Foolishness and shortsightedness, subcontracting for the Israeli army, or direct collaboration with the occupier – which of these can explain Sunday’s Palestinian police violence against a few dozen social activists in Ramallah?
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Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah announced the establishment of an investigative committee to examine “the events at the courts compound” on Sunday. Six Palestinian prisoners were meant to be tried that day for illegal weapons possession and endangering human life. But four of them had already been arrested by Israel and one of them, Basil al-Araj, had been killed by the Israel Defense Forces and the Border Police a week earlier, during a raid on Al-Bireh. Immediately afterward the social networks elevated him to the rank of national hero, fighter and intellectual.
Those who sent a police unit armed with batons, pepper spray, stun grenades and tear gas could have been more understanding of the demonstrators, who were shocked by the very idea that a Palestinian trial was being held for someone who was killed by Israel and for another four men imprisoned in Israel. But the orders were given and obeyed as if in a bubble divorced from history, geography, society and politics.
The Palestinian courts compound is less than a kilometer from the military bases of the Judea and Samaria Division and the Civil Administration, the seat of the sovereign – the IDF. It’s where at least some of the orders are issued to raid homes and neighborhoods in Palestinian cities (Area A, supposedly under full Palestinian control), including Ramallah.
In one of the offices there, an Israeli officer calls the liaison in the Palestinian security apparatus and reports a planned raid to make arrests, confiscate equipment and sow destruction and fear. That’s when the Palestinian policemen and other official gun-bearers make sure to stay off the streets – either because the master demanded it, or because they fear for their lives. With one phone call, Ramallah and cities like it stop being a “bubble” in which the Palestinian police can deceive themselves into thinking they’re in charge.
One of the most bothersome questions concerns the limits of security coordination. Araj and some of his friends were arrested less than a year ago by the Palestinian General Security Service. Did it initiate the arrests based on information it acquired on its own, did it operate at the instructions of the Israeli Shin Bet security service or following the exchange of information? There’s no way of knowing.
After going on hunger strike, Araj and his colleagues were released, and the PA filed charges against them. He went underground, and four of the others were arrested by the IDF and Shin Bet. Then Araj was located and killed. The suspicion that the Israelis got a “tip” from an official Palestinian source hovers over the events.
The Palestinian security forces operate at the orders of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas continues to adhere to the Oslo Accords, which include a Palestinian commitment to fight “terror.” But this commitment was made on the assumption that Israel would gradually reduce its domination in the territories until Palestinian independence was achieved. It very quickly emerged that this assumption was mistaken; Israeli control only broadened and deepened.
Abbas has solid reasons to fear abandoning the field to independent military cells that won’t defeat the occupation but only worsen the situation. This, however, is not the message he and his security forces are conveying. They don’t allow any transparency regarding security coordination with Israel; instead they try to silence the debate over it and treat those who criticize it as enemies serving “foreign agendas.” By doing this they are only strengthening the suspicion that the devout, one-sided Palestinian observance of the Oslo security commitments stem primarily from the unique interests of the ruling echelons, as well as from a process of their adjustment and identification with the force that really rules.