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October 21, 2022 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1661

Palestinian Authority Responds To Violence Wave In Two Conflicting Ways: Tries To Restrain West Bank Gunmen, While Also Encouraging Them And Inciting Terror

October 21, 2022 | By S. Schneidmann*
Palestine | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1661

With the growing wave of terror attacks in Israel in the recent weeks, and the escalating violence on the ground, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has nearly lost control over the armed groups active in the Jenin and Nablus areas, and particularly in the refugee camps. Especially conspicuous in these areas in the last few months has been the activity of armed groups comprising dozens of gunmen,  like the Lions' Den in Nablus and the Jenin Brigade in Jenin. These groups have carried out many attacks against Israelis and have effectively transformed the Jenin and Nablus refugee camps into hubs of terror against Israel. At the same time, there is also a growing phenomenon of  terror carried out by operatives in Fatah's military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, and even by members of the PA security apparatuses.[1] 

Amid these developments, the PA is taking two different approaches in dealing with its loss of control over the operatives in the field and with the involvement of its members in terror activity. One the one hand the PA, which is in charge of maintaining order in its territories and regards the escalating violence as reflecting a loss of its control on the ground, is trying to enforce order and restrain the operatives by means of its security apparatuses, and even to absorb the fighters into the security apparatuses themselves. At the same time the PA and the Fatah movement – the ruling party in the PA, headed by PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas – are aware of the growing popular support for the escalation in the West Bank, and are therefore praising the terrorists and presenting them as national heroes, and in fact inciting further terror activity. According to Nablus Governor Ibrahim Ramadan, 'Abbas "wants popular resistance" but "cannot not declare this openly" because "he is still committed to diplomatic agreements."[2]   

Reports about the PA's efforts to restrain the operatives on the ground have appeared mostly in media outside the PA, whereas the PA's and Fatah's encouragement of terror and armed struggle and are part of their open rhetoric. Fatah officials and Facebook pages, for example, have praised the recent attacks and their perpetrators, and articles in the PA press have extolled "lone wolf" attacks as a method of struggle against Israel and praised the activity of the gunmen in the refugee camps.[3]  

It should be noted that the official narrative of the Palestinian leadership blames Israel for the escalation in the recent months and describes it as part of Israel's deliberate policy of "executing" young Palestinians. This is said every time Palestinians are killed by the Israeli military, even when they are killed during, after or on their way to carry out terror attacks.[4] 


Cartoon in PA daily: The West Bank as an erupting volcano (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, PA, October 5, 2022)[5]

This report reviews the PA's dual approach to dealing with its weakening control over the operatives in the northern West Bank.

PA Efforts To Restrain The Armed Groups On The Ground

Officially, the PA holds Israel exclusively responsible for the violence, but in practice its security apparatuses seem to be making efforts to restrain the armed groups and to regulate the intensity of the flames, so as to avoid losing all control of what happens on the ground. According to the PA's news agency WAFA, on September 29, 2022  PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas held  a special meeting with district governors in the West Bank and with commanders of the security apparatuses and other PA officials, in which he emphasized the need to maintain law and order and protect the citizenry.[6] According to the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily, in this meeting 'Abbas instructed the security apparatuses to maintain law and order throughout the West Bank and to keep the events in Jenin and Nablus from developing into a third intifada, which could further weaken the PA and even cause its collapse.[7] 

The online daily Rai Al-Yawn reported that Jordan is likewise concerned about the possible outbreak of an armed intifada in the West Bank that could lead to the collapse of the PA and strengthen the influence of Hizbullah and Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on the armed groups in the West Bank, including those affiliated with Fatah. According to the report, Jordan's General Intelligence Directory is maintaining ongoing contacts with the PA's General Intelligence Service and with the Israeli security forces with the aim of preventing this scenario.[8]

Another reflection of the PA's efforts to tighten its control on the ground is an October 1 report that Fatah is establishing local councils in various parts  of the West Bank in order to enhance its presence there, and that the first council has been established in Jenin. Fatah's secretary in Jenin,  'Ata Abu Rumeileh, stressed that the movement's fighters there are part of its "army," and that their inclusion in the council will help Fatah to "realize its vision" and enhance the fighters' steadfastness in the field.[9]

Test Case: PA Efforts To Restrain "Lions' Den" Operatives In Nablus

One example of the PA's efforts to calm the situation on the ground is its attempts to deal with the Lions' Den militia in Nablus. The Lions' Den, based in the Nablus Old City, comprises mostly of young operatives from various Palestinian factions and is responsible for many recent attacks. According to a September 20 report in the London-based daily Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, Israel has told the PA that to restrain the Nablus gunmen, otherwise it will enter the city to accomplish this task. On September 20 the PA security apparatuses indeed arrested Lions' Den operative Mus'ab Shtayyeh, who is a member of Hamas' military wing, as well as another Lions' Den operative wanted by Israel, 'Amid Tabileh. This prompted gunmen to declare "civil disobedience" in the city and sparked violence and clashes between gunmen and the PA apparatuses.[10] 

One day later, it was reported that the Lions' Den and other local groups had reached an agreement with PA Interior Minister Ziad Hab Al-Reeh, Nablus Governor Ibrahim Ramadan and officials in the PA security apparatuses and in Fatah, according to which the detainees' case will be settled and they will be released soon, and the PA apparatuses will cease arresting operatives wanted by Israel. However, it was also reported that the PA did not abide by this agreement and arrested 20 more operatives mere hours after it was signed.[11] On October 4 it was reported that the PA was refusing to release Shtayyeh and Tabileh, although a PA court had  ordered their release.[12]

At the same time, the PA is reportedly trying to contain the Lions' Den in another way. According to the Shahed website, affiliated with the Palestinian opposition, the PA has invited the group members to surrender their arms and in return be incorporated in its security apparatuses, a move that will prevent their arrest by Israel. The London-based Quds Press news agency quoted Nablus Governor Ibrahim Ramadan as saying  that this suggestion was still on the table, and that "the [current] conditions are not suitable for armed resistance."[13]  The Shehab news agency, identified with Hamas, quoted Ramadan as saying that he had held a lengthy meeting with the group on this subject. He was also quoted as criticizing mothers who send their sons to die and calling them "deviant," a statement that sparked protest from Palestinians and especially from the Lions' Den itself, which demanded Ramadan's resignation.[14]  The group, for its part, announced that none of its members had surrendered their arms or joined any PA apparatus, and that it was not discussing this proposal.[15]  One week later, the group claimed it had refused a similar offer initiated by Israel. It was also reported that that the group was in fact discussing the PA proposal. [16] According to the Quds Press news agency, the PA security apparatuses continue to pressure the group members, their friends and their families and are offering them high-ranking salaried positions in the apparatuses themselves, and even payment for their weapons.[17]


Lions' Den operatives in Nablus (Qudsn.co, October 10, 2022)

PA Press And Officials, Fatah Social Media Incite Further Violence

As mentioned, although the PA is reportedly making efforts to restrain the operatives in the northern West Bank, the official rhetoric of the PA and of Fatah, the ruling movement, is different: they have been extolling these operatives' actions and encouraging further violence. This is reflected in officials' statements, in social media content and in the Palestinian press. A prominent example of this incitement is the praise lavished by Fatah and the PA on Fathi Khazem, a former officer in the PA National Security Service who has joined the gunmen in the Jenin refugee camp, and whose two sons, Ra'd and 'Abd Al-Rahman, were terrorists. The former was killed after perpetrating a shooting in Tel Aviv in April 2022, and the latter was killed on September 28, 2022 in a gunfight with Israeli security forces in the Jenin refugee camp. The PA media and Fatah social media pages describe Fathi Khazem  as "a new Palestinian icon," "an emblem of the struggle" and a model of sacrifice  who is worthy of the title "Palestine's popular president."[18] Fatah officials and social media also praise the gunmen and terrorists active in the West Bank and encourage armed struggle against Israel.

Nablus Governor: President 'Abbas Wants Popular Resistance

On October 19 Nablus Governor Ibrahim Ramadan said to the Palestinian radio station 'Alam: "President ['Abbas] is not as he seems. I may pay for saying this, [but] he is not as he seems in the media… He said that he wants resistance. The president wants resistance. He said one, two and three times that he supports popular resistance, but that he is still committed to the diplomatic agreements so he cannot say this openly."[19]

Fatah And PA Officials Honor Terrorists At Military Parades In Jenin Refugee Camp

Fatah officials also took part in welcoming the violent operations and honoring the gunmen. On October 17 PA President and Fatah Chairman Mahmoud 'Abbas spoke with Ahmad Kamil, a member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council, to convey his condolences for the death of Kamil's brother-in-law, 'Abdallah Abu Al-Tin. The latter was an operative in Fatah's military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and was killed in Jenin on October 14 in a gunfight with the Israeli military. [20]


'Abdallah Abu Al-Tin (Facebook.com/ali.ikmail.35, October 14, 2022)

Fatah also held rallies and parades in memory of Abu Al-Tin and other operatives from Jenin killed in the recent weeks.  On October 16 a large military parade was held in the Jenin refugee camp, attended by armed operatives from the various factions, including Fatah, Hamas and the PIJ. 'Ata Abu Rumeileh, Fatah's secretary in Jenin, said at the event in the presence of armed and masked operatives: "The resistance will continue its war to defend our people and our rights and will confront the occupation, which will pay the price of its crimes… This [refugee] camp will remain united, with all its might, in the face of the occupation."[21]  


Fatah's secretary in Jenin speaking at military parade in memory of gunmen (Alquds.com, October 16, 2022)

PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh: Our Blood Is A Small Price To Pay When It Comes To The Homeland

The same day, PA Prime Minister and Fatah Central Committee member Muhammad Shtayyeh and Jenin Governor Akram Al-Rajoub visited the families of terrorists from the Jenin refugee camp who were killed recently. Shtayyeh also delivered a speech in the presence of Fathi Khazem, who is wanted by Israel, and masked operatives of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, saying: "We know full well that this occupation does not want  peace. Every day this occupatyion uses Palestinian blood to fuel its election campaign. Palestinian blood is not cheap and should not be used  to fuel the occupation's election campaign. Nevertheless, olur lives become  a cheap price to pay when our homeland is at stake. We know full well that having a homeland cannot come without paying the price."[22] He added: "We say to our brothers, the families of the martyrs and the brothers present here: We will remain true to our pledge... It is the pledge to end the occupation. It is the pledge to establish an independent Palestinian state.It is the pledge of the prisoners.It is the pledge through which we will exercise the right of return, if not tomorrow then after tomorrow. The compass of the Palestinian struggle will always point in one direction only: [to] Jerusalem, the capital of our Palestinian state... From the Jenin [refugee] camp, the camp of sacrifice, we say that the blood of the martyrs was not spilled in vain and that the price paid by our prisoners in the darkness of the prisons is not in vain. This struggle is an ongoing one. Each generation has its roster of victims, and Jenin has [demonstrated] national unity on the ground."[23]

 

For a MEMRI TV Clip of some of Shtayyeh's statements, click below:

In addition, on October 12, following a series of violent clashes in the Shu'afat refugee camp and in other parts of East Jerusalem following an October 8 shooting at the  Shu'afat checkpoint, Fatah Central Committee secretary Jibril Rajoub said: "The occupation state must learn the lessons of history. It will not enjoy security and stability as long as the women and children of Palestine do not enjoy them. It must know that the Palestinian people and its leadership are united, lying in a single trench to defend Jerusalem, the holy places and [all] their cities, villages and [refugee] camps." Al-Rajoub called on the members of Fatah to "continue carrying out their honorable and pioneering role in bearing the banner of defense and steadfastness and of defying the settler gangs that sow ruin and destruction everywhere." He clarified that Fatah's Central Committee "is in constant touch with the [operatives on] the ground in order to support the steadfastness and the struggle of our people, who are defending themselves and their Jerusalem." He stressed that "the occupation government is responsible for igniting [the violence in] the area and it alone will bear the consequences of this aggression."[24]

Muhammad Al-Lahham, a member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council, told a Palestinian television station on September 28 that Fatah's military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, must avenge the death of the Palestinian martyrs, and that Fatah should resume operating inside Israel "as it did in the past." As an example he mentioned Fatah member Dallal Al-Mughrabi, who took part in the 1978 Coastal Road massacre in which 39 Israeli civilians were killed. Dallal, he said, was not the only fighter who managed to put Tel Aviv under curfew. Many other martyrs achieved this as well, in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other places inside Israel.

For a video of his statements, see the MEMRI TV Clip below:

Fatah's Facebook Page: It Is Our Military Wing That Led Most Of The Recent Operations

As mentioned, Fatah's social media also lavish praise on the gunmen and their operations against Israel. On October 12 and 13, for example, Fatah's Facebook accounts uploaded a series of posts featuring an image of 'Ata Abu Rumeileh, Fatah's leader in Jenin, and quotes from him, such as the following: "Fatah is on the battlefield, following the orders of the leadership. Fatah and its military wing led most of the operations in the recent period;"[25] "Fatah's activists in Jenin instruct the young people to continue resisting the occupation;" "Fatah's [military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs] Brigades, have been given a green light to fight on every battlefield in order to deter the occupation."[26] 


One of Fatah's Facebook posts featuring quotes from Abu Rumeileh (Facebook.com/palestfatehh1965, October 13, 2022)

An October 3 post on another Fatah-affiliated Facebook page boasted that "in a single month there have been over 200 shooting operations against the soldiers of the occupation army [in the area] under PA control," and that "most of them involved officers from the PA security apparatuses." The post featured an image of a gunman in a uniform of  the PA security apparatuses but masked like a member of Fatah's military wing:[27]


Post on Fatah's Facebook boasting " over 200 shooting operations against the soldiers of the occupation army"

Other Fatah-affiliated Facebook pages and Telegram channels uploaded posts in praise of the Lions' Den armed group. An example is the graphic below, featuring an image of Lions' Den operatives from Nablus and captioned "The Lions Den – The Terror Of The [Israeli] Entity." Below the graphic is a poem extolling "our brigades" and "our guns":[28]


Graphic posted to Fatah's Telegram channel: "The Lions Den – The Terror Of The [Israeli] Entity"

Videos posted to these pages showcased the recent shooting operations, such as the "heroic operation at the Shu'afat checkpoint," i.e., an October 8 shooting in the Shu'afat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, which an Israeli soldier, Noa Lazar, was killed. [29]


Post on Fatah's Facebook featuring footage of the October 8 shooting: "See the hero! See the heroic operation at the Shu'afat checkpoint!"

Columnist In PA Daily Encourages 'Lone Wolf' Attacks: They Are One Of Fatah's Legitimate Means Of Struggle

As stated, terrorist incitement also found expression in the Palestinian press. In the recent months there have been many "lone wolf" attacks by individual terrorists, some of them Fatah operatives and officers in the PA security apparatuses. In this context, Yahya Rabbah, a columnist for the PA mouthpiece Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, praised "the lone-wolf model" as one of the methods of struggle against Israel. In his October 3 column, he wrote, "Since Fatah's founding on January 1, 1965 – which marked the start of the modern Palestinian revolution – it has searched for models of revolutionary action against this fake state [Israel]… Back then Fatah and the modern [Palestinian] revolution based their existence on two prominent models. The first is the lone-wolf model, namely [the method of] the solitary self-sacrificing fighter who keeps his secrets to himself, because he knows Israel's character. [By means of his action] he causes Israel helplessness and failure and deprives it of the opportunity for collective revenge, as is happening now, while maintaining total secrecy… This is the [solitary] fighter, or lone wolf, whose secret is known only to himself and to those who need to know. Fatah has supplied prominent examples of [operatives who  chose] this path, such as 'the [Che] Guevara of Gaza,' Maher Al-Borno,[30] and many others, who managed to conceal their secrets [from the Israeli enemy].

Three years after its establishment Fatah launched [the second model, that of] the victory in the Battle of Karameh…[31] In that eternal campaign, Fatah violated a major principle of popular warfare, and instead of [the method of] 'hit and run' it employed the principle of 'hit and stand firm,' because you and you alone, oh Palestinian, are the other side in this equation, and you should stand firm…"[32]

The October 4, 2022 editorial of Al-Hayat Al-Jadida praised the struggle waged by the residents of the refugee camps in the West bank as part of the national struggle for an independent Palestinian state. The editorial concluded, "There will be [no] peace and stability in this part of the world until our people regains all its legitimate rights and realizes all its just goals, [including] the establishment of its free and independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Israeli occupation state must first of all understand this truth, and realize that its stability and security will not be achieved through this barbaric killing of the Palestinian youths, men, women and children…"[33]


Cartoons in the PA mouthpiece: "Queen Jenin," Jenin the torch-bearer (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, PA, September 29, October 16, 2022)

In an article titled "The Palestinian Excels at Resisting The Occupation," Rajab Abu Sariya, a columnist for the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, boasted that Israel is weak and is unable to deal with the Palestinian resistance. He concluded by stating: "The most important thing is that the [current] third intifada combines the methods of the two previous ones. It is a popular [intifada], in which all the citizens confronted the occupation army when it invaded Jenin and Nablus… [But] it is [also] armed. That is, the use of weapons is not limited to the PA soldiers and police officers, as was the case in 2000, but also includes the armed groups: those affiliated with the PIJ, as in Jenin, as well as the Lions' Den in Nablus, which is a joint group of all the factions, and individuals who wage resistance at their own initiative, like 'Uday Al-Tamimi [who carried out the shooting at the Shu'afat checkpoint]." [34]

 

*S. Schneidmann is a research fellow at MEMRI.

 

[2] Facebook.com/QudsN, October 19, 2022.

[4] See e.g., a statement by PA Presidency Spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeina. Wafa.ps, October 3, 2022.

[5] The hand emerging from the volcano is holding a spoon, which is an allusion to the six Palestinians who broke out of an Israeli prison in September 2021 by digging a tunnel using improvised tools, including spoons. One of the six was Al-Aqsa Brigades commander Zakaria Abu Zubeidi from the Jenin refugee camp. See also Special Dispatch No. 10166 - At PLO-Sponsored Summer Camps In Palestinian Authority: Glorification Of Terrorists, Palestine From River To Sea – August 29, 2022. 

[6] Wafa.ps, September 29, 2022.

[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 3, 2022.

[8] Raialyoum.com, October 2, 2022.

[9] Wafa.ps, October 1, 2022.

[10] Alaraby.co.uk, September 20, 2022, October 1, 2022; qudsn.co, September 20, 2022.

[11] Qudsn.co, alwatanvoice.com, alquds.co.uk, alaraby.co.uk, September 21, 2022; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 22, 2022; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), September 23, 2022.

[12] Alaraby.co.uk, October 4, 2022.

[13] Qudspress.com, October 5, 2022; Shahed.cc, October 1, 2022.

[14] Shehabnews.com, t.me/areennabluss, October 5, 2022.

[15] T.me/areennabluss, October 10, 2022.

[16] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 17-18, 2022.

[17] Qudspress.com, October 18, 2022.

[18] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 10245 - Palestinian Authority, Fatah Glorify Fathi Khazem, Father Of Two Terrorists Killed In Clashes With Israeli Armed Forces: He Is A 'Palestinian Icon' And An Emblem Of Sacrifice –October 4, 2022.

See also MEMRI TV Clip No. 9489,   At Fatah Rally In Jenin, Young Men And Children Brandishing Rifles Pledge: Jihad Is Our Path!, June 24, 2022; Clip No. 9489,  Father Of Palestinian Terrorist Who Murdered Three Israelis In Tel Aviv Shooting: I Am Pleased With My Son; Allah, Make Us Among The First To Strom The Al-Aqsa Mosque, April 8, 2022.

According to Rai Al-Yawm, several "Arab intelligence apparatuses" are already following the "phenomenon" of Fathi Khazem, a prominent Palestinian voice that is encouraging junior activists in Fatah and the PA security forces to "rebel" and involve themselves in armed action operations Israel. Raialyoum.com, October 2, 2022.

[19] Facebook.com/QudsN, October 19, 2022.

[20] Wafa.ps, October 17, 2022; t.me/elaqsa_1965/2456, October 14, 2022.

[22] Facebook.com/Dr.Shtayyah/videos/920013958975614, October 16, 2022.

[23] Wafa.ps, October 16, 2022.

[24] Wafa.ps, October 12, 2022.

[25] Facebook.com/palestfatehh1965, October 12, 2022.

[26] Facebook.com/palestfatehh1965, October 13, 2022.

[27] Facebook.com/palestfatehh1965, October 3, 2022.

[28]  T.me/palestfateh1965, October 12, 2022.

[29] Facebook.com/palestfatehh1965, October 9, 2022.

[30] "The Che Guevera of Gaza" is Muhammad Al-Aswad, who was not a Fatah operative, as the writer implies,  but a senior member of the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who was killed in a gunfight with Israeli security forces in 1973 (see pflp.ps, March 9, 2022). Maher Al-Borno was a member of Fatah's military wing who perpetrated numerous terrorist attacks as a lone operative. He was killed in a gunfight with Israeli security forces in 1980 (see Fateh-gaza.com, January 18, 2018).

[31] In the military heritage of Fatah and the PFLP, the March 21, 1968 Battle of Karameh between the IDF and the Jordanian armed forces, Fatah and the PFLP is regarded as a Palestinian victory.

[32] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), October 3, 2022.

[33] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), October 4, 2022.

[34] Al-Ayyam (PA), October 18, 2022.

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