Palestinians divided over PA’s anti-crime campaign

‘The crackdown excludes criminals with connections to Fatah’

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh (third left) and other members of the new government attend the swearing-in ceremony in Ramallah last month. (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)
PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh (third left) and other members of the new government attend the swearing-in ceremony in Ramallah last month.
Amid growing scenes of lawlessness and chaos in the West Bank, Palestinian Authority security forces on Sunday launched a security crackdown on Palestinians suspected of involvement in criminal activities.
The crackdown is focused on Palestinian neighborhoods and towns south of Hebron, which are located in Areas B and C of the West Bank.
According to the Oslo Accords, Area B is administered by both the PA and Israel, while Area C is exclusively controlled by Israel.
A PA security official told The Jerusalem Post that the crackdown on suspected criminals in the two areas was being carried out in coordination with the IDF.
The official said that more than 30 suspects were arrested in the Hebron area during the security operation in the past 24 hours. The PA security forces were still searching for another 40 suspects in the towns and villages of Yatta, Dhahiriya, Si’ir and Bet Umar, he added.
Most of the detainees are suspected of involvement in various criminal activities, including armed robberies, car thefts and physical assaults, a senior PA police officer in Hebron told the Post.
“We received many complaints in the past few years from residents that their areas have become safe havens for criminals,” the officer said. “The criminals think that because they are acting in Areas B and C, we can’t reach them. We have been planning this security crackdown for several weeks.”
In the first hours of the unprecedented operation, PA security officers seized dozens of stolen vehicles in Yatta and Dhahiriya, the officer added.
On Sunday morning, residents of some of the targeted areas took to the streets in protest against the PA’s anti-crime drive. Eyewitnesses said the protesters burned tires and blocked several roads with stones and garbage bins. Other residents told the Post that in some instances some of the suspected criminals and members of their families exchanged gunfire with the police officers.
A spokesman for the PA security forces confirmed that one policeman was shot in the legs and sustained moderate injuries when “wanted criminals” opened fire at the police forces near Hebron.
Some families complained that the policemen who raided and searched their homes used excessive force and damaged furniture and electric appliances.
Ahmed Rajabi, a member of a large clan in the Hebron area, told the Post that several police officers raided his home in a “brutal” way. “They destroyed furniture and beat everyone who stood in their way,” he complained.
MANY HEBRON residents, however, seemed to welcome the PA’s massive clampdown on crime.
In Yatta, leaders of local families and municipality officials offered food and soft drinks to the PA policemen participating in the security operation. “We are very happy that our police forces are finally going after the criminals and gangs here,” said Mohammed Abu Sharha, a local merchant.
He and other Palestinians in the Hebron area expressed deep concern over the high rate of crime in light of the absence of law-enforcement by the PA security forces. “Everyone here is carrying a pistol or a submachine gun,” said truck driver Hussein al-Umour. “The Israeli army does not come here unless there’s a security-related issue, and the Palestinian Authority says it needs permission from Israel to launch big security operations against the criminals.”
Musa Jaradat, a retired school teacher from Si’ir, said that among those detained by the PA security forces were several fugitives wanted for unpaid debts to individuals and institutions. “The Palestinian Authority is still weak,” he said. “Although we welcome the crackdown on crime, we are also worried about corruption in the Palestinian Authority. We hear about drug dealers who are released one day after their arrest because of their connections with senior Palestinian officials in Ramallah.”
Luay Zreikat, spokesman for the police forces, said in a statement that his men have received “clear instructions to go after law-offenders and those who use live ammunition.”
The PA operation in Hebron coincided with the death of Hashem Tirawi, 22, of Balata refugee camp near Nablus.
Tirawi, according to residents, died of injuries he sustained when Palestinian security officers opened fire at a car he was sitting in two weeks ago.
Tirawi’s death triggered a wave of protests in Nablus, where several Balata youths blocked the main entrance to the city with burning tires and stones. Tirawi’s relatives said he was shot when Palestinian policemen opened fire to break up a fight between two local families.
Some Palestinians said that while they welcomed the anti-crime campaign, they were nonetheless worried that the PA security forces were being selective in their crackdown on suspects. “If you’re a senior member of Fatah and have friends in the Palestinian Authority, you will get a free pass to break the law,” said Nablus-based political activist Izzat al-Masri.
He pointed out that in the past few days, a video has surfaced on social media depicting the Fatah leader in the nearby town of Salfit, Abdel Sattar Awwad, firing into the air from an Ak-47 rifle during the wedding of his son.
“If he was an ordinary Palestinian, he would have been immediately arrested by the Palestinian police,” Masri remarked.