Amid the atrocities of the Israeli state’s genocidal war on the besieged Gaza Strip, settler military violence in the West Bank has also continued unabated. In the shadow of Gaza, the darkness of night is especially difficult, we live under the occupation of a brutal military that has formed new kinds of occupations, including tracking the news of invasions of towns and, in particular, refugee camps, throughout the West Bank. With the light of day, comes the details of the destruction. Sleep has been one of many silent casualties of this war. By the first month of 2024, the level of destruction and violence in Jenin has served as a warning of what may be to come in the West Bank. On the 24th of January, in the midst of another of these ongoing invasions, an Israeli army vehicle destroyed nusib al-shuhada’ (Martyr’s Monument) on diwar al-cinema (Cinema Square) of Jenin, another rather suspicious casualty in this war. Given all of this wanton destruction, it is curious why the military continues to target symbols like the one in Cinema Square. Easy to not notice these attacks against symbols given the human toll over the last several months, this kind of targeting is actually almost common in this war. In late October of 2023, the Israeli army invaded Jenin and the refugee camp in this northern West Bank town of occupied Palestine and targeted another symbol, the famous horse of Jenin.
Well before October 2023, the refugee camp in Jenin, like other refugee camps across the occupied West Bank (including those in Jerusalem), has endured unprecedented levels of military . In the backdrop of the settler military’s attempt at the complete annihilation of a people, Jenin has, once again, become an epicenter of settler violence in the West Bank. These Israeli military invasions, where the occupying forces invade, destroy, arrest and kill then retreat, have become a common practice in the last several years. However, the force, destruction and sheer voracity of the invasions throughout the occupied West Bank have since October. and news stories depicting the destruction from the southern hills to the northern valleys of the occupied West Bank only begin to tell the story of 2023/2024. Teaching in another part of the West Bank at Birzeit University, we have tried to turn our collective attention to thinking about how we can tell the story of our survival — with all the different kinds and consequences of violence that extend over the whole of the geography of Palestine. In the midst of this practice, I found myself thinking about the simple story of the horse of Jenin.
On October 29th, the Israeli army attacked Jenin, its refugee camp, and her horse. Along with targeting people and infrastructure, the settler military also focused its weapons of destruction on the famous sixteen-foot tall structure, al-Hisan of Jenin (). The horse, erected at the entrance of the camp, is made of remnants of destruction re-created in an act of survival to both commemorate the that ensued during the invasion of the camp in 2002, during al-Aqsa Intifada, and to celebrate life anew. Thomas Kilpper, a German artist, working with children from the camp, designed and constructed the horse in 2003 as a public monument, using the destroyed infrastructure of the camp as the body and basis of the design. The active participation of the people of the camp, in particular children with artistic visions and dreams, remains the seed of the extraordinary of al-hisan. He was at birth, from and of the camp, and has remained so since.
Al-hisan has, over the past two decades, not only become a part of the landscape, but also a means to mark the land. Nevertheless, the horse is but a symbol, and one of recent history, a symbol of a battle that did not actually end and a symbol that incorporates an unbounded sense of time in our lives. Perhaps the horse is too young to mark the kind of historical danger that distinguishes Palestinian time from settler time? Or maybe the relative youth of the symbolic horse does not actually get to the point? As explains, “settler colonial time methodically moves the signposts, the territory, the subject of ‘crisis,’ forward. The more temporally bounded a ‘crisis’ is, the more consolidated and ‘natural’ settler colonial power, and its ‘facts on the ground’ can begin to appear.” The horse, then, perhaps defies settler temporality and its imposition of a timeline, violently marking before and after on our landscapes. Using parts of broken things destroyed by the settler army, the horse prominently features the metal piece of a destroyed ambulance reading “Red Crescent Society.” This scrap of metal evokes the present targeting of medical personnel across Palestine—the ambulances , through the use of force, from transporting the injured during another raid of Jenin, in December of 2023. Perhaps in the service of the re/constitution of memory is a means of reading against the hegemonic power of settler temporality? Unlike other that occupied towns, villages, and camps, this horse was/is a symbol of the very kind of ongoing violence that has not ended for it to be in need of remembering or memorials. In their attack on Jenin, the settler army not only targeted the horse, but they also “arrested” him — dragging him away, perhaps trying to prevent another transformation of broken things.
Why does the horse matter? Why did he matter to the settler military? More importantly, why does he matter as a commentary on Palestinian futures? The violence and destruction employed by the settler military against Jenin over the past few months is a reflection of the relentless genocidal war on Gaza. Given this unyielding violence that has targeted everyone and everything in Gaza, including cultural sites, mosques, and universities, it should not come as a surprise that the Israeli military also targeted this weighted symbol of life and survival in Jenin.
In this one act, buried among countless acts of settler violence, the settler state tried to destroy a “symbol of destruction” because he is also a “symbol of survival,” and then hauled him away into an unknown future. This act revealed more than was perhaps intended. First, it revealed how insidious and vicious settler violence was and remains, for the wrath and extent of the genocidal violence of the past several months is historical, but also unprecedented, and seems to have no end. More importantly, it revealed, in the simple story of a horse made of broken things, that destruction is never the end of the story in Palestine.