'We know our destiny': Islamic Jihad fighters in Jenin say they do not fear death

More than 100 people have been killed in the occupied West Bank since October 7

Militants and mourners attend the funeral of two Palestinians, Jawad Tourky and Aysar Ameer who were killed in an Israeli raid, in Jenin Camp, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Reuters
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Abu Hadid, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighter, sits on a plush white and gold sofa and fiddles with a home-made bomb.

Black gunpowder spills out of the small cylinder-like device as he turns it over in his tattooed hands.

Abu Hadid, 24, shows little concern about the risks of the bomb detonating, jokingly telling his two friends, Mahmoud and Bader, who are also members of the militant group, not to smoke their home-made cigarettes near the device.

They were keen to show off their M-16 assault rifles, although they were not to hand as the trio did not feel the need to be armed in the midafternoon sun.

The three men live in Jenin refugee camp, an area that has been the focus of much of Israel’s military raids in the occupied West Bank over the past several decades.

In July, Israel raided the camp, killing at least 12 people in what was the largest operation in 20 years. The morning after Thursday's visit by The National, Israel conducted another raid.

In the nearly three weeks since Hamas launched its surprise attack on southern Israel, in which the militant group killed about 1,400 people, the Israeli military has hit the camp with air strikes, killing several people.

In Gaza, more than 7,000 people have been killed in retaliatory Israeli attacks, while more than 100 people have been killed in the occupied West Bank.

"Jenin has not calmed down once in two years ... the camp is Israel's main obstacle," says Saleh Eshraim, the father of Yousef Eshraim, commander of Al Ayyash Brigade in Jenin.

"If they attack Jenin, Israel will see terror attacks in Tel Aviv [such as] happened on Dizengoff Street."

The attack Eshraim was referring to took place in March. One person was killed and two others injured.

"The battalion here is ready to defend its people, as are the camp's women and children," he says.

He spoke under a tarpaulin designed to block the view of Israeli drones. The dashboard of the car in which he arrived was festooned with pictures of those killed by Israel.

Back in the ornate sitting room, this latest round of fighting has captured the attention of Abu Hadid and his friends.

Death is forced upon us all our lives – we know our destiny
Abu Hadid, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighter

The three men have spent their whole lives in the camp, surrounded by posters of killed fighters and the physical and emotional scars of Israel’s occupation.

Their phones are filled with gruesome pictures of friends killed by the Israeli military.

One showed the body of a man their age, blood pooled around his head. Rigor mortis had set in, fixing a wide smile on his face. The three fighters say it shows death is not to be feared.

"Death is forced upon us all our lives – we know our destiny," Abu Hadid says.

"Any young boy in the camp says they want to be a martyr, even if they don't fully understand what it is to be one.

"When children play on the streets together, one side is Palestinians and the other Israel. They shoot each other with toy guns."

With few job prospects and little freedom of movement, Jenin has become a cauldron of violent opposition, fuelled by regular military raids and an ever-growing list of young men cut down before having a chance to live their lives.

Even an unborn baby cannot pull Abu Hadid away from his desire to take up arms and defend the camp from Israeli raids.

"When my son is born, he will dream for the same martyrdom as me, and follow my same steps," he says.

Amid all this talk of death, the men have still not lost their sense of humour. Abu Hadid garners laughter from the room, marked by bullet holes in the wall, before switching to broken English.

Reminders of death are everywhere. Bullet casings litter the streets of the camp and shallow dents in buildings from Israeli guns have not been plastered over.

At a local cemetery, blood smears the pavement, evidence of a recent Israeli air strike earlier that killed four people.

Tarpaulins hang across the narrow warren of streets, a crude attempt to prevent Israeli drones from seeing what is happening on the ground.

At one corner, an explosive device made up from propane canisters and a tripwire attached to a large metal object blocks the entrance of a street.

As the Israel-Gaza war enters perhaps its most violent and bloody chapter, with the prospect of a ground invasion into the enclave and violence in the West Bank and Israel's northern border, there is a sense among the young men in Jenin camp that the worst is yet to come.

During a visit earlier in the year, one of the many cemeteries in the camp was only three quarters full. On Thursday, there was no space left.

The area that previously stood empty was blooming with plants on mounds of earth at freshly dug graves. The smell of basil wafts over some of them.

Tarpaulins were erected over the new graves to give shade to friends, family and fellow fighters as they mourn and – as is so extremely the case in Jenin – ponder and make peace with the possibility that they soon could be in graves of their own.

Updated: October 27, 2023, 2:34 PM