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For Palestinian Police, Much to Lose if Israel Annexes West Bank Land

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JENIN, West Bank — What wounded Maj. Zahi Jamhour most, he mentioned, wasn’t the stones thrown at him by Palestinians he had sworn to guard. It wasn’t even the bullet shot via his leg by an Israeli soldier — “a mistake,” he was informed later — after his Palestinian police squad had risked their lives to rescue a Jew from an tried lynching.

No, what stings to this present day is how the Arab medical doctors and nurses at an East Jerusalem hospital reacted when he informed them how he had been shot.

“They laughed at me,” Major Jamhour, 50, recalled ruefully. “They said, ‘You deserved it.’”

The scorn heaped upon Palestinian Authority safety officers for cooperating with Israel, they are saying, was the bitter value of jobs with important advantages: salaries, pensions and, for some, vehicles, coaching overseas and proximity to energy.

Neighbors known as them collaborators, doing the soiled work for Israel’s occupation. Relatives questioned their self-respect. Israeli counterparts, they mentioned, routinely handled them with highhandedness and disdain.

And but, of their colourful uniforms, the safety forces are a conspicuous embodiment of the incipient state they hoped they had been constructing.

Now that Israel’s risk to annex elements of the West Bank has thrown that nationwide mission into doubt, many officers query whether or not the price to them was price it.

“It’s as if you’re building a house, and you see the whole thing collapse,” mentioned a senior intelligence officer in Jenin, talking on situation of anonymity as a result of he was not licensed to be interviewed.

In a uncommon sequence of interviews, Palestinian officers within the West Bank candidly described a regulation enforcement system that’s already fraying, inviting violence and chaos.

In protest of Israel’s deliberate annexation, the Palestinian Authority halted safety cooperation with Israel, impairing police and intelligence work that benefited either side. The authority additionally stopped accepting taxes collected on its behalf by Israel, and within the ensuing price range disaster, most officers are receiving solely partial pay; some are already skipping work.

Many of these nonetheless reporting for obligation sip espresso of their stations quite than responding to calls and risking detention by Israeli forces, leaving giant areas with out police safety.

The safety forces have lengthy performed a sophisticated position. They have turn out to be extra skilled in recent times, however stay an instrument of political management in addition to safety.

Scarred by shedding Gaza to Hamas in a 2007 civil battle, the forces have been essential in holding Fatah in energy within the West Bank, aggressively quashing extra militant factions. They have tortured a number of the authority’s critics, human rights teams say.

Still, polls present that Palestinians belief the safety forces greater than the authority’s leaders. Buf if the dream of statehood is dashed, the officers who’ve risked their lives and reputations for it have a lot to lose.

“You say, ‘State, state, state,’ and now the other side is saying ‘you won’t get one,’” mentioned Akram Rajoub, a longtime commander in Preventive Security, a home intelligence company, who’s now the governor of Jenin. “Where have all these state-building efforts gone? Where has all this investment gone? What are we going to tell our children?”

He was only a boy within the village of Al Qubeiba, Col. Saed Zahran mentioned, when he first grasped how little Israelis cared about crime amongst Palestinians. Two kids had been killed. Israeli detectives arrived, scribbled a couple of notes and left. The crime stays unsolved.

He mentioned the reminiscence impressed him to hitch the police drive when it was established within the 1990s, believing that Palestinians needed to depend on themselves for regulation and order. Yet whilst commander of the Nablus police district, Colonel Zahran, 51, has solely restricted skill to ship safety and justice.

Security cooperation with Israel, Palestinians say, was not as mutual because the time period suggests.

The West Bank is dominated beneath Israeli army regulation. And whereas Israeli forces go wherever at will, Palestinian forces wanted permission to enter locations the place Israel has jurisdiction. When Israeli forces entered a Palestinian space, Palestinian officers had been warned to filter — to keep away from potential friction or the embarrassment of being seen alongside the Israelis.

Palestinian officers insist that they raced to adjust to Israeli requests for help, whereas pressing Palestinian requests for assist too typically languished unanswered.

“We often have disputes between families,” Colonel Zahran mentioned, through which the police are known as to intervene. But these regularly happen in locations the police can not go with out Israeli approval.

In a typical case final 12 months, the police had been known as to defuse a violent dispute within the village of Haris, however waited hours for approval. Colonel Zahran mentioned he gave up and drove there in civilian garments, in an unmarked automotive, with out his sidearm.

Nowhere is the asymmetry extra irritating, he mentioned, than when his officers refer instances to Israel for prosecution, solely to see them dropped.

Last August, an officer investigating the destruction of a store in Azun Atma was run down by two Israelis accused of the crime. Video of the hit-and-run reveals the officer thrown into the air. Colonel Zahran mentioned he turned over “a complete file” to Israeli authorities, who arrested the 2 however launched them days later with out clarification.

“What about the Palestinian police officer who was almost killed?” he mentioned.

In April, he mentioned, an Israeli citizen was caught in Qalqilya with 700 grams of cannabis. Under the Oslo Accords, Israeli residents should be turned over to Israel. But the Israeli authorities set the person free after an hour, sparking outrage in Qalqilya — at Colonel Zahran and his males.

“Honestly, how am I supposed to defend what we did?” he mentioned.

Israeli officers didn’t reply to Colonel Zahran’s particular accusations. But they acknowledge that West Bank instances are sometimes dropped when the victims are Palestinian. Broadly talking, they are saying, Israel prioritizes counterterrorism over crime-fighting.

The Israeli police “prefer to deal with issues inside Israel,” and crimes involving Israeli victims, mentioned Dov Sedaka, a former head of Israel’s civil administration of the West Bank. “The issue isn’t our ability to collect evidence. It’s how much effort do we want to put in?”

All of which leaves officers like Colonel Zahran feeling pained and powerless.

“Palestinian citizens feel I’m not able to protect them,” he mentioned.

While the police are ridiculed for his or her subservient relationship with Israeli authorities, Palestinians can a minimum of see some profit in regulation enforcement. Intelligence officers, in contrast, have lengthy been seen with suspicion for working with Israel in cracking down on teams like Hamas.

Arrests of militants typically set off an avalanche of on-line vitriol aimed on the intelligence forces, mentioned the senior officer in Jenin.

“Every officer needs to have the conversation with his kids,” he mentioned, to justify his work. “I’d tell them that we were all under occupation, that we were officers serving our people first, and that if we were not there, our people would suffer.”

He mentioned he assured his kids that he was laying the groundwork for an eventual Palestinian state, which meant arresting militants who threatened to destabilize the West Bank.

Yet that work can undergo due to the ability imbalance with Israel. When he was conducting a significant arrest operation in Jenin, he mentioned, he found Israeli forces there, too. The Palestinians needed to withdraw.

“They say, ‘Our work is more important,’” he mentioned.

“Sometimes they don’t tell us they’re coming,” he added. “Sometimes they only tell us when they arrive.”

Israeli officers say they like to cooperate, however their incursions are sometimes prompted by the unwillingness of Palestinian intelligence to arrest militants aligned with Fatah.

“It’s a fact that we have more power, but we’ve tried to not make that explicit,” mentioned Nitzan Alon, a retired main basic who commanded Israeli forces within the West Bank.

With safety coordination halted, Palestinian officers say they’re holding their heads a bit greater. But the severing of ties generally forces them into harmful workarounds.

Having stopped in search of clearance to cross Israeli checkpoints, Palestinian officers are altering the plates on their vehicles, touring in plainclothes and unarmed, and inventing cowl tales about their locations.

In the city of Anata final month, unarmed officers who tried to arrest two folks suspected of dealing medicine needed to withdraw when a crowd gathered; they may not name in armed reinforcements.

But the best threat, the intelligence officer mentioned, is what is occurring in areas the place he wanted Israel’s approval to function and it’s too harmful to take action unarmed. Arms smuggling there was already widespread, he mentioned, and now it’s unchecked.

“Those weapons will land in the hands of people who would destroy all that we’ve accomplished,” he added.

Everyone in Palestinian safety appears to have a minimum of a narrative or two of his personal abasement.

For Col. Ahed Hasayen, a police spokesman in Ramallah, it got here at a convention with the Israeli police in Jaffa. His Israeli counterpart requested to take {a photograph} with him. Colonel Hasayen demurred, however the Israeli insisted that it will solely be a memento.

His cellphone rang 90 minutes later, on the drive again to Bethlehem.

“Shame on you,” he mentioned a good friend informed him. The photograph was circulating on social media.

“After that, how can you trust them again?” Colonel Hasayen mentioned. “Hamas said I should’ve worn a suicide belt.”

For Major Jamhour, it was the evening of Feb. 2, 2018, when a name got here from headquarters: An Israeli motorist had made a improper flip into the city of Abu Dis. An indignant crowd had trapped him.

Major Jamhour and his males arrived in minutes. They surrounded the Israeli’s Toyota and a trailer it was pulling, plastered with Israeli flags, as younger Palestinians pelted it with stones.

One officer was struck within the brow. When somebody threw a firebomb into the Toyota, Major Jamhour mentioned, the officers hustled the Israeli into their very own car and the wounded officer climbed on high of him, shielding him along with his physique.

The crowd grew to round 200 folks, yelling, “Give us this man!” Major Jamhour mentioned.

The Palestinian officers saved them at bay for 2 hours earlier than Israeli troopers and border police arrived. Major Jamhour mentioned he approached them along with his arms up, asserting himself as a policeman in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

“I told them, ‘Your man is safe,’” he mentioned, and led the troopers to the motorist.

But earlier than the Israelis pulled out, Major Jamhour mentioned, considered one of his males shouted at him to look out: An Israeli was aiming a rifle at him.

“I said, ‘Impossible,’” Major Jamhour mentioned — proper earlier than a bullet ripped via his leg.

“They didn’t shoot the stone throwers,” he mentioned. “They shot me, in a police uniform.”

The Israeli military confirmed {that a} soldier had shot Major Jamhour, chalking it as much as confusion.

His household begged him to stop the police. He refused, however his angle had modified.

Until that evening, he mentioned, he by no means hesitated to step in to guard weak civilians — Jew and Arab alike. But he not feels obligated to behave courageously in protection of Israelis.

“I went through coordination and they shot me,” he mentioned. “Now, there’s no coordination. I will not go to die.”





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