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Gunshots interspersed with the sirens of the ambulances

GENESIS / Those who last night were the new martyrs, the new heroes who could be celebrated, are now just new corpses. This city is the symbol of the defeat of the Oslo agreement.


On the ground is something that looks like a cigarette butt. There are M16 bullet casings strewn about.

Jenin is full of numberless cars between ramshackle houses, where concrete and buildings have been tried to be spruced up with paintings of sandy beaches, lakes and forest motifs, as a kind of windows. As escape routes. The streets are closed off with concrete blocks, iron bars, barbed wire and gas cylinders.

Thirty years after the Oslo agreement, it was here that the Palestinians decided to take up arms again, in the year 2022, which has been the bloodiest year since the second intifada. Why now? we ask, but the answer is simple: Why not? "Look around," says Naeem Zubeidi (27): "I found an old photo of my childhood friends, and I'm the only one still alive," he says. He does not know that he has only a few hours left to live.

He does not know that he has only a few hours left to live.

Behind him hangs a picture of Ra'ed Hazem. He was the one who opened fire on a bar on Dizengoff Street in the heart of Tel Aviv on April 8. The photo by the side of you by Juliano Mer-Khamis, an Israeli.

The Unity intifada originated in this two-room apartment in the refugee camp, where the Freedom Theater {see other article here} was also formed during the first intifada, by Arna More – a Jew. It was destroyed during the Second Intifada and later rebuilt by her son, Juliano Wed-Thurs, and of the only childhood friend still alive: Zakariya Zubeidi.

Al-Aqsa Brigade

Zubeidi was then the leader of the al-Aqsa Brigade. The most wanted. He laid down his arms to bet on The Freedom Theatre# and for a long time Jenin was a place where artists from all over the world gathered. Right up until the day Juliano Mer-Khamis was killed (but not by Israelis). This was in 2011, and little by little everything unraveled.

Zakaria Zubeidi we heard from ten years later: After studying sociology, he was once again arrested. He broke out of prison by digging a tunnel with a spoon. He wanted to return and create the Jenin Brigade. Now he is in prison again.

The leader now is his cousin, Jibril Zubeidi (36): "The situation is not due to a specific incident. The trigger is the context. The Israeli right wing became more violent, and the Palestinian Authority was increasingly in operation," he says.

the president, Mahmoud Abbas, is 87 years old in a country where the median age is 21. His term expired in 2009. The last election was held in 2006. “He is asking us to lay down our arms. But we don't even get our dead out of Israel, they lie in morgues for months, as bargaining chips. What does he expect to achieve for those who are still alive?” asks Zubeidi. “I did the best I could. I tried to study but was in and out of prison all the time. I tried to move abroad but was refused a visa. I tried to work in a car manufacturing company, but it was discontinued. Send the blue helmets and I will stop fighting. But don't tell me about the future, about possible solutions and peace processes. My problem is here and now.”

They are in their twenties, like everyone else. Thick sturdy boots, big hoodies. You will be surprised at how well behaved they are. Good manners, many highly educated. It dawns on you that the reason they are wanted is that they have a Nokia instead of an iPhone to fool the drones, that they are supposed to be jihadists. Not related to Al Qaeda, of course. They are not against Israel, but against the occupation. They are jihadists in the true sense of the word: jihad, to fight for what is right – for what you believe is right. Fighting is a moral choice, regardless of the consequences and results.

They are not against Israel, but against the occupation.

They don't care that their opponents have nuclear weapons. They pretend that they are living on borrowed time. That's why they seem so terrifying, because they are prepared for anything – even if they get nothing in return for their efforts. Most of all, they are tired of Fatah and Hamas. In the end, they only listen to their own.

In the center of Jenin

Jenin is located in the north of the West Bank, about 60 kilometers from Ramallah. A drive of three, four, five, seven hours – depending on the roadblocks. There is nothing there. Like a park, a cinema, a football stadium, a concert venue – only pictures of martyrs, as the Palestinians say: everywhere, pictures of those who were killed. If you ask what they do, where they hang out with their friends, they look at you incomprehension. They don't understand the question.

Here you don't go around with Google Maps, but Wikipedia. Here you will find the street where Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot; another street is the one where the tanks came driving into the city; in a third street you can still find remains after 2002, when the refugee camp was razed to the ground.

This is what Jenin looks like. Jenin is the symbol of the failure of the Oslo agreement: negotiations, but in the meantime one tries to be able to build a state, institutions – a normal life. “Most of the money went to Ramallah. And by the way, they have medicines in the pharmacies now, that's right – but you can't afford to buy them. There is a university, of course, but you won't get a job. Because during an occupation, no normal economy is possible," says Mayor Nidal Abu Saleh. Now there is a mayor there, but the city council has no electricity. On top of everything, the aid here was halved. Because now everything is about Ukraine.

In a sense means jenin more for the Israelis than for the Palestinians, as it is a three-hour drive from Ramallah, but only ten minutes from Jamalah, from the border. The shortest path for suicide attacks. The first was in 1994, a retaliation by Hamas for Baruch Goldstein – who had opened fire in Hebron's main mosque. Today, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the ultra-nationalist security minister [who visited the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) on January 3 this year, ed. note], the picture of Goldstein at home.

In the center of Jenin today, in broad daylight, you can suddenly see special forces rushing out of an anonymous van. They may look like craftsmen repairing a pipe or an antenna – but they are Israelis in search of wanted persons. Today, everyone here can be the enemy.

"Our method has always been cultural."

Freedom Theatre's response to the murder of Juliano Mer-Khamis was to leave the door ajar. Always open, with the light on. But there is no other NGO here. And the theater is a shadow of what it once was.

"Resistance can be expressed in several ways, and our method has always been cultural. By seeing yourself on a stage, seeing yourself from the outside, you understand who you are and whether you are who you want to be," says the theatre's manager, Mustafa Sheta. "Because if you end up replacing the occupation with Mahmoud Abbas or Sharia law, there's no point.

Consider Lebanon. Israel pulled out, and everything got worse. But no one stops and reflects. Armed resistance is legitimate, it is right, and it is our right, but the question is also: Is it reasonable? Because it's not just about us being able to keep our own country, but also about being able to keep ourselves," he says.

"Now you don't follow Hamas or Fatah, you follow Instagram and TikTok."

Adnan Naghnaghiye is the technical director of Freedom Theater and also looks after the group's historical memory. He has been involved from the beginning. He is direct and says: "We are back at the start. The second intifada was more structured. You had Hamas and Fatah. And a strategy. But now you don't follow Hamas or Fatah, you follow Instagram and TikTok. Now anyone can decide that enough is enough and take action," he says. And anyone means just that: anyone. Ra'ed Hazem, [the 28-year-old who shot two Israelis and wounded several others in a bar in Tel Aviv before being shot dead in an exchange of fire with Israeli security forces, ed note], the work here. Today, anyone, in Israel, can be the enemy.

There is no organization, and that is both a weakness and a strength. "In this way, they are difficult to stop, but easy to manipulate. Where do all the weapons come from? Who pays? And with what agenda?” Adnan asks. Sooner or later Mahmoud Abbas will give in. And the hour of reckoning will come. Hamas and Fatah are divided, also internally. With factions that mirror the international dividing lines between Iran, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. “My son is in prison. But to be honest, I prefer it," he says. “I don't want him to be killed. I don't want him to kill anyone either.”

Two activists have come to visit. They are British. They have no idea who Zakariya Zubeidi is, nor have they googled the background of The Freedom Theatre. But they cheer for armed resistance. "Of course they do, they don't notice the consequences," says one of the actors.

What future?

"There is actually nothing new happening. Israel's right-wing goes all the way back to the murder of Rabin," says Governor Akram Rajoub. "Israel is not at its best, not far from it. They have had five elections in four years. Netanyahu promised the land to the settlers, because without them – who have tripled in size since the Oslo agreement – he would not have won a majority. And he will keep his promise to keep the majority," says Rajoub.

Here the Palestinians are arrested if you have a Nokia instead of an iPhone – to fool the drones. This is how they are accused of being jihadists.

Israel is waiting for their reaction, but it is a trap, he believes: "Many Palestinians do not understand this and shoot at tanks. Which barely gets a small scratch. And if they were to get hold of RPGs, the Israelis have F35 planes.”

"There is no management," he says. And believes that there is no one who leads, but at the same time: no one who plans. Due to the strength of the military, there is no battle. "But they see our flag in the World Cup and think that the world is on our side, that we will win."

"We have seen how it went with the second intifada," he says. Yet he asks, “How can I hold them back? What alternative can I give them, what future?”

It is early evening. In the West Bank there are already five dead today.

At 2:04 a big bang lights up the darkness, and from the minarets several shout for people to arm themselves. The lights come on, one by one, and all of Jenin wakes up to an Israeli convoy of tanks advancing through the main street. Immediately, a hail of bullets comes at the tanks, which calmly continue without even increasing speed or changing course.

Everyone wakes up in the West Bank, in Gaza, and the Palestinians share tips on the Telegram messaging service: where to move, where to hide, what the goal is. Everyone turns into sentries, into messengers. Who sees who in the multitude of side streets? For an hour there is a battle. The crackle of gunfire interspersed with the sirens of ambulances. And for each wounded, for each fallen, a chorus of voices: "Allahu Akbar!"

In the morning, the somber Palestinians stand in front of the morgue. They look down at the ground as the wounded limp and hobble away, one with an injured eye, one with a bandaged head. Those who last night were the new martyrs, the new heroes who could be celebrated, are now just new corpses.

Jibril Zubeidi is shaken. One of the dead is our contact Naeem Zubeidi, his cousin. He looks at me. He says, "But then my son will come, and then my grandson."

Translated by Iril Kolle.

 See also the following pages own case at Freedom Teater – and the performance that will be staged in Oslo in March at Human.

Francesca Borri
Francesca Borri
Borri is a war correspondent and writes regularly for Ny Tid.

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