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The uptick in violence against Palestinians has experts and observers convinced that a third intifada could be already underway.
Palestinians were awakened by deafening gunshots and powerful explosions that reverberated throughout the Jenin refugee camp on 26 January. Israel said that its troops “went in to arrest Islamic Jihad militants planning major attacks” when they stormed the camp and surrounded homes.
Israeli soldiers killed nine Palestinians in the midst of a hail of gunfire, grenades, and tear gas.
A tenth Palestinian was reported to have been killed during an altercation with Israeli soldiers in the Jerusalem-area town of al-Ram as locals demonstrated against the Jenin raid.
Palestinian authorities denounced the Israeli military’s incursion into the Jenin camp in the northern West Bank and urged the international community to put an end to Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians.
The Israeli assault was described as “planned crime and a massacre” against the Palestinian people by Mahmoud Abbas, the president of Palestine. Subsequently, the PA announced “the end of security coordination with Israel” in response to the Jenin killings. Days later, Abbas told CIA director William Burns that despite the announcement of a complete freeze on cooperation, some elements of an Israeli security coordination system have remained in place, and could eventually be restored.
In response to the raid, a 21-year-old Palestinian gunman carried out an attack on Friday, 27 January, near a synagogue in Neve Yaakov. Three Israeli civilians were injured, and seven were killed. The gunman was later fatally shot by police forces.
In the days that followed, settler attacks soared, Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.
Throughout the West Bank, at least 144 Israeli settler attacks were reported on Saturday, including minor rock-throwing incidents as well as more violent assaults.
The situation in the occupied territory appears increasingly dire, and the escalating violence against Palestinians has experts and observers convinced that a third intifada could be already underway. Palestinians’ living conditions continue to deteriorate in the meantime.
Increased armed resistance
In January alone, Israel killed at least 31 Palestinians. In 2022, Israel killed more Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem than in any other year since the Second Intifada.
The Second Intifada of 2000 – 2005 was sparked by a controversial visit made by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Haram al-Sharif or the al-Aqsa Mosque compound (referred to as the Temple Mount in Judaism) in Jerusalem, one of Islam’s holiest sites.
Palestinians responded with furious demonstrations near the al-Aqsa Mosque that led to the deaths of four young Palestinians at the hands of Israeli forces.
The two uprisings ultimately resulted in the deaths of about 6,000 Palestinians and 1,200 Israelis, according to the Institute of Middle East Understanding (IMEU).
When the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, the first Intifada had come to an end. Strikes, boycotts, and civil disobedience were among its key features when it began in 1987.
In recent years, Israel has increased its state-sanctioned violence in the West Bank cities in order to suppress growing armed resistance, particularly in Nablus and Jenin.
Experts contend that the support that the Palestinian public is showing for armed resistance fighters comes as a natural response to Israeli violence, particularly among the youth.
“This is bound to happen,” political expert Jalal Abu Khater told Fanack. “You have kids who have grown up after the first and second Intifadas with a sense of hopelessness and frustration.”
“Young men who have lost hope in their career, family, or education have no other choice, given current economic and social conditions,” he added.
“The youth are confronted with a harsh reality where either you resist or you perish in a humiliating way.”
What is happening?
The operation in Jenin was the largest raid Israel had carried out in years. The raid coincided with the demolition of more Palestinian homes and the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.
One of Israel’s most extreme right-wing movements, the Likud Party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which recently won the government, has previously stated that one of its main policies is settlement expansion.
Furthermore, Netanyahu has pledged to ease Israeli access to firearms – an action seen as “collective punishment” that could further escalate the crisis.
Abu Khater said that the new government is speeding up what previous leaders have done.
“By exploiting the situation, it pushes its extreme agenda and expands Jewish-only settlements rapidly to push the Palestinians out of their homes.”
According to the expert, “Israel will use the confrontations with Palestinians, which are always regarded as ‘terrorist attacks,’ to justify building illegal outposts.”
In cities like Ramallah and Nablus, settlers have vandalized shops and set fire to cars and houses.
After the synagogue shooting attack in East Jerusalem, Ben Gvir, the new minister of national security who was previously convicted of supporting terrorism and inciting anti-Arab racism, declared that he would push legislation allowing Israel to execute instigators of attacks against Israelis.
Nonetheless, Abu Khater claims Israel has already begun draconian measures such as mass arrests, incarcerations without charges, and the execution of those who dare to defend themselves.
“Israel also punishes the entire Palestinian community for the actions of individuals,” he said, citing the Nablus blockade in October 2022, as an example.
A third intifada amid impunity
According to the Middle East Eye, Israeli settlers broke into homes and properties belonging to Palestinians in the village of Jalud on 1 February and carried out sneak attacks. Residents said that during the incident, settlers blasted shots into the air, set vehicles on fire, flung rocks, and used pepper spray. In response, young Palestinians pelted the settlers with rocks.
Israeli forces arrived a little over an hour later and began firing tear gas upon Palestinian civilians for over thirty minutes.
According to Amnesty’s latest report, impunity has facilitated further violence, as evidenced by the alarming number of settler attacks.
“The devastating events of the past week have exposed yet again the deadly cost of the system of apartheid. The international community’s failure to hold Israeli authorities to account for apartheid and other crimes has given them free rein to segregate, control and oppress Palestinians on a daily basis, and helps perpetuate deadly violence. Apartheid is a crime against humanity, and it is frankly chilling to see the perpetrators evade justice year after year,” Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said.
Regarding fears of a third Intifada, Abu Khater says it is difficult to define what an Intifada is nowadays since protests and clashes are more frequent. A few years ago, Palestinians would have prioritized employment, financial security, and prosperity, he says, but now they have “nothing to lose.”
“People have grown so numb from all the violence that they only anticipate the worst,” he said.
The everyday fear
The degree of unease in Nablus is steadily increasing, according to Amira, a local whose name has been changed for security concerns. She lost her brother to Israeli troops only recently, and says that “for us, nothing has changed aside from the fact that the level of hostility is simply spiraling.”
Despite the fact that her brother was killed on the premise that he belonged to a local armed resistance group, Amira maintains that she is unaware of his involvement in any organization. But she contends that these organizations will only become more powerful if Israel keeps upping the ante in its attacks.
She shares concerns about issues that affect daily life, like being stopped at checkpoints where Palestinians fear being attacked by police or settlers. Amira told Fanack that on 28 January, a day after the Synagogue incident, she was stopped at a checkpoint and witnessed a squad of soldiers and settlers charging at the taxi she was traveling in.
She notes that even though nothing happened, more and more settlers are being spotted with guns.
Amira starts each day by “checking the number of martyrs that Israeli forces have killed.” She then leaves for work, dreading the possibility that she will be killed next.
“We all worry about our homes being raided, settlement expansion and our families being forced to live in worse conditions somewhere else,” she said.
As part of his most recent trip to the Middle East, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank as a barrier to peace.
While urging both Israel and the Palestinians to “calm tensions,” the top US diplomat reaffirmed that the US would continue to support Israel.
Nevertheless, Amira believes that the situation is volatile, and is certain that Palestinians will continue to suffer.