I went down Memory Lane recently. It was a pleasant trip, under the circumstances. The increasing number of terror attacks emanating from Jenin and its environs made me reminisce fondly about very different days.
In 1980, I served at a Nahal army outpost at Malkishua, perched on Mount Gilboa, not far from Jenin. It was a spartan experience. Electricity was restricted to a few hours of generator-produced power and the road to the outpost was unpaved and bumpy. No wonder my memories came back like hiccups this week. Anything to do with that particular memory lane makes me feel like I’m bouncing up and down in a rattling truck.
As incredible as it now seems, in those long-gone days, it was common for soldiers to hitchhike, relying on faith and luck the way today’s troops trust the Moovit app. Since no buses reached our outpost, we were allowed to take rides in civilian vehicles. And it didn’t matter who was driving. As I recall, we were permitted to ride with Arab villagers on condition that we were two soldiers or more, at least one of them a male soldier, and at least one was armed.
I also remember being with a group of soldiers hosted in a nearby village for an evening dedicated to getting to know the neighbors. This was decades before any peace process with the Palestinians. It wasn’t Utopia, but it now seems surreal. The relationship was based on mutual respect, and there was also deterrence. The deterrence – and the innocence – have since worn away.
The recollections came flooding back in the wake of Operation House and Garden (Bayit Vegan). I assume the moniker is based on the biblical reference in II Kings to Beit Hagan, from where the Arabic name Jenin is derived. It sounds incongruously genteel for an area considered a hotbed of terrorism.
There have been ongoing efforts – almost nightly – to tackle the terrorist infrastructure in the town, refugee camp, and surrounding villages, but they were not enough. The counterterrorism operations have been hindered recently as terrorists and their supporters acted against the Israeli security forces trying to make arrests and thwart attacks. Two weeks ago, explosive devices were detonated as Israeli soldiers pulled out of Jenin following a counterterrorist operation and last week two makeshift rockets were fired from near Jenin area.
Response to ongoing terrorism
Since January 2023, 24 people have been killed in Israel by terrorists. According to the IDF Spokesman, more than 50 shooting attacks were carried out by terrorists from the Jenin area since the start of the year, and since September 2022, 19 terrorists fled to the Jenin refugee camp after carrying out attacks.
In some incidents, the pain has been compounded by the loss of more than one member of a family – such is the case of brothers Hallel and Yagel Yaniv, whose killers were apprehended in the Jenin area.
The timing of Operation House and Garden was not arbitrary. It was decided to wait until after the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival. Even as the operation got underway, thousands of Palestinians continued to come to work in Israel from Judea and Samaria, and Gaza.
On Tuesday, the second and final day of the operation, terror struck Tel Aviv. Or rather, a young terrorist struck civilians in a northern Tel Aviv neighborhood. The terrorist – praised by Hamas – drove a pick-up truck into a crowd waiting at a bus stop before trying to carry out a stabbing spree at a sidewalk cafe. He was shot dead by an armed passerby who was able to quickly assess the situation which at first appeared to him to be a traffic accident. Nine people were wounded, one of them a pregnant woman who lost her unborn child. Official figures won’t record it, but it too was a fatality.
I didn’t have to wait long for the condemnation: Not of the attack in Tel Aviv, but of Israel’s efforts to fight terrorists in Jenin. Among the organizations that sent out a press release on the situation was the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): “We are extremely concerned by the alarming intensification of armed violence in Jenin... Each passing minute of this ongoing violence poses a danger to lives, homes, essential services, and infrastructure,” read the statement that was issued before the blood on the Tel Aviv sidewalk had dried.
“Civilian lives and property must be respected and protected. Israeli Security Forces (ISF) must ensure the population in Jenin have unimpeded access to health services, shelter, food, and water,” the press release continued.
The irony was unintended but risible. It wasn’t the Israeli forces putting Jenin’s citizens at risk. If anything, they were being held hostage by the very terrorists whom the IDF, the Shin Bet, and the Border Police were trying to rout.
This was particularly evident in two sites. Twenty-three-year-old St.-Sgt. David Yehuda Yitzhak from the elite Egoz unit, was killed during a heavy exchange of fire with terrorists near a hospital on Tuesday night. You might well ask what were the terrorists doing taking cover in or around a hospital, but it’s easier to criticize Israel than to ask awkward questions of the Palestinians. It was not the first atrocity at a Jenin hospital. In November, masked Palestinian gunmen swarmed into the hospital room where Israeli Druze teenager Tiran Fero was being treated following a traffic accident in the town. They detached his life-support system and abducted his body.
The Palestinian use – or abuse – of schools and hospitals as terrorist hideouts is not restricted to Jenin, of course. A similar phenomenon has been seen repeatedly in Gaza. It’s time for UNRWA to reconsider the definition of a Palestinian refugee and the UN organization should take note of where its funding is going. According to the IDF, approximately 25% of the population in the Jenin area is affiliated with Islamic Jihad and around 20% is affiliated with Hamas.
Exploiting medical centers is unhealthy, and exploiting mosques is sacrilegious, but that doesn’t stop the Palestinian terror movements. Backed by Iranian funds, the terrorists carefully constructed a hidden armory of weapons and explosives in a tunnel that had been dug under a mosque. It’s a win-win situation for terrorists. Israel is automatically cast as the bad guy if it takes action in a mosque – even if to confiscate arms and IEDs. Muslim religious leaders should be the first to speak out against such desecration, followed by the international community, but I won’t hold my breath.
The streets of Jenin are plastered with portraits of “martyrs”: The cult of death and killing is pervasive. It’s not Israel that’s preventing children from growing up in a happy and healthy environment.
In 2011, Israeli actor and peace activist Juliano Mer Khamis, who founded a theater and ran a drama project in the Jenin refugee camp, was shot dead there following threats on his life from Islamists. Many naive hopes for a culture of peace were killed with him.
It’s easy to say that Palestinian youths turn to terror because they don’t see a future. But which came first? Israeli Arabs – and some Jews – used to flock to Jenin’s stores and restaurants, but now sensibly believe it is too dangerous. Prosperity can’t thrive where terrorists dwell.
IT TOOK a while for the name Operation House and Garden to be published. Apparently, the government (or IDF) wanted to play down the scope of the campaign. The operation focused on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization and to a lesser extent Hamas. Although the Palestinian Authority is nominally in charge of the area, PA head Mahmoud Abbas has little control there and the entire Palestinian population is waiting to see what will happen when the aging Abbas is no longer around.
Based on exceptional intelligence, it was brief but can be considered a success: the scope of the terrorist infrastructure that was demolished (including six explosives labs) and huge quantities of arms destroyed or confiscated reduced the immediate threat. It also sent out a message of deterrence. Thirteen Palestinians were killed during the operation – most if not all of them, terrorists. Terrorist leaders will need to devote more time and energy to avoid being tracked down and taken out. But no one is under any illusion that the operation will put an end to terrorism.
Israel is on the frontlines of the world battle against terror, sharing its intelligence and expertise to help other countries. Israeli efforts like Operation House and Garden should help homes be a little safer everywhere in the global village.