Jenin graveyard struggles to cope with growing number of Palestinian dead
By Sara Gomez Armas
Jenin, West Bank, Mar 31 (EFE).- The graveyard at the refugee camp in Jenin, a Palestinian city in the northern West Bank, is too small for the bodies that keep piling up.
An extension built a few months ago has already been filled with tombs of increasingly young “martyrs” who have taken up arms to fight Israel’s occupation. Nearly 40 have died this year alone.
Amid the white tombstones carved in Arabic, which show that most of the fallen were born in the 21st century, the walls of the cemetery are lined with posters and photos of young Palestinians – many of them smiling, holding their rifles – who died in clashes with the Israeli army.
The fallen are seen as “martyrs” in Palestine and “terrorists” in Israel, which conducts most of its raids in the occupied West Bank on Jenin, a stronghold for Palestinian militants.
A “MARTYR” IN EVERY FAMILY
“Here all homes have several martyrs, or at least one martyr and one prisoner or one wounded. Many join the militias for family revenge,” Mohamed Abu Kandeel, a 26-year-old young man who was wounded and imprisoned in 2018 for two years without ever being charged, tells EFE.
He now works on the residents’ committee at the camp, which is home to some 20,000 Palestinians, all refugees from territories lost to Israel in 1948. More than half of the camp’s population are minors.
As a former prisoner who has lost five relatives to the conflict, Kandeel knows his chances of getting a work permit in Israel are nil, and unemployment in the camp is rampant at over 70%.
The lack of opportunity is another main factor driving so many to join the militias fighting the occupation.
“They pay 1,000 shekels (260 euros) per militant, 1,500 (400 euros) if you have a family, and 2,000 (520 euros) if you are very active – or at least that’s what they say on the streets,” the young man adds.
The militias linked to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have a stronghold in Jenin, which has become a bastion of the militia movement since the Second Intifada.
An uptick in violence and clashes in the region over the past year has prompted the armed groups — both Islamists and secularists — to join forces to fight Israel under the Jenin Brigades.
Last year was the most violent in the region since 2006, with over 170 deaths. Jenin has been at the heart of most of the worst clashes with Israeli troops across the entire occupied West Bank.
But 2023 looks set to be even worse. So far, 88 Palestinians have died, almost half of them hailing from the camp. In Israel the death toll from Palestinian attacks currently sits at 15.
Violence has long been a part of daily life in Jenin, where the trauma of 2002 is still vivid.
Israeli troops invaded the camp on April 1, 2002, triggering a three-week battle that became the deadliest episode of the Second Intifada (2000-2005), leaving 50 Palestinians, including civilians and militants, and 20 Israeli soldiers dead.
“There were children who witnessed how soldiers entered their homes and killed their parents in cold blood. Those who witnessed this at the age of 5 are now 25 and they are the ones who have taken the reins to resist the Israeli occupation with weapons,” says Farha Abu Alhaija, coordinator of the camp’s residents’ committee.