The Meaning of Jenin

Screen grab of IDF footage from the raid on Jenin Refugee camp.

For more than two days this week, the Israeli Defense Forces attacked the Jenin Refugee camp in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank. The assault started with cruise missiles and air strikes, continued with drones, tanks, tear gas and sniper units and finished up with fires and bulldozers demolishing Palestinian houses and businesses.

Using anodyne language strikingly similar to Putin’s description of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Benjamin Netanyahu labeled the attack on one of the world’s most defenseless and impoverished areas as a “special operation,” a targeted raid against alleged terrorists. Let’s recall that last year’s IDF raid on the Jenin camp, where an Israeli sniper fatally shot Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the head, was also called a “targeted action.”

In the most brutal assault on the West Bank in decades, the IDF “targeted” Jenin’s entire population and the fragile infrastructure the camp depends on for its survival: power plants, pipelines, electrical lines, cell towers, sewage treatment facilities, roads, schools, mosques and clinics. Israeli soldiers and snipers used Palestinian homes in the camp as bases of operation. Ambulances and journalists were prevented from accessing the refugee camp while the onslaught was taking place.

The UN, which oversees the Jenin camp, was given no warning of the impending attack. Like the Palestinian Authority, it has proven impotent against Israeli aggressions. Jenin has no army, no air force, no air defense system. It can be attacked at will with little risk to the invading force.

The early assessments gave a bleak picture of the scale of the damage: at least 13 killed, more than 100 injured, including women and children, more than a quarter of the camp’s 15,000 residents were forced to flee their homes, 80 percent of the camp’s buildings destroyed, damaged or burnt out. Dozens of Palestinians were seized by Israeli forces, interrogated and dumped in Israeli prisons. One Israeli soldier was killed, the apparent victim of friendly fire.

The real target seems to have been Jenin itself and not just its people and physical structures, but what Jenin represents to the world, the image it depicts about the nature of the Israeli occupation and the enduring Palestinian resistance against it. Jenin exists; therefore it must be destroyed. Yet, against all odds, it persists, surviving every attempt to extinguish it and its persistence aggravates its occupiers. Who better than the Israelis to understand what their policies have inflicted and the kind of resentment it has inculcated over the decades?

In the eyes of the Israeli state, anyone who lives in Jenin camp is suspect.  For 70 years, the “camp” has housed people evicted from their homes in Haifa and the Carmel Mountains during the Nakba and forced to live in old British army barracks outside the Jordanian town of Jenin in the northern Jezreel Valley.  After the Six Day War, Israel seized control over the entire West Bank, including Jenin, and has yet to relinquish it.

The war that gave birth to the Jenin camp has never ended for those who live there. Indeed the noose has been tightening on them ever since and every act of resistance becomes a justification for a new round of reprisals by the Israeli state, each more vicious and insidious than the last. In the early years of the occupation, the people of Jenin could travel across the Green Line into Israel to see their families, work or seek medical treatment. Now the Apartheid Wall separates them. Travel is restricted by an onerous permit system. All movement is under surveillance.

The economy of Jenin has been the victim of a planned demolition, as lethal as any bomb. The unemployment rate across the West Bank is 16%. In Jenin Camp nearly one-in-every-four residents lacks full time work. The fruit and vegetables of the fertile Jezreel Valley are barred from sale in Israel.

Even before the latest bombing, everyday life in Jenin had been pushed to the extremes: the power grid regularly failed, as did the sewage system. Many houses lacked ventilation, adequate lighting, air conditioning and functioning toilets. Medical care is primitive and many chronically ill residents are unable to routinely get dialysis or chemotherapy treatments. Roads and doors can close at any moment. Yet, to resist this untenable state of affairs is to become a target: to be bombed, shot, seized, detained, renditioned to an Israeli prison and held without charges or trial for years. And now the people who were driven out of their homes and into Jenin camp are being driven out of the homes they were once driven into.

Jenin is a microcosm for the entire Palestinian experience of dispossession, exile, loss and resistance. The raids on Jenin reconfirm Edward Said’s prescient warnings about the Oslo Accords, as giving the illusion of a Palestinian state, a fragmented state over which Palestinians would have no real control. Said predicted, accurately it turns out, that the Palestinian Authority would function like a Vichy government, controlled and financed by the occupying powers. Militants would inevitably fill the void, Said argued, and become the pretext for ever more savage repression by the IDF. And so it goes.

The international powers who signed off on Oslo and countless UN Resolutions refuse to enforce their own agreements, even as they are breached again and again. For its part, the US, Israel’s primary financial underwriter, endorsed the Jenin assault as it was happening. While bombs were blowing up Palestinian apartment buildings, Biden’s White House issued a statement sanctioning what the UN says constitute war crimes:  “We support Israel’s security and right to defend its people against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups.” After the Israeli tanks rolled out of Jenin, the US announced the sale of 25 F-35s to Israel, in a deal financed by the Pentagon.

What we’re seeing is the ever-expanding reach of the Occupation, from IDF incursions to the rampages by settlers who have illegally built towns on Palestinian land. Peace agreements come and go, but the violence and land theft go on because none of the accords address the root cause, the original crime of dispossession, disenfranchisement and dehumanization. When the UN is helpless and the Palestinian Authority, which is responsible for “security” in the Occupied Territories, acts as a subcontractor for the Israeli state (many of its units trained by Shin Bet), serving only to police Palestinians and not secure them from external attack, is it any wonder paramilitaries have risen up to defend neighborhoods and families against such blood-soaked incursions?

The Palestinians have been walled in, but the Israelis haven’t been walled out. The IDF comes and goes as it pleases. The flood of settlers continues to rise, expropriating Palestinian land, houses, orchards, and fields, regardless of any lines on maps or rulings by international tribunals. When the settlers go on killing sprees, as they did earlier in the year at Huwara, Netanyahu has told them, “Let us commit the violence for you.” He has delivered on his promise with apparent impunity from international law.

Yes, the Israeli special military operation in Jenin is now over. But Jenin still exists, more defiant than ever. Hence, the normal military operations will continue, as will the resistance.

Turn Yourself Around

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

Brave the Wild River: the Untold Story of Two Women Who Mapped the Botany of the Grand Canyon
Melissa L. Sevigny

Astray: a History of Wandering
Eluned Summers-Bremner

Actual Malice: Civil Rights and the Freedom of the Press in New York Times vs. Sullivan
Samantha Barbas

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Off My Stars
Sam Blasucci
(Innovative Leisure)

Grand Salami Time
The Baseball Project

Telepathic Heights
(Soul Jazz)

The War Was Like a Hollywood Movie to Me

“The way ‘Catch-22’ began is that I’d just turned 30 and one day I decided maybe I was ready to write a novel. Not that I thought there was a need for a certain kind of novel. It began narcissistically: I was reading novels and reviews. And I began to feel I could do at least as well. Yet even then I proceeded with a great deal of caution and self-doubt. I wasn’t really writing about World War II in which I served as a bombadier. And the savage reactions–other than the fear in those few missions–were not mine. I was a dumb kid in the war and it was like a Hollywood movie to me.” (Joseph Heller)

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3