West Bank: Security Coordination Must Be Based on Respect

Bethlehem, Palestine - Palestinian security forces stand guard in Bethlehem's Manger Square during Christmas Eve festivities (Dec. 24, 2011. Credit: Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

In 2002, I awoke one morning to find that the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters near my home in Hebron was under siege by Israeli tanks. The scene was not particularly strange since I had seen tanks and experienced curfews before, but seeing — and not merely hearing — the Israeli security forces with their tanks and F16s  was something new.

I have to admit that since that time, one of my eminent hopes has been to not see such violence repeated again in the future. Over the past sixteen days, I have called multiple times to check on my family in Hebron, the scene of an intensive Israeli military operation to find the three Israeli students who are thought to have been kidnapped from a Jewish settlement nearby.

During one of my calls, my six-year-old brother tried to tell me what he had heard about the military operation. “Did you hear about the guy who was killed in Hebron?” he asked. “Did you see the photo from the houses searched by the Israeli army? They have been searching every home.” For a moment, I went silent and did not know how to explain the situation to a six-year-old child who has been exposed to the tragic news of what is happening all around him in his own city.

This is not so different, however, from the tragic news that the relatives and families of the disappeared students have had to hear and bear in these last few weeks. The possible kidnapping of three students cannot be justified or accepted either morally or politically. It is also surprising, since in the last few years, there has been an increasingly widespread, collective national Palestinian agreement on the necessity of using peaceful means of struggle against the Israeli occupation as a means to end the occupation and achieve independence.

There are many Palestinians who think that the possible kidnapping of three Israeli students — their ideologies and backgrounds aside — is an unacceptable action. However, the current Israeli military actions on the ground are only making things worse, and could potentially undermine the possibility of peace anytime in the near future. Examining the current Israeli military operation in the West Bank — particularly in Hebron — makes clear a number of points that suggest what we are seeing today is not just about bringing back three Israeli students.

Firstly, When Israel commits collective punishment against the Palestinian people, banning Palestinians from Hebron from entering their places of work in Israel, imposing movement restrictions across the West Bank, depriving Palestinians from Hebron the right to cross the border into Jordan to travel outside of the country, and implementing searches of hundreds of Palestinian houses in a brutal manner, it antagonizes more people, many of whom do not necessarily support what happened to the Israeli students. To add to that, five Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces across the West Bank, and two elderly individuals have suffered heart attacks and died during home raids. Will this bring back the missing students? Maybe it will, but even if it does, it will only lead to even more hate and antagonism for Israel and will expand the already-existing gap between Israel and its neighbor.

Secondly, despite President Mahmoud Abbas’s condemnations of the kidnapping, the Israeli government continues to hold him responsible for what happened. However, the most striking aspect of Israel’s reaction was its order for  Palestinian Security Services to not operate in the area “A” of the West Bank. This is an obvious slap in the face after its own president said — a few days before the kidnapping — that security collaboration with Israel was “sacred.” Many Palestinians are now left asking themselves what the purpose of a Palestinian Authority if their own “security forces” cannot provide the needed protection for their citizens when targeted by such an Israeli operation?

Thirdly, whoever executed the kidnapping of the Israeli students knew very well the potential consequences for the Palestinian people. The Israeli government’s reaction — verbally and on the ground — is helping to destroy the little respect left for the Palestinian Authority and its security forces. What kind of state-to-be is it when its security forces have no sovereignty?

On one hand, the extent of disrespect the Palestinian Authority received from Israel might reflect the real behind-the-scene dynamics of its relationship with Israel. On the other hand, Palestinians are increasingly perceiving the Palestinian Authority to be a mere “watchdog” for Israel. For example, after clashes with the Israeli army in front of the Palestinian police station in Ramallah on Sunday ended, Palestinian youth stoned the station. This is a sign of increasingly visible anger at the Palestinian Authority’s performance on multiple levels.

If Israel and the international community allow for a violent escalation and rash reprisals to take place at this extremely sensitive time, things might become uncontrollable on the popular front. The current Palestinian official approach, however, is only serving the interests of the Palestinian political elite. The Palestinian people need to push for a thorough revision to the Palestinian Authority’s approach and make it clear that Palestinians want to be equal and respected partners in all mutual issues, and not merely security brokers on Israel’s behalf.

A version of this article was published in Maan News Agency. 

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