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"Well, have you been liberated?" we asked a Tul Karm resident, aged 52.

"So they say," he replied.

This is how he describes the situation: "The kids [armed Fatah youngsters] are roaming the streets, shooting in the air and believing their own declarations that they have been set free. If and when the Israeli army wants to reenter the town, it will. What difference does it make to us that soldiers entered the town at night and left? None. They say the Anavta roadblock will be removed, but in our experience they will immediately place a mobile block in its place. And the roadblock at Shufa junction [at Tul Karm's southeastern exit] has not been removed.

"The Palestinian police were always in town, what difference does it make if their rifles are in the car or on their shoulder? The criterion for freedom is not the presence of policemen or their weapons. When will the Israelis understand that you can't talk about the liberation of one city, when the entire West Bank is occupied? I'll feel free only when I can reach my land - a large part of which is blocked off by the separation barrier; when there is not a single Israeli roadblock, mobile or fixed, in my way; and when the settlements are dismantled."

Pictures of Palestinian police in training were published in Israel to represent the insignificant changing of the guard in Tul Karm. This is an inheritance from the Oslo era, when the Israelis - thanks to a spectacle produced by the Fatah movement - saw Palestinian uniforms as the supreme reflection of the virtual "end of the occupation."

The Israeli media was reflecting the Israel Defense Forces and intelligence's expectations that the Palestinian security forces would act in their own way against anyone planning to harm soldiers, settlers and citizens in Israel. They expect it of them today as well. In other words, the Israelis once again expect the occupied to protect the occupier. In exchange, they have made extremely vague and partial promises.

But let us assume that this is a logical expectation, considering the power balance. If they are to succeed in this mission, without becoming a brutal instrument of oppression that would only arouse resistance, the Palestinian police must prove they are capable of protecting Palestinian citizens, too. Both from crime and from the occupying force.

Even without a functional Palestinian Authority, Tul Karm residents are not afraid of robbery and burglary. The resident we spoke to explains that robbery and burglary was rife under the auspices of the IDF's prolonged invasions, with clans in the city cooperating to salvage the stolen property. He believes it is because family traditions promote solidarity and mutual responsibility. These traditions have replaced the prisons that the IDF destroyed, but also the rule of law.

Before September 2000, those with power, money and influence could harm others - by cheating and taking over lands - and get away with it, without being brought to trial. So occupation or not, the PA must effect a thorough reform in the justice system.

The murder of a 15-year-old from Tul Karm is occupying the public here much more than the changing of guards. The girl's father raped her, and she went to the hospital to get an abortion. The doctors knew who the rapist was, but sent her home. When she returned, one of her brothers murdered her.

In Bethlehem, a few days earlier, a father murdered his daughter after she was raped. Perpetrators of murder for reasons of "family honor" are liable to a penalty of a mere six months in prison, according to the criminal law inherited from Jordan. The PA must come out against these social traditions and change the law. The Ministry for Women's Affairs, women's organizations, social workers and the police are all discussing ways to stop "honor killings" that are protected by law and tradition.

The media have reported details that were taboo in the past, and there are signs of readiness to confront the custom rather than bury it with excuses of "we are under occupation."

But what about security from the occupying force? It has already been proved that the Palestinian police can offer citizens no protection from the attacks of Israeli soldiers. In the village of Bal'ein, for example, the builders of the separation barrier uprooted some 60 of the residents' olive trees on Monday. Israeli trucks loaded the trees and disappeared before the residents could salvage them. Here the Palestinian police would be of no use.

Nor can they protect the residents of Boudrus village, who are under incessant IDF raids, especially in the last few days. The soldiers took the village men out of their beds in the middle of the night and photographed them. Granted, this was far from Tul Karm, but the resident we are speaking to is afraid that the PA's helplessness in such situations weakens it when it comes to provide internal security, which does not depend on the occupier's presence.