An incident like that which took place early Saturday morning in the Jenin refugee camp, in which three Palestinians were killed by the IDF, would have been the lead story on all of the Arab satellite news stations in the past.
But unfortunately for the Palestinians, in the twilight of the Arab Spring, the incident was pushed to the margins of the news — if it was reported on at all.
Al Jazeera on Saturday morning reported in depth on pro-Muslim Brotherhood protests in Egypt. It covered the battles near Homs, in central Syria, in which 20 soldiers were killed. And it dealt with the ongoing Ukrainian crisis. But the Palestinian issue, and specifically this latest violent incident, apparently don’t really exist.
The nature of the fatal confrontation Saturday morning between elite Israeli police personnel and the wanted 22-year-old Hamas operative, Hamza Abu al-Hija, underlined a central aspect of the new reality in the refugee camps of the West Bank: Palestinian Authority security forces generally stay out of the camps, and especially those in Jenin and Nablus. PA forces did try to arrest Abu al-Hija a few months ago, an incident that prompted intense Palestinian public criticism of the PA. Lesson learned, PA security personnel have since stayed away. Israel, as Saturday’s events showed, however, has not.
Hamza Abu al-Hija is from his family’s second generation of wanted Hamas operatives, the son of one of the icons of the Islamist group in the West Bank, Jamal Abu al-Hija, who’s been in prison in Israel since 2002. The father, who lost an eye and a hand in an explosion at the beginning of the Second Intifada, is serving nine life terms for involvement in at least six bombings, including the Meron Junction attack that killed nine Israelis in 2002 and the Jerusalem Sbarro pizzeria bombing that killed 15 in 2001.
Israel had tried in December to arrest Abu al-Hija the younger, but he escaped, and fierce clashes ensued between IDF troops and hundreds of Palestinians at the time.
On Friday night, Israel Police and army forces succeeded in surrounding the building in which Abu al-Hija was holed up. They called on him to surrender, but he opened fired on them. Two members of the police’s elite Yamam unit were injured in the gunfight that killed him. In the clashes with the Palestinian mob that followed, two more Palestinians were killed — one a member of Islamic Jihad.
The fact that the Arab media isn’t too interested, that the PA security forces are staying away, and that Israeli troops are entering the camps — all these factors are likely to exacerbate the anger in the camps. Economic conditions are bad, too, and residents feel neglected by the PA. This is creating an entire generation ready to fight against both the PA and Israel — ready, that is, to embark on a third intifada. To kill and be killed, like Hamza Abu al-Hija.
There are dozens more “Hamzas” in Jenin, in the Balata and Askar refugee camps (near Nablus), even in Kalandiya outside Jerusalem. The first intifada began in these places, and it began among youths of this age group.