In the early hours of the morning on Sunday, July 1, unknown gunmen fired at
least eight pistol shots at Shami Shami, a Palestinian lawmaker and member of
the Fatah Revolutionary Council, as he returned to his home in Wadi Bruqin just
outside Jenin in the northern West Bank. Shami survived the attack, and was
rushed to the hospital with two bullets in his leg. The gunmen, who fired on him
from the cover of a small forest near his home, fled into the trees.
assassination attempt shattered two months of fragile calm in Jenin, which has
been the epicenter of a major security crackdown by the Palestinian Authority
Shami, a 48-year-old father of six, is a senior local leader of the
ruling Fatah party of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. He was born in the Jenin
Refugee Camp and spent eight years in Israeli jails. He has no idea who was
behind the assassination attempt, he tells The Jerusalem Report between
treatments for the bullet wounds. He had not received any threatening messages
or other sign that he had enemies who wanted him dead.
“I don’t have a
conflict with any political party in the West Bank,” says Shami, who is
recovering at home. “On the contrary, I am in favor of national unity and the
attack surprised me. It could be a message to the PA that whatever measures they
take, they will not be able to impose security in Jenin.”That could be a major
challenge to the stability of the PA. The current crackdown began after the
city’s governor, Qadura Mousa, died of a heart attack on May 2 following a
similar shooting attack on his home. Mousa had barreled out into the street
after the latenight gunfire, vowing to bring his would-be assassins to justice.
But as his officers patrolled the streets hunting for the gunmen, he suffered
heart failure and died later in the hospital.
PA leaders declined to
blame anyone publicly for the attack on Mousa, which came a year after the
still-unsolved murder of Jewish-Arab theater director Juliano Mer Khamis. Mer
Khamis was gunned down in broad daylight near the Freedom Theater he founded at
the entrance to the Jenin refugee camp.
of violence have undermined efforts by Palestinian leaders, backed by Quartet
Middle East Envoy Tony Blair, to depict Jenin, once a notoriously radical
stronghold into which even Yasser Arafat hesitated to venture, as a model for
the success of European- and US-funded training for the 28,000-strong
Palestinian police and security services. At a meeting in Ramallah immediately
following the death of Mousa in early May, Abbas told his security chiefs that
he had promised the Palestinian people when he was elected in 2005 to bring them
security and he would not allow that promise to be broken. An investigation
revealed that the attack on Shami had been carried out by former members of the
Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of Fatah founded during the second
intifada, along with rogue members of the security forces.
efforts to reimpose the jurisdiction of his security services over the troubled
city immediately ran afoul of the tangled relations between the PA and
Palestinian intelligence found that some of those wanted for the
attack on Mousa had fled from the West Bank into Israel. Abbas asked Hussein
Al-Sheikh, the minister in charge of coordinating civilian affairs with Israel,
to carry a stark message to his counterparts across the Green Line: If they
allow the suspects in the attack on Mousa to evade justice, Abbas would
immediately suspend security coordination with Israel.
officials say the issue also prompted an angry exchange between Abbas and Yoram
Cohen, head of the Shin Bet Israel Security Agency. During a visit by Cohen to
Abbas’s office in Ramallah on May 12, the PA president repeated his threat to
suspend security coordination. Israel duly forced at least two of the suspects
from Jenin to return to the West Bank where they were later arrested by the PA
security forces. They are still being held at the Preventive Security
interrogation facility in Jericho.
Until May, PA security forces had
concentrated their efforts on breaking up a re-emergent Hamas military and
financial network in the West Bank that threatened both the Fatah- dominated PA
and Israel. Since Mousa’s death, PA security has switched direction, targeting
rogue elements within Fatah itself and even within the ranks of its own
In the past two months, Palestinian security sources tell The
Report, PA security services have carried out the broadest security operation in
the West Bank since 2008, not against their political enemies in Hamas, but to
regain control over dozens of Fatah gunmen who have rejected party discipline.
They include former members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and officers in the
PA security services. The security chaos threatens to make it more difficult to
recruit financial support for the PA security services, which senior officers
say is already suffering from a shortage of money, weapons and
As Abbas reconsiders a new UN bid for recognition of a
Palestinian state, the breakdown in internal security could weaken him
diplomatically, as well as reducing the capability of the PA to provide security
for itself and its neighbors.
Nearly 150 rogue security personnel and
former Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades militants have been arrested since May,
including a colonel in the Palestinian General Intelligence and two regional
commanders from the Palestinian National Security Forces, who trained at the
US-funded International Police Training Center in Jordan. PA Interior Minister
Said Abu Ali says the security personnel suspected of misconduct will be tried
in military courts and, if guilty, dismissed from the security
The investigation soon expanded from Jenin to include Nablus,
Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah. Following raids by PA security forces throughout
the West Bank, suspects have been taken for interrogation to detention
facilities operated by the Palestinian Preventive Security Apparatus in Jericho
and Dahariya, near Hebron. Since it was founded by Arafat, Preventive Security
has traditionally dealt with internal dissent in the PA and, where necessary,
worked closely with Israeli forces.Al-Aqsa founder
The most prominent
person arrested was Zakaria Zubeidi, one of the three founders of the Al-Aqsa
Martyrs Brigades and the effective commander of underground Fatah fighters in
Jenin. Zubeidi was also a co-founder, along with the assassinated Mer Khamis, of
the Freedom Theater. Zubeidi was granted amnesty by Israel after the intifada on
condition that he remain under the supervision of the PA. He is now under
interrogation in a Palestinian Authority prison in Jericho, where he has
declared a hunger strike.
“They are playing with Zakaria, juggling him
between the civil and military court in order to circumvent their own so-called
law,” says Jonatan Stanczak, managing director of The Freedom
The PA absorbed hundreds of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades members
into the ranks of its security forces in 2007, giving them jobs and buying their
illegal weapons in an amnesty negotiated with Israel. Many of them were
subsequently equipped and trained in Jordan and at a newly constructed police
academy in Jericho, with financial backing from the US, the EU and several
individual European countries.
“What happened in Jenin confirmed that the
integration of gangsters into the PA security services without their
accountability was a fatal mistake that has exacted a heavy cost,” Palestinian
analyst Hani Al-Masri tells The Report
. “It has created a negative impression
among the citizens who saw that the source of the chaos this time is the
security services themselves.”
The renewed instability in Jenin, which
followed isolated shooting attacks on Palestinian police stations in the West
Bank, has convinced senior Palestinian officials that the more volatile former
fighters have failed to absorb the new discipline. Some are also suspected of
illegal trade in weapons on a burgeoning black market, which links Fatah rebels,
Hamas and Israeli criminals. Dozens of firearms, including M-16 assault rifles
and night vision equipment believed to have originated in the Israeli black
market, have been seized in raids by Palestinian security forces.
officials are concerned that some of the rogue elements may have sold weapons to
Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants operating in the West Bank or received money
from Iran or Hizballah. “These undisciplined groups worked to create
security-free areas that would be a challenge and threat to the PA,” Major
General Adnan Damiri, the Security Forces spokesman, tells The
“The PA security institution has learned the lesson from this
phenomenon and will not allow its repetition.”
Damiri calls the attempted
assassination of Shami in Jenin at the start of July the work of rogue elements
seeking “revenge” for the crackdown. “It continues the security chaos,” he says.
“The security campaign will continue until the undisciplined elements within PA
security have been completely uprooted.”Swooping on Hamas
meanwhile, was hoping that these internal divisions would keep their foes in PA
security too busy to bother them while Fatah purged the rebel elements from its
However, a senior PA security official tells The Report that three
weeks after the security crackdown began, Preventive Security officials swooped
on a Hamas stronghold in Halhul, north of Hebron, and arrested 25 Hamas
operatives suspected of trying to rebuild the movement’s military infrastructure
in the West Bank.
In 2008, in an attempt to finally impose law and order
on the West Bank after the chaos of the intifada and the Arafat era, Palestinian
civil police and armed security forces fanned out through previously lawless
areas in a largely successful effort to bring community policing and normal
justice to ordinary Palestinians.
Traffic cops began writing speeding
tickets and petty criminals were not only arrested but dealt with in a formal
manner in a court system revamped with US and European support. Detectives were
trained in basic forensics and fingerprinting.
For the first time in many
years, Palestinian police officers started to be viewed as servants of the
public instead of gunmen loyal to the regime or rival political
Four years later, the new crackdown has forced the PA security
forces to admit that they have deep problems within the ranks of their own
officers. The PA also decided to confiscate arms held by large families fearing
they might fall into the wrong hands or be used in internal clashes, adding to
the potential chaos.
Palestinian leaders are also nervous about the
general climate in the Middle East. Although Abbas’s rule has so far remained
largely unchallenged by the historic changes roiling the Arab world, the
revolutions in Egypt and Libya, civil war in Syria, and rising tensions in
Lebanon and Jordan have produced a wariness in the Palestinian leadership that
the current low level of sporadic shooting attacks could mushroom into a
The senior PA security official says that the chaos
could “pave the way for a Palestinian Arab Spring against the Abbas
Palestinian leaders are particularly concerned that parts of the
West Bank could once again become what the Jenin Refugee Camp used to be: a
no-go area for PA security.
A loss of PA control in such areas would show
the Abbas government as weak and undermine its efforts to pursue UN recognition
of an independent Palestinian state, as well as harming relations with Israel
and the international donor community whose contributions continue to support
the PA budget.Incensed
Palestinian officials were particularly incensed
by comments made on May 29 by Defense Minister Ehud Barak at a security
conference in Tel Aviv, where he floated the possibility of a unilateral Israeli
withdrawal from parts of the West Bank. A PA security official, speaking on
condition of anonymity, said an Israeli pullout would leave the Palestinian
security forces stretched too thin to deal with the continual security threats
against both the PA and Israel.
Security experts in the region tell The
Report that the PA security campaign has concentrated on confiscating
unauthorized arms instead of addressing the roots of
Politically, the crackdown could backfire, proving to skeptics
that the security forces lack discipline and that instead of protecting the
rights of ordinary Palestinians, they are more interested in protecting the
regime and Israeli security.
Those fears appeared to be realized on June
30, when dozens of uniformed and undercover personnel violently dispersed a
gathering of Palestinians at Manara Square in Ramallah. The demonstrators were
protesting against plans by Israeli Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz to meet with Abbas
in the city in July. It was to be the first top-level diplomatic contact for
nearly two years, and the first such meeting of any kind since Abbas held a
series of private encounters in Amman and London with President Shimon Peres and
Defense Minister Barak in 2011.
In the wake of the public protests and
the violent clashes with Palestinian police, the meeting with Mofaz was
canceled. The Palestinian police reaction to those demonstrations has done
little to enhance their reputation among the Palestinian public.
youth activist Hazem Abu Helal tells The Report that the peaceful protest was
intended to convey a message to the PA: Palestinians are frustrated by the lack
of progress in peace negotiations with Israel.
Negotiations, when held,
seem to have achieved little for the Palestinian people.
march confirms the rejection by the Palestinian people of receiving Mofaz in
Ramallah at the headquarters where he besieged Yasser Arafat before his
martyrdom,” Abu Helal says, recalling that Mofaz was chief of staff and then
defense minister at the height of the intifada.
The combination of the
security crackdown against former Fatah fighters and growing political dissent
could prove an explosive mix for the Palestinian leadership.
experts warn that without progress on other fronts, the PA my only be able to
dampen the discontent for so long.