Why does Israel keep raiding the Jenin refugee camp?

Israel is concerned that Palestinians are increasingly taking up arms, with Jenin becoming a symbol of resistance.

An Israeli Air Force AH-64 Apache attack helicopter releases a payload during an Israeli army raid in Jenin
The Israeli army deployed helicopter gunships for the first time in 20 years in the West Bank during its latest raid on Jenin [Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP]

The Israeli military on Monday launched a large-scale incursion into the occupied West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp, killing six Palestinians and wounding at least 91.

The raid was the largest in the area in years and was different from previous incursions in several aspects.

So, what is the camp’s history, why does it keep getting targeted, and how was the latest raid different?

Why Jenin?

The Jenin refugee camp was originally established in 1953 to house Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed during the Nakba of 1948 – which forced some 750,000 from their homes to make way for the establishment of Israel.

The camp has seen much unrest over the decades and was nearly destroyed in 2002 when Israeli soldiers ambushed it during the second Intifada.

At the time, at least 52 Palestinians, including women and children, were killed, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigation. There were also 23 Israeli soldiers killed and several others were injured.

Jenin has recently seen intensifying attacks by Israeli forces, especially since 2021, as it – along with Gaza – has become a major symbol of Palestinian resistance.

What concerns Israel is that, in Jenin and elsewhere, young Palestinians are increasingly taking up arms, seeing no other way out of the pressure of occupation and disillusioned with the waning effectiveness of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The Jenin refugee camp houses armed fighters from several factions, which means the Israelis consider it a hub for what they call “terrorist” activity rather than resistance.

What happened in the latest raid?

The Israeli army launched its latest raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the early hours of Monday.

Five people, including a 15-year-old, were dead by the time it withdrew its forces in the afternoon. A sixth Palestinian died of his injuries early on Tuesday, while more are in critical condition.

Several journalists were shot at, surrounded, and one was injured. The raid took place close to the location where veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead by an Israeli sniper in May 2022.

Several ambulances were also fired upon with live ammunition and were first denied access to the injured.

The Israeli army said the raid was to arrest two suspects, one of whom was former Palestinian prisoner Assem Abu al-Haija, the son of Jamal Abu al-Haija, an imprisoned Hamas leader.

In 2022, Israeli forces killed more than 170 Palestinians, including at least 30 children, in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in what was described as the deadliest year for Palestinians living in those areas since 2006.

Since the start of 2023, Israeli forces have killed at least 160 Palestinians, including 26 children. The death toll includes 36 Palestinians killed by the Israeli army during a four-day assault on the besieged Gaza Strip between May 9 and 13.

What was different in this raid?

Israeli offensives into Jenin are nothing new, but it appeared that the raiding soldiers were caught off guard this time.

Shortly after the raid began, videos showed an Israeli military truck being hit with an explosive device. The Israeli military said the vehicle was exiting the camp when it was hit and damaged.

Military helicopters then began shooting and launching rockets and flares while surveillance aircraft hovered above. It was the first time in 20 years that Israel deployed helicopter gunships in the West Bank.

Videos also showed an Israeli helicopter being used to move injured soldiers. The Israeli military said seven of its soldiers were wounded.

By the end of the raid, reports suggested at least five Israeli military vehicles had been damaged by explosive devices and bullets deployed by armed Palestinians.

Clips online appeared to show Israeli soldiers using tractors and other vehicles to tow away damaged military vehicles. Gunfire could be heard in the background, indicating active fighting at the scene.

Several videos appeared to show Jenin residents parading the remains of Israeli vehicles – including wheels and chunks of damaged metal – around town.

More raids on Jenin and elsewhere are certain to come, with Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich publicly calling for a “large-scale operation” across the occupied West Bank.

Source: Al Jazeera