The chaotic scenes during the funerals of the Palestinians killed during this week’s large-scale Israeli military operation in Jenin showed that Palestinians are furious not only with Israel, but with the Palestinian Authority too.
A number of senior officials from the ruling Fatah faction, including Mahmoud al-Aloul (the faction’s deputy chairman), and Azzam al-Ahmed, were forced to leave the funerals after mourners shouted at them and prevented them from delivering speeches. “Bara, Bara!” (Go away, go away!) and Ya Lil’ar! (Shame!) some mourners chanted, demanding that the senior officials leave immediately.
The expulsion of the senior Fatah officials from the Jenin refugee camp on Wednesday reflected the growing frustration and outrage of many Palestinians with their Ramallah-based leadership. In their eyes, Aloul, Ahmed, and other senior officials closely associated with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads Fatah, represent an authority that failed to order the Palestinian security forces to defend the Jenin refugee camp against the Israeli “aggression.” They are now calling the PA sultat al- jawasis (an authority of spies).
Even worse, from their point of view, some Palestinians are convinced that Abbas and the Fatah-dominated PA are in cahoots with Israel to get rid of the armed groups that popped up in the camp over the past 18 months, especially the Jenin Battalion, which belongs to the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s (PIJ) armed wing, al-Quds Brigades.
To drive home their argument, these Palestinians pointed out that Palestinian security officers arrested two Jenin Battalion members, Murad Malaysheh and Muhammad Barahmeh, while they were on their way to the Jenin refugee camp at the beginning of the Israeli operation. The two men live outside Jenin and were hoping to enter the camp to join their friends in the fight against Israelis soldiers.
The Jenin Battalion announced on Wednesday that eight of the gunmen killed during the operation were members of the group: Ahmed Muhammed al-Amer, 21; Sameeh Firas Abu al-Wafa, 20; Majdi Yunis Ararawi, 17; Aws Hani Hanoun, 19; Ali Hani al-Ghul, 17; Abdel Rahman Hassan Hardan, 17; Hossam Muhammed Abu Theebeh, 18; and Nour Eddin Hossam Marshoud, 16.
Four other gunmen who were killed during the operation were identified as members of the PIJ: Jawad Mujahed Nuairat, 20; Muhammed Muhanad al-Shami, 26; Odai Ibrahim Khamayseh, 20; and Mustafa Emad Qassem, 16.
Palestinian security forces absent
The Palestinian security forces were conspicuously absent from the streets during the Israeli military operation, a move that reinforced the belief that the PA leadership and Israel are covertly collaborating against the “resistance fighters.”
When Palestinian security officers finally emerged from their headquarters shortly after the Israeli pullout from Jenin and its refugee camp on Tuesday night, dozens of Palestinians threw stones at them and accused them of serving as “spies” for Israel. The officers responded with tear gas.
After the funerals on Wednesday, a group of Palestinians again protested outside the headquarters of the Palestinian security forces in Jenin. Videos circulating on social media showed some of the protesters hurling stones at the compound.
This was not the first incident of its kind. In the past two years, gunmen carried out a number of shooting attacks against the compound to protest the arrest of some of their friends by the PA security forces.
IN ANOTHER sign of increased discontent with the PA, Palestinians took to the streets of Nablus on Wednesday night to protest the arrest of Khalil Zakariya, a local gunman wanted by Israel for his involvement in terrorism. The protesters also chanted slogans accusing the PA of serving as “spies” for Israel and blocked roads with burning tires.
Palestinian officials were quick to accuse Hamas of standing behind the humiliating incident at the funerals and the attacks on the security compound in Jenin.
The Fatah leadership in the Jenin area denounce the assault on its leaders during the funeral as “despicable” and promised severe punishments for those behind it. It said that Fatah would reassess its relations with all the factions in the aftermath of the Israeli operation – first and foremost Hamas, which it accused of being “linked to foreign agendas,” a reference to Iran.
In Nablus, angry Fatah activists raided a number of shops whose owners are known as Hamas supporters and ordered them to close their businesses.
The officials accused Hamas of exploiting the military operation to incite against the PA leadership and security forces. They also accused Hamas of attempting to “hijack the sacrifices” of the residents of the Jenin refugee camp by claiming that its men were involved in the fighting against Israeli troops.
“It’s easy for those who hijacked religion, honor, and morals to hijack Palestinian patriotism from its symbols,” said senior Fatah official Muwafak Matar in response to the incident at the funerals. “Hamas wants to steal the sacrifices made during the past days, which is a characteristic of the Muslim Brotherhood [of which Hamas is an off-shoot].”
Hafez Barghouti, another senior Fatah official, scoffed at Hamas’s claim that its members had participated in the fighting. “Hamas was out of the picture during the battle of Jenin,” he said. “Yet, it broadcasted to the world that it exists through its flags and mouthpieces.” Barghouti went on to hint that Hamas was in collusion with Israel to seize control of the West Bank.
Notably, the Palestinian officials stopped short of leveling similar accusations against the PIJ. This, despite the fact that some officials in Ramallah recently expressed concern over the PIJ’s growing power in the northern West Bank, specifically Jenin and Nablus. On the eve of the military operation, PIJ secretary-general Ziyad al-Nakhaleh revealed that his organization was arming armed groups in the West Bank, including some that belong to Abbas’s Fatah.
APPARENTLY, THE PA does not see the PIJ as posing a real threat to its rule in the West Bank. Instead, the No. 1 enemy for Abbas and Fatah remains Hamas, which they believe is determined to carry out a “coup” similar to the one that took place in the Gaza Strip in 2007. Abbas has never forgiven Hamas for overthrowing his regime in the coastal enclave and killing dozens of Fatah activists and PA security officers.
But Abbas’s problem is obviously not only with Hamas, but with a large number of Palestinians who have evidently lost confidence in him and his lieutenants. The last public opinion poll published by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed that a vast majority (80%) of the Palestinian public wants Abbas to resign.
Half of the public, according to the poll, said that the interest of the Palestinian people lies in the dissolution or collapse of the PA. Additionally, more than 70% of the Palestinians support the formation of armed groups such as the Lions’ Den in Nablus and the Jenin Battalion in Jenin. Perhaps what is more worrying for Abbas is that 86% of the Palestinians said that the PA does not have the right to arrest members of these armed groups.
This is precisely why Abbas has been reluctant over the past two years to order his security forces to take action against the armed groups in Nablus and Jenin. He is already facing criticism from many Palestinians for failing to take tough measures against Israel in light of the ongoing Israeli counterterrorism operations in the West Bank. The last thing he wants now is to be seen as a “subcontractor” for the Israeli security establishment.
During an emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on Monday night, a number of senior Fatah officials urged Abbas to take drastic measures, such as canceling the Oslo Accords that were signed with Israel in 1993, and revoking PLO recognition of Israel in response to the Israeli operation in the Jenin refugee camp.
Abbas, however, reportedly refused to comply. Instead, he issued a statement in which he announced that the PA was halting all contacts and meetings with Israelis. Abbas also announced that security coordination with Israel, which he suspended earlier this year, would not be renewed.
Abbas’s announcement, however, was seen by some Fatah activists as mild and insufficient. “Which contacts and meetings is President Abbas talking about?” exclaimed a veteran Fatah activist. “He’s making it seem as if the Palestinian Authority and Israel are holding daily contacts and meetings. Many Palestinians don’t buy this nonsense. Nor do they buy the claim that the Palestinian Authority has stopped security coordination with Israel.”
In many ways, the Israeli security operation was supposed to boost the PA and assist it in asserting its control over the Jenin refugee camp. But for now, it seems that the operation achieved exactly the opposite. It has further undermined the PA’s standing and credibility among many Palestinians, who are currently venting their anger on Abbas and his security forces.
This does not necessarily mean that the PA will collapse soon. But it is an indication of the PA’s dwindling influence in the West Bank and the rising popularity of the armed groups, some of which are operating on direct instructions from Iran and its Palestinian proxies – the PIJ and Hamas.