Isolated Jenin opens to some cross-barrier traffic
Once a militant bastion, the West Bank city is now open to visits from Israeli Arabs. The move could help bolster the peace process and provide a much-needed economic boost.
Jenin, West Bank
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But now, with militant gangs subdued and local police units fighting crime, for the first time in years Israeli Arabs like Iyad and Munah Sbeihad are being allowed to make day trips to Jenin to shop and visit relatives after years of separation.
Prodded by the United States, the Israeli army and a reinforced Palestinian security force have tightened their security cooperation, attracting a stream of foreign dignitaries who are directing millions of dollars of aid to stoke renewed economic prosperity in the region.
"It's a pretty big deal," says David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute. "Jenin was the archetype during the uprising as the place that was the most dangerous. Now, ironically, it is the most quiet area. It's kind of a symbol: if you make it there you can make it anywhere."
Though they live only a mile from their cousin Shukri Sbeihad in the West Bank village of Rumeiney, Iyad and Munah never saw their relative for six years, as their villages are on opposite sides of Israel's separation barrier.
But on Thursday, as Munah browsed hair clips and dresses in the Jenin market, Shukri and Iyad caught up on each other's lives. "We hugged," says Iyad, describing the reunion over barbecued chicken at Jenin's Al Kuds restaurant. "It was a really long hug."
In addition to partially lifting a six-year ban on citizens visiting West Bank cities (Israeli Jews are still restricted), Israel has boosted permits for Palestinian day workers and businesspeople to cross into Israel to bring more money home for families.
Palestinian villages are being hooked up to water systems and electricity grids, and an industrial park is planned for the next few years.
Israeli security officials say the improvement has been made possible through a sustained effort by the Palestinian police to arrest car thieves and prevent vigilante violence and extortion. And while Palestinians say that only a full withdrawal of Israeli forces, combined with an breakthrough in peace negotiations, will promise sustainable prosperity, they acknowledge progress.
"The siege has been broken partially. It plants hope in the hearts of Palestinian people," says Qaddoura Moussa, the Palestinian Authority's governor of Jenin. "Suddenly our priorities have changed. We're getting back to serving the people."