Israel’s latest military incursion into the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin is a rerun of a similar raid back in 2002 which Foreign Editor David Pratt covered at the time. Here he reflects on the past and present battles for the West Bank town and what might now follow

It’s hard to believe that it happened 21 years ago now. But the events of the past week that saw Israel’s military assault into the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin has its roots in a battle that took place there as far back as 2002.

In fact what the world witnessed these past days was eerily reminiscent of those dark times all of two decades ago.

As a reporter assigned to cover what then was also a world headline story, I vividly remember the unfolding of events on the ground. For days the heavy, grey storm clouds had hung over the West Bank town like some ominous harbinger of things to come.

It was cold, damp and dark at 3.30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 3, 2002, when Israeli Brigadier-General Eyal Shlein relayed the order for the tanks and infantry to move in.

Unlike a smaller operation a few months before, this time the Israelis would come from three directions. From the southeast and southwest, units from the elite Nahal and Golani Brigades, trundled forward, their tank tracks chewing up the sodden ground.

From the north, the 5th Infantry Brigade, comprised mainly of reservists and accompanied by a commando section, began their own cautious advance.

Ten days later, as the world still reeled in horror from the events that unfolded in the wake of their assault as part of what was called Operation Defensive Shield, I was to meet some of those Israeli soldiers in the ruins of their objective - Jenin refugee camp.

“I’m an old soldier, a paratrooper. This is my third war, including Yom Kippur and Beirut in 1982. The last 11 days of fighting here have been the worst I have ever seen,” Israel Caspi murmured as he sat down wearily among the other dirty and exhausted men of his reservist unit.

Caspi was from the Israeli town of Herzlia. At 48 years old he was indeed an old soldier compared to those in their late twenties and thirties who made up the bulk of the reservists in the 5th Infantry. Whatever their age though, none of the men I met that day was typical of the Israeli soldiers I had so often encountered in the past.

Gone was the usual swagger and confidence. Now I found sombre, introspective men, men clearly marked by the things they’d seen and done inside Jenin camp. The Israeli army would not forget the battle of Jenin in a hurry.

Likewise neither would the Palestinian civilians who lived through the onslaught. For those who lived, fought and died there, the struggle for the camp would quickly enter the annals of intifada (uprising) folklore.

“This is the most terrible situation I can remember in my entire life,” said Khaled Amoudi, an 80-year-old Palestinian grandfather, who had lived in Jenin camp since his family was first made homeless during the 1948 Arab–Israeli war.


TOPSHOT - Israeli soldiers fire tear gas canisters from an armoured vehicle during an ongoing military operation in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on July 4, 2023. Israel pushed on for a second day on July 4 with its biggest military operation in

Israeli soldiers fire tear gas canisters from an armoured vehicle during an ongoing military operation in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on July 4, 2023


Missile bombardment

As we spoke standing on Jenin’s outskirts, Israeli Apache and Cobra helicopter gunships clattered overhead on their way to pound more missiles into the crumbling camp.

The old man told me how he and his wife Suda, along with some of their children and grandchildren, had decided to flee as the fighting intensified in their neighbourhood.

“Believe me when I say there were many dead in the street, and after a few days the smell was choking. What else could we do but leave?” Khaled said with a shrug.

Fast forward 21 years and last week once again thousands of Palestinian found themselves uprooted from their homes and facing hours-long queues at checkpoints on Highway 60 – the main north-south route in the West Bank.

No one really knows exactly how many Palestinians live in Jenin which was set up in 1948 to house those uprooted from their homes after the creation of the State of Israel.

Official Palestinian figures put the numbers anywhere between 12 -18,000 while the UN’s Relief and Work’s Agency (UNRWA) puts the figure at 23,000 Palestinian refugees registered in the camp as of 2022.

What is certain though is that Jenin over decades has become a poverty ridden ghetto widely recognised by both Israelis and Palestinians alike as a sanctuary and hideout where the most wanted Palestinian bomb makers or ‘engineers’ of Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades thrived and recruited.

For Palestinians, Jenin has always been seen as the “capital of the resistance,” while for the likes of Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, back in 2002, it was nothing but a “nest of cockroaches.”

It was last year that Israel stepped up its raids into the camp concerned it said with an increase in militancy and arms stockpiling according to the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).

It was then too during such a raid that Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by an Israeli soldier resulting in widespread international condemnation.

In the latest two day incursion into the densely packed refugee camp, which caused extensive damage to roads, homes and cars, at least 12 people were killed and scores wounded.

The Israeli military says all of the confirmed 12 Palestinians killed in its near 48-hour operation were combatants, and that its operation aimed to break the mindset that Jenin is a “safe haven” for militants.

But as recent history has shown rarely do such operations succeed in breaking Palestinian defiance. If anything, they only reinforce it and many who were youngsters in Jenin back in 2002 were undoubtedly radicalised as a result of their experience just as the current generation will likely undergo the same process because of the latest Israeli crackdowns.

According to some reports, the Jenin Brigade, a faction affiliated with the wider Islamic Jihad group, said eight of the dead, ranging in age from 16- to 21-years-old, came from among their ranks.

For some time now many young Palestinians disillusioned with what they see as an “old guard” representative in the shape of the Palestinian Authority (PA) have increasingly turned to more militant Islamist inspired groups.

For today’s “Shebab” (young men) on the streets of Jenin and other West Bank towns and cities, the PA once the embodiment of hopes for an independent Palestinian state is at best regarded as weak and riddled with corruption.

At worst many Palestinians condemn it as little more than a security appendage in collusion with the Israeli authorities to keep them in check.

Last month in a poll conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, 63% of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza thought the PA is a burden on them while 50% thought its collapse or dissolution would be in the best interests of the Palestinian public.

The PA’s octogenarian leader, Mahmoud Abbas has even less support with 80% of Palestinians in the poll expressing dissatisfaction with him and wanting him to resign.


Residents of the Jenin refugee camp fled their homes as the Israeli military pressed ahead with an operation in the area, in Jenin, West Bank, Tuesday, July 4, 2023. Palestinian health officials put the Palestinian death toll from the two-day raid at 10.


A spent force?

Such views are only reinforced by reports like those that surfaced earlier this month which say that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently told politicians that Israel “needs the Palestinian Authority.” At the same time, he also reportedly said Israel “needs to crush (the Palestinian) ambition” for an independent state.

Netanyahu, cited by a number of Israeli media outlets was speaking at a closed-door meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, and said that Israel “has an interest in seeing that the PA continues to function” and is “prepared to assist it economically,” according to Israel’s Kan public broadcast service.

“Where it’s successfully operating, it does our job for us,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying, apparently referring to PA counterterrorist operations in areas of the West Bank where it is in charge of security, known as Area A.

Such remarks only serve to confirm the suspicions of those Palestinians who have long since given up on the old guard and the Fatah-controlled PA under Abbas.

The extent of just how unpopular the PA is was brought home at the funeral of some of those Palestinians killed in the latest Israeli incursion into Jenin when angry mourners there accused three senior PA officials in attendance of major failings and chanted “Get out! Get out,” forcing the officials to leave quickly.

Such is the prevailing mood towards the PA that many Palestinian commentators believe that it is now a spent force. Writing under the headline ‘Why the Palestinian Authority is out of time,’ Awni Almashni, a member of the consulting council for the Fatah movement and a columnist for the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, recently argued that the PA’s delicate balancing act working between the Palestinian public and Israel is now totally and irretrievably out of kilter.

They main reason Almashni concludes is “because the Zionist project has reached the stage of trying to end the conflict once and for all.”

The ‘project’ Almashni refers to is the “decisive plan” outlined recently by Israel’s far-right finance minister Bezalel Smotrich which aims to greatly expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Such a plan say critics would amount to a “de facto annexation” of the West Bank and allow for unchecked expansion of the settlements with the accompanying intensified oppression of the Palestinian people this would entail.

Some Israeli ultranationalists say they would settle for nothing less than the complete expulsion of all Palestinians beyond the borders of what they deem the ‘Land of Israel.’ A few years ago one Israeli commentator from the daily Haaretz described such moves as a kind of “surrender-or-transfer ultimatum” to the Palestinians.

Only last month Netanyahu’s government passed a controversial resolution that gives practically all control over planning approval for construction in West Bank settlements to ultranationalist finance Minister Smotrich, adding to the sense of squeeze on Palestinian West Bank communities.

It’s against this wider political backdrop that residents of Jenin began to pick up the pieces from last week’s incursion while the violence has continued to spill over in both the West Bank, Gaza and in Tel Aviv where a Palestinian rammed his car into pedestrians and went on a stabbing spree, wounding eight people before he was shot dead. Hamas claimed him as a member.

In the wake of the Jenin assault Netanyahu has also warned that the operation was unlikely to be a "one-off" and said it would be "the beginning of regular incursions and continuous control of the territory".

In turn, the spokesman for the Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, said "every alley and street will soon turn into clashes and fighting fields."


NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 20, 2017: The State of Palestines President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the U.N. General Assembly at the United Nations on September 20, 2017 in New York, New York. (Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty Images).

The State of Palestine's President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the U.N. General Assembly at the United Nations


Major operation

According to Israeli estimates, almost half the population of Jenin is affiliated to Islamic Jihad or Hamas. Certainly, the scale of the latest Israeli operation one of the biggest since those days back in 2002 points to the growing strength of the militant groups in the city which clearly remains in the eyes of many Palestinians the “capital of resistance.”

As for the times ahead things do not look good. To begin with any peace process is currently dead in the water and the international community continues to look the other way as Israel’s illegal settlement programme intensifies.

Israel too is now ruled by the most right-wing government in living memory while the Palestinians are angry with the PA and it leaders. In short there is no chance of any real dialogue. On the ground meanwhile there seems to be an atomisation of this conflict now taking place.

This is less the widespread intifada of old as seen in 1987 and 2000 and instead is fast becoming a more localised fight taken on by individual Palestinian groups in specific towns and cities - Jenin being only one. All of which makes it far more difficult to deal with should any new peace initiative get underway.

Even before the latest bloodshed in Jenin, this year was already on course to be the deadliest year since 2005 in the West Bank. But few now doubt that even more difficult and dangerous times lie ahead for both Israelis and Palestinians alike.