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Jenin grieves and celebrates after Israeli withdrawal

Jerusalem24 – An atmosphere of bittersweet and cautious celebration prevails in Jenin this morning after Israel’s full withdrawal from the refugee camp and city yesterday evening.

Displaced residents have begun making their way home to assess the destruction left behind by the army, as municipality crews clear a path in the rubble for the funeral procession, scheduled for mid-morning, of the 12 Palestinian youths including five children killed in Jenin during the invasion.

The overall Palestinian death toll for 2023 now stands at 198, including 36 children – the highest such toll since the Second Intifada.

The Israeli military announced one of its soldiers was killed before the army’s withdrawal yesterday evening, believed to be the first Israeli military casualty in combat of 2023.

“It’s unbearable being home”

Following the initial outburst of joy at the army’s retreat, displaced residents are slowly beginning to make their way home – but some are discovering it will be impossible for them to stay there.

“It was a disaster,” Um Qassem Al-Saadi tells Jerusalem24, after her family returned home this morning following a two-day ordeal in which they were forcibly detained and used by soldiers as human shields. “It was unbearable, we couldn’t stay there. [The army] dogs defecated everywhere. We won’t be able to stay until everything is cleaned and the house is repaired.”

The Civil Defense extinguished around 25 fires in homes and vehicles throughout the camp and evacuated large numbers of families, Civil Defense PR director Nael Azza tells Jerusalem24.

According to the head of Jenin municipality Nidal Obaidy, around 4,000 to 5,000 people were displaced over the two days of the invasion, or one third of the camp’s residents.

“We are trying to secure a way for residents to get back to their homes today,” he tells Jerusalem24. “But all the homes are destroyed.”

The Civil Defense has begun evaluating the scope of the damage and assessing individual buildings’ structural integrity in order to allow residents to return.

Residents inspect the destruction wrought by the Israeli army on Al-Damaj neighborhood in Jenin refugee camp, 5 July 2023. [Credit: Mohammad Turabi/Jerusalem24-24FM]

Mass grave

The funerals for the slain youths, which following Muslim tradition should have taken place as soon as possible after their deaths, were initially postponed because of the ongoing invasion and further delayed this morning by significantly damaged infrastructure and impassable roads.

There was also the time required to dig the mass grave in the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Jenin in which 10 of the 12 youths will be buried.

Relatives gathered in front of Jenin Government Hospital to claim the remains of their loved ones and to bring them to their family homes, both in Jenin refugee camp and neighboring villages, for a final goodbye before heading for burial.

The mass grave being dug in the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Jenin for 10 of the 12 slain youths. [Credit: Mohammad Samreen]
Slain Palestinians youths are laid to rest in a mass grave in the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Jenin. [Credit: Shadi Jarar’ah]
Six of the fatalities were known fighters, while others were not affiliated with armed groups, and five were minors.

Few details have emerged yet concerning the circumstances surrounding their deaths, as well as over 140 injuries from live ammunition, due to the Israeli-imposed power outage and information blackout for the duration of the invasion.

A late, half-hearted response from Gaza

Both Palestinians and Israelis had been anticipating a response from Hamas or Islamic Jihad in Gaza to Israel’s invasion and targeting of resistance in Jenin. But the response only came in the form of fewer than half a dozen rockets launched from the Strip, hours after Israel had already disengaged.

Israeli warplanes launched a series of airstrikes on sites in Beit Lahiya to the north of the Strip and Al-Baydar in the western, after five rockets were fired from Gaza at several locations in Israel.

The Israeli army said all the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, but that shrapnel from one missile lightly damaged a house in Sderot.

No injuries were recorded in Gaza, although several houses in Al-Baydar sustained significant damage.

What’s next for Jenin?

While both the Israeli military and government are boasting of the tactical success of the invasion, both Palestinians and Israeli pundits have accused the Israeli establishment of engaging in the operation as a result of caving to settler pressure.

Member of Knesset Zvi Zukkot, a member of Bezalel Smotrich’s far-right settler party Religious Zionism, told a settler WhatsApp group the invasion was “thanks to you guys”.

According to Haaretz, the US and Europe signaled tacit support for the invasion – which they might have withdrawn if the attack had spilled into a third day.

It is unclear if the military decided to pull the plug on the mission before all its goals were achieved, or if the soldier’s death on Monday evening had any incidence on this decision, but apart from the significant destruction wrought on the camp (which will mostly affect its civilian, refugee population) and the mourning imposed on the camp’s families, no significant blows seem to have been dealt to the armed Palestinian groups in Jenin. The confiscated IEDs are homemade and easily replaced, the destroyed, cross-factional surveillance networks can be rebuilt, and none of the groups’ leaders were killed or arrested.

According to Israeli military analyst Amos Harel, while “successful”, the operation “holds no real chance of effecting a fundamental change in the state of affairs in the West Bank.”

“The thinking is that the erosion of Palestinian capabilities in Jenin will have a deterrent effect on similar organizations that have begun developing in other West Bank cities, first in Nablus and then in Tulkarem and the Jericho area,” he writes in Haaretz. “But the simple truth is that the diplomatic process with the Palestinians is clinically dead. […] Over time, [military] operations will not suffice to achieve quiet. Without a scintilla of a diplomatic horizon for the Palestinians, the violence will continue.”

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