Israel's Actions are Reviving Palestinian Militancy | Opinion

Last Monday, Israel's military announced that its forces killed five armed Palestinians in Jericho at dawn in a fire exchange, as Israeli troops stormed the city, though it is supposed to be under the Palestinian Authority's full civil and security control. The grim news was quite a surprise to Palestinians; Jericho, a tourist city and PA stronghold, is unaccustomed to armed groups or large Israeli raids.

Two days before, witnesses say dozens of Israeli military vehicles and bulldozers wreaked havoc on Jericho's Aqabat Jabr refugee camp. Israeli soldiers surrounded, bombed, and bulldozed a house in pursuit of a wanted Palestinian, whom the IDF accused of unsuccessfully attempting to fire a weapon at a restaurant close to Jericho. The IDF also imposed a blockade on Jericho for a week before the raid.

The bitterness created by the violent raid fomented support for the gunman and his accomplice, including from the five armed Palestinians Israel killed last week, who had formed an improvised brigade and pledged allegiance to Hamas. Their actions confounded Israel, the PA, and even their own neighbors in what is usually a quiet town. Yet since Israel killed the five armed men, more young people vowed to follow their path of armed resistance.

Sadly, the events of last week are part of an emerging trend in the occupied West Bank, most prominently in Nablus and Jenin. For the past year, rage and despair have been leading some young people to take matters into their own hands. But in what's becoming a deadly pattern, excessive force from Israel under the pretext of security to combat the violence has been inspiring more to join armed groups.

This is not to say that Israel should not respond to the unrest, but rather, that a certain kind of Israeli response—an especially violent one, for example, in a place unused to the presence of Israeli soldiers, due to the Oslo Accords' distribution of power—will create more of the very thing Israel is trying to fight.

This isn't just common sense. The recent rise of armed groups like the Lion's Den or the Jenin Brigade and their newfound popularity among young Palestinians is remarkable because it is unusual. These groups are largely independent from traditional Palestinian political factions, and their ranks include politically unaffiliated members but also members of Palestinian factions that are traditional rivals, such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs.

The birth of these new armed groups requires an explanation, therefore, and they seem to be the result of a growing feeling among Palestinians, especially young men, of being cornered or existentially threatened, and the view that none of the traditional political or even militant groups is able to stand up for them.

Their sense of being threatened in a new way stems from the Israeli army's frequent deadly raids on Palestinian towns, which made 2022 the bloodiest year in the West Bank in two decades. There is also almost daily settler violence, which more often than not is perpetrated with impunity.

Palestinians carry the body of Abdullah Sami Qalalweh during his funeral at his village of al-Judaydeh south of Jenin in the occupied West Bank, on February 4, 2023. JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images

The international community's abandonment of our cause, particularly the Biden administration's, joins the intractable division, idleness and corruption of the Palestinian elite to bring home a feeling of hopelessness. Join to that the crippling of the Palestinian economy by the occupation, the pandemic, the Ukraine war, and the Israeli government withholding of more than $180 million of the PA's revenue annually, and the most far-right government in Israel's history, and you have a perfect storm.

Every person is responsible for his own actions, especially violent ones. Yet it is also undeniably the case that the brutality of Netanyahu's government acts as a recruiting poster for militant groups, positioning them as the avengers of Palestinian blood and a deterrent against Israeli violence.

To be clear, none of this is to justify the violence or even suggest it will be effective, but rather, to explain why it is gaining new purchase with young Palestinians in areas that have been relatively quiet for decades. "In the end, if you resist, you get killed, and if you don't, you also get killed. So, what should one do?" as the father of one of the armed Palestinians killed in Jericho said.

This atmosphere of rage and despair is sadly reminiscent of the days leading up to the Second Intifada in 2001, when the collapse of the peace process led to chaos and horrific levels of bloodshed on both sides.

Making matters worse are the recent decisions of the most extreme ministers in Netanyahu's government—the supremacist theocrat Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich, and the messianic convicted terror supporter, National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir. Last week, Smotrich decided to double the amount of money Israel withholds from the PA, bringing it closer to the edge of collapse, while Ben Gvir has been ramping up calls for Palestinian home demolitions in East Jerusalem and has been waging a war to worsen the conditions of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel. Most dangerously, on Tuesday, Ben-Gvir ordered increasing gun permits to Israeli settlers from 2,000 to 10,000 permits a month, which is sure to create an arms race in the West Bank.

The Netanyahu government's cruel treatment of Palestinians has already prompted the PA to suspend its security collaboration, by which it helps maintain Israel's security. It won't be long until the PA's own security personnel start joining armed groups on the ground.

Rather than deploying greater and greater brute force, Israel should be focused on creating calm in the West Bank, reviving hope, reducing tension, and decreasing the sense of abandonment that's fueling the violence. The moment calls for restoring economic and political security among Palestinians; restraining settler and military violence; restricting settlement expansion; preventing the legalization of extremist settlement outposts like Evyatar and Homesh; reversing the Trump administration's declaration that settlements are not illegal; and reversing Israel's withholding of PA revenue.

Most importantly at this stage, the U.S. should push for Palestinian elections to produce a Palestinian leadership connected with the masses and transcend the intractable intra-Palestinian division.

Otherwise, the status quo is a surefire recipe for a third Intifada, if not a nation-wide ethnic conflict.

Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of development studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights. He is a columnist at the Forward.

The views in this article are the writer's own.