Apr 13, 2022 - World

Jenin at center of latest escalation in Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Tires are set aflame at an entrance to the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin in the occupied West Bank on April 9. Photo: Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP via Getty Images
Tires are set aflame at an entrance to the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin in the occupied West Bank on April 9. Photo: Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP via Getty Images

The city of Jenin in the northern occupied West Bank has become the epicenter of the latest escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Why it matters: Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials have expressed concerns that if the situation escalates even more in Jenin, it could spill over to the rest of the West Bank and could lead to a flare-up in Gaza.

Flashback: During the second intifada in the early 2000s, many suicide bombers who attacked places in Israel came from Jenin. Palestinians saw the city as the "capital of the resistance."

  • Jenin was controlled by armed militias affiliated with Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian factions.
  • The refugee camp was the scene of intense fighting at the time, and the Israeli military destroyed hundreds of homes.

In the years after the second intifada, the city was rebuilt and the level of violence dramatically decreased following Israeli military operations, better control and governance by the Palestinian Authority and its security forces, and a series of agreements between the PA, Israeli Shin Bet security agency and the militia affiliated with the Palestinian Fatah party.

  • By 2018, Jenin became one of the most prosperous Palestinian cities in the West Bank, with much of its economy reliant on Palestinian citizens of Israel who visit the area for shopping and leisure.

Yes, but: Over the past three years, the PA was weakened and it decreased its security coordination with Israel due to policies of the Netanyahu government and Trump administration.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the situation. Lockdowns led to an economic crisis, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad filled the vacuum created in Jenin as Palestinian security forces turned their attention to enforcing COVID restrictions and the Israeli military decreased its operations in the area.
  • At the end of last year, the PA tried to regain control of the city. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas replaced many senior officials in the area, but the security operation wasn’t enough to restore the rule of law.

The latest: The situation has escalated in Jenin since a wave of attacks in Israel began last month. Fourteen people in Israel have been killed in four terror attacks since March 22. At least 10 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the same time period.

  • Two of the attacks on Israelis — one in Bnei Brak and another in Tel Aviv — were committed by Palestinians from the Jenin area. The other two were claimed by ISIS.
  • Israeli security services also killed three Palestinians in Jenin who they said intelligence suggested were planning to commit an attack on Israelis.

The Israeli military has dramatically increased its operations in Jenin in the last few months, and even more so after the attacks.

  • Israeli forces have killed at least eight Palestinians in the city since early March, most of them during armed fire fights, and arrested dozens of others.
  • Palestinian armed militias in Jenin have started coordinating their actions.
  • PA officials in the city, including the governor and heads of the security services there, paid their respects to the family of the Palestinian who killed three civilians in Tel Aviv. The governor stressed he doesn't consider him a terrorist. “Palestinians are not terrorists. Palestinians want to free themselves from occupation,” he said.
  • Abbas condemned the attacks, saying, the “killing of Palestinian and Israeli civilians only leads to a further deterioration of the situation, as we are all striving for stability.”

At the same time, Israel has also placed restrictions on Jenin.

  • Palestinian workers from the city are still allowed to enter Israel, but the Israeli government on Saturday banned Palestinian citizens of Israel from entering Jenin — a move likely to harm the area's economy, especially during Ramadan. Palestinians have described the restrictions as "collective punishment."
  • The Israeli Security Cabinet also decided to rebuild the separation barrier in the Jenin area to block illegal entry into Israel.

What to watch: Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz said he expects the PA to take more action in Jenin.

  • But many Israeli officials told Axios the PA’s ability to do this is very limited.
  • Omer Bar Lev, the Israeli internal security minister, said this week that Israel should prepare a contingency plan for a wide-ranging military operation in Jenin if the wave of attacks doesn’t stop.
  • Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar held a meeting with other Palestinian factions to discuss a possible response to the escalation in Jenin. After the meeting, the groups said they were ready to respond if necessary, but did not issue an ultimatum to Israel.
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