Jenin raid will do little to help Israel's security

Fanning the flames of resentment then relying on military solutions is a questionable approach

An Apache attack helicopter from Israel's military pictured during an army raid in the Palestinian city of Jenin on Monday. This was the first time such firepower has been used in the West Bank since the Second Intifada. EPA
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Everyone who cares about stability and peace in the Middle East will have been disturbed by the reports coming out of the Israeli-occupied West Bank this week. Footage of an Apache attack helicopter firing missiles above the Palestinian city of Jenin showed the escalation and conjured up images of the kind of Israeli force more often used against targets in Gaza.

Israel claimed the use of such firepower was to save some of its soldiers left stranded during fighting with militants. This itself speaks to the spiralling violence in Palestine. A raid to capture two Palestinian militants escalated into hours of combat that saw Israeli armoured vehicles stuck by improvised explosive devices and led to the deaths of at least seven Palestinians. Among them was a teenage girl, Sadil Naghnaghia, who was declared dead on Wednesday after being shot in the forehead by Israeli forces while filming an armoured vehicle. At least 91 more Palestinians, many of whom are civilians, were injured as were seven Israeli soldiers and border police officers. Worryingly, 18 of the Palestinian wounded are in a serious or critical condition, a much higher number than in previous raids carried out by Israeli forces.

The violence continued overnight on Tuesday when at least 34 people were injured as Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian property in the West Bank, according to a Palestinian official. The outbreak of settler violence came after Palestinian gunmen killed four Israelis near the settlement of Eli on Tuesday afternoon, an attack claimed by the Gaza-based militant group Hamas.

Such violence is alarming, but sadly appeared inevitable. Jenin, and other parts of the West Bank, have been in a state of acute turmoil for many months, as the decades-long occupation continues. More than 120 Palestinians have been killed this year in months of violence focused mainly in the occupied territory; at least 20 Israelis have been killed during the same time.

This turmoil has not been helped by Israel’s controversial policy of expanding its illegal settlements on Palestinian land captured in 1967. The suffocation felt by the West Bank population already living under military occupation has been exacerbated by the growing presence of Israeli settlers, some living cheek by jowl with frustrated and aggrieved Palestinians.

Worryingly, Israel on Sunday approved a major change to the rules that govern settlement building, paving the way for more and faster construction. Under the new system, proposals for new settlements, considered illegal under international law, can now be submitted to the country’s Supreme Planning Council without prior political approval.

The fact that every settlement built reduces the amount of land available for a viable Palestinian state has not gone unnoticed in the Arab world or internationally. Indeed, the US – Israel’s strongest ally – said it is “deeply troubled by the Israeli government’s reported decision to advance planning for over 4,000 settlement units in the West Bank”.

The West Bank violence also poses a challenge to the Palestinian Authority. The armed opposition faced by Israeli forces in the area – which was of a different calibre to that seen in more typical clashes – was led by militant groups that do not answer to the PA. Many Palestinians, exhausted by years of occupation, will have taken note of who exactly took charge of the resistance on this occasion.

In addition to the tensions boiling over in the West Bank, the Israeli government is facing other challenges. Jerusalem remains a city that is a lightning rod for conflict, and Israeli society is deeply polarised, with political divisions over proposed changes to the country’s Supreme Court remaining unresolved.

It is doubtful that the fighting seen this week in Jenin will be the last, but its ferocity should serve as a warning. Much is at stake for all concerned and there are no easy answers. However, fanning the flames of grievance and resentment then relying on military solutions is a questionable approach that destabilises what is already a precarious situation and enables the most extreme voices on both sides.

Published: June 22, 2023, 3:00 AM