Siege of Nablus: How Israel is applying the 'Gaza model' to the West Bank
The Israeli army has put the West Bank city of Nablus, and its villages and refugee camps, under siege for the past three weeks, with heavy restrictions on the movement of 430,000 Palestinians residing there.
Israel has closed the main roads with roadblocks and checkpoints to impede traffic and has largely prevented residents from exiting or entering the city.
The strict closure has affected every aspect of daily life and has completely disrupted commercial activities in the city, which is normally a major commercial hub in the occupied West Bank.
Since the siege, traders in the city have reported a sharp decline in income, employees have struggled to access their workplace, and farmers have been denied access to their land.
The siege has also hampered the education and health sectors in Nablus and surrounding areas.
"The declared purpose of this siege in Nablus is to prevent it from becoming a 'new Jenin', a stronghold for resistance"
“Territorial fragmentation of the occupied West Bank and the creation of isolated enclaves are at the core of Israel’s settler colonial endeavour,” Alaa Al-Tartir, policy adviser for Al-Shabaka, a Palestinian think tank, told The New Arab.
“It’s been implementing these policies for decades, which allows Israel to impose a siege, like the one currently imposed on Nablus, quickly and easily.”
Muhammed Shehada, a Palestinian political expert and officer with the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, agrees.
“Over the decades, Israel, through its settlements program, has colonised the West Bank meticulously in a way that has divided the West Bank into a series of isolated Bantustans under its military control,” he told TNA.
“The dissection of the West Bank allows Israel to control the demographic threat of the Palestinian people, but it also allows it to control and contain the Palestinians politically and economically,” Shehada added.
Since the Israeli occupation began in 1967, a combination of military checkpoints, barriers, physical obstacles, and, more importantly, settlements and the separation wall, have all helped to fragment the occupied Palestinian territories into disconnected enclaves.
“Just like it has in the Second Intifada in the West Bank, and in the Gaza Strip’s siege over the past decade and a half, when Palestinians in any city challenge the Israeli occupation, Israel moves to blockade that area, to force the Palestinians back into passivity,” Shehada said.
The Lion's Den
West Bank cities, especially Nablus and Jenin, have been the target of near-daily military incursions over the past year, both due to the emergence of small armed resistance groups that are challenging the Israeli military occupation as well as for internal Israeli political reasons related to elections.
So far, 2022 is on course to be the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since the UN started tracking fatalities in 2005.
The number of administrative detainees currently being held in Israel is around 800, also the highest number since 2008, according to HaMoked, an Israeli rights group that regularly gathers figures from Israeli prison authorities.
In Nablus, a small armed group called the Lion’s Den, made up of young Palestinians, has sought to challenge the Israeli army.
"Territorial fragmentation of the occupied West Bank and the creation of isolated enclaves are at the core of Israel's settler colonial endeavour"
The group is responsible for a number of shooting attacks in the Nablus area and their statements call for confronting Israeli soldiers when they enter Palestinian cities.
Most of the group’s members are young men between the ages of 18 and 25. They are considered largely secular and are not influenced by religious leaders or political factions.
Just a few months ago, most of the Lion’s Den’s members were a part of armed groups that were considered linked to the Fatah movement, which dominates the Palestinian Authority (PA). However, near-daily Israeli military assaults in Jenin led them to separate and form their own smaller groups.
They contain members who come from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and many who are independent too.
Israel’s siege on Nablus is meant to weaken the group and exact a collective price on the population of Nablus as a punishment for allowing them to operate in the city.
The PA normally helps stop the formation of any militant groups in the West Bank as part of its security coordination with Israel.
However, the PA’s security forces are finding it increasingly difficult to operate in the north of the West Bank due to a lack of legitimacy and political capital amongst the Palestinian population, especially in Jenin and Nablus.
Any confrontation with the Lion’s Den by PA security forces would also be viewed as treason, seeing as the group has explicitly called for the protection of Palestinians in Nablus and other cities from Israeli military incursions.
In an effort to contain the group, and based on Israeli requests, the PA has resorted to offering to integrate them into the PA’s security forces. The offer has so far been rejected.
“The declared purpose of this siege in Nablus is to prevent it from becoming a ‘new Jenin’, a stronghold for resistance. But Nablus is already a stronghold for resistance. Israel knows well that a siege will not eradicate resistance; it will fuel it,” Al-Tartir said.
“The Israeli political leadership wants to instrumentalise this siege in the upcoming Israeli elections, and the Israeli security establishment wants to use this siege over Nablus to cover up its failure in Jenin. Meanwhile, armed resistance is building a stronger popular base and legitimacy, not only in Nablus and Jenin, but across the fragmented parts of West Bank, and beyond,” Al-Tartir added.
Israel has been able to maintain relative calm in the occupied West Bank since Mahmoud Abbas became the president of the Palestinian Authority following the death of Yasser Arafat. He has disavowed armed resistance and embraced full engagement with Israel as well as an ardent commitment to previous agreements, including security coordination.
However, the situation is gradually changing on the ground and the PA’s control over Palestinian cities is waning. Frustration with the Israeli occupation and its draconian practices, meanwhile, continue to rise.
"The model of Gaza is being copied across the West Bank in a carrot-and-stick fashion to pacify and control the Palestinians, and suppress their aspirations for freedom"
The Gaza model
If the situation continues to deteriorate in the West Bank and Palestinian non-violent and armed resistance increases, Israel may seek to further divide the territory into restricted, tightly controlled districts, modelled after the blockade of Gaza.
Sarah Roy, a senior Research Scholar at the Center of Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, wrote last year that Gaza’s status has become “a defining dynamic of Israel’s more crucial goal of annexing large parts of the West Bank, and the template for the fragmentation of the West Bank into small, disconnected enclaves under different and constant forms of assault”.
Although rarely used in the past, largely during the Second Intifada, Israel could resort to aerial bombardments of Palestinian targets if the situation further escalates. The Israeli army has already been training its West Bank units to be ready to potentially use armed drones, according to media reports.
“The model of Gaza is being copied across the West Bank in a carrot-and-stick fashion to pacify and control the Palestinians, and suppress their aspirations for freedom,” Shehada said.
“Besieging Palestinian cities is the Israeli method of undermining the Palestinians’ ability to challenge the Israeli occupation.”
Ali Adam is a journalist and researcher whose work focuses on issues linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Follow him on Twitter @_AliAdam_