West Bank support for Hamas, particularly among Palestinian youth, was on full display at a recent memorial service in the Jenin refugee camp for Hamas and Islamic Jihad members killed in a raid by Israeli forces two months ago.
“We live between two wars — with Israel and with the [Palestinian Authority],” one youth from the camp told an Israeli Channel 2 reporter. “It’s better to have a problem with Israel than a problem with the Authority. Israel is an enemy that we know well.”
Jenin has long been a bastion of support for Hamas in the West Bank, and residents turned out en masse for a memorial to honor Hamza Abu al-Hija, a wanted Hamas operative who was killed in a shootout during a raid by Israeli forces in March. Also killed in the raid were Islamic Jihad operative Mahmud Abu Zeina, 25, and Yazen Jabarin, 22, a member of Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.
The IDF said that Abu al-Hija, the son of a Hamas leader currently incarcerated for involvement in at least six deadly bombings in Israel, was killed after he opened fire on forces that had surrounded the house he was in, and that he was “wanted for numerous shooting and bombing attacks as well as planning future acts of terrorism.” A Gaza-based media outlet associated with Hamas tweeted shortly after Abu al-Hija’s death that sources said the dead man was “preparing a major operation” against Israel.
Al-Hija had reportedly been detained by Palestinian security forces over 20 times prior to the raid, and Hamas responded to his death by accusing the Palestinian Authority of collaborating with Israel in the operation.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad members were greeted with cheers, the Channel 2 report showed, as they took the stage, armed with rifles, to address the crowd.
“We are fighting because there is no peace,” a militant, who shot his rifle in the air, said. “With the Jewish Israelis, there will only be peace through the rifle. Only like this do we talk with Israelis and only like this will we liberate our land, with the help of Allah.”
Senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad members encouraged Jenin residents to unite behind them against Israel.
“The one who killed our activists is the occupation,” one man yelled, as armed men around him fired their weapons into the air. “We will avenge this occupation through our unity.”
Their message seemed to resonate with the youth of the camp.
“I want to die in a war with the [Israeli] army because they killed my uncle and we want to free Palestine,” said an eight-year-old boy wearing an improvised weapon.
However, the older generation may not be as eager to push forward with the fight. Jenin resident Abu Qassam, who was a wanted member of Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade military wing for years before he was pardoned, said that he has given up terrorist activity to focus on supporting his children.
“Ultimately, I’m 40 years old, I have children that I want to raise and support,” he told Channel 2.