Air Full of Festivity - Not Bullets - on Election Day in Jenin

JENIN - Only one shot - probably made in error - was heard in the Jenin refugee camp from the eve of elections until yesterday afternoon. No more than one or two armed men had patrolled at night. A few Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades members even strolled unarmed. And no gunmen of any political group were spotted at voting stations in Jenin and the surrounding villages.

Everyone adhered to the promise not to take advantage of election day for scary, tasteless shooting exhibitions.

Were the policemen strolling around armed? Nobody noticed, because they were not needed. Supporters of rival groups did not quarrel. Nobody threatened the international observers wandering around, and their presence did not seem necessary, because the Palestinian representatives of the various organizations did everything they could to ensure no forgeries took place. All the gloomy predictions of "blowing up" the elections, brawls and sabotage attempts fell flat. Even the weather was mild, unlike the forecast.

Various activists were exchanging information about high-tech bribery: take a cellphone behind the screen, photograph yourself voting for the right list or candidate, then get $100. A few Fatah people claimed Hamas did that in the local elections. Popular Front activists had heard it was Fatah that used this method. In any case, an instruction was issued not to allow anyone to enter a polling booth with a cellphone or camera.

Outside every school serving as voting stations there was an air of color and festivity. Hamas supporters in green baseball caps, visors turned backward, inscribed with "Islam is the solution," looked more American than anything else. Fatah supporters with yellow and white flags and activists of Independent Palestine, headed by Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, in phosphorescent orange, clashed with the Popular Front's red.

`Like a wedding'

The Third Way, headed by former finance minister, Salem Fayyad - no specific color - was rumored to have the most money to pay activists. A few youngsters from the refugee camp plan on financing their computer studies this way.

"I felt like at a wedding," said Abu Faras of Jenin. "We held elections as no veteran Arab state could." Still, he cautions, we should wait until the final results are out.

Outside all the poll stations activists of all parties were speculating what the turnout was (high, that much was clear), which candidate would get most votes (probably Hamas' Sheikh Khaled Said - a popular Arabic teacher and lecturer), how hard the Fatah candidates, who were former ministers, would fall.

During five years of intifada, the gunmen in the camp had changed their organizational affiliation like socks and sometimes even appeared together in demonstrations. In recent days the lines between the Hamas and the PLO organizations reappeared. "The most important thing is that the PLO organizations get a majority, and that those greens don't rise to power, Allah is great," a central Fatah activist was heard telling a Popular Front activist.