Everywhere you go in the West Bank city of Nablus, there are posters of the “martyrs” – the young men from the Lions’ Den militant group who have been responsible for many of the attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians over the past six months.
Thirteen-year-old Ali, who is happy to practice his English, points at each face on a poster pasted to a coffee cart in the main square at the edge of the market in Nablus. He knows the young man’s name, where he is from, and how he was killed by Israeli troops, and is especially proud of Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, the Lion of Nablus, and one of the group’s founders.
“To me, they are all heroes,” he says with a shy smile.
The Lion's Den: The new face of Palestinian resistance against Israel
To most residents of this large city in the northern West Bank, these young men are the new face of Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation.
“As long as the occupation exists, Palestinian young men, and even the kids, will continue to fight,” says Ahmed Debey, a high school English teacher sitting on a bench in the square. “We are fighting in different forms. We exist, and existence is resistance. We fight the occupation with any form possible – a stone, a gun, whatever we can fight with.”
“As long as the occupation exists, Palestinian young men, and even the kids, will continue to fight. We are fighting in different forms. We exist, and existence is resistance. We fight the occupation with any form possible – a stone, a gun, whatever we can fight with.”Ahmed Deby
The Lions’ Den arose in August 2022 and has been responsible for dozens of attacks, mostly on Israeli soldiers. The Israeli army has launched a harsh crackdown on the group, conducting dozens of arrest raids in Nablus. In many cases, these raids have turned into clashes in which dozens of Palestinians have been killed. Overall, 2022 was the bloodiest year in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in more than a decade. Palestinians say at least 170 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces, and 2,500 were arrested, while some 30 Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks.
One of the Palestinians killed was Mohammed Herzallah. His brother Osama owns a vegetable store on the edge of the square.
“My brother was killed by a bullet to his head,” Hezallah says. “He was outside his door, and there were clashes with Israeli soldiers.”
The members of the Lions’ Den are not affiliated with any faction in the West Bank. Some of them have even been in Palestinian Authority jails for possessing unauthorized weapons.
Yaron Buskila, a former Israeli commander in the West Bank, says that tens of thousands of weapons have entered the West Bank from Jordan, and that the Palestinian Authority has not done enough to confiscate the guns.
But on the streets of Nablus, Palestinians say they are almost as angry with the Palestinian Authority, which they regard as enabling the Israeli occupation, as they are with Israel. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is seen as corrupt and weak, and many Palestinians say he should stop all security cooperation with Israel. Lions’ Den demonstrations have sometimes led to clashes with Palestinian police as well.
Nablus Mayor Sami Hijawi says the city is facing a financial crisis, and services such as garbage collection have suffered. Unemployment has risen, and young Palestinians despair if there will ever be a Palestinian state. He also says he expects “resistance actions” against Israel to increase.
“Of course resistance will increase. What is Newton’s third law? Every action has a reaction. It’s normal to expect that things will get worse.”Sami Hijawi
“Of course resistance will increase,” Hijawi recently told a small group of journalists in his office, with large portraits of both Abbas and former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat behind him. “What is Newton’s third law? Every action has a reaction. It’s normal to expect that things will get worse.”
Israeli officials say the Lions’ Den today comprises only a few dozen members, and most of its leaders have been arrested or killed.
Yaron Buskila says that Iran is funding the Lions’ Den in its efforts to use proxies to attack Israel.
“Iran wanted to sponsor a new group that does not listen to the Palestinian Authority, and they can be the next group that will fight against Israel,” he says. “They took people who lost their jobs because of the Palestinian Authority and were angry with the Palestinian Authority and started to smuggle weapons to them.”
Israel’s new government has pledged it will react harshly to any future attacks. It has also said it plans to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which could lead to more conflict – and more violence. ■