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12 Dec 2023 10:56
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  •   Home > News > International

    In Jenin, men patrol the streets and residents say the meaning of life has changed since Hamas's attack

    Since the start of the Israel-Gaza war, Jenin in the occupied West Bank has been the major focus of continuous Israeli raids. An Israeli official says they're working to prevent a third front from opening up but a local resident says his neighbours and militants in the camp are angry.

    The streets of Jenin refugee camp are nearly empty, apart from two young men dressed in black jumpers, with M16 rifles slung across their chests.

    It's the middle of the day and the men are patrolling the area, on the lookout for Israeli military troops raiding their camp.

    The men, who say they are fighting against Israel's military occupation in the West Bank, are on extra-high alert after a sharp increase in deadly Israeli military raids in the area since Hamas launched its attack on October 7.

    Jenin has long been considered the West Bank's largest militant stronghold and since the start of the Israel-Gaza war, the camp has been the major focus of continuous Israeli raids.

    In one Israeli raid of Jenin earlier this month, 14 Palestinians were killed, making it the deadliest single Israeli operation in the West Bank since 2005, according to the United Nations (UN).

    The Palestinian Authority says at least one was a child, a 15-year-old boy.

    Israel says 90 per cent of the people killed were involved in militant activity.

    Local resident Jamal Huwail says his neighbours and militants in the camp are angry.

    "The occupation has come to Jenin Camp about 11 times [since the war started] and executed youths, and executed women and executed children," he says.

    Israel says it is only targeting militants or those who pose a threat to their troops when engaged in battle.

    "Life is very difficult. [Residents] have lost a lot of loved ones here. The meaning of life has changed," Mr Huwail says.

    The ABC asks the two men if they can speak further about why they're patrolling the streets, which is something rarely seen during daylight hours in Jenin.

    They direct us to more senior men in their militant group.

    But the commanders are all sleeping – along with most of the camp's residents – because they were up the previous night during another Israeli military raid.

    Israel says it's moving to prevent a 'third front'

    The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says 200 Palestinians in the West Bank, including 52 children, have been killed by Israeli forces since October 7.

    An additional eight, including one child, have been killed by Israeli settlers in the same area, including East Jerusalem, it says.

    "The number of Palestinians killed in the West Bank since October 7 accounts for 47 per cent of all Palestinian fatalities in the West Bank in 2023," OCHA says.

    OCHA says four Israelis have been killed in attacks in the West Bank by Palestinians in the same time frame.

    Israel says its increased military presence in the West Bank is targeting militants responsible for planning and carrying out attacks on Israelis.

    A senior Israel Defense Forces (IDF) official told the ABC that Israel had intelligence of a change in the volume and type of attacks being planned and that militants in the West Bank were taking inspiration from the October 7 massacre.

    The official provided one example, where troops had received information from Israel's internal security agency, the Shin Bet, that militants in Jenin were planning a raid on a nearby village, which was similar to the attack in Israel's south.

    Lieutenant Colonel (Reserves) Yohanan Tzoreff from Israel's Institute for National Security Studies says Israel is acting to prevent a third front forming in the war, alongside fronts in Gaza and on the Lebanon border.

    "We are in a situation of war. [Israel is] making a lot of efforts in order to prevent other escalation in many other places," he says.

    "We don't want the level of escalation in the West Bank to be the same as it is in Gaza.

    "So we are doing a lot of order to deter the people. This is the reason why you see so many units there and why you see this kind of react[ion] from the Israeli soldiers."

    A senior IDF source told the ABC that at least 70 per cent of the Palestinians killed in the West Bank since October 7 were armed militants.

    The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) office says: "The growing militarisation of Israeli law enforcement operations in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, threatens to ignite an already explosive situation that is well past the early warning stage."

    UNHCR also labelled an incident in the West Bank city of Nablus – which involved an air strike, the first in Nablus since the second intifada, that killed multiple Palestinians – an "apparent extrajudicial killing".

    The tragedy unfolding in Jenin

    After the raids, parts of the Jenin refugee camp now resemble a wasteland.

    Israeli troops have ripped up roads and water infrastructure with bulldozers, which they say are used to destroy potential roadside explosives.

    Multiple homes and cars have also been damaged or destroyed by air strikes, fires, or during fighting.

    Some building exteriors are punctured by bullet holes, shot during gunbattles between Israeli forces and armed militants.

    Palestinians in Jenin say their city is being demolished and dealt collective punishment by Israel, because of the actions of Hamas.

    "They destroy the infrastructure, we rebuild it, then they destroy it again," Mr Huwail says.

    "They destroyed the electricity, they destroyed the water, they even destroyed communications inside this camp."

    Civilians have also been caught up in the gunfire.

    Inside Jenin hospital, 49-year-old Kamal Ahmed Anis Lahlouh clutches his stomach and legs.

    He says he was shot multiple times by Israeli troops.

    "I was hit and [thought] I am about to be martyred," he says.

    "After my belly was full of blood, I cannot turn around, I cannot do anything.

    "Every night the army comes, every day we have casualties, every day we have martyrs.

    "No-one cares about you."

    The IDF denies it exacts collective punishment.

    'War creates a lot of bad things'

    Israeli troops have also been accused of abusing and humiliating Palestinians since the October 7 attack.

    In one incident aired on social media, a number of Palestinian men who have been detained are stripped naked, blindfolded and one is dragged on the ground by Israeli soldiers.

    One soldier also kicks one of the detainees in the head.

    The ABC hasn't been able to verify the location of this video, but an IDF source says it appears to have been taken on October 7, but not in the West Bank.

    In another video from the West Bank, a soldier kicks a blindfolded Palestinian man in the stomach and insults him.

    The IDF says the soldier responsible for the abuse was sentenced to 10 days in military prison, adding the IDF does not tolerate such behaviour.

    Lieutenant Colonel Tzoreff says he does not support Palestinians being abused by Israeli soldiers and said they must be disciplined.

    But he says some Israelis are being fuelled by anger from the events of October 7.

    "There are feelings of revenge, of fear, of a lot of things. It's war. War creates a lot of bad things," he says.

    "Many Israelis feel that what Hamas did on the 7 October, the massacre that Hamas did with our people in the in the south [must] get a big reaction.

    "So I think it's affected the behaviour of the soldiers in the West Bank.

    "I'm sure that there is no policy in the Israeli army that can allow any soldier to behave in this kind of behaviour.

    "I think that every soldier who [behaves] in this in this way, he must be punished."

    Back inside Jenin camp, the day is turning to dusk and more armed Palestinians start to appear on the streets.

    They lay out giant steel roadblocks in the shape of crosses on the streets.

    The group is getting ready for another night, anticipating another Israeli operation.


    © 2023 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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