Illusion Of Control

Keeping Things Quiet In The West Bank For Obama’s Visit

Anna Lekas Miller on the Israeli government's decision to give Palestinian Authority security forces firearms ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit.

On Wednesday, Israeli Radio reported that the Israeli government plans to give the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces 700 firearms to “keep the peace” ahead of President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit.

“The aim is to boost the PA security service against lawbreakers and terrorists,” a source from the Israeli Ministerial Council commented to Israeli Radio.

But that begs the question: who are these lawbreakers and terrorists? Are they young Palestinian boys throwing stones at an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldier during clashes at a checkpoint or a demonstration? According to Israeli military law, a Palestinian under the age of 18 throwing stones at a soldier can warrant a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, technically making him a “lawbreaker.” Are they ordinary Palestinian men and women who happen to be public about their political affiliations through either their work or activism? According to Israeli military law, anyone can be arbitrarily arrested and detained based on his or her political affiliations, which are loosely interpreted as a “security threat,” thus making them “terrorists.”

Now the PA will be further equipped to carry out the work of the IDF.

This collaboration between the PA and the Israeli occupation is hardly new. Earlier this year, the PA security forces raided Al-Amari refugee camp in Ramallah, shooting live rounds of ammunition at refugees protesting against Israel’s treatment of Palestinian prisoners. Seven people were shot with live fire, with three sustaining critical injuries; it was the PA’s most violent confrontation with West Bank Palestinian civilians to date.

Just last week at the Open Shuhada Street demonstrations in Hebron—an annual demonstration of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals calling upon the Israeli authorities to open Shuhada Street, the main artery through Hebron that has been Jews-only since the Second Intifada, to Palestinians—the IDF predictably rained teargas and skunk water while firing sound grenades and rubber bullets at the demonstrators. However, during the afternoon the IDF retreated and the PA police, who had previously been nonchalantly standing around the clock tower in the central square, began forcefully firing teargas and rubber bullets.

The next day, 30-year-old Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat died suddenly while being interrogated in the Megiddo Detention Facility in Northern Israel. After an autopsy report proved that his cause of death was not a heart attack as the Israeli Health Ministry had claimed, many Palestinians believed that he likely died of torture at the hands of his Israeli interrogators—citing his two broken ribs, beatings on his chest and lashes on his back and shoulders. Protests that quickly escalated into violent clashes with the IDF erupted throughout the West Bank, and many—particularly in Israel—speculated that this outrage could be a precursor to the Third Intifada.

Recently, Benjamin Netanyahu has released $100 million in withheld tax revenue to the PA. It is no coincidence that the money—which has been withheld since November as punishment for the U.N. Statehood bid—was released three days after Jaradat’s death, quite likely expedited by both the fears of a Palestinian uprising and the desire to “keep things quiet” in the West Bank before President Obama’s visit.

During his two-day first-time visit to Israel, President Obama plans to spend two hours in Ramallah, the de-facto capital of the PA-controlled West Bank where he will meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Although President Abbas claims that the issue of Palestinian prisoners being illegally held in Israeli jails will be first on his agenda to discuss, it is doubtful that two hours with the American president will suffice to adequately quell Palestinian anger bubbling throughout the West Bank.

Israeli firearms in the hands of the PA security forces might create the desired political illusion of control, but the security interests they are serving are those of the Israeli government and the IDF—not those of Palestinian civilians.