Until a few weeks ago, business was brisk at the Al-Aqsa Knafeh eatery in the Old City of Nablus. Arab-Israelis and foreign tourists would stand in line to enter the restaurant, which specializes in knafeh, a traditional Middle Eastern dessert made with a shredded filo dough crust and a sweet cheese filling.
“The economic situation is very bad,” said Abu Amjad, one of the restaurant workers. “In the past month, fewer people are coming to Nablus, because of the security situation. People are afraid because of the security situation. They are also worried because the Palestinian Authority does not seem to be in full control.”
Like many residents of the Old City, Abu Amjad believes that the PA is weak and has even lost control of the situation, especially in the aftermath of the IDF’s ongoing security crackdown on armed groups and individuals in the northern West Bank, including Nablus and Jenin.
The two cities and their surrounding villages and refugee camps have in recent months become hubs for various terrorist groups, prompting many Palestinians to ask whether the PA’s security control over these areas has eroded.
PA officials hold Israel fully and solely responsible for the escalation. Its daily military raids in the West Bank, they insist, are threatening to further undermine the PA.
Why does the Palestinian Authority not arrest gunmen in Nablus, Jenin?
For now, it appears that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is reluctant to order his security forces to disarm or arrest the gunmen who are roaming the streets of Nablus and Jenin. This is because Abbas fears being seen as a “subcontractor” for the Israeli Defense Ministry.
He is already facing widespread criticism from many Palestinians, including some of his senior loyalists in the ruling Fatah faction, for refusing to halt security coordination with Israel.
Some Palestinians believe that Abbas is also afraid of a mutiny within his security forces if he orders them to go after the gunmen, especially those affiliated with Fatah. Two PA officers, Ahmed Abed and Mahmoud Hajeer, have been involved in terrorist attacks against the IDF in Nablus and Jenin, they noted, adding that more policemen could follow suit if the situation further deteriorates.
“Of course, the Palestinian Authority is very weak. But, on the other hand, what can they do? Can the Palestinian Authority stop the Israeli army from entering Nablus and killing the young men? No. That’s why many people have lost confidence in the Palestinian Authority.”Abu Amjad
“Of course, the Palestinian Authority is very weak,” said Abu Amjad. “But, on the other hand, what can they do? Can the Palestinian Authority stop the Israeli army from entering Nablus and killing the young men? No. That’s why many people have lost confidence in the Palestinian Authority.”
A worker at the Eid Falafel Restaurant, also in the Old City, concurred.
“What is happening in Nablus is very, very bad,” said the 32-year-old worker, who identified himself only as Abu Ahmed. “The tourists and the Arabs from Israel stopped coming to Nablus in the past few weeks. The feeling here is that there is no law and order. There’s a state of chaos in Nablus. The economy was good before the tensions began.”
Abu Ahmed said that most residents are angry not only with Israel, but also with the PA for its failure to enforce law and order.
“The weak people are suffering because of the chaos and anarchy,” he added. “The influential people who are close to the Palestinian Authority are not affected at all.”
According to Abu Ahmed, the gunmen who have popped up on the streets of the Old City in the past few weeks consist of disgruntled and inexperienced young men “who don’t even know which organization they belong to.
“I was 15 during the first [Israeli] incursion,” he said, referring to the IDF’s 2002 Operation Defensive Shield. “Back then, the young [armed] men were much more organized. Today, however, you see that these young guys are just showing off and trying to compete with each other.”
The recent killing of Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, a top gunman who was wanted by the IDF for his role in a number of shooting attacks against soldiers and Israeli civilians, did not come as a surprise to many residents of the Old City. Everyone knew that it was only a matter of time before the Israeli security forces reached him.
Some residents are convinced that Nabulsi was a victim of the security coordination between the PA security forces and the IDF. They say that he belonged to the post-Second Intifada generation that is angry with both Israel and the PA leadership.
Large posters featuring Nabulsi and other gunmen who were recently killed by the IDF decorate many of the walls, with captions pledging to avenge their deaths.
Nabulsi and the other “martyrs” are seen by most of the residents as “heroes” who are doing what the PA security forces should be carrying out – “defending” the Palestinians.
Many of the young men in the Old City are walking around wearing medallions with the images of Nabulsi. They see him and the other “martyrs” as role models and want to follow in their path. They are furious with Israel for killing him, but they are equally angry with the PA leadership and its security services.
“Ibrahim [Nabulsi] did not have blood on his hands,” remarked Hussam, a 23-year-old private security guard who described himself as a close friend of the slain gunman. “He didn’t kill anyone; he was just like the rest of the armed men here who are defending their people.”
Hussam said that many residents are convinced that the PA was complicit in the killing of Nabulsi, an allegation that has been strongly denied by a senior PA security officer in Nablus.
“We don’t want the Palestinian Authority,” Hussam said. “They are weak and have no real control. They are helping the Jews track down and kill the young men. They are continuing to conduct security coordination [with Israel]. Why don’t they stop the security coordination? Why aren’t the Palestinian security forces defending the people? If they can’t defend us, we don’t want them.”
HUSSAM AND other residents said that Nabulsi was killed near a PA police base inside the Old City, a move that, they claim, proves that the PA is in collusion with Israel.
“The Palestinian police officers left the base hours before the Israeli army came and killed Ibrahim,” he said. “Why are our officers afraid to confront the soldiers? The Palestinian security forces should join the fighting, as [former PLO leader] Yasser Arafat ordered them to do when the Second Intifada began. Then, Abu Ammar [Arafat’s nom de guerre] ordered the Palestinian security forces to shoot at all the Jews who were inside Joseph’s Tomb [in Nablus].”
Hussam nevertheless dismissed the possibility that he and his friends would revolt against the PA and its security forces. They are aware that such a move would lead to civil war and serve Israeli interests.
“That’s not going to happen, because they are our sons and relatives,” he explained. “Do you expect us to start killing our own people? Do you want us to kill our brothers and cousins and neighbors who are serving in the Palestinian security forces? This will only help Israel.”
Another young man who also described himself as a close friend of Nabulsi pointed out that the number of gunmen in Nablus has increased in the past few weeks.
“Until recently, there were only a few armed men in the Old City,” he noted. “Now there are dozens of them. They feel that the Palestinian Authority has lost control of the situation and is not doing anything to defend the people. The young men are prepared to die as martyrs; they are no longer afraid of the Palestinian Authority or the Israeli army.”
A new Palestinian intifada
The 22-year-old man, who refused to be named, said that the latest upsurge in armed attacks against the IDF and settlers marks the beginning of a new intifada.
“I expect the new intifada to start from Nablus and Jenin,” he said. “It has actually started. We see daily attacks against the army and settlers. The young men are setting fire to military outposts and settlements. They are shooting almost every day at the soldiers.”
He added that he and his friends were also very angry with the PA for its ongoing crackdown on Palestinian activists in the West Bank.
“The Palestinian Authority is making a huge mistake by arresting Palestinians who belong to Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” he said. “We should all be united in the fight for Palestine and Jerusalem. Why are they arresting their own people? I can understand why Israel wants to arrest us. But why are our security forces arresting and torturing Palestinians?
“The Palestinian Authority wants to suppress the people; they don’t want any resistance [against Israel]. That’s why the Palestinian leadership has no credibility. The young men are frustrated and angry. I believe that we are headed towards another intifada.”
The fiery rhetoric and threats made by the young residents do not seem to be shared by older people in Nablus.
“I prefer a weak Palestinian Authority to the return of the pre-Oslo Accords era,” explained a 64-year-old businessman from the city.
“These young men don’t know what it means to live under the military occupation. Do they want the Israeli army to control our schools, hospitals and universities? I’m not sure that even the Israelis want to return to those days.
“That’s why we need to find a way to calm down these young men and prevent the Palestinian Authority from collapsing. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians have an interest in the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.”•