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‘Tomorrow’s martyrs’: Inside a Palestinian militant cell in the West Bank

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'Tomorrow's martyrs': Inside a Palestinian militant cell in the West Bank

Published: 11 August 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

"When you kill a friend, a fighter is born," says Zoufi, leader of an al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade branch in Balata Refugee Camp, West Bank.

The man in the black Adidas tracksuit sat in the crowded barbershop and took yet another phone call.

He had been awake for more than 24 hours and his eyes were red as his teenage attendant held a mobile phone to his ear, allowing him to lean forward wearily, hands crossed in his lap.

The man, known by his childhood nickname of Zoufi, listened for a moment, murmured a few words and turned to two other black-clad men in the shop.

Zoufi is the commander of the camp's branch of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is listed as a terrorist group by Israel and the US. He founded the armed militant cell just over a year ago as Israeli military raids spiked across the West Bank.

The Washington Post spent time with him and some of his 15 fighters, as well as with militants in two other Palestinian refugee camps — Jenin and Askar — over three days in July. The visits, agreed to on the condition that full names and specific locations be withheld, afforded a rare window into the lives and actions of fighters on one side of the worst violence to grip the West Bank in decades.

The toll is grim and growing. More than 150 Palestinians have been killed since January, most in Israeli military raids; at least 22 Israelis have died in shootings, stabbings, car ramming and other attacks by Palestinians. Last month, Israel sent hundreds of soldiers, backed by air cover, into Jenin's refugee camp, a show of force not seen in the West Bank in 20 years.

As the mayhem has spread, though, hundreds of Palestinians like Zoufi have jumped into the fight. Many say they were compelled to take up arms because the Palestinian Authority has stayed on the sidelines


'Tomorrow's martyrs': Inside a Palestinian militant cell in the West Bank (Washington Post)

Photo: Palestinian children  wear T-shirts bearing the image of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah  during a military parade in the Balata refugee camp  in the northern West Bank (Nasser Ishtayeh / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

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