Rejoicing in the streets of Jenin

While many Palestinians celebrate the attack on the U.S., Yasser Arafat denounces it as "unacceptable" and Israelis mourn.


Flore de Preneuf
September 12, 2001 12:08AM (UTC)

In Jenin, they know a good terrorist attack when they hear about it.

The walls of people's homes here are covered with posters glorifying Islamic terrorists and Palestinian "martyrs." The area, in the northern West Bank, has produced more suicide bombers than any other Palestinian town since the beginning of the intifada nearly a year ago. Most recently Jenin operatives lent a hand to the Israeli Arab kamikaze who killed three Israelis and wounded dozens of others at a train station Sunday. Israeli tanks moved in Monday night to seal off the area in an effort to stop local terrorists from carrying out further attacks on Israel.

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But Palestinian militants have never achieved terror of the magnitude seen today in the United States.

When young armed Palestinians patrolling the streets of a refugee camp in Jenin heard the news from New York and Washington, they chuckled with glee. One of them thanked God for his mighty revenge against the United States, Israel's ally and main weapons supplier.

Elsewhere in the West Bank and in Gaza, thousands of Palestinians applauded the devastating blows, cheering openly in the streets and distributing celebratory candy to passersby. Some shouted that they hoped Tel Aviv would be next or vowed to complete what they believe Osama bin Laden has started.

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Indeed, people here think Osama bin Laden is a more likely suspect for the attacks than Palestinian groups. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Damascus-based Marxist organization that initially claimed and then rejected responsibility for the terrorist attacks, has only a tiny following among Palestinians and has little "street credibility." Of course, there is still no proof that any figure from the Arab world has anything to do with the attack -- Oklahoma City, too, was first blamed on Muslim forces -- but that didn't dampen the celebration here.

The loud rejoicing, however, was far from universal. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat expressed his condolences to President Bush and condemned the crime as "dangerous and unacceptable." Palestinian legislator and spokeswoman for the Arab League Hanan Ashrawi called it "a horrible act of absolute immorality, viciousness and evil."

Israelis, for their part, greeted the news with angst and disbelief as if the terror attack had happened on their soil. Many Jews have relatives in the United States. But beyond the family link, there's a very strong identification with the victims of terrorism, given Israel's long and tragic experience with suicide bombers, booby-trapped cars and deadly ambushes.

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Israelis interviewed on national television also expressed the hope that America would "finally understand" and stop condemning Israel for the protective and retaliatory measures it has taken over the past year in its fight against Palestinian activism. Many hoped that the bond between Israel and the U.S. against evil (widely assumed to be Islamic) will be stronger now that the strikes have brought home the price of fanaticism.

In material terms, Israel's security was also directly affected by the assaults on New York and Washington. Israel closed its air space to flights from abroad, put its air force on high alert and evacuated its embassy and consulates in the United States. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has offered to send rescue teams to the United States.

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Flore de Preneuf

Flore de Preneuf is a Jerusalem writer and photographer.

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