Published — Sunday 24 February 2013
Last update 23 February 2013 10:56 pm
Calling the police for help in the Palestinian territories doesn't always mean they'll come to the rescue. Fight, murder, drug deal or theft, without Israeli approval the Palestinian security forces can go nowhere. Instead they fight an ongoing battle against what they call Israeli limitations and interference with their operations.
Sometimes this means they can't intervene or are too late to prevent crimes in the territories in which they operate. "When we ask to move our troops somewhere, Israeli authorities say they will check. Sometimes they agree after two or three hours, but most of the time they don't get back to us so we know the answer is no," Adrian Damiri, official spokesperson of the Palestinian security forces, told The Media Line.
Palestinian security officials say Israel doesn't share intelligence with the Palestinian Authority. "There are no good-will intentions or true coordination with Israel. Israel is still an occupying force and they deal with us with a feeling of superiority and authority. Israel doesn't treat us as equals," he said.
Israeli officials confirmed that the Palestinians need permission from the army, but said they do not try to hinder them.
"Palestinian security forces cannot enter Area C without prior coordination with Israeli authorities," Capt. Eytan Buchman told The Media Line, referring to the part of the West Bank that is under Israeli se. "The IDF (army) and COGAT (civil administration) maintain ongoing security coordination with the Palestinian security mechanisms at a wide range of levels and on an ongoing basis."
The Palestinian territories were temporarily divided into areas A, B, and C by the Oslo accords in 1993, aimed at facilitating coordination and preventing confusion since these areas are not contiguous. Area A is under full Palestinian control, Area B under Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control, while Israel has full control of Area C, 60 percent of the West Bank.
That means Palestinian forces seeking to pass through Area C or make arrests there must first coordinate it with Israel. Some 300 members of the Palestinian security forces are in Israeli jails on different charges, some because they operated in Area C without permission, Palestinian officials say. Palestinian Jerusalemites who carry Israeli ID cards are not allowed to be a part of the security forces and face jail time if proven otherwise.
Israeli military sources say the Palestinian security forces have freedom of movement in Areas A and B, where most Palestinians live.
"It is important to bear in mind that the vast majority of the Palestinian population are based in Areas A and B," an Israeli military source told The Media Line. "As per the Olso Agreement, security in Area C is under Israeli responsibility."
There are no longer Palestinian-Israeli joint patrols of cities anymore, a casualty of the second Intifada in 2000. Palestinians say Israel ignores signed agreements and invades area A without first coordinating such actions with them. According to the agreements, Israel should coordinate such actions with the Palestinian Authority working in Area A, and the Palestinian national security guards should then leave the area.
Palestinian officials also claim Israel protects attackers from the West Bank's Jewish communities located outside the Palestinian Authority. "Israel doesn't allow us to protect our people from "settlers'" attacks in the West Bank. They also don't arrest settlers, such as those who burned down the mosque in Burqa village near Ramallah a few months ago," Damiri charged.
Preventing Israel from having any excuse to kill a Palestinian is the reason cited by Palestinians for their often criticized security coordination. "The most important part is that we...have never handed our people over to Israel. However, a chaotic West Bank is not in our interest," Damiri said, claiming Israel is trying to draw the area into an armed struggle.
"We try to prevent any attacks against Israel or the PA because we are guarding against being led into a more serious [she wrote militant] battle, and thereby defending Palestinian security," he added. If Palestinians attack Israel, Israel will respond causing Palestinian casualties, so he sees the security forces as protecting Palestinians from such a scenario.
It is illegal to use Palestinian lands for launching attacks or for gathering weapons and the Palestinian security forces have detained several armed groups in the West Bank.
PA officials say the decision to resist Israeli control over the lands it captured in 1967 should be a national one and not made by individuals or groups. Now nearly all Palestinian parties have agreed peaceful popular resistance is the way to end Israel's rule over these lands.
Many Palestinians question the Palestinian security cooperation with Israel or even deem it as betrayal of the Palestinians who see Israel as the enemy, so coordination details are kept from the public. "It's a free service we are providing the Israeli occupation, and I believe it should stop, especially when our detainees are facing death and are on open hunger strikes and Israel is not doing anything, Ahmed Abu-Hmaid, a Ramallah University graduate told The Media Line.
Another main critic of the cooperation is Hamas, which uses to attack the image of the PA ruled by the Fatah faction in the eyes of the public.
Established in 1994, the Palestinian security forces at the time consisted mainly of fighters who were part of the Palestinian revolution. The Oslo Accords only allowed for police forces to be established but the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat established other security agencies approved in later agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. A law passed in the Palestinian parliament in 2005 regulates their work and structure.
The Military Liaison Unit, a part of the security forces, is responsible for Palestinian contacts with neighboring countries such as Israel and Jordan. It deals with security, trade and humanitarian issues.
Some 64,000 people work in different capacities in the security forces and earn between $ 413 and $ 2,100. Some 30,000 Gaza security personnel who are Fatah loyalists aren't going to their jobs but still get paid by Fatah anyway to prevent economic collapse in Gaza
Adnan Barbakh, 48, was a security forces spokesman in the Gaza Strip until Hamas took full control in 2007 when he and other Fatah-affiliated employees were forced to stay home from their jobs. Barbakh tried to open a shop for a few months, only to have it closed by the Hamas government. A Palestinian law prevents those who work in the public sector from holding two jobs, whether they go to work or not. "Imagine how it is for me and my family that I stay home 24 hours a day," he told The Media Line.
To maintain security in the Gaza Strip, Hamas trained an "executive force" that mostly consists of Hamas-affiliated personnel.
Outlining what he and his operatives do when they are able, Damri said: "We are responsible for keeping the general security, maintaining the law and executing the political leadership's orders."
Two main agencies work in the West Bank under the authority of the Palestinian Interior Ministry, the Internal Security Agency and the National Security Agency.
Police forces, in their dark and light blue uniforms, are responsible for keeping law and order. Civil service members serve as firefighters in the Palestinian areas and the preventive forces, wearing civilian clothes, perform internal intelligence work.
The National Security Agency resembles an army in its structure and missions, has different units and its members wear olive green.
Another security agency is subordinate to the president's office, tasked with guarding his life and the lives of his guests, and its members wear civilian clothes or green camouflage outfits.
Riot police wear blue camouflaged uniforms, and there are other special units in the forces who wear different clothes.
There are only an estimated 4 percent of women in the West Bank security forces, most in the police. "We are not satisfied with this percentage, but we take comfort in knowing that some of the women have high-ranking positions in the police. It took us some time to convince society to allow women to join the security forces," Damri told The Media Line.
The police cancelled a "women only" police unit as it would have institutionalized separation between men and women. There are a number of women in the intelligence services.
The security forces are proud of the regular training they receive from American and European security forces. They say they are committed to stopping attacks, but call on Israel not to make their task harder.