PA security forces training - Daniel Bar-ON
Elite PA security forces training in Ramallah. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Last week's column, which in Hebrew was titled "Dispersing a demonstration with a French scent," prompted a visit to the headquarters of EUPOL COPPS, the EU Police Coordination Office for Palestinian Police Support, which trains the civilian police force in the West Bank. The initiative was theirs, and the perfume, it turns out, was Jean Paul Gaultier.

Jean Frederic Martin, one of two Frenchmen training the Palestinian Special Police Force, (anti-riot division ), pointed this out following a presentation of principles and methods of operation that form the basis of the training program he and his colleague devised (addressing, among other issues, human rights and how the concept has developed since the era of the Magna Carta. ) With the same purposeful tone he used to deliver his presentation on non-lethal methods of controlling disturbances, he pointed to his shirt collar, revealing what perfume he wears.

The intervention of other forces - such as the Palestinian Authority Intelligence and the Preventive Security Force, which enjoy close ties with the ruling Fatah party - in ordinary police duties is not looked upon kindly by the civilian police and the Europeans. This, at least, is was what I was led to understand during the visit.

"I work with the civilian police force, which has 7,700 members," says Henrik Malmquist of Sweden, the head of the mission and a lawyer by training. Of these, he notes, 1,300 are part of the special police force. Together with the other six Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, there are about 35,000 security personnel (with roughly 10,000 members of the U.S.-trained "Dayton's Army." )

"The fact that there are a number of different security agencies does not necessarily make matters easier," he says. "When we look into what you have been checking [the dispersal of demonstrations], for example, it is difficult to know who was in charge at the scene, the police or another group. Shared responsibility is no responsibility. I would have preferred that the civilian police be the main agency, and if they needed help, then they could ask for it. If one of the other agencies is not behaving well [while dispersing a demonstration or public meeting], this could spill out to the civilian police even if its members behave better than the others. In principle, [the political echelon] can decide exactly what the limits are, where the police should act and where the other agencies should."

Is the training of the Palestinian police different because they are under occupation and not in a sovereign state?

"No and yes. No, because the training is done just like in any other place. And yes, because everything we do is done with the approval of the State of Israel. Any equipment we bring in has to be approved by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. In addition, the police force works under the mental programming of life under occupation. The reality on the ground affects how they see the future. When I meet my counterpart, the head of the Palestinian police force, for example, he is genuinely concerned about the absence of [Israeli] concessions. The absence of concessions makes it difficult to motivate members of his force when they carry out the mission of maintaining law and order . . . Currently it seems to me that they are not affected by political concerns. If there is an order, they will carry it out professionally. But the question is always there - how much can they be pushed, how much can be demanded of them to act against their own people, if there is no progress in the peace process?

"There's also another factor - the 'picnics' of the army inside Ramallah and other areas. A high-ranking Israeli official used the word 'picnics,' even though a more appropriate term would be 'incursions.' Two jeeps that enter Ramallah or another area have a great effect on the Palestinian police. Everyone can come with a jeep and a flag and declare that he is the one in control. I requested of high-ranking Israeli officials to refrain from this practice because it has a destructive effect on the morale of police. I was told that there is always a justified reason for this, that it comes in the wake of a thorough examination of the situation."

Do you have any idea what the crime rates are?

"We get statistics. I have no way of knowing how reliable the figures are, but they reflect something that I am impressed with in various ways - that the crime rate is very low. This is characteristic of a society in which the familial and clan basis is very strong and which is still closed. People don't move in wide circles and crime is not anonymous. It's reminiscent of Europe 40 or 50 years ago."

Do you take into account that this is a society which has its own traditions of dealing with crime, methods of mediation to which people in the West are also returning these days?

"No, but perhaps that's a mistake that should be debated: Does the international community act appropriately when it doesn't support these traditional practices and instead builds a mirror image of the institutions existing in Europe, the United States or Israel?"

Have representatives of the PA raised this issue with you?

"No."

P.S. On Friday evening, when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak finally announced his resignation, several hundred Palestinians assembled in Ramallah's Al Manara Square to celebrate the Egyptian revolution. A very small group of Palestinian policemen stood by but did not interfere. "Two regimes have gone and now it's time for another 20," one of the slogans read. "We're No. 5 in line," someone was overheard saying into his cellular phone. The Israeli occupation, he explained, could only be eradicated afterward. Among the shouts of joy, I couldn't hear whether the number already included Egypt and Tunisia.