by Alessandro De Pascale and Alice Pistolesi

The Jenin refugee camp has not seen such an incursion for twenty years, since the Second Intifada (2000-2005). On Monday 3 July, shortly after midnight, the Israeli army attacked first from the air (with missile-armed drones) and then by land with a thousand soldiers, killing at least nine people, including two children, while another Palestinian was murdered near Ramallah. No Israeli military casualties have been reported. In contrast, seven Palestinians were killed in Jenin two weeks ago. This makes 2023 one of the worst years for the West Bank under Israeli occupation, since 1948. Since January, some 137 Palestinians have been killed, including several civilians, as well as at least 24 Israeli soldiers and several Israeli settlers living in illegal settlements built by Israel on Palestinian land in recent decades (despite UN resolutions).

The mayor of Jenin, Nidal Obeidi, described the attack to Al Jazeera reporters as ‘a real massacre and an attempt to wipe out all aspects of life in the city and the camp. Those being targeted now,’ he continued, ‘are not only resistance fighters but also civilians who are being injured and killed. Three thousand people have been evacuated from Jenin so far, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. The Jewish state has also cut off water and electricity to the camp since the operation began at dawn on Monday. The entire area of the camp, located on the outskirts of the city and built in the 1950s on less than half a square kilometre of densely packed buildings (including schools and hospitals) and home to some 14,000 people, has been sealed off by Israeli security forces. For the Jewish state, the ongoing operation is “a major operation against the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure”.

In the last few hours, dozens of people have been arrested and dozens of homes searched. Snipers have been placed on the roofs of houses and tear gas has been fired by Israeli security forces at the hospital where many people are being treated. The army in Tel Aviv reported that the Palestinian fighters were holed up in a mosque and that the operation would continue until the suspected armed groups were captured (72 hours according to media reports, up to a week according to sources in the Shin Bet, the Jewish state’s intelligence service). Indeed, the Israeli Prime Minister stated that the Jenin operation would last “as long as necessary”. According to Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, Israel’s military operation is not expected to extend to other parts of the West Bank for now.

In Jenin, as in Nablus, a new generation of Palestinian resistance fighters has long been active against Israel’s decades-long military occupation, unchecked by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), the Jewish state’s sole official interlocutor, which is now losing credibility and control over the territory by the day. Legislative elections have been postponed for the past 17 years because President Mahmoud Abbas fears they will be won by his Hamas rivals, as happened in Gaza in 2006, according to Abbas’ opponents.

Israel had apparently been gathering information for more than a year about the Jenin camp, one of 19 official camps set up by the Jewish state in the occupied West Bank after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. It is home to some 14,000 Palestinian refugees. Thousands are fleeing in these hours to escape the siege by Israeli security forces. For 12 months, Tel Aviv’s intelligence services have been analysing images taken from the air by drones and comparing them with information gathered on the ground to identify targets. Israeli forces had been carrying out repeated and increasingly intense attacks in the area for two years.

The military action in the Jenin camp was allegedly planned by the Jewish state ten days ago, following the killing of four Israeli settlers near Eli in the West Bank. On 19 June, also in this town in the occupied northern West Bank, an explosive device was found under an Israeli military vehicle. Two rockets were fired at Israel instead but fell into Palestinian territory. Episodes that lit the fuse already lit by the ruling Israeli right wing. According to the Jewish state, in the last year and a half alone there have been more than 50 attempted attacks by militias based in the Jenin refugee camp. Processions and spontaneous demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinian residents of the area have taken place in various parts of the West Bank, including the Aska refugee camp in Nablus and the Deheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen, spoke of a ‘crime committed by the occupation forces against Jenin’ and called on the international community to ‘break its shameful silence and take serious action to force Israel to stop its aggression against the Palestinian people’. The PNA forces are not taking part in the fighting, but the Palestinian leadership has decided to break off all contacts and meetings with its Israeli counterpart.

The ‘first response’ to the Israeli siege of Jenin came with the terrorist attack in Tel Aviv on 4 July. A group of people were run over by a car at a bus stop. According to the police, it was an assassination attempt. The perpetrator was ‘neutralised’, according to the media. Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem praised the action: ‘The heroic attack in Tel Aviv is the first response to the crimes against our people in Jenin. The occupier will pay the price for its crimes against Jenin. We praise the heroes of our people and the fighters of Jenin.

The UN’s Middle East envoy, Tor Wennesland, described the situation as ‘very dangerous’ and called for the protection of civilians. A few days ago, he warned that ‘unless decisive steps are taken now to contain the violence, there is a significant risk that the situation will deteriorate further’. In particular, Wennesland had condemned ‘the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which is fuelling the violence’. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also said he was ‘deeply concerned about developments in Jenin’. In a release, a spokesman for the Glass Palace, Farhan Haq, said that ‘all military operations must be conducted in full compliance with international humanitarian law’.

After the latest attack in Jenin, the White House said the US ‘supports Israel’s security and its right to defend its people against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups’, while stressing the need to protect non-combatants. Condemnation of the Israeli raid also came from Jordan and Egypt.

On 28 June, the UN Security Council expressed its ‘sadness at the deaths of civilians’ in the occupied West Bank and called on the parties to ‘avoid unilateral actions that could inflame tensions’. The fifteen member states unanimously ‘encouraged further steps to restore lasting calm and allow tensions to ease’ and urged restraint to ‘avoid further escalation’.

To learn more, read our Israel/Palestine conflict factsheet

Cover image: Panorama of Jenin in Palestine, West Bank ©dominika zara/