By Sarah Gomez Arms
Nablus, West Bank, Nov 12 (EFE).- Nablus, in the northern occupied West Bank, has become a bastion of Palestine’s armed resistance against Israel and a cradle for the emergence of new militias made up of mainly young people who see no other way out but to pick up arms.
Less than a year ago, the ancient city of Nablus witnessed the birth of the Lions’ Den armed group, a new phenomenon that seems to be changing the face of Palestinian resistance, devoid of a political arm and with no links to traditional factions.
The group’s popularity has swelled thanks to Telegram and Tik Tok attracting hundreds of followers as the armed group’s popularity spreads like wildfire in a city where “they are seen as heroes capable of facing the occupation and Israeli aggression,” Jamal Tirawi, the leader of the nationalist Fatah movement tells Efe from his office in the city.
“They have no hope, no political horizon, no economic opportunities. They are frustrated and hopeless. That is why they have taken to the streets,” says Tirawi, a vociferous critic of the current Palestinian leadership and an elected member of the Legislative Council, dissolved by president Mahmoud Abbas in 2018.
For Tirawi, the power vacuum left by the Palestinian Authority (PNA) — plagued with allegations of corruption and nepotism — is what has pushed young people towards a new resistance, although he says that “the Israeli occupation is what has cornered them to rise up as the only solution.”
In response to the Nablus uprising, Israeli settlers have launched a military operation they have dubbed ‘Breaking the Wave’ with intensified nightly raids throughout the West Bank, with a special focus on Jenin and Nablus.
The offensive has led to armed clashes and bloody battles in the biggest outbreak of violence in the area in over 15 years.
According to the Israeli army, some 2,500 “terrorism suspects” have been detained and more than 300 weapons confiscated.
More than 140 Palestinians — most of them militiamen, but also civilians and children — have died in violent incidents with Israel so far in 2022, according to figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Health; while on the Israeli side, 24 victims of attacks have died, 17 of them civilians.
But Lions’ Den isn’t alone. The armed group has been the source of inspiration for others to emerge across the West Bank, such as the Jenin Battalion or, also in Nablus, the Balata Brigade, in the homonymous refugee camp where some 30,000 Palestinians live in extremely cramped conditions.
“All the young people here are armed because there is no other future. The only future here in Balata is to carry a weapon and shoot Israeli soldiers,” says 32-year-old Mohamed, a resident of the camp which was created in 1950 to house Palestinians expelled from the city of Jaffa (now part of Tel Aviv) when the State of Israel was created.
The Balata camp has been a bastion of the Palestinian armed resistance since the First Intifada (1987-93) and home to the powerful Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades born in 2000 and linked, at the time, to the Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party.
For Hamed, 40, who was a militia member during the Second Intifada (2000-05) and spent four years in jail, “violence only attracts more violence and the solution lies in political negotiation,” but the Palestinian understands that young people see no other way out.
“Almost every night Israeli troops come in and kill us,” Hamed adds. “It is our right to resist the occupation.”
The new armed groups, although independent, often cooperate and communicate to operate under a single, stronger leadership.
But recently the Israeli army hampered the movement when it killed one of the leaders of Lions’ Den and “for the time being suffering from their ability to attack,” says former Israeli army lieutenant colonel Jonathan Conricus.
“These groups are springing up in and around Nablus like mushrooms, drawing inspiration from each other and quickly gaining notoriety thanks to social media,” the military officer adds.