On a narrow hillside road crowded with stucco apartment buildings in the Jenin refugee camp, 22-year-old “Abu Nidal” sits in an open storefront decorated with posters of fallen fighters, clutching his M16. Voices and static blare from the radio stuck to his green tactical vest. Flanked by young men just like him, he is the face of a new Palestinian armed rebellion.
The will to fight and die against unending Israeli military rule has been spreading through refugee camps and working-class neighborhoods in the occupied West Bank for almost a year. Violence escalated this summer as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plunged deeper into multiple political crises. Israeli settlers have rampaged in Palestinian villages, while Israel has expanded settlements and carried out large-scale ground and air assaults on Jenin’s refugee camp. Claiming it was necessary to rout out fighters who have launched attacks on Israelis and to destroy explosive-making sites, the Israeli military has forced thousands of civilians to flee. Israeli drone strikes killed Palestinian fighters from the sky as soldiers invaded people’s homes and bulldozers ripped up the camp’s winding streets — smashing its water and electricity infrastructures. Israeli Apache helicopters have launched missile attacks in the West Bank for the first time in nearly 20 years, while armored convoys rolling through Jenin are met with assault-rifle ambushes and have been hit by IEDs from the likes of Abu Nidal and his men.
Throughout his career, Netanyahu has used military escalation and settlement expansion to rally public support. However, fighters like Abu Nidal say that the roots of their rebellion are in the rage of a generation being forced to grow up in the shadow of Israel’s walls and segregated by its checkpoints without hope of things changing.
Netanyahu has understood the power of successful low-cost wars to unleash Israeli nationalism. He reaped the political rewards of an electorate becoming more hardline the less they saw of Palestinians, and launched four Gaza wars. When Netanyahu stoked a five-day conflict with Palestinian fighters in Gaza on May 9, the reservists showed up for duty, the weekly protests were canceled, and after months in decline, he rose in the polls. A week later, however, throngs of Israelis were back on Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street. The generation of Palestinians and Israelis who grew up under Netanyahu are coming of age amid rebellion in the occupied territories and mass protests dividing Israel. Widespread discontent at the reality forged by a leader who shaped their entire lives is spilling out into the streets, while the gulf between Palestinians and Israelis has never been wider.