What Palestinians in Jenin camp did to block the Israeli army

Handmade anti-tank barriers, improvised explosives, the people of Jenin camp try new ways to slow Israel’s raids.

Jenin raid July 2023
Palestinians enter the Jenin refugee camp the day after Israeli forces withdrew following a three-day aerial and ground assault [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

Jenin, occupied West Bank – Hours after Israeli forces withdrew from the Jenin refugee camp, one of its main entrances had already been reinforced with obstacles and explosives in anticipation of another Israeli attack.

Large anti-tank metal barriers, improvised explosive canisters and two parked cars blocked the entrance into the camp, which was still reeling from a three-day Israeli air and ground assault that began on July 2.

In what has been described as the largest raid on the densely populated camp since 2002, Israel pounded it with explosive drones and missiles fired from unmanned planes while hundreds of soldiers raided the camp, taking cover in people’s homes and spreading destruction for about 48 hours. Twelve Palestinians, including three children, were killed.

About 120 Palestinians were injured with dozens in critical condition. Many homes and roads were destroyed, and at least 3,000 residents were forced to flee their homes.

Palestinian fighters were witnessed firing back at Israeli soldiers. But fighters and camp residents are increasingly relying on new tactics to defend themselves against repeated, deadly Israeli assaults.

These have included new types of homemade explosives planted in roads that damage Israeli armoured vehicles, and what is known as hedgehogs, cross-shaped anti-tank metal barriers made by hand.

They also include community-led initiatives such as setting up surveillance cameras in and around the camp and draping canvas above the camp’s tight alleyways to obstruct the view of Israeli snipers, drones and planes.

Jenin raid july 2023
Anti-tank metal barriers, rocks and explosive canisters block the entrance to the Jenin refugee camp after this month’s Israeli attack [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

The Palestinian fighters are confronting one of the most advanced armies in the world, making these measures more obstacles than anything else.

Still, they have come to pose a challenge to the Israeli army. The tools used in the Jenin refugee camp, which has emerged as a focal point of Palestinian resistance against the decades-long Israeli military occupation, have become an example for other Palestinian areas, such as Nablus, where similar strategies are being deployed.

A member of the Jenin Brigades – a small, cross-factional armed group based in the camp that Israel aims to crush, told Al Jazeera that they have increasingly come to rely on explosive canisters planted on roads.

Videos and images from the ground in Jenin showed number of Israeli armoured vehicles being hit by explosive canisters and sustaining sizable damage.

“We started feeling that we need to invest more in these things because the rock, beyond a certain point, becomes unhelpful. We are facing a lot of destruction,” 22-year-old Omar Najjar* told Al Jazeera from the camp, referring to the practice of throwing rocks or stones at Israeli soldiers.

“Most of what they confiscated are explosive canisters because they are effective. It causes heavy damage to their jeeps,” he said.

‘The soldiers couldn’t enter’

Many of the residents and fighters in the Jenin camp maintain that the Israeli army failed to capture fighters and confiscate rifles, that the majority of the people killed and arrested were civilians and the majority of items confiscated were explosive canisters, including hand-thrown ones.

The Israeli army said it “confiscated thousands of explosive devices” and shared images online of boxes of them.

Recently, larger canisters filled with flammable powder have been used more. Their production has spiked over the past two years with the re-emergence of an armed Palestinian resistance.

“These are armoured vehicles coming at you. The only thing you can do is affect them with these canisters. They come with planes and tractors. They are too cowardly to come alone on foot,” a more senior fighter, Odai Abdullah*, told Al Jazeera.

“The production of the explosive canisters is not individual work. It is all organized, and all falls under the administration of the Jenin Brigades. Everyone helps, inside or outside the brigades,” Odai said. “In one day, we can make 1,000.”

“They [the soldiers] couldn’t enter the camp. The youths are sitting there waiting for them at all times. The only thing they could do was shell the camp, shell all the homes,” Odai added.

Omar noted that the goal of the explosives, both those in the ground and hand-thrown ones, is to slow the Israeli army down, but he said Jenin residents use whatever else is available too.

“When we finished the bags of kwa’ [hand-thrown explosive metal bottles], we started inventing things. We started mixing burned oil and eggs, putting them in glass juice bottles and throwing them at the jeeps,” he said, noting that: “The eggs prevent the burned oil from being wiped off. It makes the oil stick.”

At one point, they simply used paint, he said – an item used by many other young Palestinians during Israeli army raids across the occupied West Bank.

‘100 percent indiscriminate’

Anti-tank barriers, canvas shelters and egg-filled glass bottles are just a few of the ways that the Jenin camp residents protect themselves against the Israeli army and support the fighters.

Odai’s mother, Amany*, said she and other women in their neighbourhood have their own roles to play.

“We would run around and check on the youth. Some make food. Others make tea and coffee,” she told Al Jazeera, noting that her sister bought soft drinks and biscuits for them.

“We ask them if they need any clothes washed or help them if they are injured,” said the mother, whose other son, also a Jenin Brigades fighter, was killed in an Israeli targeted killing in June. “These youths have been protecting us for two years.”

She spoke from the living room of her wrecked house, which soldiers raided and turned upside down. “Do we not have a right to protect and defend ourselves?” she asked. “They come into our homes and kill our children.”

“The army couldn’t have dreamed of entering the Jenin camp, so they used their warplanes. They only managed to get in because of their aerial attacks and shelling,” Amany said.

Jenin raid july 2023
A young Palestinian holds a hand-thrown explosive known as a koo’, the singular of kwa’ [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

Standing on the street in another neighbourhood, Mutee Mahmoud Salem al-Saadi, a man in his 50s, said he had to leave his home on the second night of the attack along with his 22-member family, most of whom are children.

“They started shooting at the homes like they wanted to kill anything that moved. It’s 100 percent indiscriminate. They shot at the ambulances and prevented them from reaching us,” Mutee told Al Jazeera. “I have rabbits, chickens and pigeons. They even shot and killed them!”

He said the Israeli army attacks on the camp only increase support for the fighters.

“What they are doing has the opposite effect that they are aiming for. Their actions only increase peoples’ perseverance and increase peoples’ trust in the fighters,” Mutee said.

“The people of the camp always support the youth. Some bring food. Others bring water. The fighters themselves were giving out food to people.

“Watch their funeral processions, and you will see how much support there is for these fighters.”

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the fighters.

Source: Al Jazeera