Jenin.. A City Created by History

Jenin.. A City Created by History

Photos: Abdul Basit Khalaf

As you walk along the alleys of the city where you were born and where you live and work, you get confused at the start. Is that because you recreate history or because memories the place come flooding back? Jenin's four corners race to come first in this review. Isn't it the city created by history?

I climbed the mountains overlooking the city to depict it in pictures and words. The elevation helps have a good look at the place, especially for those who don't live there. Here lies Jenin - the city, camp, suburbs and towns - a portrait that combines mountains, plains and valleys. Though not lying on the sea, Jenin is a coastal city. This is because of the great "Marj (meadow) Ibn Amer", which looks like a sea except for the greenness in spring as it is surrounded by plants in the meadow described as Palestine's food basket.

The city lies 200 - 250m above sea level and in the place where three environments meet: branches of Nablus mountain range; plains in the meadow and other plains; parts of the Jordan Valley. That's why it was the terminus of transportation from Nablus, Afoula and Bisan and the junction of the roads to Haifa and Nazareth north and Nablus and Jerusalem south. As I was going down Abou Zuhair, the tallest

mountain, 1 was able to see part of Nazareth, mountains, Karmel and Umulfahm, occupied in 1948.

Jenin was founded by the Canaanites as a village in the same location and was often damaged by foreign invaders during its history.

It was known as "Jina" under the Romans, and the Byzantines built a church there with the same name in the sixth century AD, the ruins of which have been found near the Grand Mosque.

Haii Mokhlis, the city's encyclopaedia

We met 70-year-old Mokhlis Hajj Hassan to tell us about the history of the place which he learns by heart. In the seventh century AD, Muslim Arabs expelled the Byzantines and some Arab tribes settled in the place they called "Henin", corrupted to "Jenin" later due to the many gardens there. Jenin is an ancient city referred to in Babylonian, Assyrian and ancient Egyptian manuscripts as well as in the Bible under different names. The city was founded in 4250 BC and is matched in age only by Jericho, Nablus, Jerusalem, Damascus and Sidon. It has many archaeological sites.

It was destroyed by Thotmes III in 1479 BC as he was fighting the Hyksos, and was attacked by Ramses II on his way to fight the Hittites in Kadesh in 1189 BC. After the Jews entered Canaan led by Joshua Ibn Noon, the Canaanites, Palestinians and others formed an alliance against the first Hebrew king who was defeated in 1030 BC. The city was sacked by the Assyrian king Sennacherib, son of Sargon II in 701 BC, and fell under Persian rule in the mid-sixth century BC. It was occupied by the Crusders for 99 years and liberated in the Hittin battle in 1887, but it fell under Crusade rule again in AD 1192 after the


Ayyubid King Alkamel ceded it and other Palestinian cities in the sixth Crusade, but was liberated by King Najmuddin Ayyub in 1244.

Jenin restored its freedom during the Ayubbid and Mameluke eras. It witnessed significant economic and urban development. It was a station for homing pigeons between Egypt and Syria, and a centre for caravans and post from Egypt to Damascus. It flourished under Almansour Qalawun Aihakari in 1281 and a well-known caravanserai was built there. It was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1347.

Modern history

The Ottomans ruled Jenin from 1561 until the age of Sultan Muhammad Wahiduddin IV. Napoleon laid siege to the city and when he failed to occupy it, it was bombarded and burnt in April 1799. It witnessed urban development under Ibrahim Pasha's rule (1831-1840) as his army included specialist teams. Despite the earthquake that hit it in 1837, a souq was built and streets and old alleys paved, with the original tiles still preserved in the old city.

The British occupied Jenin on 20 September 1918 at a late stage of the occupation of Jerusalem. Jenin was the headquarters of the Near East Broadcasting Station established by the British in 1941. It was the headquarters of the German air force during World War I.

Battles with the Zionists

The first Jenin battle was fought in June 1948 between its people and a "Salvation Army" unit supported by the Iraqi army on the one hand and a 4000-strong Jewish force on the other. The city was totally liberated on 11 June 1948. The second Jenin battle began when the Jews violated a truce and occupied a number of villages. Supported by the Iraqi army, the people resisted the Jews and liberated the villages. The second truce agreement was signed on 18 July 1948 under which Jenin lost approximately 19,000 dunums in addition to 14 villages.

The old hajj smiled as he asked about where this interview would be published, and when we told him that we would send it to AI-Arabi. an expression of delight appeared on his face saying he had been keeping most issues of the magazine since it was first published half a century ago.

The city souq's stories

We then went along the city's streets to explore its old areas. We started with the souq which has many stories told by the elderly in particular.

Ata Mahmoud Abou Libda (Abou Adnan) talked about his long life in the world of business. He started his career at age 14 in selling sweets and wheat in his native town Sabbarin and Haifa before the 1948 "Nakba" (Catastrophe), then moved to Jenin where he has been working as a merchant selling foodstuffs for 60 years. He compared Jenin today with what it was in the past, saying everything in his city has a special flavour.

At the old Sibat Souq Hajj Muhammad Salih Alhathnawi has been selling cosmetics, spices and foodstuffs, in addition to things which disappeared since 1950.

Hajj Attia Alqaraawi, one of the oldest butchers, said "Decades ago, there were 12 butchers who slaughtered a few calves and used ice cubes to keep the meat as there were no fridges." He said prices went up and consumption increased but taste and specifications remained the same. He used to buy oranges by the piece from Jenin's many groves which have now been replaced with blocks of flats.

Muhammad Khali! Jarrar has been a shoemaker since he was 13.

He worked in Jenin for ten years, then moved to Kuwait, but because he found no work there, he went back to his shop in Jenin one year later. He was born in 1938 and got married at age 49. He said in the past he used to make and repair shoes, but business is not good now because of dumped Chinese shoes. He feels quite nostalgic for his old city.

Mari Ibn Amer. the password

The old man Muhammad Hajj Yusuf said Jenin is 583 km2 in area. It lies at the edge of Marj Ibn Amer, the largest plain in Palestine. It has certain characteristics : a large area (360 km2), a strategic location, high economic value, rich soil that can keep water for a long time. It is surrounded by the Galilee and Nazareth mountains north, Nablus mountains south and south west, and Aljaloud valley of Jordan River east. It is named after an Arab tribe which had settled there since the Islamic conquest.

The city of Alqassam's struggle and martyrdom

The people of Jenin fondly remember the martyr Sheikh Ezzeddin Alqassam. Suffice it to say that Abou Ibrahim, who is almost 80, says, "Jenin is synonymous with Alqassan, and vice versa".

Zarifa Abd Alkhatib said proudly her birth is associated with Alqassam's martyrdom in the autumn of 1936, "My mother told me I was 40 days old when they killed Alqassam, and when I was 6 his daughter Maymana taught me reading and writing", she said.

Sami Alahmad, who was Alqassam's military secretary, vividly remembers his days with the martyr, though he is 90,

We don't want them in our country

Hajj Salih Hassan Shihab (Abou Hassan) was born in Jenin in 1926, but he still has clear memories of World War II, the Catastrophe, the setback and several Palestinian revolts. He speaks English, which he learnt 70 years ago, fluently.

He completed grade seven in 1942. He talked about the very low school fees, the school day and the school curriculum, especially English, which included reading, conversation, poetry, grammar and novels.

He has been practising English for seventy years, starting with conversation with British Mandate soldiers in Palestine. In 1941, he worked as an interpreter for a British officer on a daily pay of 12 piastres (which was good money at the time). He moved to Haifa in 1942 where he worked as a storekeeper in a British military base for £20 per month, and sold chocolate and nuts for cinemagoers after duty hours. He mixed with the British soldiers during World War II until Haifa fell to the Jews on 30 April 1948. He asked a British officer why they came to Palestine and supported the Jews. The officer replied, "We brought the Jews to your country because we don't want them in ours!"

Demographic changes

Researcher /journalist Mahmoud Kalouf said, "There was a slow population growth in Jenin in the period 1922-1931 because of mass migrations to coastal cities, but there was a rapid growth later and it doubled in1947 due to the recession which hit the coastal area and made people returned to Jenin as well as World War II and events in the region." "In 1952, Jenin's population rose dramatically due to the influx of Palestinian refugees following the Catastrophe in 1948, and then fell sharply after the 1967 setback as result of the flow of many of the city's inhabitants to Jordan and Gulf countries. The population has been rising since 1980. According to the 2006 statistics the population stands at 254,218", Khalouf said.

The scene of antiquities: the long Balaama tunnel

Our exploration of the historical landmarks in and around Jenin started with the ruins of Canaanite Balaama, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1927, and includes a cave and a sea tunnel.

Dr. Hamdan Taha, Under-Secretary for cultural property, Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, gave us an account of the tunnel which the Palestinian Department of Antiquities started its restoration in 1996. The sea tunnel lies on the eastern slope of Balaama ruins, which is known as "Ablayam" in Egyptian and Biblical sources. There are some popular stories about the tunnel which dates back to the early Bronze Age, about 3,000 years BC. We entered the tunnel which consists of three parts: the domed entrance, the rocky stairs and the narrow rocky passage. According to Dr. Taha, the tunnel has three other entrances to the water tunnel in the slope area, and the palace is fitted with lamps put


in holes. The tunnel's bottom consists of a large water container, ducts, a basin and water reservoirs at the main entrance.

Khalid Robaiaa, an antiquities official, said the discovered tunnel is 115m long, 105m of which is cut in rocks, and has 57 rocky steps, with an inclination of 17° and foot inclination of 30°. The tunnel will be open to visitors and tourists, and to this end, special facilities have been designed.

Throw him into the hidden depths of a well where some caravan may pick him up

We went to the historic Taanak hill, then to Dotan hill, an important archaeological site which had been inhabited for centuries. The place is associated with the story of the well where Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him) was thrown into, as, according to tradition, people think the well was there.

We visited the mausoleums of Sheikhs Mansour, Salih and Sabaa, which are said to date back to the Ayyubid era and have been used for communication purposes during wars and to celebrate the start of Ramadan and eids. We were barred from entering Alamra reserve which has been stolen by the Israel racist wall, at which Alqassam was martyred. We entered the cemetery of the martyrs of the Iraqi army who died in defence of Palestine in 1948. There are two other cemeteries, one at the entrance to western Tobas and another for the martyrs of the Jordanian army. We visited Fatima Khatoun's school.

In memory of the German fighter pilots

A small place, but a landmark in Jenin. A war memorial in memory of eleven German soldiers who were killed in 1917 in air battles between French and British aircraft on the one hand, and German and Turkish ones, on the other. On the memorial the following is written in black: "The German memorial in memory of the German pilots who died on duty away from home in the First World War in 1917-1918." The names of the soldiers are written, and a damaged helicopter is still there. According to Ministry of Tourism sources, the memorial was built by the German government in association with Jenin Municipality, and has been restored three times, the latest in 2007.

jn memory of Fatima Khatoun

We looked at the Grand Mosque again. One of Jenin's historic sites, it was built by Fatima Khatoun, daughter of Muhammad Bey son of Sultan Qansuh Alghouri in AH 974 (AD 1566). We performed the noon prayer in the small mosque, said to be added by Prince Alharithi or Ibrahim Aljazzar .We explored the ruins in the eastern part of the city, then passed near the old Almaqtaa River bridge built by the Ottomans in Marj Ibn Amer and destroyed by the Israelis in 2002.

Did a train run here some day?

That was the question asked by the younger generation, of course. We tried in vain to convince them that a railway station used to stand there. We entered the remains of the station built during the Ottoman era.

Looking at the Marj through his office window, Khalid Rabaiaa gave us an account of the Hejaz Railway built by the Ottomans during the reign of Suftan Abdufhamid II. He said work on the project started in 1900, and the railway ran from Damascus in two branches: one south to Jordan and the other west to Palestine. Haifa was a major station from which the Palestine line, which extended to Egypt, branched. The line from Jenin ran through the Marj then to the southern towns up to Burqa near Nablus. The Hejaz Railway suffered heavy damage during the Great Arab Revolt against the Ottomans, and in 1917 Lawrence of Arabia joined the Arab rebels and urged them to blow the line up resulting in the death and capture of many Ottoman soldiers. All attempts to reoperate or update the line have failed.

Christ's Church

St. George's Church, the world's fifth oldest Christian site and third oldest church, is in the town of Borqain, about 4 km west of Jenin. Despite its religious and historical value, the church yards are empty of tourists as usual. As the church's pastor Nayef Qahhaz said, l'Only a few visitors come here every year, even at Chrisdtmas. This is not something good, but we are waiting. The church's conditions have deteriorated due to closures by the Israelis, and the number of visitors is counted on the fingers of one hand." He said the church had long been neglected, and interest in it began only twenty years ago. Christians from neighbouring villages visit the church on major religious occasions. Being a long way from the centre marginalized it despite its great importance and association with the historic journey of Christ. According to its pastor, the church is named St George's Church, and it belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church. The first part of the curch was built 2,000 years ago; the second during the reign of Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena about 1,500 years ago.

The miracle of Christ healing lepers of the disease

Qahhaz said, 'The church derives its importance from its being the fifth Christian holy place in the world and the third oldest after the Churches of the Nativity and the Annunciation. It is referred to in the Bible and on pages 2002 and 2003 of the book "Miracles of Christ.11 It is the church in whose cave Christ healed ten lepers of the disease on hts journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem. He told the story in detail, pointing to the place, and talked about the destiny of the Jepers ncne of whom except one Samir expressed gratitude to Christ.

The church is 1,000 m2 in area divided into three main parts, in addition to a yard, garden, a new building for teaching children and the priest's residence. The first and main part is an approx. 20-m cave cut in rock surmounted by a window said to carry food through it for the ten lepers who were confined to a quarantine.

A1.500- year -old hall

The second part is the church hall which contains the priest's chair where he sits when he gives sermons. The chair, which is made of rock in the form of two lion heads, is next to the altar which is separated from the hall by partitions surmounted by twelve small windows symbolizing Christ's disciples. Women, even female tourists, are not allowed in. It is the priest's exclusive place, and only men can clean its floor. The ancient inscriptions on its external walls are disappearing due to weathering. There is an open cave surmounted by an arch in the church's eastern corner, the third part which was used as a children's school. The external walls are 1,500 years old, but its bell and circular window are in good condition.

"The church was restored in three stages: first in 1950 by the Patriarchate; the second in the 1980s and the third in 2003 under Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities supervision, but part of this restoration work, such as car parks, trees and pavements have changed, and political and nationalist slogans cover the walls", he said.

Um Emad. the popular orchestra's conductor

Old Jenin is full of old buildings and remains of buildings destroyed by the Israeli bulldozers and military machine and memories of the old Alhashimi cinema.

We stood beside the cinema which used to be a cultural hub for the young and old alike, a few steps from which stood a signboard carrying the name 'Women's Cultural Heritage Society" on a centuries-old building.

At the opening ceremony the building was full of tens of women, and Um Emad conducted the orchestra assisted by some of them. Dressed in black, she told the story of the society. She was inspired by her son, the martyr journalist. With a group of Jenin's women she set up a society to familiarize the younger generation with Palestinian heritage in 1995, but the place was closed due to adverse circumstances. She obtained a licence for the society in April 2003,

and was determined to complete the dream of her son Emad who was martyred on duty during the Israeli Invasion of Jenin in April 2002.

She fondly remembered her son's deep love of Jenin since his early childhood, taking photos of the city and collecting everything related to it He produced a weekly magazine he named "Jenin" which contained articles about the past.

Um Emad and her colleagues attach considerable importance to Palestinian heritage and have a number of plans in this connection, starting with transfer of knowledge in the areas of embroidery, basket making, handicrafts, drawing on glass and using canvas as curtains. In a newly-restored gallery old objects are shown: a sieve, water and milk jugs, coffee pots, a paraffin stove, etc. There are wall paintings, decorations and canvas curtains, in addition to traditional Palestinian clothes. Um Emad plans to open a model nursery and a popular restaurant to serve authentic Palestinian dishes.

Reem: memories of the camp and those who passed away

What does a child do with her memory? She did better than the grown-ups who just experienced the battle of Jenin camp, the legend which disproved the fallacy of the invincibility of the Israeli army. It was there that he invaders were defeated in spite of their acts of destruction and killing.

Reem Jamal, 19, who lives in Jenin camp, kept a diary about the massacre which the Israelis carried out in the camp in April 2002.

In her diary for 3 April she wrote in red ink, "There was heavy rain this morning coupled with fire and death. Occupation forces surrounded Jenin and were stationed in areas near the camp, like

Aljabriat, Harsh Alsaada and Haifa Streets. There was heavy fighting between resistance elements and the invaders whose snipers occupied the roofs of strategically located houses. Six Palestinians were martyred, many citizens wounded, an Israeli senior officer and two soldiers were killed. Three tanks were damaged."

With the above lines which look as if they were in a book documenting recurrent Israeli reoccupation of the Palestinian land, Reem started documenting the story of death and blood in her homeland and camp over six years ago.

In her diary for 4 April she wrote, "Fierce fighting continued between the defenders of the camp and occupation forces which failed to storm into the camp. Three Palestinians were martyred, two Israeli soldiers killed and three wounded, according to resistance sources.' In her diary for 6 April she wrote," After heavy fighting, Israeli forces armed with tanks and aircraft stormed the camp from the eastern side, and the Israeli bulldozers pulled down a large number of houses and reached Alansar Mosque square where soldiers were stationed. Heavy fighting took place there in which two sergeants and a corporal were killed and four privates were wounded, according to the Israeli sources."


In her diary for 7 April she wrote, "The army stormed and pulled down houses in the eastern part after evicting its dwellers who were packed into small rooms and used as a human shield. Fighting was mainly in the eastern part between Aldamj Alley and Alhawashln in which one Israeli soldier was seriously wounded. Occupation forces

through a loudspeaker ordered resistance elements to surrender, but they refused. Men aged 14-60 were ordered to gather in a square opposite the camp. Apache helicopters bombed houses indiscriminately, and any place suspected of housing resistance elements was shelled. Supported by aircraft they moved further into the camp and made holes between houses."

Reem didn't write anything unless she ensured it was correct according to more than one source. She wrote by the light of a small lamp as the camp plunged into darkness and blood. She was worried about her pen which her cousin Ezzeddin gave her. A quick look at her diaries shows that she wrote some lines in blue ink about West Bank cities, such as Nablus massacres, siege of the Church of the Nativity and what happened in Ramallah.

Reem continued, "I didn't write anything after the end of the massacre. Foreign journalists showered me with their questions.1' She was asked the same questions by Japanese, French, Italian and American journalists as those asked by an English journalist from the BBC. Reem made a note in her diary about the murder of her cousin Maria and how she was buried in a nearby grave.

Figures from the city

The historian Sheikh Mokhlis is not the only lover of Jenin; the younger generation is, too. Safaa Ibrahim, a university student, is very interested in her city and she collects any relevant available material. She talked about some figures who lived there. She began with Burhanuddin Alabousy, the poet / struggler / thinker who was born in 1911, joined university in Beirut in 1933. He shared in the 1936 revolution in Palestine and Rasheed Alkilani revolution in Iraq in 1941, He wrote four anthologies of poetry and four plays. She also talked about Sheikh Farhan Alsaadi, the struggler arrested by the British in 1937, court-martialled and sentenced to death. Among the figures she talked about was Sheikh Yusuf Said Abou Durra, leader of the rebels in Lower Galilee and Karmel mountains and a follower of Sheikh Alqassam. Abou Durra group carried out a number of successful operations, including the capture of settlers and attacking Atlit prison. Two other figures she talked about: First, Sheikh Hassan Albayer, who met Alqassam in Haifa, listened to him preaching in Alistiqlal Mosque and earned his trust. He started underground resistance in 193. Second, Adalat Touqan. She was born in Hama in 1913, and worked as principal of Jenin Preparatory School for Girls, then devoted her time to charity work. With others she founded Jenin Charity Society to help poor university students.

The American University

According to its president, Dr. Adly Salih, the university was founded in 1996, the first private university in Palestine with Palestinian capital. It received the first batch of students on 28 September 2000, which coincided with the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifida. "There are 3,500 students in the university enrolled in 24 majors in six colleges. We are keen to provide rare and appropriate specializations to meet the needs of the Palestinian labour market, and organize international conferences and other activities," he said.

Dr. Walid Albasha, an assistant professor at the College of Allied Medical Sciences, said, "True, a university was opened in Jenin after a long delay; however, we have rapidly proved that our city is a model of everything resistances, struggle and education - as well as a long history and rich geography in terms of beautiful landscape, woods, plains, mountains and valleys". Three years ago, the young man Albasha returned from Japan holding a PhD in molecular virology, a rare specialization in Palestine.The first thing he did was founding a centre for biological, molecular and environmental sciences to fulfil his old dreams before he left Jenin to realize economy of effort, time and money for those citizens in need of complicated genetic tests.

In a modest place at an edge of Marj Ibn Amer stands Albasha Scientific Centre, which looks strange at least to children in the area who know nothing about genes, epidemiology or DNAP saying "He breeds snakes!" But he says he wants to do something for his country because he doesn't trust NGOs, and prefers NGIs, an abbreviation he has coined for "Non Governmental Individuals".

He sums up the objectives of the centre. "We are been to carry out research on hereditary diseases and the spread of epidemics not diagnosed by routine examination. We have established a link between Palestinian researchers at home and abroad. We do genetic tests for the citizens, farmers and lab assistants, and offer samples to educational centres to promote research as well as an academic resource and training centre. We encourage environmental action and rare medicinal plant protection. We also publish a journal for local research," Albasha said.


"We have devised 3-D visual aids at a very low cost compared with imported ones. We are carrying out a field study on the Jericho fly and its effect on wounds and how to get rid of it. We are also conducting a study of trichinae on a sample of 500 kindergarten children and another study of the fungi in north Palestine in association with a dermatologist. We have produced pure species of mushroom for agricultural and commercial purposes. We are training three postgraduate students. I examined genes and took a culture and diagnosed some genetic diseases. I published research in Japan and the USA about viruses. My PhD thesis was about my discovery of a substance that can stop the action of the virus which causes problems in post-transplant operations. In Japan I developed vaccines for cervix cancer and the viruses causing it," he said.

"I am here to serve my country, though my three children Hadi, Shadi and Fadi and I have permanent residence in Japan, but I decided to return home although I'm burdened with debts because of research and travel to Canada and elsewhere,'' he concluded.

Born in 1967, Albasha is thinking of opening a museum for reptiles and a science forum in Jenin. He is supported by his parents and wife, but he spends a lot of time in his rented lab near his house and at the Arab American University, where he works.

We leave Jenin, but it does not leave us. We live in it and it lives in us even if we fly to the four corners of the world. The phrase which a merchant in the city wrote on his desk "The invaders have seized water and green, but beauty has survived" has left a lasting impression on us.


Tahsin Yaqin and Abdul Basit Khalaf


A panoramic view of Jenin

Jenin, 1950

Haj Hassan, Jenin's historian

The oldest merchant in Jenin

Muhammad Khalil Jarrar, a shoemaker in Jenin who has been doing this work for decades

Abou Adnan, "Everything in Jenin has a special flavour."

A saleswoman in a pharmacy

Marj Ibn Amer The Marj is named after the Arab Kalb trible,

woman from Jenin living in a camp

A face from Jenin

Alsibat, or old souq,

Ruins of a historic site

Jenin's Grand Mosque built by Fatima Khatoun, daughter of Sultan Qansuh Alghouri in 1566

Ruins of Jenin next to the modern city

Old Jenin with old buildings

Inside St George's Church, the third oldest church in the world. Its pastor says it witnessed the miracle of Christ healing lepers of their disease

Entrance to the 115m-long Balaama cave, 105m of which is cut in rock

Reem. She recorded Jenin's memories

A face for the future,

A panoramic view of Jenin

Dr. Walid Albasha, founder of the Jenetic Research Centre in Jenin

The Arab American University in Jenin

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