The city of Jenin was decorated with flags, posters and balloons depicting the face of Yasser Arafat. Huge flags flew from a rope that stretched many meters long between the two hills at the southern entrance to the city. In the early morning hours, young Palestinians crowded near the Jenin police station together with dozens of reporters from all over the world. Lifted by the crowd, singer Ahud Abu Naji declared, "We don't agree to live as refugees. ... We want a state, not to be humiliated." Revelers responded with a popular, emotional song and later danced the debka.
On October 25, 1995, the Israeli military government began the process of turning control of Jenin over to the Palestinian Authority, a process that would be completed in November of the same year. Twenty-eight years of occupation would come to an end.
The first steps were small indeed: The office of communications and coordination between the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian police was opened at the Kabatia intersection south of Jenin. The Israeli police station in the city was evacuated. "According to the Palestinians, these two developments embodied 'the beginning of the deportation of occupation forces and the arrival of the pioneering Palestinian forces,'" Haaretz correspondent Uri Nir reported.
At the door to the police building, "Members of the Israeli Border Police requested that young people ... not get too close to the station, which was being emptied of policemen and equipment," Nir wrote. "A strange dialogue alternating between jabs and graciousness, affection and hostility, developed among them. Some of the young people know the Border Police by their first names, and they did not hesitate to tease them a little. 'We don't bear a grudge against them,' said Ahmad Ibrahim, 32. 'We say to them: Let's make peace between us, without stones, without sticks and blows.'"
A senior IDF officer in the West Bank told Haaretz correspondent Eitan Rabin that the army had given an unequivocal order not to interfere with demonstrations of joy during the evacuation.
At the Kabatia intersection, "total chaos" erupted during the arrival of a small convoy of two Border Police jeeps, three Palestinian command cars and one Palestinian jeep containing five communications officers.
"Amazement was visible on the faces of the Palestinian officers," Nir wrote. "The hundreds of people present descended on them with cameras and microphones, with cries of joy and applause."
After the impromptu celebration, accompanied by Abu Naji singing "The occupation is forgotten," the crowd conceded to the repeated requests of the Israeli and Palestinian officers and dispersed. In the evening, they gathered again at the military government offices and began to "tease the IDF soldiers there," Nir wrote. "Very quickly, stones started flying, injuring a soldier and one Palestinian teenager."
The head of the national organizations committee in Jenin and Arafat's bureau chief in the city, Kadura Musa, hurried to warn them that Fatah opposed throwing stones.
An editorial in the next day's Haaretz proclaimed that the handing over of Jenin marked "Israel's readiness to give up its hold over most of the West Bank."
MK Benjamin Netanyahu, then head of the government's opposition party, remarked that Jenin "is only spitting distance from Afula," and that now "murderers will set out from Jenin, which we won't be able to enter."
Seven years later, in the wake of a series of suicide bombings in Israel, whose source was the military headquarters near Jenin, IDF forces surrounded the city. Some 23 Israeli soldiers and 55 Palestinians died in battle on April 9, 2002.
In 2008, Avi Isscharoff wrote in Haaretz: "Jenin is now the great hope of all those who made an effort to breathe life back into the peace process ... and it provides the only positive news in the area." (Lital Levin)