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Jenin: Corruption and Carelessness

It is worth analyzing how Jenin serves as a microcosm for the entire conflict, and how corruption and carelessness on both sides threatens to turn even the streets of Tel Aviv into a civilizational brawl. 
[additional-authors]
July 13, 2023
(Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)

The observation that extremist elements of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict feed off each other, and are made stronger by their counterparts’ intransigence, remains evidently true. The bloodthirst of Palestinian militants only emboldens Jewish ultra-nationalists, resulting in what are known as “price tag attacks,” and settler riots do nothing but provoke further terror against Jewish civilians. The observation is usually applied to either the entirety of the West Bank or sometimes to the entirety of Israel itself (many point to the era spanning from Rabin’s assassination into the second intifada, when the country reached a crescendo of eliminationist ideology and subsequent warfare). Yet during select moments we are given the opportunity to watch the chaos take form in a confined space, in a localized spot. And throughout 2022 and 2023, this spot has been the city—or Palestinian “refugee camp,” as it’s called—of Jenin.

The IDF’s incursion into the camp last week, in which soldiers targeted and killed twelve militants from Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the famously dense urban space, and also confiscated a treasure trove of illegal and dangerous weapons, was by all measures impressive. Few militaries other than the IDF can fight in such conditions with zero civilian fatalities, and few militaries can pinpoint those who pose a threat to their civilians with such precision in the span of two days. Most of Israeli society, right or left, understands the importance of these missions, which is why most grieved when it was announced that an Israeli soldier had been lost in the conflict, by result of friendly fire.

And yet because such operations in Jenin have been planned and executed in the past, and because they did not stop future waves of terror either from the West Bank or Gaza regardless of how successful the IDF claimed the operation was (there are always young Palestinians militants waiting to take the place of the martyrs), it’s worth analyzing the specific forces at play that all but assure we are in for more rather than less conflict in the near future. More specifically, it is worth analyzing how Jenin serves as a microcosm for the entire conflict, and how corruption and carelessness on both sides threatens to turn even the streets of Tel Aviv into a civilizational brawl.

First, it’s important to note where Jenin is located: not just in the West Bank, but in Area A of the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority is meant to exercise both civil and security administration. As it happens, in the last few years the PA has done no such thing. The PA is careless in allowing Iranian influence to infiltrate the most populous Palestinian cities under its authority, leading to the flourishing of terrorist militias who threaten not only Israeli lives, but also the stability of the only internationally recognized political representation of the Palestinian people, the PA itself. That the PA decided not to enter Jenin to rout out cells of committed murderers is not only an existential threat to those living in both Haifa and Be’er Sheva, but also to their own grip on power. It sounds suicidal, until one understands the role that corruption plays.

Since the time of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Authority has very much understood that the more bereaved the Palestinian Territories appear to the outside world—as in, for example, when Israel responds to terror spilling out of Jenin—the more money from concerned western do-gooders flows into “state coffers.” Of course, these are not state coffers at all, but rather the pockets of PA leadership. A European Union audit of where aid to Palestinian society was reaching during the years 2008-2012 found that two billion euros had been lost to corruption. Arafat stole millions, and that practice has appeared only to worsen under Abbas. For example, in 2014 17.9 million dollars in funds were intended specifically for projects to benefit the Palestinian community, but 9.4 million went to building a presidential palace for Abbas.

And then there is UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the reason why my previous mention of the Jenin “refugee camp” was placed in quotation marks. Nothing makes the Palestinians sound quite as desperate to western governments as the mention of a “refugee camp,” which in the case of Jenin is actually not a refugee camp, but rather a typical neighborhood not out of place in a Middle Eastern city. Continual funding of UNRWA under the guise of providing communal goods and services by powers such as the United States only prolongs conflict in places like Jenin. UNRWA serves the main function of maintaining Palestinian refugee status by being the only organization in the world to award such status to descendants of refugees, from a war which was fought over seven decades ago. As long as UNRWA exists, it bolsters the Palestinian dream of returning to land won by the nascent Jewish state in 1948 and overflows the wallets of Palestinian political elites with money meant to support teachers, infrastructure and civil society.

Despite all these criticisms against Palestinian leadership being true, it is also true that Israel is not off the hook, and in fact fills its own roles of corruption and carelessness when it comes to handling Jenin. In a critically important essay, “The Next Intifada Is About To Begin,” published by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies last February, Israeli academic Shany Mor analyzes in detail the end of the second intifada, specifically when Israel evicted its civilian population not just from the Gaza Strip but also from the Northern West Bank, in the area surrounding Jenin, but kept its military in place to prevent the festering of terror.

Despite all these criticisms against Palestinian leadership being true, it is also true that Israel is not off the hook, and in fact fills its own roles of corruption and carelessness when it comes to handling Jenin.

Mor writes: “Jenin, which had been the suicide bomber capital of Palestine in the Second Intifada, became the quietest sector in the entire conflict. Compared with the chronic violence in and around Hebron, to say nothing of Gaza, it left little room for doubt: the disengagement from the northern West Bank was, in the immediate term at least, a success.”

And then all of that changed in 2020, when then defense minister Benny Gantz, in a bid to avoid losing favor with more right-wing voters as he was poised to take the mantle of Prime Minister, allowed radical religious nationalists to de-facto establish a settlement near Jenin, called Homesh. All hell broke loose, as anyone who has been paying attention to the region in the last few years can attest.

Mor continues: “The Jenin sector, for 15 years the quietest in the territories, was by 2022 the epicenter of a new wave of Palestinian terrorism, which was now spilling onto Israel’s streets—north, south, and in Tel Aviv. The army had no choice but to act, and the pace and aggression of raids and arrests took off. The link between the surge in violence and the sudden reluctance to deal with the squatters at Homesh is barely noted in Israel, and for the settler movement it is crucial that it remain so.”

The Israeli right, in recent weeks, has not only been attempting to distract the public from the presence of settlers around Jenin, as Mor believes, in order to disconnect rising violence all around the country with the presence of civilians near Palestinian population centers. They’re doing something worse—a complete “180” in rational policy. This week, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government admitted that Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had ordered the Israel Defense Forces to stand down in tearing down new construction in Homesh, which many assume to mean the government is taking steps to legalize the wildcat outpost. It’s as if the onslaught of terror Israelis have witnessed both within and outside the green line in the past two years does not matter. The right is hitting the gas on settlement construction, despite the undeniable depletion of security.

In a public broadcast interview shortly before his death, Yitzhak Rabin was asked the blunt question: “Why do you like to make the settlers angry?” The Prime Minister responded, shaking his head in apparent frustration, “What are they accusing me of now? Of forsaking the settler’s lives? Once people said the settlements bolster our security. But where is the security? Our problem today is providing security for the settlers!”

More than twenty-five years later, Rabin’s words ring true, as well as his understanding that when it comes to the occupation, a “military yes, civilians no” model is most sustainable for Israel’s future.

Corruption and carelessness plague both Israelis and Palestinians in more than one aspect of their conflict with each other, but Jenin offers a window into just how dire the situation has become. At this point, both sides are operating in an annihilationist world of “winner take all,” which, if the bloodstained sidewalks of Tel Aviv and settlements alike prove anything, is a program of mutual destruction.


Blake Flayton is the New Media Director and columnist for the Jewish Journal.

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