April 23, 2002 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 90

The Palestinian Account of the Battle of Jenin

April 23, 2002
Palestinians | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 90
The Arab media has in recent days focused much attention on the consequences of the Jenin refugee camp battle, which according to their reports, resulted in a massacre, perpetuated by the Israeli army. At the same time, the Arab media published numerous testimonies given by commanders of the Palestinian factions in Jenin, both during the conflict and after it ended, regarding the fighting. Following are excerpts from these accounts:

Fighting the IDF

Sheikh Jamal Abu Al-Hija, the commander of the Hamas Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades in the Jenin refugee camp, told the Hamas website in an interview that the members of the various factions, "along with volunteers from the Palestinian security forces," prepared in advance for the Israeli incursion.[1] Sheikh Abu Al-Hija provided more details on the fighting by phone to the Qatari television channel Al-Jazeera, saying, "[We placed] explosive devices on the roads and in the houses; surprises [await] the occupation forces. In several places, there are clashes between the Mujahideen[2] and the occupation forces… The occupation forces flee in panic from the Jenin camp – but they escalate by using tractors, airplanes, and tanks against the camp. The truth is that the fighting is being conducted from neighborhood to neighborhood, like guerilla warfare. The Mujahideen are using automatic rifles, explosive devices, and hand grenades…"[3]

The London based Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat quoted Sheikh Abu Al-Hija as saying, "The fighting forces, from all the factions in the camp, have been equipped with explosive belts and grenades."[4] Sheikh Abu-Al-Hija told the Jordanian weekly Al-Sabil, "The Mujahideen managed to besiege nine Zionist soldiers inside one of the houses, and attacked them using hand grenades and bombs until the entire house went up in flames with the soldiers of the occupation inside. Witnesses said that the occupation forces extracted the soldiers charred and burned."[5]

Palestinian Children and School Bags Filled with Explosives
The Islamic Jihad commander in the Jenin refugee camp, Abu Jandal,[6] was interviewed several times by Al-Jazeera during the fighting. In one conversation, Abu Jandal said: "This is the second successive day that the Israeli occupation forces are trying [to enter the camp] with the help of Apache helicopters and tanks. But the steadfastness of the fighters, who swore at the beginning of the battle not to permit [the IDF] to advance towards this camp, defends the honor of the Arab nation from the alleys of the Jenin refugee camp. There were several attempts from several routes, but these were blocked. The truth is that our fighters have switched to an offensive; today we went on the offensive. The Israeli unit commander was killed this morning, 50 meters from the place from which I am speaking to you. I, the commander of the battle of the Jenin camp, have chosen for myself the name 'The Martyr Abu Jandal,' because all the fighters around me are martyrs. Believe me, there are children stationed in the houses with explosive belts at their sides… Today, one of the children came to me with his school bag. I asked him what he wanted, and he replied, 'Instead of books, I want an explosive device, in order to attack…'"

Asked how long his men would be able to stand against the Israeli military when all they had were light weapons, Abu Jandal replied: "No. That's not true. We have the weapon of surprise. We have the weapon of honor. We have the divine weapon, the weapon of Allah who stands at our side. We have weapons that are better than theirs. I am the one with the truth, and I put my faith in Allah, while they put their faith in a tank."[7]

Sheikh Abu Al-Hija also stated, "Some of the youths stood fast, and filled their school bags with explosive devices."[8] On another occasion, Sheikh Abu Al-Hija had difficulty assessing the number of Israeli victims: "It is hard to provide accurate data, and we cannot assess the battle by counting enemy losses. But the enemy's acknowledgement of 24 killed and 130 wounded attests that it has taken many losses. The list announced by the occupation army includes only the names of the Jews [killed] and disregards the names of the Druze and the Lahad soldiers [i.e. South Lebanon Army] who participated in all past incursions and [will participate] in the future as well. Our estimate is that the enemy has suffered much greater losses."[9]

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported that in Jenin, a Palestinian woman named Ilham 'Ali Dasouqi had blown herself up among Israeli soldiers, killing two and wounding six. The paper quoted a source in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, who said that she had "followed the path of Nasser 'Uweis," who the paper said had blown himself up near soldiers in Nablus.[10] However, 'Uweis, the commander of Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Samaria, was arrested several days later. It appears that the reports of his death in a suicide bombing were an attempt to facilitate his escape.

The Egyptian government-sponsored Al-Ahram Weekly ran an interview with "Omar," a young, one-armed Islamic Jihad bomb maker known as an 'engineer' who discussed how the Palestinians booby-trapped Jenin, including the participation of women and children in the battles.[11] "He is a member of the Islamic Jihad, but says in Jenin all the factions were loyal to only one cause: liberation or death…' Of all the fighters in the West Bank we were the best prepared,' he says. 'We started working on our plan: to trap the invading soldiers and blow them up from the moment the Israeli tanks pulled out of Jenin last month.'"

The newspaper explained: "Omar and other 'engineers' made hundreds of explosive devices and carefully chose their locations. 'We had more than 50 houses booby-trapped around the camp. We chose old and empty buildings and the houses of men who were wanted by Israel because we knew the soldiers would search for them,' [Omar] said. 'We cut off lengths of main water pipes and packed them with explosives and nails. Then we placed them about four meters apart throughout the houses – in cupboards, under sinks, in sofas.' The fighters hoped to disable the Israeli army's tanks with much more powerful bombs placed inside garbage bins on the street. More explosives were hidden inside the cars of Jenin's most wanted men. Connected by wires, the bombs were set off remotely, triggered by the current from a car battery."

"According to Omar, everyone in the camp, including the children, knew where the explosives were located so that there was no danger of civilians being injured. It was the one weakness in the plan. 'We were betrayed by the spies among us,' he says. The wires to more than a third of the bombs were cut by soldiers accompanied by collaborators. 'If it hadn't been for the spies, the soldiers would never have been able to enter the camp. Once they penetrated the camp, it was much harder to defend it.'"

"And what about the explosion and ambush last Tuesday which killed 13 soldiers? 'They were lured there,' he says. 'We all stopped shooting and the women went out to tell the soldiers that we had run out of bullets and were leaving.' The women alerted the fighters as the soldiers reached the booby-trapped area. 'When the senior officers realized what had happened, they shouted through megaphones that they wanted an immediate cease-fire. We let them approach to retrieve the men and then opened fire. Some of the soldiers were so shocked and frightened that they mistakenly ran towards us.'"

Jamal Huweil, an Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades commander in the Jenin camp, told the London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat that "four Israeli soldiers were killed and [the Palestinians] took their automatic weapons. The youths with the explosive devices also put four Israeli tanks out of commission."[12]

Raed 'Abbas, a fighter from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) in the Jenin camp, told Al-Hayat, "All the fighters were sworn to fight to the end… We have no choice but to fight, and this is the decision of all the fighters. The talk of fighters surrendering is completely untrue. If it were true, how come two Israeli soldiers were killed Monday morning? We estimate that their losses are much greater than what they are reporting. Battles between them and us are being waged at extremely short range. They have failed in all their attempts to advance, and our fighters are blowing themselves up in front of them and planting explosive devices on the roads. The situation is extremely dire. The [Israeli] air force is continuing its bombing. A few moments ago they launched several missiles, which set fire to many houses."[13]

All the Palestinians who were interviewed emphasized their intent to fight to the death, even in the last days of the battle. Sheikh Abu Al-Hija was quoted by the United Arab Emirate (UAE) daily Al-Bayan as saying, "After these days of steadfastness and unique resistance, the fighters in Jenin reiterate their motto: 'No surrender – either victory or martyrdom.' Our strength lies in our being true Mujahideen in the face of the new Nazis."[14] Unidentified Palestinian sources added, "The ammunition of the fighters in the camp has run out, and they have chosen martyrdom. They are fighting with knives and stones, and blowing themselves up in front of the soldiers of the occupation."[15] Haj 'Ali, a commander of the Islamic Jihad's Al-Quds Brigades, said that the Palestinian resistance persists in its intense fighting, and will not permit the soldiers of the occupation to take over the camp.[16]

Civilians and Fighters
Some of the Palestinian's interviewed discussed the role played by the civilian population in the fighting. However, their reports regarding whether civilians left the camp were contradictory:

Sheikh Abu Al-Hija said, "Even the youths had a significant role in the uprising. They refused to leave the camp before the incursion, and most of them are now under arrest by the occupation forces… No one was asked [by us] to stay or go; no instructions were issued to the residents by the fighters, and the choice remained in their own hands. It was necessary for some of the women to remain [in the camp] to provide services for the fighters. The behavior of the residents was honorable; they were determined to remain, to go through everything the Mujahideen are going through, and to provide them with services."

"…When some Mujahideen ran out of ammunition, they leaped onto the tanks in an attempt to grab weapons from the soldiers, who were hiding inside the tanks. As a result, some of them engaged in barehanded combat with the Zionist soldiers. Some of the youths steadfastly filled their school bags with explosive devices; some of the boys remained without food or water for four days. Although the women knew how bad the situation was, a large portion of them preferred to remain, to prepare food for the Mujahideen, to risk their lives by bringing water for them, and to raise morale – something that greatly encouraged [their] steadfastness."[17]

However, other Palestinians who were interviewed reported that most of the civilians left the refugee camps. The commander of Hamas members in the Jenin camp, Jamal 'Abd Al-Salam, said that the women, children, and elderly had left the camp, and that the fighters intended to fight to the last drop of blood.[18] Another man, Abu Muhammad, reported to Al-Jazeera from Jenin: "Every time [the IDF] tries to advance, a surprise awaits it – the blowing up of one of the buildings in the Jenin camp. Then they rush to retrieve the Israeli bodies and wounded, withdraw, and try to advance Israeli tractors that destroy houses indiscriminately on top of their owners, whether they are in the houses or not. They have sent away most of the civilians [from the refugee camp], but there is still a large number of civilians inside the camp."[19]

On this matter, Raed 'Abbas, the DFLP commander, said that the Israelis "destroyed many houses. They are trying to wreak vengeance upon the civilians. The army is evacuating the [residents of the] camp forcibly, in order to close in more and more on the fighters."[20]

In contrast, the Islamic Jihad announced that its commander in Jenin, Muhammad Tawalbeh, had prevented civilians from leaving the camp. The Islamic Jihad website announced that Tawalbeh died in his booby-trapped home when he blew it up on the Israeli soldiers inside it on April 6. The announcement went on to say that Tawalbeh "had thwarted all attempts by the occupation to evacuate the camp residents to make it easier for the Israelis to destroy [the camp] on the heads of the fighters."[2]1

The Future of the Struggle
Sheikh Abu Al-Hija insisted that it was necessary to learn from the battle in the Jenin refugee camp. "We are proud [of the battle], and hope that it will serve as a model for the rest of the cities, so that there [too] the residents will be materially and morally prepared for any confrontation. We need to learn the lessons from this battle, and I hope the few dozen fighters who managed to face down the most arrogant army in the region will serve as a lesson for the Arab armies. The Arab peoples must learn from these victories, and not remain captives in the hands of the regimes that keep their basic rights from them…"

"The camp took a hard blow – but even had the blow killed us, they would not have killed the [armed] resistance. It will not be long until the ranks fill [again], until a new generation takes the uprising into its hands and raises the flag anew. This is not the first battle, nor the last. Our people will not be still until it sees our land liberated and independent."[22]

"Abu Ahmad," an Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades leader in the Jenin refugee camp, said in a telephone conversation with the Hizbullah weekly Al-Intiqad, "The Palestinian resistance will carry out more operations like the martyrdom operation in Haifa, in order to emphasize that it still exists and that it maintains its strength and its capability in spite of the blows [it has taken]. The martyrdom operation by 'Andalib Taqatqah [in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market] is proof of the [Al-Aqsa Martyr] Brigades' capability of striking at the [Zionist] entity any time, anywhere… Martyrdom operations were invented during the time when the Zionists occupied the West Bank, and it does not matter much whether the [forces] are in the cities or outside the cities."[23]

'Ali Safouri, a commander of Islamic Jihad's Al-Quds Brigades in the Jenin camp, reported to the Islamic Jihad website in the early days of the fighting: "We have prepared unexpected surprises for the enemy. We are determined to pay him back double, and teach him a lesson he will not forget… We will attack him on the home front, in Jerusalem, in Haifa, and in Jaffa, everywhere. We welcome them, and we have prepared a special graveyard in the Jenin camp for them. We swore on the martyrs that we would place a curfew on the Zionist cities and avenge every drop of blood spilled upon our sacred land. We call on the soldiers of Sharon to refuse his orders, because entering the [Jenin] camp… the capital of the martyrs' [operations], will, Allah willing, be the last thing they do in their lives."[24]

In an interview with Al-Manar, the Hizbullah television channel, Islamic Jihad leader Dr. Ramadan Abdallah Shalah, stated as follows: "The fighters in the [Jenin] camp told us that this is a 'hit-and-not-run' battle, and that they are fighting to the last drop of blood and to the last bullet – and that is what they did. The Zionist enemy thinks he is creating a Palestinian Masada for us – that is, that we have chosen to commit suicide – but we say to him that he is mistaken. We are not creating a Palestinian Masada, but a Palestinian Karbalaa,[25] which will hasten the second Jewish Masada… until the Zionist entity ceases to exist… Today the Jenin camp was reborn, not destroyed…"[26]

[1], April 20, 2002.

[2] i.e. Jihad warriors.

[3] Al-Jazeera (Qatar), April 8, 2002.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 7, 2002.

[5] Cited in Al-Shaab (Egypt), April 19, 2002.

[6] The Palestine Center for Human Rights, Weekly Report on Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, April 11-17, 2002. Aft7r his death in the battle was reported, it was announced that his real name was Hazem Ahmad Rayhan Qabha.

[7] Al-Jazeera (Qatar), April 4, 2002.

[8], April 20, 2002.

[9], April 20, 2002.

[10] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 7, 2002.


[12] Al-Hayat (London), April 5, 2002.

[13] Al-Hayat (London), April 9, 2002.

[14] Al-Bayan (United Arab Emirates), April 10, 2002.

[15] Al-Bayan (United Arab Emirates), April 11, 2002.

[16] Al-Jazeera (Qatar), April 8, 2002.

[17], April 20, 2002.

[18] Al-Jazeera (Qatar), April 8, 2002.

[19] Al-Jazeera (Qatar), April 8, 2002.

[20] Al-Hayat (London), April 9, 2002.

[21], April 10, 2002.

[22], April 20, 2002.

[23] Al-Intiqad (Lebanon), April 19, 2002.

[24], April 3, 2002.

[25] In the battle of Karbula (680) Hussein, the leader of the Shi'itels, was canonized.

[26] Al-Manar Television (Lebanon), April 10, 2002, cited at

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