Jenin violence rages two months after death of Al Jazeera journalist | Palestinian territories

It is early morning in Jenin, in the northern occupied West Bank, but the summer sun is already scorching hot. Shopkeeper Salih Farah prepares for the day, sweeping up spent bullet casings that litter the entrance to the slum-like refugee camp on the western outskirts of the city.

The previous night, a fighter belonging to the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad was arrested during an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) raid on the camp; one person was killed during the operation. Nearby, where Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh was killed in May, under the murals painted in her memory, there are still pools of dried blood.

“It’s the same every night now. You can’t go out at night without getting shot, but that won’t stop us from living our lives,” the 52-year-old said. “Jenin has been the center of Palestinian resistance since the second Intifada [Palestinian uprising]. The Israelis have never forgotten that… They are trying to punish us.

The veteran Al Jazeera reporter was covering the violence when she too lost her life, likely after being shot by an Israeli sniper. Abu Aqleh is one of 25 people who have been killed in the Jenin area since the beginning of the year: the IDF’s near-night raids on the camp have become one of the largest Israeli military operations outside of time of war for two decades.

The Jenin refugee camp is one of the largest of the 19 camps in the West Bank. It is also one of the poorest, with high rates of poverty and unemployment. Gunfights between Israeli forces and Palestinian militant groups in the camp’s narrow streets are common: Although Jenin is in Area A, the 18 percent of the West Bank under full Palestinian control, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has given carte blanche to the IDF to operate here during the second intifada of 2000-2005.

During the eight-day battle for Jenin in April 2002, Israel used attack helicopters and armored bulldozers to level the center of the camp, and dozens were killed on both sides in one of the most bloody uprising.

Palestinians defy the curfew imposed by Israel in April 2002 to walk through what were once their homes in the Jenin refugee camp. Photography: Jerome Delay/AP

Unable to root out Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants from the camp’s labyrinthine alleyways on its own, the Palestinian Authority has since welcomed the IDF’s help in repressing armed groups hostile to its rule.

The current IDF operation follows the worst wave of Palestinian terror attacks in years this spring, in which 19 people were killed. The majority of the attackers came from Jenin.

Abu Aqleh was waiting for an expected raid on the outskirts of the camp, with a group of Palestinian journalists – all wearing helmets and protective vests clearly marked “press” – when she was shot under the ear. Colleagues at the scene said she was hit by fire from an IDF convoy 100 meters up the road, and that no other armed forces were present when she came under fire.

Israel initially said the unit was attacked and Abu Aqleh was killed by Palestinian gunmen, but later admitted it was possible she was accidentally shot by Israeli soldiers.

“It’s very obvious what happened to Shireen. I’m just a civilian and I can tell you that,” said Fatmeh Kasoun, 45, who lives across the street from where the journalist was killed. “Shireen came to camp a lot, we all followed her work. She will be missed.

The murder of the 51-year-old correspondent became immediately – inevitably – politicized. Abu Aqleh’s family, along with the UN, EU and PA, have called for an independent investigation into his death, and the Palestinians have referred the case to the International Criminal Court.

A mural depicting Shireen Abu Aqleh painted on Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
A mural depicting Shireen Abu Aqleh painted on Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Photograph: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

The Palestinian Authority had previously rejected an Israeli offer for a joint investigation on the grounds of a lack of trust. Several media inquiriesas well as the official Palestinian investigation, found that the star journalist had been deliberately targeted by Israeli forces.

But last week the AP said it had agreed to hand over the bullet that killed Abu Aqleh for forensic testing at the US embassy in Jerusalem, on the condition that there was no Israeli involvement. . Following the Palestinian announcement, Israeli army spokesman Brigadier General Ran Kochav told Israeli media that the tests would be carried out by Israeli investigators in the presence of American observers.

A day later, Washington issued a statement stating that a “detailed forensic and ballistic analysis” had determined that the bullet was too badly damaged to reach a definitive conclusion on its origin, but that “shots fired from of IDF positions were probably responsible” for Abu Aqleh’s “unintentional attacks”. ” death.

The US findings were met with anger and dismay by many Palestinians, who largely saw it as an attempt to defuse tensions between Israel and the PA ahead of Joe Biden’s visit to the region on Wednesday.

“All this stuff about focusing on the investigation, the bullet, the gun… It’s useless,” said Abu Khalid, a Jenin camp resident who lives on the street where the Palestinian militants were holding. a position the morning Abu Aqleh was killed. The journalist was shot at the corner of the street, about 150 meters away.

” It is an insult. A confection. But if America says it’s the truth, then it’s the truth,” he added sarcastically.

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Abu Aqleh’s family, who were not given advance notice of the US-supervised investigation, dismissed the State Department’s findings as “assuming good faith on behalf of a power recalcitrant and hostile occupier”, and vowed to continue to fight for justice through an independent and transparent investigation.

In the Jenin camp, residents eagerly await a brief respite during Biden’s visit; most people seem to think that Israel does not want to risk focusing on the daily brutality of the occupation again before the arrival of the American president.

There are few streetlights in the camp. As night falls, a waxing moon illuminates its winding streets; grapes and figs, not quite ripe, hang above the high bullet-riddled garden walls.

Abu Aqleh’s face looks down from posters and murals on almost every street corner, still gazing quietly at what will happen here next.

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