In the past year, the city of Jenin in the West Bank has become a particularly sharp thorn in the side of the Israeli occupation. On July 4th and 5th, Israeli forces swept into Jenin Refugee Camp in an attempt to suppress a rising armed resistance emanating from the area. Despite slaughtering 12 Palestinians, Israel accomplished little of military value in the operation, failing to flush out resistance forces or even take and hold the refugee camp. For all its brutal repression, the truth is that Israel today is far weaker than it has been in the past. Externally, international opinion, and particularly Jewish opinion, is turning against occupation and apartheid. And internally, Israel is riven by the judicial crisis and protest movement that has developed in opposition to Netanyahu’s government. Yumna Patel of Mondoweiss and Meron Rapaport of +972 Magazine join The Marc Steiner Report for a look at Israel’s war on Jenin.
Yumna Patel is the Palestine News Director for Mondoweiss.
Meron Rapoport is an editor at Local Call, a joint project of 972 Advancement of Citizenship Journalism.
Studio / Post-Production: David Hebden
Marc Steiner: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner here on The Marc Steiner Show at The Real News. It’s good to have you all with us. We’ve all been aware of the Israeli attack on Jenin that killed at least 12 Palestinians, five of them children, thousands displaced from their homes, over 100 homes destroyed. This in the wake of demonstrations in Israel decrying the end of democracy in Israel itself, but demonstrations that hardly mentioned or included Palestinians. All this in the face of the most right-wing, religious, fundamentalist government in Israel’s history. The threat to wipe out Palestinian towns and people have come from the highest positions in the Israeli government.
Before the assault in Jenin, Israel human rights group, B’Tselem, called it a regime of Jewish supremacy in all the areas under their control. Two weeks before the invasion, Israel’s national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “We have to settle the land of Israel, and at the same time, need to launch a military campaign. Blow up buildings, assassinate terrorists. Not one or two, but dozens, hundreds, or if needed, thousands.” All this coming on the heels of the devastation with Jenin for the second time in 20 years.
We are joined today by Meron Rapoport of 972 Local Call, who is a longtime Israeli journalist, former head of the News Department of Haaretz, and political activist. And Yumna Patel, who is also a political activist living in Bethlehem, the Palestine news director of Mondoweiss, who has been a freelance journalist for a long time, based in Bethlehem and written articles for numerous organizations. Meron and Yumna, welcome. Good to have you both with us.
What I want to tackle first is why this happened now, why this attack on Jenin? What’s the political motivation behind it, and what’s the reality beyond the headlines that we see?
Yumna Patel: The latest attack in Jenin is the culmination of over a year’s-long military effort by the Israeli security apparatus to quash growing Palestinian armed resistance groups in the occupied West Bank, primarily in the Nablus and Jenin areas. In Jenin, the huge focus has been on the Jenin refugee camp.
Over the past year and a half, since the beginning of 2022, we’ve seen several large-scale Israeli army raids on the Jenin refugee camp, many of which have been very deadly. Most raids over the past year or so have a minimum of around five people killed in a single raid.
What we saw last week was the culmination of the Israeli army’s efforts to quash Palestinian resistance. As you mentioned, it ended up with at least 12 Palestinians being killed, several of them children. It was the largest raid that we saw on Jenin, and one of the largest military operations in general in the West Bank, since the Second Intifada.
The bigger picture is that right now, currently, and particularly in the past year, we’ve been seeing this moment in the Palestinian streets where Palestinians, particularly Palestinian youth and young men, are feeling increasingly frustrated and disillusioned. Not only with their own governments, but also with the Israeli occupation that every day is further entrenching an apartheid reality on the ground, but is also, as we know, getting increasingly right-wing.
Many of the youth, particularly in Jenin, have been put in a position where they feel like the only option left for them is to take up arms and to resist against Israeli occupation. The battle that we’re currently seeing in Jenin has many different parts, and it’s also related to what’s happening in Israeli politics right now. But I’m sure that Meron will probably give us a better answer on that.
Marc Steiner: Meron, go ahead, please.
Meron Rapoport: Yes. Of course, how Israel portrays it is that Jenin, the northern part of the West Bank, Jenin and Nablus, but especially Jenin, has become a place where military attacks on Israeli – Either army or settlers in the West Bank – Has been on the rise in the last year. Jenin has been portrayed as the center of that violence. But I think that these explanations are very partial. I think the main reason for the attack on Jenin was really political.
As we know, as you mentioned also, Israel is now governed by the most extreme right-wing government in its history – And it has a long history of extreme government, but this one is the most extreme one. Its ministers, very senior ministers, and maybe I would say the most senior ministers, and the most influential ones are Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, who openly support what Smotrich, the finance minister, is calling the victory plan.
It’s a little bit difficult to… It’s a final victory plan. That’s how Smotrich is describing it, which means that leaving the Palestinians three options: either to accept an apartheid regime, either to be deported from Palestine, or to be… Doesn’t really say extinguished, but saying that we should win them by this war. These are the three options that are laid by this government, by the senior ministers in the government.
Now, the Israeli government is very weak now, as you know, with all the demonstrations inside Israel, and the pressure building from the right wing, and it was an open pressure. It was not secret that the army should go to Jenin, has led to this operation.
But at the same time, I think that the weakness of the Israeli government was manifested also in the operation itself. Yes, the Israeli army has brought destruction and killing in Jenin during these 48 hours. But at the same time, it really didn’t achieve a great deal. Most of the armed militia men escaped the camp and were not really confronted, did not really confront the Israeli army. The Israeli army found very little weapons compared to the weapons that we know are in the camp.
I think that the weakness of the Israeli government has made it that it cannot really go on with the long operation, because criticism inside Israeli society, not necessarily saying we are with the Palestinian – Of course, this is not the issue – But maybe there could have been a criticism saying, you, this government, does not have any legitimacy. That’s what the protestors are saying, you don’t have any legitimacy to govern. Therefore, you don’t have also a legitimacy to send our children to die in Jenin. So I think the Israeli army was very quick to leave the camp because I think it also feared this internal criticism within the Israeli society.
Marc Steiner: That’s really interesting. So let me explore this for a minute. Yumna, again, I’d like to get under this for a moment and talk about what all this might mean in terms of the future. Clearly, this is the most extreme right-wing government in the history of Israel. It also is a time when the Palestinian Authority is probably at its weakest in its history since the occupation began in ’67, ’68.
You see these demonstrations taking place by moderate, liberal, left Israelis, but Palestinians not being part of it, even Palestinian Israelis not being part of it. You see this power or the rise of the right, though, that seems to be decimating the Supreme Court, coming up with all kinds of ideas about how to disenfranchise Palestinians even more and take land. I’m wondering where you think this is headed.
This seems, to me, to be one of the most critical moments that I’ve experienced in all of this. And I’ve been involved in this since I was a child, when I was a Zionist as a child in HaBonim in the early ’60s, to this moment now. This seems to me, the most critical thing I’ve ever witnessed. Where do you think we are at this moment? Where do you think it takes it? Let me start with Bethlehem and where you sit, Yumna?
Yumna Patel: Yeah. I think, obviously, it’s hard to predict the future, but just going based off of the events that we’ve witnessed most recently… I think things are coming to a head and Palestinians are approaching a turning point. They are facing more Israeli violence, in many ways, than ever before: from Israel’s right-wing government, from an increasingly violent settler population in the West Bank, and from Israeli policies that are further entrenching an apartheid reality in the West Bank. Palestinians now are currently under threat of more land being confiscated, the construction of more settlements. I think more settlement units have been approved so far this year than in all of 2022. And so Palestinians are facing threats on every different front.
At the same time, as you mentioned, the Palestinian Authority is in an extremely weak position. You could argue that, especially after the raid in Jenin, the Palestinian Authority is perhaps the most unpopular that it has ever been.
After the raid in Jenin, young Palestinians in the city took to the streets. Just hours after Israeli forces withdrew from the city, youth took to the streets to confront the Palestinian Authority, yelling out things like, traitors, and where were you for the past two days? Why didn’t you protect us? We know that today the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, actually made his first trip to Jenin and the Jenin refugee camp in more than 11 years.
He did so under the protection of hundreds of Palestinian security forces, and armored military vehicles, and high-level Palestinian intelligence and security officials. It’s very indicative of the fact that when you have to go into your own populations, community, under armored convoy, that means that you’re not very popular and you’re probably not doing a very good job of actually governing those places.
Palestinians in Jenin, I know the Palestinians that I’ve spoken to in Jenin, they want nothing to do with the Palestinian Authority. They don’t just want the Palestinian Authority to get out of their way, they want the Palestinian Authority to be done with altogether. It’s very telling that, in the wake of the Army’s raid in Jenin, there was a security cabinet meeting on Sunday in which Netanyahu’s government announced that they were going to take measures. Obviously, the exact measures are unclear, but they said they were going to take measures to “strengthen the Palestinian Authority.”
That just further solidifies the fact that Israel and the Palestinian Authority are in bed together. Because when it comes to oppressing the Palestinian people or maintaining the status quo, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, to some degree, are the ones who serve to benefit.
I think that what we’re going to see in the future is more of what we saw last week in Jenin with Palestinians actively confronting the PA. I think the PA is going to have a reckoning sooner rather than later with Palestinians on the ground who have had enough with the past 30 years of the Oslo Accords, where this interim government that was supposed to be a temporary thing is now 30 years in the making. Democratic elections haven’t been held in 16 years. At the same time, Palestinians are being killed at alarming rates by Israeli forces and Israeli settlers.
Palestinians are headed to an increasingly abysmal reality, let’s say, especially in the West Bank and in places like Jenin. Eventually, things are going to boil over.
Marc Steiner: It does feel that way and seem that way. Meron, inside of Israel itself, the left, the people who have stood up against this, seem to, in many ways, to have dissipated. As I talked to a friend of mine in Germany the other day who is Israeli, jokingly he said, well, I think most of the Israeli left who oppose what’s happened to the Palestinians are now living in Germany. They’re not even in Israel anymore. How do you see that playing out itself? Any hope of alliance, any hope of real change? Where do you think it’s going?
Meron Rapoport: I think you’re speaking to the wrong person, because I’m an optimist.
Marc Steiner: [Laughs] Good, that’s good. Good, good, good, good, good, good [laughs].
Meron Rapoport: I tend to see some kind of hope all the time. And many times, I’m wrong, of course.
But yes, first of all, I don’t want to exaggerate, of course, the force of the Israelis that are against the occupation, but what we call the bloc against the occupation is present at the demonstrations. I am not saying it’s too big. It has some 1,000 people in a huge demonstration of 100,000 to 150,000, but they are there with the Palestinian flags.
Just yesterday, just 100 meters from the headquarters of the Israeli army, from where the chief of staff has his office, 100 meters from there, there were Palestinian flags in the demonstration. So this is going on. This bloc against the occupation is more and more accepted by the large demonstrations, demonstrators at large. There is a slight change, but I’m not saying that this bloc against the occupation can really change the Israeli policy. This is really going too far.
But I think, yes, a very strange thing, what Yumna described, Israel and Palestine, they are twins in a way. When Yumna described that [inaudible] needs a military escort in order to reach Jenin, I don’t think that [inaudible] is able today to go to Tel Aviv to an open meeting. Maybe not with army, he will maybe not come with soldiers, but he will be kicked out if he will come to Tel Aviv today to an open meeting. This is happening all the time.
The legitimacy of the Israeli government is very much questioned by hundreds of thousands of Israelis – Not because of the occupation. No, no. I have to be very clear there. But it is questioned, and it is in a very delicate moment. This delicate moment, as you said, could be very, very critical and very dangerous, because there are these pressures by these very, very extreme right-wing ministers that are in power. Smotrich is basically the military governor of the West Bank. He received a lot of authority, so they are pushing for a very extreme solution. I would even use the final solution, in a way.
But at the same time, they are very weak inside the Israeli society for reasons that, apparently, apparently has nothing to do with it, but it’s only apparently. Israel is in a dire situation because it has been addicted. Israel was addicted to Jewish supremacy, and this is why what we call judicial reform or judicial resolution, or whatever we call it, this change in the way the relationship between the Parliament and the judicial branch comes exactly because this right-wing politician wants to implement their policy. They want to implement this apartheid, fully blown, official apartheid regime. They know that, lame as it is, the current Supreme Court cannot allow them, so they have to destroy it. So everything comes together.
This crisis inside the Israeli society apparently has nothing to do with the occupation, but it has everything to do with the occupation, and Jewish supremacy, and the effort to establish a full-blown apartheid regime between the river and the sea.
Marc Steiner: Yumna, what are you about to say? Go ahead.
Yumna Patel: Yeah. I’d just like to add – And this has definitely been said by many Palestinians before – But in light of all the political turmoil inside Israel and within Israeli society, as weak as the Israeli government may be amongst Israelis or in the streets of Tel Aviv, the Israeli government doesn’t need the approval of Israeli society to continue advancing its colonial plans in the occupied Palestinian territory.
We know this very well. For decades, Israel has continued with very little pushback from Israeli society as a whole, continued its settlement, expansion, the killing of Palestinians, et cetera. Israel may be facing extreme pushback from Israelis in Tel Aviv to the current judicial overhaul or reforms, whatever way you want to call it. But let us not forget that the same judiciary and high court has been responsible for decades, and is continually responsible today, for the ongoing dispossession and active displacement of Palestinians. That has never received an iota of the displeasure and pushback from Israeli society that we’re currently seeing today when it comes to judicial reform.
No matter which way you swing it, with the current government and with all the Israeli governments previously that weren’t as right-wing as this one, Palestinians have always been getting screwed, basically, and have always been getting the short end of the stick. Because Israel, as a government, as a country, as a society, is premised on the expulsion of Palestinians. Now, with the new right-wing government, we’re just seeing that more in our faces.
Marc Steiner: I’m just curious, very quickly, Yumna, have you been to Jenin since this happened?
Yumna Patel: I have not been since this happened, but I’m actually planning a visit soon to go speak to the Palestinians there, particularly about the recent visit by the Palestinian Authority. But I have spoken to my contacts there since the last raid.
Marc Steiner: Once you get there and come back, we’ll have another conversation to hear what happens.
I’m curious, I’ve been covering this for a long time. Usually, Meron, as you, I try to be an optimist and I try to think optimistically about things, and look at what could happen. But I must admit, that at this moment, it seems like with the very far-right fundamentalist government inside of Israel; with the ineffectiveness of the Palestinian Authority; with what we’ve just seen that happened with a devastation once more of Jenin; a little of the devastation of Jenin; and with the push of this government to really talk about, literally talk about wiping out Palestinians from their towns and taking over and building new settlements – That we’re at a very critical point. Also, if you look at this in the context of the rise of the right wing across the globe, which means very little international opposition to what Israel is doing, we’re on a precipice.
I’m just curious, and I know nobody’s prescient, we can’t say what’s going to happen in the future. But A, is there any hope that those in Israel who are fighting for democracy and Palestinians on the ground fighting for freedom can actually come together to build a movement to resist and stop this? Where do you think that is at this moment?
Meron Rapoport: Here I want to be really very, very cautious. I’m also part of a movement called Two States, One Homeland that is an Israeli and Palestinian movement calling, yes, for two states, but with the open border freedom of movement for everyone, Palestinians and Jews, including Palestinian, including refugees, for full freedom of movement in all the land between the river and the sea. Historical Palestine, mandatory Palestine. I see more people are listening. I’m talking here in Israel, people are listening to us more than before, and I see a change. I have no illusions that this could happen tomorrow.
But yes, I agree with you Yumna, of course, the way she described it. But yes, I think that Israel sat with regimes – And we’ve seen it in the Soviet Union and we’ve seen it in South Africa. Such regimes sometimes fall out of themselves, fall, disintegrate from within. This is what happened to a large extent in the Soviet Union and the whole Warsaw Pact, in two years just melted away. The apartheid regime that was also in South Africa, which also seemed very, very strong, also disintegrated in a very short time.
I see here signs that Israel, that the cohesion of the Israeli society by which Israel was able to describe all what Yumna to do, all what Yumna described, it was allowed by this internal Jewish, Israeli cohesion. Now this cohesion is falling apart, and we are seeing we are in new territory. Where it will lead us, I think it’s a little bit, not a little bit, it’s too early to say. But I think some hope is there because there are still forces in the Jewish Israeli left that are opposing the occupation. There are, of course, forces in Palestinian society that want some, of course, to end the occupation, but live with the Jews in this land.
I think, yes, there is here a hope something is opening the weaknesses. The weakness of the PA and the Israeli government at the same time can maybe open new roads or new opportunities that maybe even a year ago seemed very, very far away. I see them closer now, but I also, I want to repeat again, I also see a huge danger, also potential for huge danger and that what happened in Jenin will only be an introduction to a very heavy violence by Israel against the Palestinians. This also may be. It’s a probability that we cannot ignore.
Marc Steiner: Yumna, through the lens of the Palestine editor sitting in Bethlehem.
Yumna Patel: Yeah. Like I said before, I think that we are headed towards a crossroads. What that is going to turn into, I’m not sure. I guess I’m a little bit less optimistic, although, that’s just judging from what people here tell me every single day, which is that, yes, this government may collapse. Whether it’s going to lead to a whole collapse of Israel as a settler colonial state, I have no idea.
But whether this government collapses, the government that’s going to replace it, as history has proven, isn’t necessarily going to be great for Palestinians. It’s like putting lipstick on a pig [Steiner laughs]. It’s just different iterations of the same settler colonial reality. Israeli democracy has never existed, and it will never be achieved until Palestinians achieve liberation. That seems, right now, like a very far away reality and dream for many. Though I do agree that I think other, maybe smaller, things are going to continue to happen before something big happens.
Whether that means the collapse of the current government and perhaps the total restructuring of Israeli society as we know it. Or the Palestinians’ total rejection of their leaders and the Oslo framework that has dictated their lives for the past 30 years. That could, perhaps, pave way for a new reality and hopefully a brighter and more just future for Palestinians. I think that those would probably be welcome changes.
Marc Steiner: Well, let me conclude with this. I think that we started talking, writing back and forth days ago during the beginning of the attack in Jenin. That attack, the assault itself is over, but the devastation is really deep in Jenin at this moment. Clearly, from the words of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir and others in the Israeli government, this may just be the beginning, these kinds of assaults.
It seems to me that, if you look at what happened to Jenin, and if this could just be the beginning of their dream and wish to push people out and take over completely, Jenin could be a lesson for the future about what might happen. You sit inside of the Palestinian world all the time, Yumna. That’s where you live, that’s what you’re part of. When you look at Jewish opinion worldwide, younger Jews around the globe are backing away from Israel in larger and larger numbers, my children included. They’re just saying, enough.
You’re seeing the same thing inside Palestine with young Palestinians and Palestinian activists saying, enough of the PA, and enough of this occupation. There can’t be too many more Jenins before things really explode. We seem to be at just the beginning of what this new Israeli government wants to do.
Meron Rapoport: I want to add here, as Marx has said, history sometimes repeats itself, sometimes repeats itself as a farce. I’m not saying what happened in Jenin is a farce. 12 people were killed. It’s not a farce. But if you compare it to 2002, when Israel really occupied the Jenin refugee camp, I was there two weeks after the occupation of the camp and the battle, the terrible battle that took place. The total destruction, it was like an atomic bomb was thrown in the middle of this very small refugee camp.
Israel today was able, despite it’s [being] more powerful than it was 20 years ago militarily, the Palestinians are weaker militarily than they were 20 years ago. But the same, despite all these huge differences, huge imbalance, Israel was able only to go to the outskirts of the camp – I heard [from] people who were there – They didn’t go inside the camp.
They were just on the outskirts of the camp, small camp, but they didn’t go really in, they didn’t really fight. They didn’t really destroy what they went to destroy, and they left after 48 hours. I think Israel is much stronger and much, much weaker than it was 20 years ago. What you described, again, with the Jewish, the international, the public opinion, the Jewish public opinion, especially in the US but also elsewhere, but especially in the US, I hear it all the time.
Yes, we’ve seen comments that we have not seen before, we’ve not heard before, from the Biden administration, again, with all the cautiousness we should take. But still, if Thomas Friedman is writing today that the US is going to reassess its position towards Israel, this is something that we have not heard more than 20 years since George Bush, the father, in the beginning of… I think it was 1990. It’s been more than 30 years that we have not seen this, we’ve heard these voices.
No, things are changing. Israel is much weaker. I know, I know that for a Palestinian living in Jenin or in Bethlehem, it’s the same Israel, it’s the same tanks, it’s the same occupation, the same settlements. But maybe, looking from within, I see the weaknesses that Israel is facing. I see, maybe it’s exaggerating to say collapsing from within, but really having a lot of difficulties, despite its power, or maybe because of its power.
Marc Steiner: Yumna, conclude this for us today, anyway.
Yumna Patel: I think that was a great conclusion [Marc laughs]. I don’t really know if I have much more to add.
Marc Steiner: Right.
Yumna Patel: I know you saw me nodding my head.
Marc Steiner: I saw you nodding, yes, yes.
Yumna Patel: I think that was fantastic. Just responding to your initial question about we may very well be seeing more of what we saw in Jenin last week. I don’t think it’s an if or a may, I think it’s just a matter of when. The Israeli government has already been very clear about this, and that this is just the start of what it views as its operation in Jenin. We know that Jenin has already been an example over the past 20 years.
As Meron said, Israel conducted a much more destructive operation and invasion of the Jenin refugee camp 20 years ago that totally decimated the camp and left, I think, around a quarter of the camp’s population displaced once again. But even 20 years after that, all we’ve seen is that generation who witnessed the death and destruction in 2002, that generation has now grown up and is taking up arms to confront Israel.
In Israel’s “efforts to squash what it calls the cesspool of terrorism or a hotbed of terrorism,” in reality, we know that this has been happening for decades. That Israeli operations like the one we saw in Jenin only serve to create a resurgence of Palestinian resistance to Israeli violence and oppression and colonialism.
I think that we are for sure going to see more, for Palestinians, we are for sure going to see more raids like the ones we saw in Jenin. I don’t think it will be limited to Jenin. I think we’re going to see it in other parts of the West Bank, where we’re also currently witnessing this rise in armed resistance. I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more of the same, but even on much bigger scales.
Marc Steiner: Well, I want to thank you both, Yumna Patel and Meron Rapoport, for both the work you do, the writing you do, and for this conversation today. I look forward to many more conversations, as we’ll stay on top of this for The Real News.
This conversation today has been like a combination of Not in Our Name and The Rise of the Right that I do here at The Real News. We’ll continue to do this, because I think it’s critical, not just for Israel and Palestine, but for the planet. Thank you both so much.
Meron Rapoport: Thank you.
Yumna Patel: Thank you. Thanks, both of you.
Marc Steiner: I hope you all enjoyed our conversation today with Yumna Patel and Meron Rapoport, and we’ll be linking to their articles and continuing this conversation with them about what’s happening in Israel-Palestine in the future.
I want to thank you all again for joining us today. Please let me know what you thought about what you heard, what you’d like us to cover. Your ideas and thoughts are always important to us. Just write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get right back to you.
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