Majd Lahlouh was shot in the heart by an Israeli soldier last August. Israeli military forces raided the Jenin refugee camp where Lahlouh resided to arrest a senior member of the armed group Islamic Jihad. And the camp, a bastion of resistance to Israel frequently beset by military raids, erupted in fury.
Lahlouh was part of a group of young men who threw stones at the soldiers who invaded on that August day. The 21-year-old was killed in the early morning hours after he came home from work at a coffee shop, his relatives told me when I arrived in Jenin on Wednesday. An Amnesty International investigation into Lahlouh’s death concluded that the use of live ammunition to combat his stone throwing was “excessive” and may have been “unlawful.”
His family reveres him. A large banner with his face on it hangs on the road outside the Lahlouh house, joining the posters of hundreds of other Palestinians killed by Israel and hung throughout the refugee camp and the adjoining city. Sitting in the Lahlouh’s home as I was given tea and prayer beads, a picture of Majd went around. Ibrahim, one of the men taking me around the camp and an employee of a local social services agency, kissed the photo.
Majd Lahlouh was the first man from the camp to die while peace talks between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel began in July 2013. But he would not be the last man from the Jenin refugee camp to perish. Since July 2013, when PA and Israeli negotiating teams began to meet, 7 Palestinians from Jenin’s camp have been killed by soldiers–about 12 percent of the total of Palestinians shot dead since the talks began. The Jenin refugee camp expects more deaths to come. Alongside the hundreds of people already buried, workers at the cemetery have dug graves with no bodies in them yet.
“Every night they violate the respect of the camp,” said Jamil Sbaih, a Palestinian student and one of my guides throughout the camp who lives in a nearby village.
The 16,000-strong camp has long been hit by Israeli raids seeking to break the back of a camp that puts up fierce, often armed, resistance to the soldiers who routinely come to arrest or kill. It was the site of the most famous battle of the Second Intifada, when the Israeli military killed some 52 people (22 of them civilians) and demolished large parts of the camp, which severely damaged hundreds of homes and made 4,000 people homeless, according to a Human Rights Watch investigation. The newest part of the Jenin camp was built because of this destruction; graffiti surrounding the new camp depicts a slain fighter. As I walked through the narrow streets of the refugee camp, I was told that some of the buildings I passed by were newly built after the 2002 battle.
Since the Second Intifada, the scale of the Israeli military invasions of Jenin have changed, but the end result has not: dead Palestinians slain by Israeli soldiers looking to staunch the armed groups located in the camp. Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and the Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade all have a presence in the camp–a presence made clear by their flags waving high on Jenin’s streets.
The latest killing came on March 22, 2014, when a joint operation by the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security service) and the Israeli army targeted 22-year-old Hamza Abu al-Haija, a Hamas member. They came in the wee hours in the morning, as the army tends to. In addition to killing al-Haija, two other unarmed Palestinians–Mahmoud Abu Zina and Yazan Jabarin–were killed as they carried al-Haija’s body, according to a Haaretz report. The military claimed al-Haija was planning to carry out a terror attack within Israel.
The death of al-Haija threw into the light the camp’s other nemesis: the Palestinian Authority. The armed militant groups active in the camp charged the PA, which cooperates with Israel and has cracked down on armed resistance since the Second Intifada, with complicity in the killing.
Resentment directed towards the PA is widespread in the camp. PA security forces arrest armed militants and raid the camp to try to impose their order inside Jenin refugee camp, which has suffered in recent years from crime. When I brought up the PA to Muhammad Lahlouh, Majd’s father, he said through a translator that the authority doesn’t “do anything” but just talk to the families of slain men.
A reconciliation deal between the bitterly divided Hamas and the Fatah-led PA was announced on the afternoon I toured the camp, though it didn’t create a stir. But as the charges of PA complicity in the killing of Hamas activists show, the devil is in the details when it comes to reconciliation. It’s unlikely that the Israeli-PA cooperation to crack down on armed groups in Jenin and elsewhere will halt. The continuation of businesses as usual between the PA and Israel will torpedo any real movement towards reconciliation. And if business as usual continues, Jenin’s refugee camp will suffer for it.