The Intifada and Jenin-camp

In Jenin, there’s a refugee camp called “Jenin-camp”. During the second Intifada (from 2000 to app. 2005) Jenin camp was the scene of heavy combat, also known as “The Battle of Jenin” (April 2002). I must admit I haven’t thoroughly researched this and I haven’t even seen the film “Jenin, Jenin!”. The film reveals what exactly happened in Jenin camp during the battle.

The name Jenin has a very negative connation for many people, especially Israelis, because in Jenin the vast majority of the “suicide bombers”, that carried out their despicable acts on Israeli soil, were deployed. In response, the Israeli army invaded Jenin camp on the third of April 2002 to deal with these “bombers” forever. The Israeli army called this operation “Defensive Shield”.

Contrary to incursions in other cities, the Israeli army ran up against a lot a resistance from Palestinian fighters (as distinct from suicide bombers). The attack helicopters and tanks that were shooting rockets and grenades into the camp didn’t bring the victory the Israelis were aiming for. A group of Israeli soldiers even walked into an ambush which caused many casualties. So many that the Israeli army eventually decided to deploy armoured bulldozers to crush the camp thus breaking the resistance for ever. A number of refugees could get away, but others had to stay. Among those who stayed there were many that fell victim to a massacre, but until this day the exact numbers are disputed. The Israeli army could have caused the massacre because it’s said that they bulldozed houses with people (men, women and children) still in them. On the internet you will see different numbers of Palestinian civilians and fighters that were killed, but every number is contradicted elsewhere. A UN fact finding mission never started its research. One thing is certain though: too many lives were lost on the Palestinian as well as on the Israeli side.

The remark of a Palestinian colleague was striking. When I explained to her that Rotterdam (second city of the Netherlands) was heavily bombed during the Second World War which flattened the entire city centre, she said: “Ah, just like Jenin camp, that was completely flattened too when the Israelis were done.”

The reason that I dwell on the Intifada and the Battle of Jenin is that the Palestinian combatants that fought during the battle are still being honoured here. Everywhere in the city you can see posters, murals and illuminated signs (!) with portraits of those fighters. In the beginning it took me a while to get used to those pictures. My first thought was: “Gee, what a glorification of violence.” After all in the West we are rather scared of Palestinians carrying weapons. If we see an Israeli soldier with a machine gun we think: “that soldier is defending his country”, but a Palestinian with a gun can only be a terrorist.

All those posters etc. almost force you to hold your thoughts and prejudices about these fighters against the light, in order to determine where you have to place these fighters in your own thinking, for you can hardly walk the streets of Jenin without encountering these images.

When I once made out these fighters as terrorists in a conversation with a friend (and also Palestine activist) she drew my attention to the fact that I had to interpret their actions correctly, because we also honour our Dutch resistance fighters for what they did during the Second World War. She’s got a point there. What adds to it is that the Nazis considered our resistance fighters as terrorists. And the reasons why Palestinians started to resist by the use of armed force weren’t so much different from the reason our resistance fighters had for their armed fight.

When I asked a colleague what the exact significance of those posters, murals and illuminated signs is, she said: “We are simply proud of what those fighters did.” “So those images are there to honour and not to glorify them?”, I asked. “Yes, exactly, we honour them; glorification of violence is out of the question.”

Mural in the Old City of Jenin

Most Palestinians in Jenin don’t make a distinction between resistance fighters and suicide bombers, because both of them made a sacrifice. In their eyes they are both “martyrs”. I have also spoken to Palestinians who say: “Well, those suicide bombers were way out of line.” And there is also a group, mainly women, that says about this subject: “Please, let’s talk about something else.”

In case it’s not clear yet: the (second) Intifada has already been over for a number of years now and Palestinians in the West Bank are no longer involved in violent actions. Armed resistance never brought victory so in all layers of society people have resorted to non-violent resistance. The centre I work for is an example of such non-violent resistance: education as an instrument for development and for strengthening self-consciousness.

And perhaps the last photo is very significant in another sense. These weathered posters prove that the memory of these fighters is slowly fading. People I talked to don’t expect that weathered posters or removed illuminated signs will be replaced by new ones. Perhaps because Palestine knows that it has to be focused on the future in order to have a chance to survive.

1 Response to “The Intifada and Jenin-camp”

  1. 1 Natjana May 16, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Een mooi verhaal Ruben!

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