Hundreds of ecstatic Palestinians waving flags and chanting “Our revolution is victorious!” mobbed the first representatives of Yasser Arafat’s police who arrived Wednesday as Israel began pulling troops out of the city.
Jenin is the first of seven cities to be handed to the Palestinians under the Israel-PLO autonomy agreement signed last month at the White House. The arrival of Arafat’s police is the first step toward Palestinian self-rule in most West Bank towns and villages by the end of the year.
While Israeli soldiers stood back and watched, celebrating Palestinians took a flag from the crowd and hoisted it to the top of a pole in front of the just-opened Israeli-PLO liaison center, then danced cheering around the once-outlawed banner.
“We have been under occupation for 28 years and now we are witnessing history,” said Kadoura Mousa, an Arafat aide in Jenin.
The relatively smooth start to the Israeli pullout from Jenin, open to the world’s press, contrasted sharply with last year’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Israeli soldiers there packed up in the middle of the night, accompanied by gunfire and stones.
Later Wednesday evening, dozens of Palestinians threw stones at Israeli troops in Jenin, slightly injuring at least one border policeman, Israel army radio said. Israel radio said three firebombs were thrown, but caused no damage or injuries.
Wednesday was notable as much for what didn’t happen as for what did. No Israeli soldiers left the territory they have occupied for 28 years, and only 10 of the 12,000 Palestinian police actually arrived - and only after agreeing to come with their guns unloaded.
But the 10 police, including five senior officers in olive drab, were given a hero’s welcome at the Israel-PLO liaison office six white trailers on the outskirts of Jenin.
“This is a moment of joy for our entire people,” said Jamal Hasanat, one of hundreds of young men and boys singing and dancing in the bare dirt courtyard in the center of the trailers.
Earlier Wednesday, Israeli troops moved out of the Jenin police station, loading chairs, tables and refrigerators onto trucks as hundreds of elated Palestinians ringed the station, cheering and chanting “This is our land.”
Jenin was festooned with flags, pictures of Arafat and banners welcoming the Palestinian police. A sign at the city entrance read, “Today Jenin, Tomorrow Jerusalem.”
The full transfer of authority in Jenin won’t happen until Nov. 13, when Israel will turn over the army headquarters, police station, and all other government property in the city to the Palestinians, and the full contingent of 1,000 Palestinian police will start arriving.