Lions' Den: The future of Palestinian resistance
The Lions’ Den, a newly formed armed Palestinian group that emerged in August in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, has presented a dilemma for Israel.
Responding to Israeli army and settler aggression with coordinated military operations, the group represents the changing face of Palestinian resistance and enjoys popular support.
The group’s tactics include a dramatic escalation of confrontations with Israel’s military, with a new generation of fighters entering gun battles that Israeli security forces find hard to anticipate.
According to official statistics issued by the Palestinian Information Centre, the fighters, mostly in their 20s and 30s, have carried out more than 1,000 operations in just two months.
Over 800 incidents were recorded in September alone in the occupied West Bank, including stone-throwing, shooting operations, and planting or throwing explosive devices.
"On 3 September 2022, the Lions' Den issued its first-ever press conference in the old city of Nablus, with dozens of its fighters appearing in an organised group"
According to Israeli media reports, two Israeli soldiers have been killed by fighters from the Lions’ Den, while 91 others have been wounded, some seriously.
As a result, in October the Israeli army carried out a large-scale military operation targeting the group’s fighters in Nablus. The entire city and surrounding areas were put under siege, with heavy restrictions on the movement of 430,000 Palestinians for several weeks.
A new generation
On 3 September 2022, the Lions' Den issued its first-ever press conference in the old city of Nablus, with dozens of its fighters appearing in an organised group. During the conference, a masked gunman said, “Our guns will not fire a bullet in the air in vain. Our only destination is the occupation."
The armed group relies on social media platforms to disseminate press releases and videos of attacks, most notably through its Telegram account, which has attracted more than 250,000 followers.
Some analysts pinpoint the group’s emergence to February 2022, with Israeli security forces noticing a significant uptick in shootings in the Nablus district.
Israel attributed this rise to a small armed group formed in the city, similar to the ‘Jenin Brigade’, which is thought to have emerged in September 2021 to protect six Palestinian prisoners from Jenin who had gone on the run after escaping from the Gilboa Israeli jail.
Based on intelligence information at the time, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Israeli Internal Security Service, or Shin Bet, decided to try to eliminate these groups.
As a result, Israeli forces have launched massive raids and arrest campaigns in the cities of Nablus and Jenin in 2022, killing at least 190 Palestinians, including fighters, according to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) Health Ministry.
Mohammed al-Azizi, Adham Mabrouka, Mohammed al-Dakhil, Ashraf Mabslat, Abboud Sobh, Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, and Islam Sabbouh are among dozens of prominent names who have risen to fame as fighters and founders of the Lions’ Den. All have been killed in exchanges of gunfire with Israeli forces in Nablus.
“Despite the fact that we lost a number of our best fighters, it does not mean that our goal of confronting the occupation was killed,” a Nablus-based fighter from the Lions’ Den told The New Arab under the condition of anonymity.
"The Palestinian resistance is a renewed phenomenon and born with each new generation, and no force in the world can end it as long as the Israeli occupation continues to perpetrate its crimes against our people," he added.
"Our fighters are time bombs that will explode in the face of the occupation in any place at any time, not only in the West Bank but also inside Israeli cities."
Gaining popular support
The Lions’ Den has gained popular Palestinian support across the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip amid near-constant Israeli raids, settler violence, and the entrenchment of Israel’s military occupation.
“It’s normal for young people to launch such a heroic group, mainly as we are a generation that is tired of the weak policies adopted by Palestinian leaders, including Fatah and Hamas, in the way they deal with Israel,” Amir Siam, based in Gaza, told TNA.
"The ideology of the Lions' Den will remain Israel's new nightmare, and it will be the future of the Palestinian resistance"
Palestinian resistance to the occupation “has not ended and will not end,” he added, saying that there is a “strong awakening of the Palestinian resistance in the West Bank” from young people who have not even experienced the multiple wars Gaza has faced since 2008.
Musab Al-Ajrami from Ramallah agrees. "Israel wants to kill the patriotism in us by providing more facilities for us to work in the occupied territories,” he said. “[Israel] wants us to only care about money and forget our national duty to liberate our country from occupation,” the 30-year-old told The New Arab.
Ramallah-based political analyst Hani al-Masri told The New Arab that "it is natural for the Lions’ Den to be so popular because it appeared at a time when the Palestinian Authority was sinking in weakness”.
Issues such as PA security coordination continue to prove contentious for Palestinians, who witness Israeli forces carrying out arrests, house demolitions, and killings in territories supposedly under PA ‘sovereignty’.
“Perhaps what distinguishes the new fighters is that they belong to the generation of sacrifice and not to the generation of preparation and liberation (...) They believe in fighting until martyrdom,” Al-Masri added.
What is needed, he added, is for the group to orientate towards a “liberation ideology”.
Despite heavy blows to the Lions’ Den organisational structure through assassinations, it would be unwise to write off their mobilising capacity.
Yaron Friedman, an Israeli political expert, wrote recently that the wave of killings targeting Lions’ Den leaders has only created a temporary deterrent, as the group still produces fighters who inspire young Palestinians.
"The younger Palestinian generation did not witness the intifadas of 1987 and 2000, and they want to get their fighting chance, especially because they believe that they will succeed in achieving what their predecessors failed,” he wrote.
For his part, Abdullah Al-Aqrabawi, a Ramallah-based researcher in international relations and strategic studies, told The New Arab that Israeli strategy in the occupied Palestinian territories has failed to suppress Palestinian resistance, with settlement expansion and violations in Jerusalem attracting more young people to the movement.
Mass arrests or assassination campaigns will also fail to deter the younger generation, he explained, with many of those now fighting in newly former groups not on security monitoring lists compiled by Israel, in effect staying under the radar of both Israeli and the Palestinian Authority security forces.
A 'new nightmare'
Palestinian political analysts assert that if the current status quo continues, the West Bank will witness an eruption of militancy greater than the First and Second Intifadas.
Israeli settlements and security infrastructure such as checkpoints in the West Bank could become renewed targets.
"It is clear that the new fighters are working according to a strategy for continuous resistance that ensures the expansion of the idea beyond the geographical borders of Nablus,” Gaza-based political analyst Sharhabeel Al-Gharib told The New Arab.
They are also working to expand and coordinate with other Palestinian districts in the West Bank, he added.
"The ideology of the Lions’ Den will remain Israel's new nightmare, and it will be the future of the Palestinian resistance."
Sally Ibrahim is a Palestinian reporter with The New Arab based in the Gaza Strip.