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Why Israel's offensive on Jenin was a failure

Events on the ground proved that the Palestinian resistance anticipated Israel's invasion and how to confront it amid a battle between two unequal parties
A banner bearing a slogan of solidarity with the Jenin refugee camp and pictures of fighters hangs around a fountain in Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in Jerusalem during Friday prayers on 7 July 2023 (AFP)

Israel's Minister of Defence Yoav Gallant boasted that the offensive in Jenin has "fully achieved" its goals, claiming that when Palestinian fighters return to the refugee camp, they would "not recognise it" due to the severity of the attack.

"Most of them left their place of residence, and those who remained hid in places where they were protected by the civilian population, such as hospitals. This is something that indicates more than anything the cowardice and lack of courage that they tried to demonstrate on the outside," Gallant said.

The Israeli military's reaction, on the other hand, was more serious. It expressed real concern that the Palestinian resistance and tactics - including the use of explosive devices - would expand to various areas in the occupied West Bank.

Gallant appears to be speaking to the Israeli public to promote himself and increase his political clout by concealing the failure of his offensive rather than presenting an honest picture of its outcome.

'Palestinian triumph'

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Seeking to raise Israeli morale, Gallant bragged that the Palestinian fighters fled during the attack. Yet it can also be said that Israel's army - considered one of the most advanced in the world and equipped with its airforce, satellites, elite forces and cutting-edge military technology - failed to advance into the centre of the Jenin refugee camp.

Israel's army - considered one of the most advanced in the world - failed to advance into the centre of the Jenin refugee camp

Instead of marching, the soldiers crawled on the ground to avoid being sniped. During their withdrawal from the camp, the scene was more of a retreat in armoured vehicles and personnel carriers.

A more thrilling scene was the victory celebrations from the camp's residents along with the fighters following the Israeli army's withdrawal. These are the refugees whose families and grandparents were expelled from Haifa and its surroundings during the Nakba in 1948, and who were recently displaced from their homes which the army seized to use as shields and military barracks after destroying them.

While the displacement affected one-third of the camp's population, this popular spontaneous scene of celebration depicts the Palestinian triumph.

But why did the Israeli Minister of War use the term "fled" to describe the resistance fighters, whose number does not exceed a few dozen and who do not possess any lethal weapons, while the Israeli military and civilian media portray them as a regular army with a military arsenal and a command staff?

The answer to this question lies in the objectives of the attack on Jenin, which - as mentioned by the Israeli media beforehand - was to turn the Jenin camp into a "cemetery for terrorists". Ron Ben-Yishai, an Israeli military analyst for Ynet, pointed out the "disappointment in the army as a result of the small number of dead" among the Palestinian fighters.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gallant consider the Jenin camp the "capital of terrorism", while Israel's security agency, Shin Bet, said the objective was to eliminate the "terrorist infrastructure" and the "advanced combat capabilities, including the development of rudimentary rocket capabilities".

However, the managing director of the Institute for National Security Studies and the former head of the Military Intelligence Division, General Tamir Hayman, estimated that the resistance "lives in the hearts of the Palestinians" and has no capital, and therefore cannot be eliminated by storming the Jenin camp.

Hayman added that Israel has "only the military option without any political horizon".

A new 'Nakba'

If we consider this to be the central objective of the Israeli government, then it has ultimately failed to achieve it. The resistance has not been eliminated, nor have its capabilities or accumulated knowledge in the art of combat and confrontation.

On the contrary, events on the ground have proven that the resistance anticipated the occupation army's invasion, monitored its movements, and determined how, where and when to confront it amid a battle between two unequal parties. The Palestinians stood firm in the face of the Israeli war arsenal.

Another Israeli objective was to target the Palestinian popular base, which is the Palestinian people as a whole and the residents of the camp in particular, considering them part of the "terrorist infrastructure".

This was the main motive for the targeting of civilians, the complete destruction of infrastructure, the cutting off of water, electricity and communication services, as well as the forced displacement of 5,000 people from their homes, which reminded Palestinians of the Nakba.

The destruction of property, on the other hand, reminded them of the attacks carried out by settler gangs, which include burning villages and destroying property in Huwwara, Turmus Ayya, Um Safa and Masafer Yatta.

The objectives of these various operations are integrated and interrelated. They are aligned with the prevailing Religious Zionist ideology that prioritises a "project of resolution" for the Palestinians - in other words, ethnic cleansing - and annexation instead of occupation.

The ideology seeks to create a situation where it is in the Palestinians' interest to leave their homeland. This project was formulated by the minister of security, Betzalel Smotrich, who is also the leader of the Religious Zionism party and the official responsible for managing affairs and settlement in the occupied West Bank.

The occupation has sought to suppress the consciousness of Palestinians, terrorise the population with mass destruction and expulsion, and make them pay the price for being the popular incubator of the resistance.

As a prelude to another broad offensive on the northern region of the West Bank, including Nablus, the central political objective of the offensive in Jenin is the re-settlement of the northern West Bank. This comes after the Israeli parliament annulled in March 2023 the Disengagement Law of 2005, which mandated Israel's disengagement from Gaza and the northern parts of the West Bank, and following the re-establishment of the illegal settlement of Homesh.

The goal is to build dozens of settlement outposts in the area, and to Judaise and annex it in accordance with the coalition agreements.

Annexation policy

For the occupation, achieving this objective requires eliminating the resistance in this area and marginalising the role of the Palestinian Authority, especially since the resistance targets the Israeli army and settlers. Israeli settlers will not relocate to live in this area unless the state provides them with security and tranquillity, which will be achieved at the expense of the Palestinians.

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This would mean the failure of the Judaisation and settlement project of the northern West Bank, and a temporary failure, at least, of the annexation project, which Palestinians will resist.

This project was initially marginal in Israeli politics but gained significance after former US President Donald Trump endorsed it, and following the rise of Religious Zionism to power, which has a significant influence over Israeli politics and a strong ideological conviction.

This could lend the annexation project political weight while certain aspects of it were implemented on the ground in the Palestinian territories, under what is known as the de facto annexation, without announcing it officially.

The results of the attack on Jenin were disappointing for those who held on to the annexation project.
Through a political decision, the Israeli army sought to carry out a mass expulsion of Palestinian refugees from the camp, which indicates that the mentality of displacement and the Nakba still runs deep within Israeli rule. There are people who support it and advocate for its implementation.

However, Palestinians responded by returning to their homes immediately after the withdrawal of the occupation forces, while a significant portion of the population refused to leave their homes despite threats by Israeli soldiers.

The mentality of the Nakba and displacement has not changed, but the mentality of Palestinians has. They do not want to leave their homes, towns or lands. They insist on staying in their homes no matter the severity of the occupation or the aggression.

To the Israeli forces, particularly during military operations, Palestinians are enemies wherever they may be and should be targeted as such.

On a political level, Netanyahu succeeded on two important matters. Domestically, he gained the support of the heads of the parliamentary opposition regarding the attack and the government's decision. He also enjoyed unanimous support from the national Zionist consensus, including from the popular opposition, which did not take a stance against the aggression, while the large-scale protests sweeping the country "for democracy" ignored the attack.

Internationally, Netanyahu received unequivocal support from the Biden administration, as well as from Britain and Germany, who backed "Israel's right to protect its citizens" and condemned "Palestinian terrorism".

According to estimates, Netanyahu's popularity has increased, especially as Israeli society and media do not care about the number of Palestinian casualties or the extensive destruction. They primarily and solely focus on Israeli losses.

The Palestinian situation is subject to ongoing Israeli aggression whose methods may change, but its essence will always persist.

The resistance will emerge from the recent offensive more determined, experienced and with broader popular support

The ruling political class does not have any prospect for a just solution or even effective management of the occupation and the conflict. It relies mainly on military force to address or postpone crises. However, what actually happens is that each aggression sparks the opposite of its intended goals.

The resistance will emerge from the recent offensive more determined, experienced and with broader popular support.

Israel will seek to provoke internal Palestinian discord, particularly between the two main political factions, Fatah and Hamas, in order to achieve its military objectives through Palestinian hands. This is currently the most dangerous scenario.

Israel's aggression did not change the rules of the game but rather reinforces persisting Israeli policy. The occupation army may have withdrawn from the Jenin camp, but its next offensive is only a matter of time, and the countdown has already begun.

Providing protection for Palestinians is, therefore, an urgent need and must become a top priority.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Ameer Makhoul is a leading Palestinian activist and writer in the 48 Palestinians community. He is the former director of Ittijah, a Palestinian NGO in Israel. He was detained by Israel for ten years.
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