Jenin. The West Bank. Israel.
The Jenin refugee camp—17,000 Palestinian civilians crowded into an area of less than a quarter square mile—borders the small city of Jenin. It is in the West Bank region of Palestine, which was illegally seized by Israel in 1967 and has remained under ever-tightening military occupation for 55 years, while armed fanatical Zionist settlers have seized more and more Palestinian land and homes in the West Bank.
The people of Jenin are the descendants of some of the 750,000 Palestinians driven out or terrorized into fleeing their homeland in 1948, as part of establishing the Jewish state of Israel on the land of Palestine. They live as refugees in the area that was once home for their grandparents.
Since its foundation—and with massive backing from the U.S. and other imperialists—Israel developed as an apartheid state, its oppressive rule maintained by one of the most powerful militaries in the world (The Israeli Defense Force, or "IDF"), with a substantial nuclear arsenal. (For a full history, see “Bastion of Enlightenment or Enforcer for Imperialism: The Case of ISRAEL.”)
Starting on Monday, July 3, at 1 am (Israeli time), a thousand Israeli special forces troops surged into Jenin’s narrow streets and alleys. They occupied it for two days, gunning down anyone who resisted, seeking out any form of organized opposition to Israeli power. From the sky above, drones launched missiles. Huge armored bulldozers deliberately tore up the streets—and the utility lines and pipes beneath them—knocking out electricity and water for much of Jenin and making roads impassable. Hospitals were tear-gassed; UN-run schools and aid facilities were damaged.
Under “normal” conditions, life in Jenin is difficult. Jenin is surrounded and penned in by armed Zionist settlers, and by the hostile Israeli military. West Bank Palestinians do not have the right to travel freely in their own homeland. Unemployment is sky-high and poverty pervasive. Utilities only work sporadically.
Now imagine living under these conditions and having a massive invasion force storming in, shouting threats, spraying tear gas, and raining bullets and shells in every corner and crevice of your neighborhood.
Here is how residents describe it:
Salim Awad, a 34-year-old restaurant worker, huddled in a house with 19 people, told the Washington Post, “The children are crying and screaming, terrified of what is happening.” Salim also described seeing a boy with his leg severed in the rubble of a theater destroyed in an airstrike. “His brother was next to him, crying out for him.”
Haifa Abu Sirriyeh, a 34-year-old mother of three, told Al Jazeera she was awakened early on Monday by a bombardment and her little girl was shaking and crying in fear. She said that Israeli forces “want to commit massacres inside the camp” and “want to wipe out the camp.”
Hanaa Shalby, 40, a mother of three girls, poured out her heart to CNN: “‘Our home, all the material things—they can be replaced, but how can I rebuild the psyche of my little girls? How will they ever feel safe again?’ Shalby showed CNN inside her daughters’ bedroom—their pink beds now strewn with broken glass after shrapnel shattered the windows. ‘My youngest, she is only seven years old. She says she wishes she was never born. She says I should never have birthed her into this horror.’”
Rimah Abu al-Haja, a 35-year-old Palestinian woman, told the Israeli paper Haaretz that Israeli soldiers forced her to leave her home on Monday. She returned to find they had ransacked and “destroyed everything.” On her embroidered map of Palestine, they had crossed out “Palestine” and written “Israel.”
By the time the “operation” was over on Wednesday, about 3,000 people had fled their homes, and at least 12 were dead, including (according to UNICEF) three minors. Palestine Red Crescent (a disaster-relief organization) reported at least 117 injured in the camp, including 45 that were “moderate” or “serious.” (An Israeli soldier was also killed.)
Soon people returned—to bury their dead, and to begin to rebuild the devastated camp. CNN reported that “tear gas” and “the stench of death” “lingered in the air.”
Israel’s Objectives and Consequences
The assault on Jenin comes in the context of intensifying crises rippling through the world, including big power challenges to the domination by the U.S. (and its key Middle East ally, Israel) of the Middle East region. And this larger crisis is interwoven with what Bob Avakian has described as an “existential crisis” facing Israel itself.1
The many profound implications of all this are beyond the scope of this article, but an important element is that this has led to escalating violence by both settlers and the military against Palestinian people in the West Bank (and elsewhere): During street protests in May 2022, IDF gunned down—apparently intentionally—a prominent and beloved Palestinian journalist in Jenin. In June 2023, hundreds of armed settlers rampaged through the West Bank village of Turmus Ayya, burning homes and cars, and killing one Palestinian. And there is increasingly genocidal talk from Israeli politicians.
This in turn has led to a renewed and fierce resistance, especially from the new generation of Palestinians, including street protests, attacks on settlers (who, to be clear, are basically a paramilitary armed force) as well as on other Israeli civilians. And it has led to an upsurge of young people taking up weapons to defend their community and their people.
The IDF has labeled Jenin as a “hotspot” of this resistance, and says there are 300 armed militants in the camp. And while organized into a variety of organizations, the IDF says that these militants coordinate among themselves to keep the Zionist armed forces out and to attack them if they come in.
Even though small and poorly armed in comparison with the Israeli military behemoth, they have been somewhat effective. Israeli forces used to make almost daily raids in Jenin and other West Bank areas to arrest militants and activists; now such raids are almost always met by some kind of resistance, including armed resistance.
Then in June, an IDF convoy entered Jenin; the lead armored car was disabled by an explosive device, and the remaining forces, bottled up behind it, ended up in a five-hour firefight and had to be rescued by a U.S.-built Apache helicopter gunship. From the standpoint of the Zionist military, this was intolerable. And by cracking the IDF’s aura of “invincibility” it also raised the specter of inspiring wider resistance in the West Bank and beyond. (It is widely reported that these armed fighters have come to be viewed as heroes and martyrs in Jenin, and the funerals of those killed during the July 3 attack were attended by thousands.)
This prospect of “no go” zones, of spreading contempt for Israeli military authority, and of attacks (however small-scale) on settler communities was also infuriating to the fascist social base of the current Netanyahu government. All of this fed into the IDF’s need for a “show of strength” in Jenin, and will continue to propel further attacks there and in the West Bank overall.
That said, the IDF’s claim that its operation was surgically focused on the small groups of armed militants and that they were “successful in avoiding casualties of uninvolved civilians” is bullshit. This was not a “police operation” directed at a few locations; IDF itself bragged about reaching into every nook and corner of Jenin. And it involved the most massive air assault on the West Bank in two decades.
And while IDF did succeed in inflicting great terror and suffering on 17,000 civilians (as we have already gone into) they appear to have made little dent in the armed groups, which launched new attacks even while the IDF was still in Jenin.
For Israel, the only answer to their inability (so far) to violently crush all forms of resistance is to more violently attack the Palestinian people, particularly those that dare to raise arms against them. Israel’s Defense Minister said: we will “reach a situation where, as a result of having engaged militarily in Jenin in recent days, we will be able to move anywhere, in the refugee camp or anywhere else, with a team of soldiers.” This is a threat of much more violence, but there is no guarantee for Israel that things will end up the way they want.
U.S./West Europe Backing for Destruction of Civilian Areas
All of this was done with support of the U.S. and its Western European allies. You know, the ones who denounce their Russian imperialist rivals on a daily basis for invading their smaller and weaker neighbor, and for launching military attacks on civilian areas… in Ukraine. To hear Biden talk, Russia’s invasion has violated the “peaceful democratic world order” that the U.S. and its allies created, and defeating it is a make-or-break line between civilization and barbarism.
Think about the contrast: A powerful, massively armed state with nuclear weapons attacks a much smaller and very poorly armed nation with merciless anti-civilian assaults that take lives and destroy vital infrastructure… In the case of Russia (top U.S. imperialist rival, along with China) invading Ukraine, the U.S. rulers and their media mouthpieces blast Russia and ramp up a bloody proxy war by pumping in billions of dollars in weapons against them. In the case of Israel—bastion for the U.S. in the Middle East—invading an impoverished Palestinian refugee camp, American officials and media insist they back Israel’s “security and right to defend” itself.
But when it is their close ally Israel assaulting a virtually unarmed civilian population, that’s another story! According to Haaretz, “Israel made sure to inform the U.S. in advance of its intent to launch the Jenin operation.” (Emphasis added.) And Haaretz also points out that “Despite the images from the refugee camp showing extensive destruction and civilian deaths, most European countries also failed to condemn Israel.” While the attack was underway, a U.S. National Security Council spokesperson told the Washington Post: “We support Israel’s security and right to defend its people against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups.”2
Israel has made clear that it intends to carry out more such attacks—in Jenin and elsewhere—in the name of “defending themselves” against “terrorism.” On July 5, Haaretz reported that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the Jenin operation was not a one-off event and “we will continue as long as necessary.” And the U.S. and its allies have signaled their support for future operations, while urging Israel to keep them short and with low death tolls to avoid any embarrassment to the West’s posture as “champions of human rights.”
The Challenge for People in the U.S.
In March of this year, in “An Existential Crisis Erupts in Zionist, Apartheid Israel,” we wrote:
An actual revolution in the U.S. would be a global game-changing event.
A big part of this is that it would give tremendous impetus to revolutionary forces everywhere, and certainly to the Palestinian people, showing the real possibility for the masses of people to rise up against and defeat even the most powerful oppressors. And, it would project the communist orientation of fighting to eliminate all oppression rather than fighting—however heroically—just to keep from being utterly crushed into the dirt. And it would offer a powerful contrast to the reactionary forces opposing U.S. imperialism with Islamic fundamentalism, as well as other dead ends like fighting for revenge.
In all these ways it should be clear that the single greatest contribution we can make to supporting the aspirations and struggles of the oppressed people, in Palestine and across this planet, is to urgently seize on the rare opportunity for revolution that could emerge here and in so doing push forward the revolutionary struggle everywhere.
At the same time, the fact that the U.S. imperialists brag about their “special relationship” with Israel, and back and reinforce the Zionists’ every atrocity, the people in this country do have a “special responsibility” to expose and oppose Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians, and the U.S. sponsorship of the Zionist regime.
Yet so far, there is shameful silence from people generally in the U.S. to the war crimes being committed by Israel—with the backing of “our” rulers—against the Palestinian people.
This must change, as part of working urgently toward an actual revolution to bring this monstrous imperialist rule to an end.