Last week Israel invaded the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank with hundreds of soldiers, terrorising Palestinians living there with helicopter gunships, rockets and armoured vehicles for over two days. At least 12 Palestinians, including three children, were killed.
“The international media has begun to show some of the tragic human consequences of Israel’s assault on Jenin refugee camp,” Birzeit University researchers Rita Giacaman and Penny Johnson wrote in an article titled “Who lives in Jenin Refugee Camp?”
“Yet Israeli officials persist in a rhetoric that brands [the] Jenin refugee camp as a ‘terrorist camp’, with all of its inhabitants, men, women and children of any age, thus also marked as terrorists and all actions taken against them thus justified.”
Most observers of Palestine would agree this is an accurate description of Israel’s – and thus most Western governments, media and intelligentsia’s – framing of the latest episode of settler colonial violence in Jenin. But this article is not from last week. It was first published in April 2002, in the aftermath of another deadly Israeli assault on the camp.
Let that sink in: 21 years later, we are still dealing with the same situation, having the same discussions and being forced to contend with the same tired lies and myths about Jenin, the Palestinians living there, and Israel’s attacks on them.
But, as Israel and its allies still remain determined not to provide honest answers to the most basic questions people around the world may have about Jenin, let’s try and answer them once again here. Who lives in Jenin? Why are they engaged in armed resistance against Israel? Since Israelis are also dying as a result of this violence, is Israel just “defending itself”?
Who lives in the Jenin refugee camp?
As Giacaman and Johnson explained over 20 years ago, the answer Israel and its apologists in Euro-American media and governments give to this question is that Jenin is a “wasp’s nest”, a “hotbed of militants”, a factory that produces “terrorists” who unleash wanton, mindless violence on unsuspecting Israelis who just want to live in peace and quiet. Sure, their media organisations are occasionally forced to admit that Israeli “operations” into the camp kill Palestinian children, but they quickly frame these deaths as being a consequence of Palestinian resistance rather than Israeli aggression and violence.
For example, in a recent interview, a BBC host asked Al-Shabaka senior policy analyst and Al Jazeera contributor Yara Hawari: “Why would militants risk the lives of innocent civilians by having [their command-and-control centre in the heart of a densely populated area]?”
Hawari excellently shifted the terrain of the conversation to the nature of life in the refugee camp, and explained how Israel is working to dehumanise Palestinians, decontextualise the violence and present its own aggression as an act of “self-defence”.