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What makes Palestinian security officials turn on Israelis?

The reality in the West Bank has pushed some Palestinians to enforce an occupation against their own people.

Palestinian Authority police attempt to prevent youth in Aida Refugee Camp from clashing with Israeli forces, Bethlehem, West Bank, September 27, 2013. (Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Palestinian Authority police attempt to prevent youth in Aida Refugee Camp from clashing with Israeli forces, Bethlehem, West Bank, September 27, 2013. (Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

On Sunday morning, 34-year-old Amjed Sakari, a member of the Palestinian security services, drove up to an Israeli checkpoint reserved exclusively for Palestinian Authority personnel. When asked to produce his ID, he stepped out of the car and opened fire, wounding three Israeli soldiers. In response, the IDF put Ramallah, the political and financial capital of the West Bank, under near-total lockdown.

The driver and bodyguard of the Palestinian chief prosecutor, Sakari is only the second member of the PA security forces to commit an attack since the latest round of violence erupted last October. The first was Mazan Hasan Ariva, an intelligence officer in the Palestinian Authority, who opened fire on an Israeli civilian and a soldier at Hizma checkpoint near Ramallah in December of last year.

As Amos Harel points out, it is too early to tell whether Sakari and Ariva’s actions are a harbinger of things to come, and yet this current political moment should give us pause.

Since the beginning of the occupation in 1967 and until 1993, Israel has been the sole sovereign power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Oslo Accords produced a series of political and economic agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the most significant of which was the creation of the Palestinian Authority — an interim self-governing body established to oversee both security and civil matters in parts of the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip.

While the PA was not allowed a military, it could establish its own security forces, including police and secret service. These forces work in tandem with the Shin Bet and the Israeli army to foil attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers as well as to prevent insurrection against the PA within Areas A and B.

On paper, Oslo laid out a years-long process of granting piecemeal autonomy to the Palestinians in the occupied territories. In reality, successive Israeli governments have used the PA to outsource the security duties of the Israeli army to a nascent, American-trained Palestinian police force. Meanwhile, Israel’s settlement enterprise continued to gnaw away at an already-fraught territorial contiguity in the West Bank. Today there are over half a million Israeli settlers beyond the Green Line, supported by one of the most pro-settlement governments in Israeli history.

Palestinian Authority police (right) cooperate with Israeli border police (left) to control Palestinian access to Jerusalem at the Bethlehem checkpoint on the last Friday of Ramadan, August 17, 2012. During Ramadan this year, Israeli authorities only allowed males under 12 or over 40 to pass without a special permit. This day, females of all ages were allowed to pass. (photo: RRB/Activestills.org)

Palestinian Authority police (right) cooperate with Israeli border police (left) to control Palestinian access to Jerusalem at the Bethlehem checkpoint on the last Friday of Ramadan, August 17, 2012.  (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Palestinians in the West Bank have come to resent their own government as much as Israeli military rule. According to a poll published in December by the Palestinian Public Center for Policy and Survey Research, two-thirds of the Palestinian public demand President Mahmoud Abbas resign from office. Moreover, the poll reveals that should presidential elections be held today, a candidate from the rival Hamas faction would win a clear victory against Abbas.

The current arrangement serves both the Israeli government and the Palestinian elites in Ramallah: Abbas can use his security forces to clamp down on both violence and dissent, by individuals and Hamas. For Israel, Abbas is a scapegoat — the one who can be lambasted for unilateral moves for international recognition or whenever Palestinian violence flares up in the West Bank. Despite what Netanyahu may have you believe, however, Abbas’ rule is the key to the future of Israel’s occupation.

So what do those Palestinians who are embedded within the security apparatus do when they realize the game is fixed — that they themselves are carrying out the duties of occupying soldiers against their own people? What do they do when they realize that there is, in fact, no way out?

A look at Sakari’s Facebook page offers a glimpse into his dilemma. In the early hours of Sunday morning, Sakari published a Facebook status in which he declared that there is no use in living “as long as the occupation oppresses our souls and kills our brothers and sisters.” The previous night, Sakari published a status, according to which “Every day we hear news of a death…Forgive me, perhaps I will be next.”

Israelis are justifiably frightened by the prospect of more attacks by the very people entrusted with protecting them. The collapse of the PA is not an impossibility; a growing number of Palestinian security service members turning on their Israeli overlords, buttressed by a restless civilian population already on the verge of a full-blown, popular revolt could bring an end to the “security coordination” Israel relies on to maintain the status quo. The question is whether Israel’s leadership could ever offer an alternative vision that will grant real power and authority to the Palestinian people, not just their subcontractors.

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    1. Giora Me'ir

      The PA needs to disband and stop doing Israel’s dirty work. If Israel wants to continue to occupy the territory, let it police it.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Eliza

      I doubt very much that many Israelis have a clue that it is the PA Security Forces under Abbas that is contributing to their security. I doubt very much that many Israelis have any ‘fear’ of PA security forces turning on them simply because they have never acknowledged the relationship between the Israeli and PA security forces. It may be different for some within those forces.

      But yes, the cozy security arrangement between the PA and Israel must eventually fail. It only ever provided security for Israelis Jews. And no, the Israeli leadership will not be able to even consider any real power to the Palestinians; at least not until they have no alternative.

      No people ever willingly gave up their power and privilege over another people. Zionism is not different.

      Reply to Comment