Since the Hollywood movie style escape of 6 Palestinian prisoners from one of Israel’s most fortified prisons, the Israeli government’s escalating aggression against Palestinian political prisoners has sparked the beginning of armed uprising that threatens to lead to the fall of its occupation of the West Bank.
The city of Jenin is located in the north of the West Bank and has been a flashpoint for armed attacks on Israeli occupation forces in the past months. With the escape of 6 Palestinian prisoners from Gilboa jail, who had allegedly used spoons and other basic tools to dig a tunnel leading to their freedom, the people of the West Bank reacted in unprecedented ways.
On the first day of the great escape of the detainees, protests began near the cities of Nablus, Al-Khalil, Jenin, Ramallah, Bethlehem and elsewhere, which was followed by a series of armed attacks. In the village of Beita (north West Bank) the ongoing protests have intensified, with young men creating home-made explosives and detonating them in open areas to disrupt illegal Israeli settlers in nearby settlements.
In Jenin, the al-Jalama checkpoint has become a frequent sight of sporadic gunfire from local Palestinian militias, including men from the Islamic Jihad Party’s al-Quds Brigades, the group’s armed wing. Although the armed resistance inside the city is nowhere near as coordinated as the highly trained fighters based in the besieged Gaza Strip, they nonetheless pose a huge threat to Israel’s military.
Four of the six escaped Palestinian prisoners have so far been captured by Israeli forces, all of which have testified before their lawyer to having been subject to heavy torture. This message has been clearly received by the people of the West Bank, especially in Jenin where the most high profiled of all the escapees, Zakaria Zubeidi, is from. Zubeidi was a former commander of Yasser Arafat’s Tanzim militia, attached to the armed wing of the Fatah Party, the al-Aqsa Martyrs brigades. The al-Aqsa Martyrs brigades were disbanded following the second Palestinian Intifada (uprising) in the early 2000’s and the ruling Fatah Party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has since ceased armed operations against Israeli occupation forces.
However, just days ago the al-Aqsa Martyrs brigades announced their re-unification, just as Islamic Jihad’s Al-Quds Brigades threatened to “open the gates of hell” for the Israeli occupation in Jenin, in the event that further violations against Palestinian prisoners were committed. In April of 2002, Jenin’s refugee camp fell victim to a horrific offensive launched by the Israeli military, during which 52 Palestinians were killed, roughly half of them civilians, and around 23 Israeli soldiers were also killed. Israel used its air force, commando teams, tanks, armored vehicles, as well as artillery and infantry units, to flatten at least 140 buildings, rendering a further 200 completely uninhabitable.
The massacre of civilians, as documented by Human Rights Watch and Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, has left scars upon the people of Jenin, which seemed to have been reopened by the severe torture of Zakaria Zubeidi, a leading commander against Israeli forces in 2002. Although now the people of Jenin do not have the backing, but rather opposition, of the Palestinian Preventative Security forces of the Palestinian Authority, they still possess the capacity to put up another battle against Israeli occupation forces.
The armed groups in the besieged Gaza Strip understand the potential for a Jenin armed rebellion and have pledged to back them if Israel tries any offensive action there. The backing of Jenin from Gaza will likely come in the form of rocket fire into Israeli cities and if both Jenin and Gaza fight together, this could end up forming a larger armed uprising throughout the West Bank.
President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party are now resorting to several tactics, aimed at restoring their credibility following the weak response of their leadership in the Palestinian Authority (PA). It is suspected that the Party is heading towards a large-scale split, with different denominations already seeming to have taken form, since the period prior to the elections being cancelled earlier this year. Hamas, the Party which rules the Gaza Strip, has come out in open opposition to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his senior leadership in the West Bank, whilst maintaining a relationship with Fatah Party officials, in what seems to be a strategic decision in anticipation of the PA collapsing in any way.
The PA, since its forces assassinated the well known dissident Nazar Banat, has resorted to forming even closer ties with the Israeli government, in a bid to hold onto power. Yet has completely ruined any credibility it had retained over the years by doing as such. If Jenin erupts into armed rebellion, quickly the guns could turn on the Palestinian Authority if they intervene to stop it.
The prospect of a collapse of the PA, Israel’s subcontractor for its ongoing occupation of the West Bank, is the worst case scenario it could possibly envisage. If the PA collapses, or a new leadership unwilling to coordinate with Israel is formed, Israeli occupation forces will once again have to redeploy into the major Palestinian cities. The deployment of Israeli forces into the cities of the West Bank, to manage the domestic security situation, is the very reason why they sought to negotiate and sign the infamous Oslo Accords with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in the first place.
The Oslo process created the PA, which now polices the major city areas in the West Bank and maintains relative stability. If the PA falls apart, then not only will Israeli forces replace their forces, but they will have to then pick up the intelligence gathering inside the West Bank. Currently, most of the spying and intelligence gathering in the West Bank is effectively done by PA forces, which would mean that Israel would essentially be sending its troops in without a well-established spy and intelligence network.
Prior to the first Palestinian Intifada in 1987, the people of the West Bank were nowhere near as rebellious as they have the potential to be now; so an Israeli deployment into the cities will result in round-the-clock bloodshed. Although the majority of the victims will undoubtably be Palestinian civilians in this case, Israeli forces will eventually become exhausted and start to look for a way out. There will also become a power vacuum, which could be exploited by any of the various Palestinian political party’s, but it will more than likely be Hamas that gains the most power.
All of this chaos could begin for Israel, beginning in Jenin, and the trigger will be the case of the prisoners. This is also connected to the 11-day war earlier this year, when Israel’s attacks on al-Aqsa Mosque and the people of Jerusalem resulted in a Palestinian rebellion throughout all the territories. The Palestinian armed operation, by the Joint Room of resistance factions, called Saif al-Quds (Sword of Jerusalem), achieved a widespread awakening of armed and non-violent rebellion throughout all of historic Palestine. Saif al-Quds also led to an inclusion of regional forces into the fight against Israel too, reopening the possibility for the Lebanese front to ignite.
Israel’s miscalculations and their insistence on behaving in an irrationally violent and racist manner, is leading to a situation which may soon truly ‘open the gates of hell’ upon the occupation forces and settlers operating on Palestinian lands.