Tuesday, July 23

Palestinian Fighters in West Bank Draw Inspiration from Hamas in Gaza

The narrow alleys of West Bank refugee camps are covered with black tarps to hide Palestinian fighters from Israeli drones. Green Hamas flags and “martyrs” banners adorn buildings damaged by Israeli raids and airstrikes aimed at curbing the growing militancy fueled by the Gaza conflict.

This scene, however, does not take place in Gaza or a traditional Hamas stronghold, but in a refugee camp in Tulkarem, a city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank where the moderate Palestinian faction Fatah has long held sway.

Recently, I met Muhammad Jaber, a local commander, in one of these dusty, war-torn alleys. At 25, Jaber is one of Israel’s most wanted individuals. He and other fighters say they shifted their allegiance from Fatah to more radical groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad after Hamas’s assault on Israel on October 7.

Known by his nom de guerre, Abu Shujaa, Jaber commands the local branch of Islamic Jihad in Tulkarem and leads a coalition of militant factions, including the Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. He left Fatah because, in his view, Islamic Jihad and Hamas are actively fighting to end the occupation and establish Palestine through armed struggle.

Even before October 7, Israel faced a growing threat from militants in northern West Bank refugee camps such as Tulkarem, Jenin and Nablus. These camps, initially established for refugees from the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war, have become impoverished urban settlements and hotbeds of militants.

Israeli forces have conducted raids on these camps to seize weapons, dismantle explosives factories, and eliminate militant leaders. There has recently been a surge in weapons and explosives production in the West Bank, reportedly supported by Iranian resources.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) and its police no longer control these camps. Militants threaten to shoot officers who try to enter, according to Palestinian and Israeli officials, including Jenin Governor Kamal Abu al-Rub.

Jaber insists he is not at war with the PA, but criticizes those who “have weapons and do nothing against Israel.” He says, “The liberation of our lands is our religion. This is not my fight, but the people’s, a war for land, freedom and dignity.”