On Thursday, January 4, the Israeli army withdrew from the Nour Shams refugee camp after a 38-hour invasion. The withdrawal followed a military operation that has been described by residents as the largest that Tulkarem has seen since the Second Intifada.
Located in the eastern part of Tulkarem in the northern West Bank, nour shamstranslates as “the light of the sun.” Perhaps the camp gets this name because the sunrise makes its first appearance in the camp’s alleyways before it floods the rest of the world.
Nour Shams is also home to the Tulkarem Brigade, an umbrella organization composed of resistance fighters with differing political affiliations, including the armed wings of Fatah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Unlike the eponymous “men in the sun” from Ghassan Kanafani’s classic novel who died without resistance, the Palestinian fighters in Nour Shams refugee camp are taking action in search of freedom.
During the two-day operation, Israeli forces injured 17 Palestinians through gunfire and physical assault. The army also shelled two homes in the camp, destroyed streets and infrastructure, and engaged in the confiscation and sabotage of residents’ properties, including homes and public and private facilities. In a statement, the Israeli army characterized it as a broad operation involving arrests, field interrogations, the destruction of the military capabilities of the Palestinian resistance, and the confiscation of weapons.
Much like its conduct during a three-day invasion of the Jenin refugee camp last month, Israeli forces obstructed the work of ambulance vehicles, and attacked and shot at journalists, preventing them from covering the raid. Israeli soldiers raided people’s homes and converted some of them into military barracks and observation points. They also punched holes in the walls of their homes, reminiscent of the Israeli army’s military strategy in Jenin refugee camp in Operation Defensive Shieldin 2002.
The Palestinian Prisoners’ and Ex-Prisoners’ Affairs Authority and the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society reported that Israeli forces detained and conducted field investigations with 500 Palestinians, including children and women. Approximately 150 of them were transferred to one of its camps, and 20 Palestinians were arrested by the end of it.
One of the released detainees, who preferred not to disclose his name, provided an account of the events.
“What happened was a massive invasion of the camp,” he told Mondoweiss. “They demolished homes, displaced families, and destroyed properties as part of a collective punishment policy…this is a policy of humiliation.”
“Inside the homes, women are detained as a form of psychological torture,” he continued. “And afterward, men and young people are transported by military vehicles to areas such as factories or open spaces, deceiving us into believing they are taking us to a distant location.”
The nature of the interrogations mostly consisted of routine questions and attempts by the interrogators to incite camp residents against the resistance fighters, he told Mondoweiss.
“They want us to revolt against the resistance and the youth involved in resistance efforts, and try to make us say anything against them,” the released detainee explained. “They repeatedly said that the destruction and the current situation are their fault, and that we should stand against the resistance.”
After their release, they were gathered in a mosque and prevented from returning to their homes.
“We knew nothing about our families,” he continued. “We couldn’t communicate with them because they took the phones of the women and girls [in their families]. They had been confined to their homes for two days, and we didn’t know anything about them, isolated from the world.”
The Israeli army had previously raided Nour Shams on December 31, four days before this latest incursion. I was in the camp and saw the moments immediately following the army’s withdrawal. As is customary at the end of each Israeli incursion, dozens of camp residents come out to assess the invasion’s aftermath, which typically involves the destruction of homes and streets.
Resistance fighters emerged from the alleyways, dressed in dirty clothes, visibly weary-eyed despite the black masks covering their faces, still sporting their weapons and remaining on alert.
The fighters surveyed the destruction of the camp and started combing nearby shops and homes, anticipating the presence of Israeli forces remaining behind for a potential ambush, especially in abandoned areas — one fighter said that the army had done so previously in Jenin refugee camp.
“After a 12-hour invasion and the entrance of a large military force, they couldn’t do anything but vent their anger on a few homes, rocks, and trees,” a 19-year-old resistance fighter, reflecting on the situation, told me. “When they are unable, they resort to airstrikes, but we have become more aware of how to avoid them.”
Tulkarem has become a battleground in recent months as the Israeli army has taken advantage of the war in Gaza to try to eradicate the armed resistance in the West Bank. The brunt of Israel’s recent West Bank offensive has been borne by the Jenin refugee camp, especially during its three-day raid last month, turning the camp into “little Gaza.” In those raids, the army was aiming to assassinate or arrest the resistance fighters in the Jenin Brigade, one of the most prominent armed groups that also functions as an umbrella organization encompassing fighters with differing factional allegiances.
Now, the Israeli army has turned its attention to Tulkarem, specifically Nour Shams refugee camp. The main target of its renewed campaign is the Tulkarem Brigade.
What sets apart the Tulkarem Brigade, according to Nour Shams residents, is what they call its “ferocity.” Resistance fighters from the group have engaged in what many consider the most intense armed confrontations in the West Bank, involving the exchange of live ammunition and the targeting of Israeli military vehicles with locally made explosives.
The Brigade frequently posts videos on its Telegram channel, highlighting the losses incurred by the Israeli army during its raids. What caught my attention during the most recent raid was that the Brigade continued to update the channel and report on the group’s operations against Israeli soldiers throughout the 36-hour raid. After the military operation concluded, the Brigade issued a statement addressed to the camp’s residents:
“Your soldiers, the Brigade’s troops, have been a thorn in the side of the Israeli army by preparing ambushes, explosive devices, and remotely detonating booby-trapped cars, resulting in casualties among their forces in several axes. We say to the enemy, who conceals what happened in the camp’s axes: your defeat and humiliation will be revealed on the camp’s soil, and tomorrow will witness a close reckoning.”
These military invasions of Nour Shams have become routine ever since October 7.
“Every day, there is an incursion,” the young resistance fighter told Mondoweiss. “However, this will not affect us or weaken our resolve. Since our childhood, we have been living under occupation, not seeing our country.”
The majority of the resistance fighters are in their late teens and twenties, meaning most of them were born during or shortly after the Second Intifada. None of them have a memory of living in a landscape not marred by checkpoints and Israeli military presence.
“Living in the camp feels like being in a prison. Before joining the resistance, I lived like any other young person — working, returning home, and spending time with friends,” the resistance fighter continued. “But what changed me and made me think about resistance was when I went outside Tulkarem. There are many checkpoints, and at the checkpoint, there is searching, humiliation, beating, and verbal abuse. The occupation forced us into this path. When we carry our weapons, we feel victorious and stop feeling humiliated. Instead, we feel pride. Every time they enter the camp, we make them leave humiliated, and that’s when we feel dignity.”
When I asked him about his dreams for the future, his answer reflected the reality imposed on him by the occupation.
“My dream is victory or following in the footsteps of my friends,” he said. “Four of my friends were martyred recently. One of my friends was killed right in front of me, and he wasn’t even a fighter — he was a civilian. God willing, we will avenge our martyrs. Their blood is not cheap.”
Another resistance member I met spoke solemnly of the fighters’ commitment to resisting even though they knew that they would die.
“The occupation will not affect us with its repeated invasions, and it will not weaken the resistance,” the fighter said with clarity. “This is a pressure tactic; the occupation itself is under pressure, and, of course, they will [keep invading] and more. They will repeat it, once, twice, and ten times, but it will not affect us.”
“We resist because this is our land, our dignity, and our honor — and for our people in Gaza, the West Bank, and the ’48 lands,” he continued. “It is imposed on us to resist…I expect that I will be martyred — today, tonight, tomorrow, at any moment. But the resistance will continue. One resistance fighter will be succeeded by another. Resistance will not end as one generation passes it to the next, and we will pass it to the generation after us.”
He was standing with his companion on the remains of an Israeli military bulldozer in the courtyard of the Nour Shams camp. The bulldozer is a testament to the fighters’ newest innovations in defending their home against the perpetually invading military force, employing IEDs to ambush Israeli soldiers and vehicles, insisting on exacting a heavy price for each Israeli onslaught.
We stand in the middle of an alleyway in the Al-Manshiyah neighborhood in Nour Shams, commonly dubbed by camp residents as the Israeli army’s “alley of horror.” The sky is concealed by plastic tarpaulin set up by the resistance fighters to prevent Israeli reconnaissance aircraft from observing, monitoring, and targeting them.
I met a 19-year-old resistance fighter following the December 31 invasion. His brother was a fighter who was killed by an Israeli airstrike during an armed confrontation.
He informs me that he left university, where he was studying dental technology, to join the resistance. He described his joy upon acquiring a weapon for resisting the occupation, likening it to the feeling of a father holding his first child.
He tells me about his martyred brother. “My relationship with my brother was more than just brotherhood,” he said. “He was my friend. He was a friend to my father, my mother, everyone. His death is what made me go down this path. It was his will — he was the one who urged me to continue the resistance.”
“I was with my brother when he was killed,” he explained. “A few others and I transported him. Initially, he had a pulse and was breathing lightly, but he was not conscious, unlike his friend, who was talking to us. But they both died afterward.”
Like all his fellow resistance fighters, he told me he dreams of liberating his homeland, that this gives him the drive to move forward.
“I am a refugee, and my dream is to return to the homeland from which we were displaced,” he elaborated. “My dream, like the dream of every free and honorable person, is to liberate Palestine from occupation. I wish I could live for just one day without occupation.”
After speaking to him, I visited his family home and met his father, who, decades ago, was also a resistance fighter in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the military wing of Fatah. He had been imprisoned for several years in Israeli jails.
“I was a resistance fighter in the First and Second Intifadas, and today my son is a resistance fighter,” he told me. “And my [other] son is a martyr and a resistance fighter as well. My children grew up to continue our mission.”
“In Palestine, we inherit resistance and the rifle, from one generation to the next,” he continued. “It’s become an instinct for those living under occupation. Resistance is present in our hearts and in our consciousness. This is what I taught my children.”
“I consider all these young people as my sons,” he added, referring to the fighters in the camp. “I worry about them, and when the Israeli soldiers withdraw from the camp, I hurry out to check in on them and make sure they’re OK.”
Suleiman Zuhairi, a local Fatah leader in the camp, tells Mondoweiss that 27 people have been martyred in Nour Shams in the past two months, most of them children. A significant number of them were killed due to the army delaying ambulances and preventing them from reaching the hospital.
“During raids, residents can’t reach the UNRWA clinics inside the camp because they are closed,” Zuhairi explains. “Ambulances are held and prevented from approaching the camp. Most of those who were killed recently died because…they bled to death, and their injuries were not severe.”
Zuhairi adds that the destruction of the camp by the Israeli army’s bulldozers and occasional airstrikes has caused the unearthing of its infrastructure.
“Some areas have been dug up several times and destroyed multiple times,” Zuhairi says. “The water, the electricity, the sewage networks, all of them were dug up and destroyed, and even mosques have been attacked.”
The destruction of homes is also significant, as the Israeli army punched holes in walls, broke down doors, and destroyed windows. “We now have more than 100 houses without windows or doors,” Zuhairi said.
As I walked the camp’s streets in the raid’s aftermath, I watched as people returned to their homes, exchanging greetings and expressing joy that they were safe. Whenever they passed by a destroyed house or shop, they would reassure the owner, saying, “It doesn’t matter, money can be compensated, what matters is that you and your family are safe.”
The unfolding scene brought me back to the Jenin refugee camp — the same scene, the same aftermath, repeating itself again and again.
Shatha Hanaysha is a Palestinian journalist based in Jenin in the occupied West Bank.