April 27, 2010
Taming a Former Suicide-Bomber City
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Israeli checkpoints within the West Bank keep many residents from even leaving town. “What’s the use of security with this economic situation?” says a bearded grocery store keeper in central Jenin who declined to give his name. “It’s like we’re living in a big cage.”
Many people complain that while the NSF protects Israelis from Palestinian terror attacks, it does nothing to protect Palestinians from Israeli raids. Israeli troops still enter Jenin at will to arrest wanted militants. NSF troops aren’t even allowed out of their barracks between midnight and 6 a.m.
“They’re just doing Israel’s work for them,” says Ahmed Hariri, a grizzled old man sipping tea in front of a shop. “The Authority has been given their responsibilities, and the Israelis relax and watch from a distance.”
The sense that nothing tangible is being gained from cooperating with Israel is widespread — and dangerous. The Netanyahu government’s unabashed program of building more Jewish homes in Arab East Jerusalem certainly isn’t helping matters.
“The Israelis have supposedly given us this chance to see if we can enforce security. We’ve proven that we can,” says Khader Torkman, 30, a lean, wary-eyed former fighter with the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which dispatched dozens of suicide bombers into Israeli cities during the intifada. “But their goal is not to let us have a state. It’s to buy time to expand settlements, build the wall (separating Israel from the West Bank) and take over Jerusalem.”
Sitting across from him in a dimly lit office above an auto repair shop, I ask Torkman, who refuses to join the NSF, whether he thinks armed operations against Israel should begin again.
“All options are open,” he says. What would it take for Palestinians to start fighting again? “We can start like that,” he says, snapping his fingers.
That attitude helps explain why Israel has only in recent months begun removing checkpoints and other restrictions on Palestinians. Israel isn’t only concerned about militants like Torkman and the thousands of weapons they are estimated to be hiding. The official Palestinian security forces themselves could turn their guns on Israel if the shooting starts again; that’s what happened in the last intifada.
That leaves Asedeh walking an extremely delicate tightrope.
“The goals of our campaign have been achieved, but nothing has changed. People call us ‘traitor forces.’ I’m not even allowed 5 feet outside the city,” he says. “The Israelis need to stop humiliating me and give me something to show for my achievements.”
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