Jenin, West Bank; Sept. 22, 2005 – Hundreds of West Bank Palestinians rushed into the recently evacuated Jewish settlements of Ganim and Kadim late Tuesday night, only minutes after the last Israeli armored personnel carrier departed. The troops had unexpectedly abandoned the much-hated Al-Jameelat checkpoint in addition to the two settlements, from which civilian populations had evacuated in mid-August as part of Prime Minister Sharonâ€™s "Gaza disengagement" plan.
For the past month, the Israel Defense Forces had held the settlements, near the northern West Bank city of Jenin, as military bases â€“ a presence officers had told The NewStandard in August they intended to continue indefinitely. Previously, civilians had also lived at both settlements.
The military did not coordinate its departure with the Palestinian National Authority, taking local residents by surprise.
After the troops left, some Palestinians piled into cars and overfilled tractors to reach the demolished settlements; others simply walked the long-forbidden road on foot. Barefoot teenaged boys scaled towering poles to hang the Palestinian flag where its Israeli counterpart flew just hours before.
"It is a small step, but it is a welcome step," said one man in a crowd of Jenin residents who were dismantling the remains of the Al-Jameelat checkpoint by hand. For the last five years, Al-Jameelat severed seven villages from the city of Jenin in order to provide a settler-only bypass road.
Majid Tali Yassin, whose family owns part of the land on which the Ganim settlement was situated, inspected the hills that he has not been able to access since he was a small boy.
"After so much suffering, we are proud tonight; but it is only the first step," he told The NewStandard before returning his focus to pulling apart the metal apparatus piece by piece.
[PHOTO: Palestinian men stand triumphantly on a Hebrew warning sign torn down from the once-notorious, now-abandoned checkpoint of Jameelat. Â© Jon Elmer 2005]
Bulldozers from the Jenin municipality arrived later to flatten a nearby roadblock, one of thirteen places where fixed obstacles â€“ earthen mounds, gates, rows of concrete blocks, trenches â€“ until this week restricted Palestinian movement in the immediate vicinity of Ganim and Kadim. Updated OCHA maps indicate that there are more than 600 such blockages peppered throughout the entire West Bank.
Israel is calling the move simply a "redeployment"; the IDF media office told TNS that although the permanent bases have been removed, the army will continue to patrol the area, which will remain under Israeli military control.
But at least some further withdrawals are planned, including the expected dismantlement of a base near the settlement of Mevo Dotan, southwest of Jenin.
Today Israeli troops shot and killed an unarmed Palestinian teenager who had, apparently by mistake, entered the base thinking it was already empty, according to the Israeli daily Haâ€™aretz. Nineteen-year-old Ala'a Khamtouni was killed. Several other Palestinians were arrested yesterday as they tried to enter the military base, Haâ€™aretz reports.
Some Palestinians expressed shock when told that only 150 people had lived in the settlement of Ganim.
Back on the former settlements themselves, the mood was celebratory. Members of the armed resistance factions, traveling in convoys, waved flags and fired their guns in the air, while others made the late-night trip just to catch a glimpse of the land that was forbidden and menacing territory only hours earlier.
[PHOTO: A Palestinian scales a tall light pole near the Al-Jameelat checkpoint to affix a flag where its Israeli counterpart flew just hours before. Â© Jon Elmer 2005]
Clouds of dust filled the night as dozens of cars drove up and down a road that had long been the exclusive domain of the roughly the 300 settlers that called Kadim and Ganim home. The immediate area of Jenin city, including satellite villages and the refugee camp, has a population of more than 50,000.
Speaking aesthetically, it would not be hard to see why Israel chose this site for the expansion of the settlement enterprise in 1983, were a panoramic view among the criteria for location. Ganim and Kadim were situated on wooded hills with magnificent and expansive vistas.
The surrounding forests â€“ once a recreational retreat for people of the region -- had been effectively off-limits to Palestinians for the last five years as Israeli forces, including tanks and armored personnel carriers, used the settlements as staging points for their frequent incursions into Jenin and the neighboring Jenin refugee camp.
Majid Tali Yassin, whose family owns part of the land on which the Ganim settlement was situated, inspected the hills that he has not been able to access since he was a small boy. "In one sense, it feels great to be on this land again," he said. "It has been a long, long time since I have been here. But in another sense, I feel a great loss: The Israelis have destroyed this land," he added, standing amid the barren, flattened rubble and twisted rebar that was once a forest, before being largely cleared to make room for the roughly sixty houses in the settlement.
Before leaving, the IDF razed the settlements, leaving little to indicate tiny villages once existed here, aside from the scattered remains of sidewalks and light poles, most of them fallen.
Some Palestinians expressed shock when told that only 150 people had lived in the settlement of Ganim. "My God; all this land!" exclaimed Amid Faza, 27, as he looked out over the hill toward Palestinian villages below.
Scattered fires burned what little was left of the settlement infrastructure. Some Palestinians attempted to salvage the few remaining bricks and any other useable building materials left in Israelâ€™s wasteful wake.
[PHOTO: Amid Faza looks on as fire engulphs debris left behind by departing Israeli troops at the former place of Ganim settlement. Â© Jon Elmer 2005]
"For years we have been under tight control," said Ahmed, a Jenin taxi driver who has been confined to the area immediately around the city of Jenin and has grown adept at navigating surrounding fields and olive groves in order to circumvent the suffocating network of checkpoints and roadblocks ostensibly erected to protect the settlements.
"Hopefully we will be able to move a little bit more now," Ahmed said. "This is, of course, good for me," he said smiling and pointing to the roof light of his taxi.
The IDF press office told TNS that the army redeployment was made on government orders. The Defense Ministry spokesperson, Rachel Ashkenazi, deferred comment.
The IDF said in a statement: "As of September 20th 2005, IDF forces have completed their redeployment in the northern West Bank. [Tuesday] night, IDF forces exited the evacuated communities of Ganim and Kadim, [Monday] night IDF forces exited the area of the evacuated community of Sa-Nur and on Friday, September 16, 2005, IDF forces exited the area of the evacuated community of Homesh. According to the decision of the Political Echelon, the area of the evacuated communities is defined as â€˜Area Câ€™."
Although the "Area" distinctions have become blurred beyond usefulness since Israeli forces fully reseized the West Bank in 2002, the Oslo Agreements denote Area C as regions that remain under Israeli military authority.
According to Peace Now Settlement Watch, following the "disengagement" 121 official settlements and 101 outposts remain in the West Bank, with a settler population of 240,000. East Jerusalem â€“ where some 200,000 additional Jewish settlers reside in contravention of international law â€“ is not considered the West Bank according to the Israeli government, which annexed the area in 1967 after six days of war with neighboring states.
Eighteen of the 121 official settlements remain in the governorate of Jenin, which includes the mostly agrarian villages around the city, according to the Jenin branch of the Palestinian National Authority.