Text size

The fact that Thursday's suicide bomber in Jerusalem was a traffic policeman from Bethlehem and a member of Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade says something about the state of that movement, which has long been considered the ruling party of the Palestinians.

In some parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Brigades operate as gangs of local hoodlums who have almost completely severed ties with the senior members of the movement crowded into Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah's Muqata.

Traffic cop Al Munir Juara, 24, was born in the El Aroub refugee camp on the road to Hebron, and subsequently moved with his family to the Aida camp, between Bethlehem and Beit Jalla. The family's sons are considered close to the Fatah political apparatus. His uncle was among the armed men who were under siege in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem during Operation Defensive Shield two years ago, and was deported to Ireland.

According to sources in Bethlehem, his friends gave a farewell letter to his mother in which he wrote, among other things, that he is taking revenge for Wednesday's massacre in Zeitun in Gaza in which eight Palestinians were killed.

As opposed to the Israeli media, which has linked the Zeitun affair to Islamic Jihad, Palestinian sources last night insisted that only one of the eight dead Gazans had been from the Jihad and that the five workers in the marble factory had no political affiliation.

The Palestinian Authority, and official spokesman like Saeb Erekat, hastened Thursday night to condemn any sort of bloodshed of innocent individuals - and in Ramallah, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade even issued a statement disassociating itself from the bombing. The contradictory statements by different branches of the Brigades is compounded by what some young activists from Fatah in Ramallah were saying last night - that there is mounting dissatisfaction with Gen. Haj Ismail Jaber for his agreement, two days ago, on behalf of Arafat, to redeploy Palestinian police in the West Bank's cities.

According to the agreement between Ismail, head of Palestinian General Security, and Brig. Gen. Gadi Eisencott, commander of the army in the West Bank, Palestinian police are being allowed to resume their role of imposing law and order in Palestinian towns. The young activists interpreted that as meaning Arafat was practically turning into a servant of the Israeli occupation, something like the Village Leagues Ariel Sharon tried to impose on the territories more than 20 years ago, when he was defense minister.

One of the activists said, "What do they think in the Muqata? That the Palestinian police will take care of prostitution and thieves, while the Israelis and IDF keep political and security control? Forget it."

There's nearly full Palestinian control in Bethlehem and the IDF avoids entering the city. There are extensive renovation projects underway and much of the past damage has been repaired. If the IDF decides to move back into the city and reoccupy it, it would be another blow to the last remnants of the chances of returning life to normal in the West Bank.

While dozens of Palestinian prisoners, freed in the deal with the Hezbollah, streamed into Arafat's office Thursday to celebrate with chairman, the shopkeepers on Salah a Din Street in East Jerusalem said today on the eve of Id al Adha that the Muslim feast of the sacrifice would be one of the worst business days ever - the city is surrounded and full of checkpoints, and few can even reach the street to do any shopping.