What Happens When Israel Lets Palestinian Police to Do Its Job

Since 1996, parts of the West Bank have become a paradise for people fleeing from Palestinian law, and a hell for the residents in general; last year, after years of pleas, Israel allowed the Palestinian police to operate there freely.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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A Palestinian man climbs over a section of the separation barrier between A-Ram in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, February 24, 2016.
A Palestinian man climbs over a section of the separation barrier between A-Ram in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, February 24, 2016.Credit: AFP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

In a village nursery in the southwest part of the West Bank, Palestinian police seized 1,200 Indian cannabis plants. The report by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an was adorned by pictures of the plants; the journalist accompanied the police on the bust. Very advanced irrigation methods were employed, a Palestinian intelligence officer told the journalist. The owner of the nursery, who is known to the police, managed to flee.

In the words of the intelligence officer, the village is “very close to the racist separation fence.” That’s the literal statement, and now for the interpretation: The mention of the fence’s proximity is a hint that there may be some connection with Israelis, such as clandestine ways of immediately transferring the plants, seeds or the substance produced from them from one side to the other. The officer added that the plants were seized as part of a campaign by Palestinian security services to eliminate negative phenomena that threaten the welfare and security of the citizens — drugs in particular.

The few hours I dedicated last week to Palestinian police reports about ordinary crime were a refreshing break from war and occupation crimes that I'm generally concerned with. Drugs and suspected dealers are nabbed every week. On Shabbat, for instance: Following a tip, police searched the home of a Hebron resident, where they found 50 grams of marijuana, bags for filling and instruments for using the drug. He was arrested, questioned and admitted his intention to use and distribute the substance. And on Friday, during a search of a car in Ramallah, a suspicious substance suspected of being Indian cannabis was seized. There was no mention of quantity or weight.

Sometimes the reported quantities are large. On July 27, for example, police confiscated over two kilograms of cannabis in addition to a hashish cake weighing 93 grams, bags for filling, four pills of an unidentified drug and crystal meth. They also caught five drug dealers and distributors in the area of occupied Jerusalem (A-Ram, Kafr Aqab and Jab'a), according to the official report.

That’s the literal text. And the interpretation: The large quantities — in other words, for dealing and distribution — were usually seized near Israel or close to East Jerusalem. These fall under the definition of Area B, where the civil authority is Palestinian while the security authority, according to the Oslo Accords, is Israeli. Since 1996 these areas have become a paradise for all kinds of people fleeing from Palestinian law (for example, men accused of violence against their wives), and are hell for the residents in general: often dangerous unlicensed construction, defiance of other municipal regulations, unlicensed taxis, and so on. The problem is particularly acute in the outskirts of Jerusalem. It’s only natural that drug dealers also felt safer there.

In February 2015, after years of Palestinian pleas, Israel allowed the Palestinian police to operate regularly in the large towns and neighborhoods on the outskirts of Jerusalem (A-Ram, Abu Dis and Biddu) without coordinating their every move with the Israel Defense Forces. The proximity to Israel is still tempting to the drug dealers, but the risk of being caught has increased. Does the seizure of 2,450 grams of cannabis in a car on its way to Tuba on July 9 contradict the theory or strengthen it? In the absence of further details, that still requires examination.

A perusal of the police logs also reveals a report of a father who turned in his son for using drugs. A search of their home in Bethlehem revealed a little marijuana and several tablets of Termol, an addictive painkiller. And in Hebron, a man turned in his brother for driving an “illegal motorcycle.” The police report praises him for taking action to save lives.

What is an illegal vehicle? That’s a concept that is typical of the situation in the West Bank, and a target of the Palestinian police force’s most vigorous activity: these old cars are bought cheaply from their Israeli owners, which were not legally registered (there’s a Palestinian regulation that prohibits the purchase of a used Israeli vehicle over three years old).

There are also stolen cars, cars to be scrapped for spare parts, and cars whose owners simply can’t afford to pay for insurance and an annual license. According to the Palestinian police, many of them are involved in accidents, because their drivers do not make an effort to obey the law from the start. For the aforementioned reasons, it’s easier to keep such cars in Area B. Last week the Palestinian police checked 5,211 vehicles and removed 303 cars that didn’t meet public safety requirements off the road. They wrote 3,343 traffic tickets, held 264 vehicles suspected of being illegal and destroyed 174 illegal vehicles.

The Palestinian police also have a special unit for cyber crimes, which handles complaints of financial extortion committed by breaking into Facebook accounts and threatening to disseminate personal photos and information. A police source told a reporter from the Palestine 24 news site in January that a large percentage of victims of internet crime are women. “After all, in our conservative society, a person’s good name is his most precious asset,” concluded the reporter.

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