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Is Israel engaged in a 'third front' in the West Bank?

Are Israeli raids on the occupied West Bank opening up a 'third front' in the war?
6 min read
West Bank
11 December, 2023
As Israel's war on the Gaza Strip continues, its forces and settlers have intensified violent, deadly raids into the occupied West Bank, forming a backlash.
Israeli forces have raided and bulldozed streets of Jenin camp twice in less than a week. [Qassam Muaddi /TNA]

Israeli forces wounded five Palestinians and arrested 30 on Sunday, 10 December, according to the Palestinian Prisoners' Club and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, during its latest deadly military raids in the occupied West Bank

During Sunday attacks by Israel, its forces called in air strikes against two houses in Tubas, in the northern occupied West Bank. Israeli forces have continued to ramp up these daily raids in the territory since 7 October, killing a total of 274 Palestinians so far.

Last Thursday, Palestinians mourned the latest two victims of Israeli raids on Jenin and Nablus.

In Nablus, crowds took part in the funeral of 24-year-old Abdel Nasser Riyahi, killed by Israeli forces during a raid on the Balata refugee camp on Wednesday.

In the town of Yaabad, near Jenin, residents marched to the funeral of 16-year-old Omar Abu Baker, who died on Thursday from wounds caused by Israeli forces during a raid on the Jenin area the previous day.

Nablus and Jenin have been the centre of Israeli attacks since 7 October, where Israel has been increasing the use of air strikes unseen in the occupied West Bank since 2002.

According to several Palestinian analysts and residents in the area, Israel's raids in the West Bank, which were aimed at preventing confrontations with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank from escalating out of control, have been opening "a third front" for Israel while it is conducting a land invasion in Gaza and tit-for-tat fighting across the Lebanese border with Hezbollah.

"Omar was the youngest of his three siblings, one brother and two sisters, and he was a ninth grader, hard-studying boy", his uncle, a resident of Yaabad in Jenin, told The New Arab.

"He was coming home from his grandmother's house when the occupation soldiers were raiding the town, and an occupation sniper shot him very close to the house as he tried to run home. He was initially wounded seriously and later died in the hospital. His parents and his grandmother were devastated by the news, as well as his classmates," the uncle described

"In the Jenin region, we can't tell the difference anymore between times of escalation and times of calm", he remarked. "Until 7 October, the occupation raids focused on arresting young men; they came and arrested someone and left."

"Now, occupation patrols are passing by the town around the clock, even on foot, raiding repeatedly without arresting anyone, just to show us that they are around and terrorise us. And when it's not in Yaabad, it's happening in any neighbouring town or in Jenin itself", he added. 

In Jenin, Israeli raids concentrate on the  Jenin refugee camp adjacent to the city, where Palestinian fighters have been entrenching themselves since late 2021. The camp was raided by Israeli forces who have bulldozed its streets twice in the past week.

Since 7 October, Israeli forces have airstriked the Jenin camp several times, including its mosque, where the Israeli army claimed Palestinian fighters were hiding.

"The [Israeli] occupation didn't open a front in Jenin after 7 October; this front was already open at least since the beginning of 2022", Mostafa Shita, director of the Jenin Freedom Theater in the camp, remarked to TNA. "After 7 October, this front has intensified".

"Before 7 October, we lived in a tense calm between raids, but now we live in a continuous state of raids between short pauses", he added. "The occupation army succeeded in killing many fighters in the camp but failed to put out the armed resistance as it continues to be confronted by fighters every time it enters the camp." 

"Now the wide destruction of infrastructure, which was seen as an escalation before 7 October, has become the trademark of Israeli raids in Jenin camp, especially the bulldozing of streets and demolition of symbolic landmarks", he noted. "This new situation has increased support to armed resistance among the residents, who are also adopting new habits to the reality of constant raids".

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One of these habits is shifting between living in and out of the camp during the day and night, as Najat Abu Butmeh, a school teacher and social worker in Jenin, said to TNA.

"Many families, including my own, move outside of the camp at night to avoid night raids but do our lives in the camp during the day", said Abu Butmeh.

"Even during the day, we are constantly prepared to pause our daily activity and stay indoors if the occupation army approaches the camp. Children have become used to the bulldozed streets and broken walls and houses, although their fear is evident whenever they draw or express themselves", she added.

According to Bilal Shalash, a Palestinian historian and researcher of the Palestinian resistance history, "Israel knows that although the security conditions of the West Bank are not the same as those in Gaza, resistance was never extinguished in the West Bank and has always a chance to regenerate in an armed form".

"Traditionally, resistance in the West Bank has a high-peak moment, which includes armed militancy in one region, then the occupation suppresses it and kills its leaders before it spreads to somewhere else, which is why it is difficult to draw a single curve for the evolution of resistance in all of the West Bank," he remarked. 

"After the second Intifada and the killing or arrest of most militant leaders, and then the years of internal Palestinian split, it took a whole generation of Palestinian youth to grow into activism to see the re-emergence of the resistance in the north in late 2021", Shalash said.

"However, what we can see now is the spreading of this phenomenon in several places, like Tulkarm, Nablus, Jericho and most recently Qalqilya, when it hasn't been put out in Jenin yet", he noted.

"Since 7 October, the Israeli occupation has been trying to contain the potential for resistance to spread into an armed form to other places. This is why the occupation forces in the past weeks have been arresting every person with any activism and organisational experience or with any influence in their community, even people who have been away from activism for years and who have been active in civil and social fields only", Shalash remarked.

Since 7 October, Israeli forces have arrested more than 3,760 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since 7 October, matching the number of Palestinians detained in the West Bank by Israel during the first ten months of 2023.