Jenin, occupied West Bank – A man sits cross-legged on a worn floral floor sofa, a keffiyeh wrapped tightly across his face to protect his identity.
He is a resistance fighter who lives in the Jenin refugee camp – the site of a violent and deadly two-day invasion by Israeli forces earlier this month – and he is not taking any chances.
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His thick-set arms cradle a large automatic weapon, its glistening metal body standing in contrast to the dark interior of the apartment. His hand is wrapped tightly around the rifle’s handle with his trigger finger outstretched.
But behind the battle-hardened fighter’s imposing frame lies a man who once dreamed of having a normal life, a life he had only glimpsed through the TV set.
The 29-year-old had worked for the local government before, three years ago, he joined the armed resistance to Israeli occupation of his Palestinian homeland.
“We knew nothing about life outside of the Jenin camp,” the fighter, who did not wish to be named for security reasons, says of his life before joining the resistance. “We have never seen a swimming pool or a sea in our lives.”
‘We will not be deterred’
On July 2, Israel launched its raid on the camp, in an effort – it has said – to root out “terrorists” that had taken control of the area, housing approximately 14,000 people. The military peppered the area with explosive drones and missiles fired from unmanned planes while hundreds of soldiers raided the camp. The fighter found himself at the centre of the action.
“We only had light weapons. They [Israeli forces] made a big deal out of the invasion. They wanted to deter us,” he says matter-of-factly.
He recalls relentless attacks. One memory remains ingrained in his mind, a missile that he says struck a group of 20-30 fighters and injured 17.
Twelve Palestinians, including three children, were killed in the attack on the camp.
He is, however, adamant that Israel’s plan to strike fear into the fighters and wider community has not worked.
Speaking in fast, unwavering tones, the fighter largely dismissed questions unrelated to the armed resistance and revealed little emotion.
“We will not be deterred. Only death can stop us. They can kill us, in which case we will be martyrs.”
“We do not want people to die in vain.”
Among the death and destruction, the fighter describes a community brought closer together and strengthened in its resolve to fight back against the occupation.
As he tells it, the people of Jenin opened their doors to the fighters. “They gave us food. Even people who left their homes wrote messages on the fridges for us to eat whatever we wanted.”
And after the attack, the fighter says that sense of togetherness led to a swell of people wanting to sign up to fight. “Many people want to join the factions, but we do not want to expand. We do not want people to die in vain,” he says.
“We know that God will give us victory”
Many fighters were forced to withdraw from the camp during the attack, a tactical retreat they said they had long prepared for.
“God has stood by our side. We are believers, and we know that God will give us victory,” the fighter says confidently.
For him, negotiations are a waste of time, and he does not believe that there will be a political solution that will end the occupation of Palestinian territory.
“We do not know where we are going. We are just waiting for death,” he states with certainty in his voice.
But even with that acknowledgment of the unknown, a confidence still shines through – even if Israel is far stronger militarily than the Palestinian fighters in the occupied West Bank.
If “God is on your side”, the fighter says, “no one can defeat you.”