In February 1988, several weeks into the first intifada, hundreds of Palestinians dragged Mohamed Ayyad out of his home in the town of Kabatiya, bludgeoned him to death with rocks and knives, and hung his body atop an electricity pole.
Hours later, IDF soldiers raided the town, removed the body and arrested dozens of Palestinians on suspicion of participating in the lynching.
Since then Kabatiya, at the southern entrance to Jenin and home to some 35,000 Palestinians, has caused many sleepless nights for Israeli security personnel.
Earlier this month, the IDF returned to Kabatiya – this time following the stabbing and shooting attack carried out by three Palestinians outside Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, in which Border Police officer Hadar Cohen, 19, was killed.
Ayyad was the first “collaborator” killed in that intifada, murdered on suspicion of working for the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) since 1968. His lynching, which shocked Palestinians and Israelis alike, triggered a wave of killings that claimed the lives of nearly 1,300 “collaborators” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The extrajudicial execution of Ayyad, who was described as one of Israel’s “most dangerous spies” in the West Bank, was followed by the creation in Kabatiya of the notorious Black Panthers, an armed group affiliated with Fatah that specialized in targeting both Palestinian “collaborators” and IDF soldiers.
Its founder, Ahmed Awad Kmail, was released in 2013 as part of a US-brokered deal to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians after spending 20 years in Israeli prisons.
He had been sentenced to 16 life terms for his role in a series of armed attacks.
From 1988 to 1993, the IDF succeeded in killing or capturing most of the Black Panther gunmen who were operating in Kabatiya and nearby villages, such as Arrabe and Kafr Rai.
During the period they were being chased by the IDF, some of the commanders of the Black Panthers were interviewed by this reporter.
Then, following the elimination of the Black Panthers, Kabatiya saw the emergence of terrorist cells belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
On April 9, 1994, Raed Zakarneh, a Hamas member, became the first suicide bomber from the town to carry out an attack inside Israel. He had been recruited by Yehya Ayyash, nicknamed the “Engineer,” who was then Hamas’s main bomb-maker in the West Bank.
Zakarneh detonated a booby- trapped car in Afula, killing nine people and wounding 40 others.
According to Palestinian sources, at least 29 men from Kabatiya were killed during the first intifada, most belonging to the four large clans of the town: Kmail, Abu Al-Rub, Sabaneh and Zakarneh.
During the second intifada, which began September 2000, 12 suicide bombers from Kabatiya carried out deadly attacks inside Israel and the West Bank, claiming the lives of dozens. All of the suicide bombers had belonged to Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad have since turned Kabatiya into a base for their political and military activities at the expense of Fatah.
Following the attack that killed Cohen earlier this month, dozens of Palestinians were rounded up, as Kabatiya was declared a closed military zone for three days.
On Monday, IDF soldiers again raided the town, this time after the cousin of one of the Damascus Gate attackers was killed when he tried to stab soldiers near Nablus.
Since the current wave of attacks against Israelis began in October, 10 Palestinians from Kabatiya have been killed while carrying out stabbing and shooting attacks.
Residents of Kabatiya, who like to refer to their home as the “Town of Steadfastness and Heroism,” said this week the IDF clampdown would not deter young men from carrying out more attacks on Israelis.
“We have a long history of resisting the occupiers,” said Eyad Abu Al-Rub, a Hamas activist.
“Kabatiya will always be a fish bone stuck in Israel’s throat.”
A veteran Fatah activist in the town pointed out that Kabatiya’s history of “resistance” dates back to 1930, when a local resident named Muhammad Abdel Ghani Abu Tabikh shot and killed a senior British Mandate official.
Seven years later, another resident, Muhammad Abu Ja’ab, shot and killed British District Commissioner for the Galilee Lewis Yelland Andrews as he made his way to prayer services at the Anglican Christ Church in Nazareth.
The activists and many elderly residents of Kabatiya also boast that Yasser Arafat found shelter in their town during the 1960s.
They claim Arafat and scores of PLO fighters set up armed cells in the town and its surroundings to attack IDF troops.
“In Kabatiya, there is no difference between Fatah, Hamas or Islamic Jihad,” said a Palestinian journalist from Jenin who once lived in the town. “This is the only place where real unity and harmony exit among all Palestinian factions. There are many cases where brothers belong to the three groups.”
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