Throughout most of the decade, Jenin has been synonymous with what Palestinians generally call fawda: a mix of chaos with the might of gun-toting militants trying to impose their own brand of law and order.
Today, the Palestinian Authority (PA) police and paramilitary forces, recently returned from US-sponsored training in Jordan, have fanned out around Jenin as part of a new security campaign to regain control of West Bank cities such as this one, which have been in disarray since the start of the Al Aqsa intifada nearly eight years ago.
But getting in their way, Palestinian officials charge, is an ongoing series of Israeli army raids here, in nearby Nablus, and elsewhere in the West Bank. While uniformed Palestinian police may look as if they're in control by day, when the clock strikes midnight, the Israeli army comes out to arrest and sometimes assassinate militants on its wanted list.
"The impact of such a situation is that the Israelis come in to shoot and to arrest, and this makes us lose credibility because people feel that we can't protect them," says Lt. Yaeesh Danoof, who oversees a key checkpoint leading into Jenin, as his men watch for unlicensed guns and stolen cars.
The sense people here take away, Lieutenant Danoof worries, is that even inside West Bank cities that have ostensibly been returned to Palestinian security control, everyone is still under the thumb of the Israeli army.
"The tahdiyeh should have included the West Bank," he adds, referring to a temporary cease-fire between Hamas and Israel that went into effect three weeks ago. While the deal only included Hamas-run Gaza, many Palestinians say that Israeli operations in West Bank will push the fragile truce closer to collapse.
Over the past three days, Israeli troops have made several raids on Hamas-affiliated institutions in nearby Nablus. A spokesman for the City of Nablus said Israeli forces broke into the municipality building and confiscated computers from city hall, raided six mosques, and seized five buses belonging to schools close to Hamas.
Just days after the truce was initiated on June 19, an Israeli army raid killed two Islamic Jihad operatives from Jenin, after which Islamic Jihad in Gaza launched several Qassam rockets into Israel, casting doubt on the truce's viability. On Thursday, the period of calm was again rattled. In the morning, a Palestinian was shot and killed by the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) along the Gaza border. In the afternoon, Palestinian militants launched a Qassam rocket at a kibbutz inside Israel.
586 stolen cars, 100 weapons
Col. Soliman Emran is the Palestinian commander in charge of Jenin's security overhaul. He has divided the city into five districts, and speaks frankly about those that have been the most problematic for the 550 men in the National Security Forces operating under his helm to rein in the larger Jenin area. These include southern Jenin, where the Islamic Jihad has a strong foothold, and Jenin Refugee Camp, a point of acute violence during the intifada.
"The culture of resisting the occupation became the overwhelming character of our culture, and there's a whole generation of young men that did not know our faces, because a period prevailed where the Palestinian Authority was not allowed to be in uniforms in the streets," says Colonel Emran. "So the kids who are now 18 or 20, they have only seen the Israeli army on the streets, and we have had to work hard to convince them now of our security objectives so they don't feel suspicious of us."
Two months into this campaign, he says, they have had some success in winning over local support, and he ticks off the numbers to prove it. The police have confiscated 586 stolen cars and more than 100 weapons. But what isn't working to their advantage, he says, is that the Israeli army ultimately calls the shots and has maneuverability that they don't.
"The fact that they are able to move freely in our areas, while we can't, disturbs our work. A ship guided by two captains will sink," says Emran. "After 12 p.m., I am not allowed to move unless there is coordination, but Israel is allowed to enter at any time, without letting us know." The Israel military has insisted that it maintain operational freedom throughout the West Bank.
Zakaria Zubeidy is one of the most renowned of Jenin's militia-magnates, and, at the height of the intifada, was considered among the most powerful men in the West Bank. As a leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed offshoot of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), he had also risen to the top of Israel's most-wanted list.
As part of Israeli and international efforts to strengthen Mahmoud Abbas's PA in the West Bank, following its collapse in Gaza last year, Mr. Zubeidy was one of 27 militants who got a conditional pardon, along with another 53 who got a full pardon from being in the IDF's cross hairs. The requirements: that Zubeidy and other signatories turn in their guns, cease all contacts with militant organizations, and in the case of the 27, sleep at the muqata [PA headquarters] every night to prove they are not out planning attacks on Israel.
At 31 and now something of a theater star – he's now involved in The Freedom Theater here, which presents plays on the Palestinian situation – Zubeidy is still looked up to by many young Palestinians. But he is not remotely impressed with the gains that the police here boast of having made in terms of its security crackdown, because Palestinians don't see what's in it for them.
"You cannot have two authorities controlling one people. During the day you have the Palestinian Authority and at night you have the Israeli occupation," says Zubeidy.
"Why isn't our security comprehensive?" he asks. "Why is it only allowed to operate at a certain place and time? This campaign, at the end of the day, protects Israeli interests and not Palestinian interests."