Skip links

“Jenin Al Kassam” – A Hothouse of Terrorism

During the past 18 months, the Islamic Jihad has become the main initiator of suicide terrorism in Israel. The primary launching pad of the suicide bombers is the Palestinian autonomous city of Jenin—and in particular the poorer neighborhood known as the “refugee camp”. Of the 107 suicide bombers who have blown themselves up in Israel, 23 came from Jenin and its satellite towns.

It is significant that Palestinians have bestowed on Jenin the name “Jenin Al-Kassam” the suicide city, in memory of Az Adin Al-Kassam, the Islamic militant, who was killed in the village of Yaa’bed near the city in November 1935. Al-Kassam preached Jihad in Jenin against the Jews and the British – combining the gun with the Koran. After his death at the hands of British paratroopers, who had threatened to level the city of Jenin in pursuit of him and his militants, he became an image worthy of admiration and imitation by the Palestinian organizations. The military wing of Hamas was also named after him: “the Az Adin Al-Kassam Brigades.”

Jenin is located in the Samarian hills, far from the centers of Palestinian political action. This relative isolation, together with the strong religious traditions of the surrounding populace, combined to turn the city into a stronghold for Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

A tradition of radical Islam

Generations of militant Islamist have grown up in the uniquely militant atmosphere of the Jenin terrorism hothouse. Under the British Mandate, Jenin was considered a difficult resistance stronghold: the British killed 300 men there, deported and exiled many more, and destroyed hundreds of houses in an attempt to root out the militant cells. The Town’s heritage to Jenin’s youngster’s claims that in the Six-Day War, the Palestinians were in no hurry to leave the town.

Dr. Abdallah Azam, the radical Muslim ideologist and the spiritual mentor of the master-terrorist Osama bin-Laden, was raised and educated in the Jenin district. He, more than anyone else, built the ideological basis for al-Qaida’s radical anti-Jewish, anti-Western doctrine. In the Intifada of the 1980’s, Awad Kmeil, from the village of Qabatiya, who was a central Fatah activist in Jenin, founded the “Black Panther” organization – the Fatah military arm. The Black Panthers murdered scores of their fellow Palestinians on suspicion of collaborating with Israel and carried out a number of serious terror attacks in Israel.

This tradition has continued; the present military arm of Fatah, the “Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade”, which carries out terror attacks and sends suicide bombers into Israel, also had its origins in Jenin. The founders of the “Brigades included Zaid el-Amar, who was killed by the IDF in Jenin, and Abed al-Karim Awais, who was captured in Ramallah. The Islamic Jihad, too, has found fertile soil in the Jenin district, more than any other place in the West Bank. This is the organization, which carried out the recent suicide carbombing against an Israeli municipal bus at the Megiddo junction, killing 19 and maiming scores.

Israeli Arab population caught in the middle

Radical Islam is the dominant characteristic of the Jenin area. The town’s branch of extreme agitators has close ties to the Islamic movement in the nearby Israeli Arab city of Umm el-Fahm, headed by Sheikh Raa’d Salach. These are ideological and geographical, as well as based on family ties between the two cities. For Israel, these militant ties are particularly dangerous. A large part of the population of Jenin and its surroundings are refugees from the northern valleys of Israel and the Carmel region, and have family ties with Israeli Arabs in Umm el Fahm, A’ra’rah and Bartaa’h. Thus, militants can gain assistance from elements of the Israeli Arab population, who may be compelled to aide them, either by providing accommodations, food, and transportation, or even by helping with intelligence gathering, obtaining yellow Israeli license plates and Israeli documents.

The geographical location of Jenin also makes it an ideal launching pad for terror attacks in Israel. Distance in Israel and the disputed territories are quite small; the main population centers are no more than an hour’s drive from one another, and the distance from Jenin to Um al-Fahm inside Israel is only 6 kilometers. Thus, terrorist planners in Jenin can launch attacks into Haifa and its suburbs, as well as the Jordan Valley, Emek Beth Shean, Afula, the Sharon and Hadera.

A financial base of desperation

In recent years, the Palestinian Authority has ceased to exercise any real control in Jenin, allowing Hamas and the Islamic Jihad to become the de facto rulers of the city. These organizations have established an educational and economic network, based on donations received from Moslem communities worldwide. This network is instrumental in gaining support for the movement’s activities, and in recruiting adherents to it cause. Hamas and Jihad cells have also multiplied in villages to the east and north of the city. This terrorist infrastructure was greatly weakened by the Israeli army’s recent military operation in Jenin’s refugee neighborhood, however, it was not eradicated. A number of the terrorist leaders succeeded in escaping to nearby villages, returning to Jenin only after the IDF withdrew. Leaders killed or captured during the operation were soon replaced.

Since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993, the Palestinian Authority has not invested any money at all in the development of Jenin, but has instead directed most of its funds toward projects in Ramallah and Bethlehem. The economic infrastructure is nominally in the hands of UNRWA, the UN organization for refugee. However, the preservation of the plight of Jenin’s refugees also preserves the UN mechanism, so that nobody has any real interest in extricating Jenin from its financial predicament. The situation is aggravated by the fact that Jenin and its environs has never had a self-sufficient economy, nor is there any hope for such an economy in the near future. For centuries, the sparse population of the Jenin region lived by farming, however, the influx of migrant workers in the late 1800’s, and the subsequent inflow of refugees in 1948, has vastly outstripped the areas resources.

The majority of the residents of Jenin and surrounding villages have traditionally depended on employment inside Israel. Since the outbreak of hostilities at the close of the Camp David accords, terror attacks perpetrated from Jenin became an almost daily reality in Israel. The result was the gradual closing of the crossings into Israel for Jenin residents. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority cracked down on all attempts by Israeli and foreign entrepreneurs to establish joint economic projects in Jenin. In the past year and a half, Jenin’s unemployment has reached staggering proportions.

Out of the poverty and ideological incitement, desperation comes to the fore. The terror organizations have declared that they have hundreds of suicide bombers ready to act. From the first of the suicide bombers in 1993 until today, suicide bombings are seen as the most effective way of creating fear and anxiety within Israeli society. There have been 177 suicide bomber attacks from 1993 until today, 116 of them in the past year, of which 23 came from the Jenin area.

Financial rewards await the families of those who perpetrate such attacks, or who merely confront Israeli soldiers at border crossings in the hope of martyrdom. In the first month of the confrontation, the Palestinian Authority pledged to pay several hundred dollars to each family that lost a child to “political activity,” a euphemism for confrontations with Israeli soldiers. To this was added substantial sums paid by The Saudi Committee for Support of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, run by Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz.

However, the really big money is in suicide attacks, with up to $15,000 being paid to families of suicide attackers by the government of Saddam Hussein. The Saudi fund, too, has offered large sums – up to $5,000 – to the families of bombers killed in the course of “martyrdom operations.”

The Jenin area has become a financial backwater, nurtured on myths of Palestinian Islamic heroism – a calamity waiting to happen. The tragedy of Jenin is that some of the wealthiest nations of the world have invested so much in the preservation of the city’s backwardness, extremism, and desperation. While the Palestinian Authority outlaws joint Israeli-Palestinian economic projects, the Arab world has made its investments in Jenin conditional, not upon life, but upon death.