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The view from Jenin refugee camp in West Bank after Israel's withdrawal


The Israeli military has ended its assault on militants in the occupied West Bank. It was one of the largest such assaults in the last two decades. The militants were entrenched in the crowded Jenin refugee camp in the heart of the city of Jenin. Daniel, you're in a studio in Jerusalem right now, but earlier today, you visited that refugee camp. What did you see?


Scott, it was a harrowing 48 hours in Jenin. Twelve Palestinians were killed, so was one Israeli soldier, and scores of Palestinians were injured. Here is what I found this morning. My interpreter and I arrive in the center of the Jenin refugee camp.

This whole road has just been completely dug up by an Israeli bulldozer. It's - all the asphalt is completely torn up - that road and then this road too.

Israel said it destroyed over a mile and a half of roads because they were booby trapped with tripwire and hidden bombs, which are new tactics of an emboldened Palestinian militant force here. But the damage left thousands without water and electricity. We meet a man who watched this from his home.

MA'IN ZAKARNEH: Looking from the window - this window.

ESTRIN: Ma'in Zakarneh, a 39-year-old owner of a fitness gym and father of three young girls.

ZAKARNEH: (Through interpreter) We were watching from the windows because my car was there. My equipment was there, and they were bulldozering (ph) this. They were destroying this.

ESTRIN: He thinks it was the bombs planted by militants on the road that went off and broke his window when the bulldozers tore up the road.

And I'm just looking at your kitchen counter and...


ESTRIN: ...You have some protein powder...


ESTRIN: ...Next to shattered glass.

He said it was too dangerous to use the kitchen, but he crawled in once to get some corn flakes for his daughters. One other time, he stuck his hand out the living room window to grab a solar-powered light from his balcony. Remember, the electricity was cut, and it was dark at night. And he says a bullet came through the window from Israeli troops on a roof across the street. His wife and kids are actually U.S. citizens. He's keeping them away until power and water come back on. But now, after the incursion, he wants to move them all to the U.S. Outside in his yard, he shows me rubble that's buried exercise equipment he bought for his gym.

ZAKARNEH: This is dumbbell, and this is chair for dumbbell.

ESTRIN: Zakarneh is a personal trainer.

ZAKARNEH: The best personal trainer in the Middle East, I am.

ESTRIN: Really?

ZAKARNEH: Yes. Fitness first.

ESTRIN: And he teaches sports injury courses at the Arab American University in Jenin, which means he knows many young men the same age as those who are drawn to militant groups here.

ZAKARNEH: (Through interpreter) I try to persuade them to live their life, to concentrate on their studies, to be with their families and to distance themselves from militancy. However, they look at me, and I could see the laugh on their face. I become a clown.

ESTRIN: Young people we meet here say they see little other choice. They can't find jobs. Israel sees them as too much of a security risk to let them enter for jobs. And they've grown up with Israeli soldiers shooting and arresting people they know.

ZAKARNEH: (Through interpreter) I want to have a normal life, but I'm sandwiched between the resistance fighters and the Israeli army.

ESTRIN: We follow men and women walking down the rubble roads to gather outside a morgue for funeral processions for the militants. Hours earlier, there were Israeli troops here, and already dozens of young Palestinian men are back on the street casually walking with their M16 rifles.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in non-English language).

ESTRIN: A young 20-year-old man in the crowd tells us the body being carried was a militant. A woman standing in the crowd says her cousin was also killed in the incursion.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: "Known for pipe bombs," she says. And every young person we meet in the crowd, when we ask what is the future here in Jenin, responds the same way, including this young masked, uniformed gunman.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Through interpreter) No future. In Jenin, there's no future.

RIFAT ALAQMAH: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: We meet one woman, Rifat Alaqmah, who's just returned to her home an hour before. We sit in the dark. Electricity is still cut. The food in the fridge is spoiled. She says the military called on people to leave their homes, and so they did. An Israeli army spokesman disputes soldiers made people leave. She says men in her family were arrested and released after four hours.

ALAQMAH: (Through interpreter) I salute the resistance. However, my family has no resistance fighters. My family is a family of farmers.

ABOUD: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Her 7-year-old grandson, Aboud, can't stop talking about injured people he saw and shots he heard.

I think a lot of people around the world look at this and say, how can it be that Palestinians and Israelis are still locked in a conflict 75 years, a hundred years, and the situation only seems to be getting worse?

ALAQMAH: (Through interpreter) It's because they are an occupation. It's because they don't own one inch of land here. It's because they want everything we have.

ESTRIN: And the violence is getting stronger, and the Palestinian fighters in Jenin are getting more experienced.

ALAQMAH: (Through interpreter) I only pray that they will get stronger. I and everybody around me - we sacrifice our lives for the resistance.

DETROW: That's my co-host, Daniel Estrin, reporting from earlier today. Daniel, it sounds like people there are still stunned. Things are still raw. I guess I'm wondering why this all happened. What do the Israelis say this offensive accomplished?

ESTRIN: Israel says it's dealt a big blow to a major hub for Palestinian militants - militants who have gone out and carried out many attacks on Israelis in Israel and in the occupied West Bank this past year. So Israel, just in the last two days, has confiscated weapons, destroyed explosives factories. Israel says militants now know that they are not immune and that Israel has set a precedent. It's given itself freedom of operation to return to Jenin, which just means that we could see this happen again and again. And now in Israel, there's a far-right coalition running the country that's been calling to use even more and more military force in these areas.

So Palestinian militants may be set back today, but they do remain emboldened. And for Palestinian civilians, all of this means that the conditions that they are facing will go on. They will be living between militants and Israeli soldiers with their periodic incursions into their city and a military occupation that's lasted for more than half a century and just more hopelessness like the kind that we heard today.

DETROW: Daniel, thanks.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.