Many Palestinians have long been proudly referring to Jenin as “the factory of men and the lion’s den” because of its role in the “armed resistance” against Israel, especially since the beginning of the First Intifada in 1987.
Then, the city and its surrounding villages and towns saw the emergence of various armed groups, most of which were affiliated with the ruling Fatah faction.
The most notorious group was the Black Panther, whose members were mostly based in the town of Kabatiya and the villages of Arrabe, Kafr Rai and Silat al-Harithiya, as well as the Jenin refugee camp.
The Black Panther gunmen were responsible for a series of attacks against soldiers and settlers. Additionally, they took it upon themselves to murder Palestinians suspected of collaboration with Israel.
Hundreds of “collaborators” and their family members fled to Israel, while others were placed by the IDF in a small village called Fahma at the southern entrance to Jenin.
It took the Israeli security forces four years to wipe out the Black Panthers. Many of the group’s members were killed or arrested, including its founder, Awad Kmeil, a prominent Fatah activist from Kabatiya.
After the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, Israel released scores of Black Panther members who did not have Jewish blood on their hands. Some were recruited to the PA security forces, while others were given senior jobs in various institutions.
During the Second Intifada, which erupted in 2000, a new Fatah-affiliated group called al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades began operating in the Jenin area and other parts of the West Bank.
Dozens of Fatah activists from the Jenin refugee camp and nearby villages and towns joined the group and were involved in numerous terrorist attacks against Israel.
Unlike other places in the West Bank, the Fatah activists in the Jenin area worked closely with Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which continues to have a strong presence there, especially in the refugee camp. Hamas, on the other hand, was never known to have a strong following in the camp.
In 2002, at least 23 of the suicide bombers who attacked Israel came from the Jenin area. When the IDF raided the Jenin refugee camp in April that year as part of Operation Defensive Shield, several members of PIJ and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades were killed during fierce clashes. Twenty-three soldiers were also killed in the fighting.
Since then, the armed groups in the camp and other places in the Jenin area have managed to rebuild a vast network of terrorist infrastructure. The PA was not eager to combat the phenomenon and often chose to look the other way.
Many of the Fatah and PIJ members have since been involved in arms trafficking and the recruitment of new members.
The PA leaders did not want to be accused by Palestinians of cracking down on “the fine men of the revolution,” especially in a place like the Jenin refugee camp, which became a symbol of the Palestinian “struggle” against Israel.
The Palestinian security forces acted against the gunmen only when they dared to challenge the PA. Some of the gunmen were arrested by the PA security forces, while others were placed on the “wanted list.”
Ahmed al-Sa’di, the PIJ gunman who was killed by the IDF in the camp on Saturday, was also wanted by the PA security forces, according to members of his family.
It is worth noting that several of the gunmen who were arrested by the PA security forces were later released.
In 2008, the PA – supported by Israel and the international community – embarked on the so-called Jenin Pilot Project. The purpose of the project was to create a model for successful PA governance.
The plan envisioned a reinforcement of the PA security forces in the Jenin area. Israel, for its part, was required to support the PA security activity, as well as taking economic and civil measures to improve the living conditions of the residents of the area.
In addition, a large number of infrastructure projects were approved, including 36 quick-impact projects in cooperation with USAID and other international donors. The projects included the establishment of an industrial zone and upgrading of the sewage system and electricity infrastructure.
Israel has since allowed Arab-Israelis to enter the Jenin area (and Palestinian cities located in Area A), a decision that significantly boosted the local economy.
In 2009, the Jalama crossing connecting the Lower Galilee with Jenin was opened to vehicles in a ceremony that included former Quartet envoy Tony Blair, government ministers Silvan Shalom, Avishay Braverman and Matan Vilna’i and Jenin Governor Musa Kadura.
Over the weekend, Israel decided to ban Arab-Israelis from entering the Jenin area in response to the recent wave of terrorism.
But while matters in the Jenin area seemed to be moving in the right direction, the armed groups continued to grow and seized the opportunity to amass weapons.
Over the past two years, Palestinians have again been complaining about scenes of anarchy and lawlessness in the Jenin area. Some blamed the PA for failing to enforce law and order and rein in the gunmen, while others held Israel and the bad economic situation responsible.
The main argument in Jenin is that many of the young and disgruntled gunmen did not enjoy the fruits of the economic prosperity that began in 2008. That’s why many of them turned to criminal activities, such as car theft, extortion and arms dealing.
Meanwhile, there’s no overstating the impact of the ongoing incitement against Israel on these men. Although most of the incitement is taking place on social-media platforms, it is also coming straight from the horse’s mouth: Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, the Gaza Strip, Qatar and Lebanon.
These leaders continue to hold Israel solely responsible for the latest escalation.
“The absence of a political horizon and the escalation on the field, whether through settlements, settler violence and storming into the courtyards of al-Aqsa Mosque, push matters to the square of escalation, especially in the absence of hope and the loss of security and safety,” said Hussein al-Sheikh, a member of the PLO Executive Committee and one of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s closest advisers.