Jaffa dreams

Ramallah police chief Gen. Taysir Tahboub has his eyes on Jerusalem.

Taysir Tahboub 224 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Taysir Tahboub 224 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Gen. Taysir Tahboub has a dream, one he hopes will materialize in the near future. He wants to be police chief of Jerusalem. The only problem is that he is a Palestinian Authority cop and currently one of the police chiefs in Ramallah. His dream, however, might not be that far off. With negotiations between Israel and the PA picking up speed following the Annapolis peace summit last month and the division of Jerusalem back on the negotiating agenda, it's not impossible to conceive that Tahboub's police station on Jaffe Street in Ramallah might one day gain some sort of sovereignty over at least part of Jaffa Road in Jerusalem. The police station actually looks like it could be in Jerusalem. After all, a three-story building with a Jerusalem stone façade located on the capital's main thoroughfare is not anything special. It is however located in a different (temporary?) capital, and the guards outside armed with AK-47 assault rifles give that away as well. Tahboub's men are responsible for maintaining law and order inside Ramallah as well as a number of Palestinian towns and villages along Jerusalem's perimeter. When the police station was first established following the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, it was intended to one day also be responsible for east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians hope will be their capital. "We say Jerusalem is our capital and Israel says it is theirs," Tahboub told The Jerusalem Post in an interview in his modest office adorned with pictures of late PA leader Yasser Arafat and current Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. "We will have to wait and see what will happen." Last week, the Post accompanied a team of the European Union's Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support, known as EU-Copps, on a tour of Tahboub's dilapidated police HQ. The EU-Copps - 26 foreign police advisers - began work in the PA in 2005 but quickly suspended its activities following Hamas's rise to power in January 2006. Its headquarters are located on Tokyo Street near downtown Ramallah. Following Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in June and the establishment of a Western-backed government in Ramallah, the team of international police monitors has renewed its activities throughout the West Bank, where it offers assistance and support to the rundown PA police force. The team of two international monitors, one from Greece and the other from Austria, met with Tahboub not to discuss his political aspirations - EU-Copps does not engage in political or diplomatic issues - but to see what kind of support it could provide the police chief and his station. "We are here to support and develop the PA police," explains EU-Copps chief Colin Smith. "The idea is to enable the police to enforce law and order, and we are not trying to establish a counter-insurgency force." The last point is of extreme importance for Smith to emphasize. He works with the "blue" civilian police who are responsible for fighting crime and maintaining order. Gen. Keith Dayton, the US State Department's security coordinator to the region, is responsible for the "green" police, the PA's military, which Israel would like to see crack down on Hamas and other terror groups in the West Bank. The distinction is important for Smith, who says that Israelis do not understand that there are actually two separate armed forces that operate within the PA territories. This misunderstanding, he says, leads Israelis to wrong conclusions. The most recent example was the pre-Annapolis shooting attack in the West Bank that killed settler Ido Zoldan. Two weeks after his murder, the IDF announced it had arrested the perpetrators, all members of the PA police force. Smith, however, says he checked into the issue with the PA and was told that the suspects were not members of the blue civilian police but were affiliated with the green military force. For Israelis this distinction is not of importance, but for Smith it makes all the difference in the world. IN PRINCIPLE, Israel is in favor of having groups like the EU-Copps operating in the West Bank since their work fits into policy set forth by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to do everything possible to strengthen Abbas. While the EU-Copps does not provide any sort of weapons training, it does offer courses for policemen in public order and demonstration dispersion. On Monday, the PA Police and EU-Copps celebrated the graduation of 28 Palestinian policemen who completed a two-week course at a Jericho training center to be public order trainers. It was the second public order training that has taken place in Jericho with the assistance of EU-Copps. The first course took place at the beginning of September with the participation of 60 policemen from the Bethlehem public order unit. An additional nine courses are scheduled to be held in Jericho over the coming months to complete the training of 800 members of the PA police's public order unit. The courses are being funded through a 482,660-euro donation from the Danish government. Other countries that have contributed financially or with personnel include Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the UK and Norway. Smith, a retired British police officer who spent 15 months establishing the Iraqi police following America's invasion in 2003 and 15 years policing Northern Ireland, has created a three-year plan at the end of which he believes the PA police force will be able to stand on its own two feet. "At the end of these three years we will have a well-resourced, funded and equipped force that will be able to deal with the challenges it faces," he claims. The challenges vary. In some stations, like Tahboub's, the police are working on seven-year-old computers and lack basic communication devices. They have a handful of vehicles to use to patrol the streets of Ramallah and in some of the outlying Jerusalem villages they oversee, they are not allowed to wear uniforms or carry weapons due to IDF policies. Tahboub's police station for example once housed the PA police's forensic laboratory. It was destroyed in 2000 when IDF helicopters bombed the building following the lynching of two IDF reservists by a Palestinian mob in another police station not far away. Smith says that the PA police are currently working with bare means when it comes to forensic capabilities and that as a result the courts, in comparison to Western legal systems, has yet to fully adopt DNA and other forensic evidence as proof strong enough to influence a ruling. Another problem is with the level of detention facilities in PA-controlled cities. "They don't have them," he says. "And what they have is totally inadequate." Tahboub says that since the establishment of the Salaam Fayad-led government in Ramallah, he has met several times with his Israeli counterparts to coordinate activities, mainly pertaining to the drug trade and organized crime in the West Bank. He said that one of his main problems was not being allowed to wear uniforms or carry weapons in places like Abu Dis and A-Ram since they are in Area B, which is under Israeli security control. For Smith, the issue of security control is of extreme importance and plays a key role in his three-year plan. "To be able to do their job, the Palestinians need to be able to police the entire West Bank," he says, adding that he is in talks with the Israelis about granting Palestinians the rights to wear uniforms and carry weapons in Area B. The donor conference held Monday in Paris, during which the international community pledged more than $7 billion in aid to the PA is a sign of hope for Smith and his EU-Copps. "Funding is crucial," Smith says. "We hope that additional funding will be forthcoming from the donors' conference in Paris to support many other initiatives and projects to develop the Palestinian Civil Police over the next two to three years." But with diplomatic negations just beginning between Israel and the PA, Tahboub's dream of becoming Jerusalem's police chief will have to wait for now. In the meantime, he will have to suffice with a new car and computer and, of course, begin fighting crime.