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The transformation of Jenin

Des soldats israéliens prennent position lors d'une opération dans le camp palestinien de Jénine le 3 novembre 2008
Saif Dahlah (AFP/Archives)
Once the home of suicide bombers, the Palestinian city is now the quietest spot in the West Bank

Jenin, once a stronghold of suicide bombers, is the quietest town in the West Bank these days. After four attempted terror attacks at the nearby Jalamah checkpoint on the crossing between the West Bank and Israel, city residents understood the threat to their economic prosperity and rushed to restore calm.

It's a quiet morning at the entrance to Jenin. Palestinian workers wait by the checkpoint for Israeli contractors to pick them up and take them to work. Some light up a morning hookah and smoke. An outsider wouldn't be able to tell that Israel and the Palestinian Authority are in the midst of the worst escalation of violence in a decade.

But the Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint are tense. Their weapons are at the ready, their gaze is focused on the line of cars waiting to enter Israel. In each of the four attempted attacks at the checkpoint in recent weeks, the assailants emerged from the long line of vehicles. All four were teenagers wielding knives. They were all from the Jenin district town of Qabatiya – they even all went to the same school.

But no kids have been seen on the Palestinian side of the checkpoint for the past month, deterred by the presence of plain-clothed Palestinian policemen deployed there to spot potential trouble. The guards have already stopped three women who wanted to perpetrate a stabbing attack.

Ministry of Defense Border Authority

"The Palestinian security forces are on the Palestinian side of the checkpoint and they prevent kids from coming to it, since we don't want these kids to die," says Jenin Governor Ibrahim Ramadan, referring to those killed by Israeli gunfire in the course of their attempted stabbing attacks.

In the last decade, Jenin was the focal point of the second intifada, home to the terrorists who perpetrated the largest attacks inside Israel, killing dozens. Much has changed since then, and Jenin has been the calmest town in the West Bank during this current escalation of violence.

The key is Jenin's financial growth, which is mostly due to the many Israeli Arabs who enter it every day, especially on weekends, to do their shopping. On a normal weekday, 2,500 cars will enter Jenin through the Jalamah checkpoint. On weekends the number doubles.

That economic engine supports business owners and service providers in the city, from clothing and footwear providers, through restaurants and toy stores, to dentists, who charge far less than their Israeli counterparts. Teeth implants, for instance, cost about 20% of what they would in Israel. Restaurant prices are about 40-60% lower, and all this is a 15-minute drive away from Nazareth, Israel's largest Arab city.

The main credit for this economic development goes to former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who came up with the "Jenin model" that helped the town and the district rehabilitate after the second intifada.

Jaafar Ashtiyeh (AFP)

With generous financial backing from the United States and European countries, large economic projects were launched.

Some 3,500 Israeli Arabs are enrolled at the city's American university, the only Palestinian university whose degrees are recognized in Israel. Next year, a new and advanced private hospital is set to open in cooperation with HaEmek Medical Center in the neighboring Israeli city of Afula. In addition, construction is set to start on Jenin's industrial area, which will include 30 factories and employ 25,000 people.

All of this is now threatened. After the four attempted attacks, Israel announced that the Jalamah checkpoint would be closed completely until further notice. It ended up being just one day.

"People told me that Jenin was like a wilted tree in those 24 hours," says Lt.-Col. Samir Kayouf, head of Israel's District Coordination and Liaison office in Jenin. "The city understands that it shouldn't return to those days. The price is too high, and most people don't want an escalation."

In a short brainstorming session held in the district, it was decided that another problem needed to be handled: The fact that all of the attempted terrorists came from the same place.

"People here realized that there's a problem," Massad says, "and that's why a delegation of senior government members and respected community members visited the schools in Qabatiya to speak with the students and their parents about the sensitive issue."

The authorities in Jenin may have been successful in restoring calm to the city, but it is probably not enough for Israeli Arabs, and they have yet to return.

"Ever since the first attempted attack in Jalamah, I stopped going into Jenin," admits Jaber Hamadan from Acre. "I'm a cautious man and I'm afraid to go there. I won't return to Jenin until the situation calms down.

"We love the atmosphere in Jenin. Everything is very cheap, and even the vegetables, which are watered with deep well water, have a different taste. You sit at a restaurant with the entire family for a good meal, including meat and salads, and pay NIS 100 ($26). But these bastard terrorists ruined everything."

Ibrahim Haddad, a Palestinian entrepreneur, has felt the brunt of the tensions. Haddad owns the biggest theme park in the West Bank, which includes a water park, a petting zoo and a wax museum. On weekends, thousands of people, mostly Israeli Arabs, visit, but this week, the park was completely deserted.

Elior Levy

"Jenin is a city made for calm times, not for wartime," says Haddad. "The summer season was really successful, but since the chaos began, the Israeli Arabs won't come into Jenin."

Haddad says that if the situation persists, he will have to let his 120 workers go. "In the past two months, I lost NIS 600,000 ($160,000). One child who commits an attack at the checkpoint causes grief to tens of thousands of residents here. A terror attack at the checkpoint is not an attack against Israelis, but an attack against us."

This article is published courtesy of Ynet

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