June 25, 2004.
JENIN, West Bank – The Israeli army reports a sharp drop in fatalities from
Palestinian terror attacks in the first half of this year, giving much of the credit
to the partially completed West Bank security barrier.
Palestinians, who are reluctant to find any good in the barrier, also are
benefiting from a reduction in Israeli military operations into their neighborhoods
and have begun to rebuild damaged streets and buildings.
Israeli fatalities since Jan. 1 are down by 33 percent compared with the first
half of 2003 and by more than 80 percent compared with the first half of 2002,
according to Israeli security officials.
The northern section of the West Bank barrier – a matrix of fences, trenches
and concrete wall – was completed a little less than a year ago.
Although Palestinians see the barrier’s deviation from the West Bank border as
a de facto land grab, the fence has made it infinitely more difficult for suicide
bombers to reach Israeli cities just a few minutes away by car.
The last major suicide bombing involving civilians was in mid-March, and it has
been almost seven weeks since an Israeli civilian died in a Palestinian attack.
After the start of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000, residents in the
rural hills of northern Israel’s Gilboa region grew accustomed to living on
Just a few miles away is Jenin, a stronghold of Palestinian terrorists who
exploited the foothills along the open border to avoid military blockades and
carry out suicide bombings in nearby cities such as Afula and Netanya.
Haunted by the specter of militants who passed within a few feet of their
homes, the communities canceled cultural events and kept their children
In the past year, however, all that has become a distant memory.
“We would have 600 security incidents in a year. Since the fence has been
completed, there have been zero,” said Danny Atar, chairman of the Gilboa
Regional Council. “A routine has returned to the region. There’s a feeling that
we’ve returned to life.”
About three months have passed since the last bombing inside Israel, marking
one of the longest periods between attacks since the uprising began.
Although not a week goes by without the Israeli military announcing the foiling
of a bombing attempt – on Tuesday, Israeli security officials said they picked up
a terrorist mastermind on the Gaza Strip border – the volume of attacks has
thinned, according to analysts.
Israel’s policy of targeted assassinations and the military’s frequent incursions
into Palestinian cities also have turned the tables, but the barrier is getting
much of the credit.
“The fence is complicating their efforts. Afula was a piece of cake until the
fence was erected,” said Uzi Arad, a counterterrorism expert at the Herzliya
“This does not mean that they’ve decided to stop. They’re continuing,
but their effectiveness has been somewhat reduced relative to the high levels.”
Terrorists used the hills for cover to move from Jenin to attack Haifa. In a little
more than a year, about 10 bombings were carried out in the nearby city of
Afula and the Gilboa region.
The relentless Israeli army actions left Jenin in a shambles, with lampposts
tilting at treacherous angles and building rubble littering the streets. But in
recent months, the curfews have been lifted, and military action has been
limited to occasional nighttime incursions.
That, in turn, has allowed Jenin residents to come out into the streets and even
to linger in cafes late at night in areas previously occupied by the army. Enough
optimism has been stirred that the municipality has started to repair the roads
and plant young trees along the boulevard leading into the city.
Taking a break from mixing cement for a refurbished curbside, Samer Hassan
credited the barrier with creating “partial” stability.
“The situation is better than before. In the days, it’s absolutely normal.
Only at night are the people worried that the special forces will come for an
assassination,” Mr. Hassan said.
Asked about his roadside work, he said municipal leaders were “trying to create
a positive atmosphere for the people. When they see plants and trees, they will
be more optimistic.”
Other Palestinians working with Mr. Hassan said resistance in the city has been
virtually ended by the Israeli army. There was little remorse, though.
Jenin residents seem desperate to move on with their lives. For the first time in
years, the craving for a shred of normalcy seems to be replacing the thirst for
“People are reassessing their situation. I am 24 and not married. I have a
monthly salary of [$166]. What can I do with that?” asked Mr. Hassan, who
has had a brother killed by the Israelis.
“I’m always thinking of my marriage and my daily life, but revenge is
always in the back of my mind.”
At the regional council offices in the Gilboa, Mr. Atar shied away from the word
“victory” when asked about the effectiveness of the security barrier.
The council chairman already is looking to the next stage of the fence. If
a permanent sense of security does take hold, a large part will depend on
improving the standard of living in the West Bank and that means keeping the
border as open as possible, Mr. Atar explained.
With that in mind, the council has pushed for construction of a border-crossing
complex north of Jenin that will function in the same way that the Erez
checkpoint controls traffic into the northern Gaza Strip.
The new crossing is expected to process 1,000 to 2,000 Palestinian
workers an hour as they travel to jobs in Israel and in a closed industrial zone –
far higher numbers than at Erez.
“The meaning is that people shouldn’t find themselves waiting for hours feeling
like they’re being humiliated,” Mr. Atar said.
“The fence needs to breathe. We can’t disengage. There’s no such thing
as good neighbors when one is full and the other is hungry.”