A Palestinian militant named Mohammad Abu Dhraa strode boldly through this city’s roughest refugee camp last week with an assault rifle on his shoulder, an entourage of young men following in his path.
The day before, Abu Dhraa had taken part in an hours-long gun battle with Israeli soldiers who raided Nablus’s city center, one of the deadliest confrontations here in years.
Fighters like Abu Dhraa are not tied to a party or a political ideology. But they have easy access to guns and are committed to the fight. In their youth and independence, they represent a new kind of threat — not only to Israel but to an ever-weaker Palestinian Authority, run by unelected men in their 70s and 80s.
In earlier generations, Palestinian political factions ran the brigades during street fighting against Israel. Now, cells of teenagers and young men in their early 20s from the neighborhood are calling the shots.
“The names aren’t important,” said Abu Dhraa, speaking of the various brigades who fought with him during the Feb. 22 raid in Nablus. “We are resisting the Israeli occupation. It’s not important a person’s faction. What’s important is they are a soldier on the ground.”
Israeli soldiers and settlers have killed more than 60 Palestinians so far in 2023, the highest rate in years; Palestinian attacks have killed at least 14 Israelis, seven of them in a shooting outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem in January.
It has been nearly 20 years since the last Palestinian intifada, or uprising. And while the dynamics have changed, observers say, the fundamentals are the same — occupation, despair and relentless violence.
Across the West Bank, “the widespread public frustration and desperation is there” for another Palestinian uprising, said Tahani Mustafa, an expert with the International Crisis Group. “I think it’s going to be a lot bloodier, far more diffused, far more fragmented.”