 

Between 1 and 11 April 2002 Israeli forces entered the camp. Though there are no exact figures, somewhere in the region of 300 Palestinians were killed, hundreds were injured and the centre of the camp was completely flattened by Israeli bombs and armoured bulldozers. The resistance efforts of the refugees in 2002 earned the camp the nickname ‘Jeninograd’.

The destruction of the last few days has not been as intense as in 2002. But they are part of a growing tide of brutal repression that is being unleashed on Palestinians by the new far-right Israeli government. The new government is expanding settlements, actively encouraging settler violence, and informing soldiers and police officers that they will not be prosecuted for killing Palestinians ‘under any circumstances’.

In Hebron, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, in the villages around Ramallah, and, especially in Nablus and Jenin the Israeli forces have gone on a killing spree. In 2023 so far 30 Palestinians have been killed, with many more injured.

Nablus and Jenin have been particularly targeted because the rebirth of the resistance movement is to be found there. In the Lion’s Den (a group based in Nablus) and the Jenin Brigade resistance fighters from various factions, have put aside political differences to oppose the recent round of Israeli attacks. They have also been increasingly vocal in their criticism of the Palestinian Authority and its collusion with the occupation.

Of course, what is occurring in Palestine should not come as a surprise. It has been the reality of the Israeli occupation for 75 years. The go-to response of a state born out of ethnic cleansing is brutality and violence against Palestinians. But in another sense, it is commonplace of European settler societies. Whether it was the British in Ireland, Kenya, or India, amongst others, the French in Algeria, or the European settlers in the US, Australia, or New Zealand, European colonisation is built upon brutality, violence, and racism. The colonial settler state of Israel is no different.

The killings of the last few weeks have barely been reported in the mainstream media, and within Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, any mention of Palestinian rights is likely to lead to suspension. But the plight of the Palestinians cannot go unnoticed or unmarked. It is incumbent on all of us – in our unions, social movements, student organisations, and community networks – to raise the banner of Palestinian solidarity. 

There must be an immediate end to the killing of Palestinians. We need to demand that there is an immediate stop to settlement building. And we must campaign for a secular, Palestinian state ‘from the river to the sea’.

Thursday’s killings in Jenin coincided with the anniversary of the death of former Palestinian leader George Habash. Habash, a doctor from a Christian Palestinian family, was given the nickname Al-Hakim (the wise one). He was the founder of the Arab Nationalist Movement (a pan-Arabist Palestinian organisation) and then, later, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist, liberation, and resistance organisation.

The continuing atrocities against the Palestinians, and the resistance it is fomenting, remind me of one of Habash’s famous statements:

‘Our promise to every orange tree on the land of Palestine,
Our promise to every olive tree on the land of Palestine,
Our promise to every sprig that grows on the land of Palestine,
Our promise is to keep fighting.
And to fight.
And then to keep fighting.
And keep fighting
For years. For decades. For centuries if necessary.’ 

(George Habash, Al Hakim)

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