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Deadly Raid Shows the Palestinian Authority Is Losing Control of the Northern West Bank

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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IDF soldiers in Jenin, West Bank, archive photo.
IDF soldiers in Jenin, West Bank, archive photo. Credit: IDF
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The incident early Monday morning in Jenin was not directly related to the claims voiced recently about Israeli soldiers in the West Bank being trigger-happy. In this incident, the second of its kind in less than two weeks, an undercover Border Police force encountered heavy fire from Palestinians during an operation in the Jenin refugee camp and shot dead four Palestinian men.

The incident mainly reflects efforts by local organizations to extract a price for every Israeli military operation in Jenin, and the Palestinian Authority’s reluctance to confront them. The launch of a rocket from the Gaza Strip at Sderot early Monday afternoon might have been retaliation, but it also seems to be connected to factors within the Strip – above all the delay in the arrival of payments from Qatar.

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The soldiers in the Jenin refugee camp were members of the Border Police’s undercover antiterrorism unit, the so-called mista’arvim. They are trained and experienced in such operations, and do not often run into complications. Most of the serious incidents in recent times have involved soldiers in less-skilled units, some of them in the reserves, who fired unnecessarily – or without sufficient caution – in incidents that also involved noncombatants.

In the latest incident, the force entered the refugee camp to arrest a wanted man, a former security prisoner suspected of ties to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He was suspected of communicating with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip to carry out terrorist attacks within Israel, at their bidding.

The arrest itself was completed without resistance, but when the force prepared to leave the camp, they encountered heavy fire. Video filmed from the Palestinian side shows militants shooting at the forces with pistols and rifles. According to the IDF, some of the shooting included sniper fire. The Border Police shot dead four Palestinian men and wounded three others. There were no Israeli casualties. Photographs of the two of the deceased that were shared on social media Monday morning show them holding M16 rifles with scopes for improved accuracy. It is clear that this was an organized group of militants, not unarmed, innocent civilians who were caught in the line of fire.

In a similar incident August 3 involving a team from the Border Police’s Yamam counterterrorism unit, six Palestinians were wounded. One of them died of his injuries a few days ago. In this case too, heavy fire was directed at the Israeli forces. The various organized groups in the refugee camp do not have a proper hierarchy and ideological connection, but have come together with militants from different factions, according to the IDF. Similar phenomena were common in the Jenin refugee camp during the second intifada and later.

There have often been attempts to defend the camp from “invasions” by the Israeli military and by the Palestinian Authority’s own security forces. For a long time, the PA did not dare to sent armed police officers into the camp, for fear they would be harmed. The situation in Jenin has gotten worse lately, likely an expression of the continued weakening of the Palestinian Authority’s hold on the northern West Bank.

In an exceptional measure, the Border Police took the bodies of two of the dead Palestinians with them. It is still unclear whether this was in order to gain bargaining chips in the negotiations over the Israeli civilian captives and soldiers’ remains being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, or just a local initiative. Be that as it may, as has turned out in the past before, collecting the bodies of armed men from the West Bank – and even form Gaza – has never helped in any way in negotiations with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

After the incident, a general strike was declared in Jenin and Islamic Jihad, which threatened to avenge the deaths, announced that the blood of the deceased will not have been wasted. Nonetheless, the Palestinians also differentiate between armed men killed in an exchange of fire with the IDF – and whose actions are also the result of the anarchy they impose on the ground – and the teens and children who are killed as a result of the excessive use of force on the part of Israel.

Last week Haaretz reported that IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi had asked military commanders in the West Bank to show more restraint in the use of force, in order to avoid casualties among Palestinian noncombatants that could trigger an escalation of the violence. In general, the political and even senior military leadership hardly gets involved in authorizing operational activity in the West Bank’s Area A – territory that under the Oslo Accords was under Palestinian civilian and military control – leaving such decisions to the IDF’s Central Command and its Judea and Samaria Division. It is possible that the sheer number of incidents lately, particularly in Jenin, points to a need for greater involvement by the General Staff in approving such activities and examining their operational necessity.

The security situation in the West Bank isn’t calm at all. There’s a significant increase in the number of violent incidents, a big part of which focuses on the ongoing Palestinian protest against the establishment of the Evyatar settlement outpost south of Nablus. It was evacuated last month as part of a compromise between the settlers and the government, but its houses and structures remained in place, and Palestinians are prevented from accessing nearby lands.

Meanwhile, there’s growing sensitivity in the Gaza Strip. On Monday a breakthrough was reported in talks between Qatar and the United Nations aimed at finding a new mechanism to transfer Qatari cash to the Gaza Strip, per Israel’s request.

Since the end of the latest round of warfare in Gaza, almost three months ago, the money from Qatar has been stuck. Over time, the delay in transferring it is increasing the chances of renewed flare-up of violence.

At around 1:30 P.M., two rockets were fired from the Strip at Sderot. One was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system. The other fell inside the Strip. The rocket fire, unusual in recent days, and for which no organization has yet claimed responsibility, may be connected to the Jenin incident, but it seemingly also expresses Palestinian frustration at the stalemate in transferring the money.

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