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Lion's Den


Introduction


The Lion’s Den group, in Arabic ‘Arīn al-Usūd, is a recently-formed militia which is active in Palestine’s West Bank and based in Nablus. Following rising tensions between the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and Palestinians in the West Bank throughout 2022, the Lion’s Den has galvanised and united public support. The group is unique in that it is composed of members from across the political spectrum: from Jihadist radicals a part of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) to Marxist-Leninists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). For this very same reason, however, they have become a ‘thorn’, per se, in the side of the Palestinian Authority (PA), complicating its relationship to the internal anti-occupation struggle as well as its relations with Tel Aviv. With social media, particularly Telegram and TikTok, the Lion’s Den’s growth has been exponentially faster than any other Palestinian militant group before them. As of the 1st January 2023, they have 235,000 subscribers on their Telegram channel (1).


History & Foundations


Before the Lion’s Den became its own separate entity, some former operatives of Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades began carrying out operations independently of their party. The Lion’s Den is the final form of these cells. In February 2022, three operatives from this cell Muhammad al-Dakheel, Adham Mabrouka, and Abdalhakim Shaheen, were killed by the IDF. These three original founding members (of the Lion’s Den precursor cells) introduced the group’s traditional hit-and-run attacks, which have since become a staple for the Lion’s Den. Before the Lion’s Den was officially formed, they were known as Aqmar Nablus (The Moons of Nablus), based on the activities of the Jenin Brigades further north. The founder of the group was Muhammad al-Azizi (Abu Saleh) along with some friends who were part of the same social circle within the Fatah movement (2). Wadi al-Houh, also a former member of Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs brigades, took command after Al-Azizi’s death in July 2022. Al-Azizi’s brother, Uday Azizi, (former PSF member) is the current Lion’s Den leader following his brother and Wadi al-Houh’s death in an Israeli operation in October 2022 (3).


The Lion’s Den first started to appear at its deceased leaders’ funeral procession held on July 24th in Nablus’ Old City – Muhammad al-Azizi (mentioned above) and Abboud Souboh (4) were killed in an Israeli raid on the 24th. Videos of the funeral procession through Nablus went viral on social media, announcing the official arrival of the Lion’s Den as an organised unit. Its apparent figurehead, Ibrahim al-Nabulsi (known as the ‘Lion of Nablus’), was seen at these funerals (5) until he himself was killed in August, aged 18 (6). The official Lion’s Den Telegram channel was set up after al-Nabulsi’s death, spreading its now ubiquitous logo and message.


Following the first few months of the Lion’s Den activity, another resident of Nablus’ Old City, Jameel al-Kayyal, was killed by another IDF raid in December. These incursions into Nablus are part of what some experts call the ‘military-settler siege’ (7) that the IDF and surrounding settlers have imposed on the city. IDF attacks carried out in Area A territories – alongside an increase in settler ‘price-tagging’ (8) attacks – have exacerbated this tension, motivating a younger generation of Palestinians with no experience of the previous two intifadas to pick up arms against the IDF. This has helped solidify the Lion’s Den support base.


Objectives and Ideology


Lion’s Den is a cross-factional organisation. As aforementioned, it is made up of members from the whole spectrum of Palestinian politics: from Fatah and Hamas, to PIJ and the PFLP. In fact, one of its leading members and explosive experts, Tamir Kilani, was a former PFLP member. Kilani was also assassinated in December 2022 (9). According to Younis Tirawi (an independent field reporter from Ramallah), religious undertones have increased significantly since their founding, but they are still not explicitly religious in their ideology. The Lion’s Den’s main objectives are to create an atmosphere of tension in the occupied territories, with a view to eventually trigger wider resistance to the Israeli occupation – they openly state that they do not have a political program and are apolitical (10).


Military & Political Abilities


The Lion’s Den’s military capabilities are limited to the basics required for hit-and-run attacks; small arms such as M-16 and M-4 rifles and improvised explosive devices (IED) make up the traditional equipment of an LD fighter. Operations are focused on attacking checkpoints and settlements, usually in the form of a hit-and-run attack targeting IDF soldiers (see the October 2022 Shomron attack) (11). Lion’s Den operatives are almost entirely self-funded, with most of the attacks being paid for by the operatives themselves (from weapons to their stolen vehicles).


Relations & Alliances


The Lion’s Den is not funded by or connected to any state, either by way of military or financial aid. Since they are cross-factional, they command widespread support; it has now become common to see Lion’s Den insignia at PFLP, Hamas, PIJ and Fatah marches and funerals. A key point to watch in the coming months will be how the Palestinian Authority (PA) will change its approach to the Lion’s Den - in the past, the Lion’s Den was offered the chance to be integrated into the Palestinian National Security Forces (12), but this was rejected. There appears to be a tacit approval of Lion’s Den activity, but a desire to keep it limited to its current levels in order to avoid an even more heavy-handed Israeli response (13). It also appears that the PA response has been lenient thus far, with reports of militants being released from detention with their weapons (14).

Works Cited (Chicago-style)

(1) - ‘Arīn al-Usūd Telegram, 1st January 2023.


(2) - Barghouti, M. and Patel, Y. (2022) The story of the Lions’ Den. Available at: https://mondoweiss.net/2022/11/the-story-of-the-lions-den/.


(3) - Younis Tirawi, independent researcher.


(4) - Barghouti, M. and Patel, Y. (2022) The story of the Lions’ Den. Available at: https://mondoweiss.net/2022/11/the-story-of-the-lions-den/.


(5) - Abu Shaqrah, H. (2022) [Twitter] 9 August. Available at: https://twitter.com/HShaqrah/status/1556930460458041344


(6) - Al Jazeera. (2022) Who are the Lions’ Den armed group in the occupied West Bank? Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/10/26/who-are-the-lions-den-armed-group-in-occupied-west-bank-explainer


(7) - Barghouti, M. and Patel, Y. (2022) The story of the Lions’ Den. Available at: https://mondoweiss.net/2022/11/the-story-of-the-lions-den/.


(8) - Ziv, O. (2022) Inside the military-settler siege of Nablus. Available at: https://www.972mag.com/nablus-siege-lions-den-settlers-army/


(9) - Alimi, E. Y., & Demetriou, C. (2018). Price Tag Violence and the Dwindling Prospects for Peace in Israel-Palestine. Political Insight, 9(3), 36–39. https://doi.org/10.1177/2041905818796578


(10) - Al Jarmaq Net News. (2022) [Twitter] 23 October. Available at: https://twitter.com/Aljarmaqnetnews/status/1584085270365757442


(11) - ‘Arīn al-Usūd Telegram, 20th September 2022.


(12) - Fabian, E. (2022) Soldier hurt by gunfire while securing settler march in northern West Bank. Available at:

https://www.timesofisrael.com/soldier-hurt-by-gunfire-while-securing-settler-march-in-northern-west-bank/


(13) - Tirawi, Y. (2022) FARSANG Interviews: Younis Tirawi. Available at: https://farsangjournal.substack.com/p/farsang-interviews-younis-tirawi


(14) - ibid.


(15) - Younis Tirawi, independent researcher.


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