Amira Hass

Israel's Monumental Battle in Jenin’s City Square

With the army threatening to invade the city, again, Jenin’s mayor agreed to remove a memorial to a local Palestinian fighter

Israel once again showed the Palestinians who’s the boss. Early on Friday morning an Israel Defense Forces unit raided the outskirts of Jenin and confiscated the stone monument erected two weeks earlier in memory of Khaled Nazzal, a member of the central committee of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and a commander in its military arm.

Nazzal was born in 1948 in the town of Qabatiya in the Jenin district. He was assassinated by unknown assailants in June 1986, at the entrance to the Sheraton Hotel in Athens. “A cowardly execution carried out by the Mossad,” was how the DFLP described the act in its various publications.

On June 15 of this year a city square was named after Nazzal, and a monument in his memory was unveiled. The official Palestinian Wafa news agency reported that in the ceremony, which took place in the Jenin district governor’s building, the deputy governor and the deputy mayor also spoke. As befits an auditorium in an official building, the walls are decorated with pictures of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israeli intelligence works fast, and relevant information reached Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On June 21 a news website close to the DFLP reported that the mayor of “the settlement of Maalot” had sent Abbas a letter requesting removal of the monument.

On June 22 employees of the Jenin municipality removed the monument. A source in the office of the district government discovered that the Israeli Coordination and Liaison district office had warned that the army would invade Jenin if the municipality failed to remove the monument. The widow Rima Nazzal said in response: “Khaled is one of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian martyrs. Agreeing to the Israeli demand to remove the monument will only whet the appetite of the Israelis to make additional demands, and we can expect them to demand the removal of Abu Ammar’s [Arafat’s] grave too.” She also said: “Because there’s nothing left to give up, the Israelis are inventing new issues for us to give up in order to divert attention from the settlements and the political solution.”

Jenin Mayor Mohammed Abu Ghali told the Ramallah-based Wattan News Agency that the issue was transferred from Netanyahu’s office to U.S. President Donald Trump’s office. “For three days the Israeli press sang its favorite songs about terror and the killing of innocents, and the height of Israeli arrogance” was sending the ultimatum: Remove it or the bulldozers will destroy the square. There was fear of a military raid that would lead to resistance, and then to casualties, he said later. But the square is still named after Nazzal, he stressed.

In the hours following the removal of the monument, the social networks were full of criticism: “Abbas surrendered to pressure, the Palestinian Authority surrendered to the pressure of Israeli incitement, a serious precedent, a crime of the Jenin Municipality.” Various Fatah groups condemned the action. The military arm of the DFLP in Gaza called it a betrayal by Abbas of the blood of the fallen.

On the night of June 23, after the monument had been removed, activists, including Fatah members in Jenin, restored it to the square. “The popular grassroots pressure worked,” it was reported.

On June 30 Israel Defense Forces soldiers were sent on a mission to remove the stone. One armed Palestinian fired a shot. Apparently into the air. Our forces sustained no casualties. When they left the area a minor clash erupted between them and some residents. It was reported that two Palestinians were wounded by the soldiers’ fire.

On his Facebook page, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai wrote that the monument was removed “after the Jenin Municipality was asked to do so in order to stop the public incitement. Since it didn’t do so, the IDF is determined to act against incitement to murder If there is a bit of positive thinking among Jenin residents, we are certain that they can find a more suitable name for the square ” The supreme ruler is educating the natives.

About 100 reactions in Arabic to his post have appeared since its publication on Friday. The main message: The terror is yours, since the establishment of the state, and your country is full of monuments in memory of your terrorists. And also: We don’t need stones in order to remember our heroes. And also: If you’re such a democrat, remove the monument in Kiryat Arba in memory of Baruch Goldstein (the settler who massacred and wounded Palestinian worshipers at the Ibrahimi Mosque \ Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994).

As a military commander, Nazzal participated in the defense of Palestinian outposts when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. In the 1970s and 1980s he was responsible for several attacks inside Israel, including one of the most deadly – in the northern Israeli town of Maalot. The armed squad that he dispatched killed 26 Israelis, including 22 children.

The DFLP publications and the Palestinian press don’t conceal his connection to those attacks, but the outcomes are blurred or not described in detail. We can only guess: The fact that the victims were civilians, and mainly children, and the manner in which they were killed, are a source of embarrassment.

But associates of Nazzal refuse to allow Israel to decide on the definitions of terror and the agenda in the debate on harming civilians, while concealing Israel’s thousands of attacks over the years, which harmed tens of thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. As a former DFLP member told Haaretz: “Let Israel renounce Ariel Sharon, Yitzhak Rabin and Yigal Allon, and the many other Israelis who have been killing us for the past 70 years. Let Israel renounce the expulsion of children in 1948. Then we’ll talk.”