As I entered the Jenin refugee camp, a few days after Israel's deadly assault in early July, I was overcome by the sights and smells—and by my own memories. At the camp's entrance, garbage was piled high, the first sign of Israel's destruction of much of the camp's infrastructure, including its sewage lines. The smell of the garbage rotting in the hot sun, mixed with the open sewage, was overwhelming. But as I walked deeper into the densely populated, built-up camp, the rest of the devastation became more apparent. The Israeli military's armored D9 bulldozers (built by Caterpillar in the United States) dug up nearly all of the camp's roads, which were lined with crushed, overturned and shot-up cars. According to local officials, 80 percent of homes have been damaged or destroyed. At one end of the refugee camp stood an unmarked, newly established cemetery with the fresh graves of the 12 Palestinians Israel killed in its incursion. "There isn't any more room in the old cemetery," I was told.
I could not help but remember Israel's 2002 invasion of Jenin, when the Israeli military besieged it for nine days during the Second Intifada, killing 52 Palestinians and destroying an entire district of the camp, making more than 4,000 Palestinian refugees homeless. Then, as now, Israel's cruelty and dehumanization of Palestinians was apparent in its assault on Jenin, with well-documented evidence of war crimes. For example, two of the victims of Israel's invasion in 2002 were men in wheelchairs—one waving a white flag who was shot and then run over by Israeli tanks, and a second who was crushed in the rubble of his home after soldiers refused to allow his family the time to remove him from their home before a bulldozer destroyed it.
Twenty-one years later, residents in Jenin once again had similar stories—of their homes being bombed, of the army smashing through their walls to break into their neighbor's homes, and of extensive looting, including stealing children's piggy banks. One legally blind young man, Yahya, told me how Israeli soldiers invaded his home in the middle of the night, tied his hands behind his back and threw him into an army vehicle, before taking him several miles away to an Israeli military base. For hours, he lay on the ground, on his stomach, with his hands tied. When he was finally released, he walked back to Jenin, barefoot, without any aid—to the same destination that his grandfather had walked 75 years ago, when he was forced out of Haifa during the Nakba.
At one end of the Jenin refugee camp stood an unmarked, newly established cemetery with the fresh graves of the 12 Palestinians Israel killed in its incursion. "There isn't any more room in the old cemetery," I was told.
- Diana Buttu
No one was spared in Israel's largest assault in the West Bank since the Second Intifada—not medical staff performing first aid in Jenin, not those with disabilities, not children, not the elderly. All in Israel's eyes are legitimate targets or, at best, collateral damage, like they were in 2002, when Israeli forces also used Palestinians as human shields. Four of the 12 Palestinians that Israel just killed in Jenin were children—including a 16-year-old boy, unarmed, who was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper as he stood in front of a hospital, according to documentation collected by Defense for Children International-Palestine. Still, world leaders and their spokespeople, including U.S. President Joe Biden, insist on Israel's "right to defend itself."
But Israel cannot claim self-defense while invading a refugee camp. It's the equivalent of saying that a person has the right to invade someone else's house because they fear their possessions might be stolen. Why does Israel have a "right" to use Apache helicopters to bomb Palestinian homes? Here lies the problem: The West has turned rights and responsibilities on their head, claiming that Palestinians—suffering under 56 years of Israeli occupation and military rule in the West Bank—must ensure that Israel and Israelis feel "safe" as they continue their theft and pillage of Palestinian land. The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, said as much in a recent interview, telling the Wall Street Journal: "I think the important thing for the security state of Israel is to keep things calm in the West Bank."
The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, has lost any claim that it is aiding Palestinians. Over the years, President Mahmoud Abbas has made sure that Palestinian security personnel do nothing to thwart Israeli attacks on Palestinian cities, towns and refugee camps. Palestinian security forces are nowhere to be found when Israeli settlers torch Palestinian towns like Huwara or Turmusaya. They do, however, magically appear when Palestinians speak out against Abbas and his rule.
"We know they will come back," one resident told me. "It is only a matter of time before they completely erase us—we are the last reminders of the Nakba."
- Diana Buttu
Abbas's response to the Jenin attack was a Groundhog Day scene, as he promised to cut off the Palestinian Authority's security ties with Israel, just as he did after Israel's raid on Jenin in January of this year—he didn't, of course. More than a week after Israel's latest assault—and well after a delegation of international diplomats went to Jenin—Abbas and his entourage finally decided to show up there, with hundreds of his personal security members in tow. He uttered some meaningless words about Palestinian unity before promptly leaving. It was his first visit to Jenin in 11 years. Ramallah is only 60 miles away. It is little wonder that one resident asked, "Where were these people when the camp was being attacked?" Others cheered for the Palestinian resistance in Jenin.
When pulling out of Jenin, the Israeli army claimed that it had achieved its military objectives. Of course, it had not. But it achieved other objectives: terrorizing another generation of Palestinian children; destroying the camp's infrastructure and forcing an already cash-strapped UNRWA to find ways to rebuild the camp once again. "We know they will come back," one resident told me. "It is only a matter of time before they completely erase us—we are the last reminders of the Nakba."