Break-in at the Statistics Bureau

On the night between Wednesday and Thursday last week, an IDF unit raided the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in Al-Bireh. An occupation is not just the presence of soldiers and tanks, but also control of information.

International scoop: Prima facie evidence indicates that there is support from Norway for Palestinian terrorist activity. And from Germany, Switzerland and Sweden.

On the night between Wednesday and Thursday last week, an Israel Defense Forces unit raided the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) in north Al-Bireh. The announcement by the IDF Spokesman stated that the raid was undertaken "in the framework of the IDF's fight against terror," and that in searches carried out at the bureau "of the Palestinian Authority, evidence was discovered that indicates prima facie that PA supports terrorist activities. Among the evidence were documents showing transfers of money to the Palestinian Authority, full check books, video cassettes and computer diskettes."

The countries mentioned above funded the establishment of the bureau in 1994 and most of its research projects, surveys and the census it carried out of all the residents of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem). The European Union also donated money to the bureau - $4 million - as part of the donor nations' support of the development of Palestinian civil institutions. Norway donated about $7 million; Germany, $5 million; Switzerland, $4 million; and Sweden, $1.5 million.

During the first five years after it was established, all the bureau's activities were funded by European donations. In 1999 and in 2000, the PA covered 30 percent of the expenses, with the rest covered by donations. In 2001, the year of the intifada and the siege, the research projects were once again funded by donation money.

This is just one sign of the importance attributed in Europe to the functioning of a civil institution like the PCBS. Every Palestinian, Israeli or international research study of Palestinian society inevitably makes use of its reliable data, current reports and surveys that shed light on aspects the state of Palestinian society, such as leisure habits of Palestinian children and child labor, the decline in the standard of living because of the intifada, working women and women's health.

At what level of the military hierarchy was the decision taken to storm the building on December 5, at 11 P.M. and raid every room on its five stories until 5 A.M. on Thursday? Presumably it was not a decision by the commander of the local force that since last Monday had, for the second time in two months, taken control of northern Al-Bireh. Was it the Shin Bet security service that proposed the raid, in the false hope of finding secret data in the database of the bureau, which is responsible for the population registry and the voters registry? Was this a local interpretation of the political echelon's instruction to hit institutions of the PA which in any case had been declared a "supporter of terror," or was the bureau defined as an intelligence target in some political-military forum?

And perhaps the bureau was not selected as an intelligence target but rather as a symbolic signal? As the occupying power that since 1967 has controlled all the statistical data that describe Palestinian society, Israel publicized or hid the figures as it chose.

An occupation is not just the presence of soldiers and tanks, but also control of information, its development, the ways it is used and the dialogue that develops between it and the society. The PCBS confiscated from Israel one of its means of control. Perhaps someone wanted to signal that the preparation of the infrastructure for Palestinian independence is now a target.

The fact of the raid on the PCBS made no impression in Israel. Nor, of course, did all the doors that were forced open and broken, the cupboards and the desks whose contents were rolled around on the floor, the careful accounts books that were taken away along with computer hard disks and diskettes, the two safes that were broken into (the IDF says that no cash was found in the safes; the director of the bureau, Dr. Hassan Abu-Libdeh, says there had been money and it was taken).

Nor the disks that someone smashed, among them a disc that was a gift from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics: The Israeli Statistical Yearbook for 2001, nor the crudeness with which someone scrawled in Arabic on one of the documents. (The IDF spokesman's office says that these claims are "not known.")

The IDF knows that everyone will stand at attention upon hearing the "scientific" statement that "evidence has been found indicating prima facie support by the Palestinian Authority for terrorist activity." The need to combat terror and prevent devastating terror attacks is obvious. The problem is that it silences any independent, public questioning of the nature of the targets the IDF, upon the instructions of the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, selects in order to combat terror.

In Israel, they prefer to ignore the social and intellectual effort the Palestinians have invested in developing an infrastructure for civil advancement. They refuse to see that only the chance for human, social, and community development, as among all peoples, will isolate terror.

Now, only a perverted logic is operative: The PA has been declared to be a supporter of terror, every one of its institutions - civil and military - is suspected of supporting terror, and therefore any accounting transaction, any transfer of funds, every check and every bit of data serve terror. If this is the case, does the fact that the government of the United States government gave $350,000 to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics also make it, prima facie, a supporter of Palestinian terror?