International Journal of Middle East Studies



Laleh Khalili c1

I begin with a pair of narratives:

[Jenin] itself showed signs of the Government's wrath. It was in a shocking state, having the appearance of a front-line town in a modern war. Huge gaps were visible between the blocks of buildings and houses, while piles of rubble lay across the streets. . . . Many men had been arrested and detained, while many buildings, including shops and offices, had been demolished as a punitive measure by the military.

On the fourth day, they managed to enter [the Jenin camp] because . . . this giant tank could simply run over booby traps, especially since they were very primitive booby traps. Once the army took over our street, they started shooting missiles from the air. On the fifth day they started shelling homes. A large number of people were killed or wounded. My neighbour's home was blown up by missiles . . . Close to us was a group of [detained] young men. They were handcuffed, naked, and lying on their stomachs . . . They would take each one of us and force us onto the ground, stomping on our backs and heads. One soldier would put his machine gun right on your head, and the other would tie you up.

The first narrative dates from 1939, when the British finally suppressed the Arab Revolt; the second is from the Israeli counterinsurgency against Palestinians during the second intifada in 2002. What is striking about the two narratives is not only the similarity of “control” measures and the targeting of politically mobilized towns and villages across time but also the persistence of these techniques across different administrative/colonial systems. Further, these practices—house demolitions, detention of all men of a certain age, and the targeting of civilian spaces and populations—are familiar from other counterinsurgency contexts, whether British and French colonial wars in the 20th century or the 21st-century wars of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.


c1 Laleh Khalili is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, London, U.K.; e-mail: