Feminine force

Palestinian police in West Bank deploy new secret weapon.

palestinian women's police521 (photo credit: Courtesy of Palestinian police)
palestinian women's police521
(photo credit: Courtesy of Palestinian police)
The simultaneous police raids on locations across the West Bank city of Hebron were set for 2 a.m. in the dead of a cold, bleak, February night.
Seven units of handpicked Palestinian police officers would descend under cover of the winter darkness on the suspected locations of more than 100 wanted Palestinian criminals, sweeping them up in the first such raid ever carried out by the Palestinian special police forces.
As the final preparations were under way, a phone rang on the desk of Inshallah Abu Allan at the newly-established Palestinian women’s police riot unit. On the other end of the line was one of the wanted men. News of the raid had leaked, he said, taunting her, and he was waiting for the knock on the door, but there was no way he would be captured.
But he was in for a surprise. In the small hours of the following morning, Abu Allan and 13 colleagues attached themselves, two each, to the seven police units that then fanned out across the city. Taken by surprise, 56 of the targeted men were rounded up in a flawless operation and hauled off to jail.
“I captured the man who had called me the previous afternoon,” Abu Allan tells The Jerusalem Report. “He and his friends were hiding in a cupboard full of women’s underwear. They were in shock when they saw us. They never expected policewomen to raid their safe shelters in their own homes,” she laughs.
The 25-strong women’s unit of the Special Police Force in Hebron has become its most effective weapon as the Palestinian Authority steps up its fight against civilian criminals.
In this most conservative of West Bank cities, where Hamas enjoys comfortable majority support, it would be unthinkable for a male police officer to search or even touch a woman. He would be unable to enter a home where only women are present.
Palestinian criminals have taken advantage of the strict religious and social traditions of the city to literally hide behind their women’s skirts. Drug dealers have been using women as couriers, hiding contraband beneath their clothes in the certain knowledge that no Palestinian policeman would dare to search them. Raids on suspects’ homes have been fruitless because drugs and other illegal items were secreted with the women of the house.
The new women’s police unit has ended the criminals’ feminine immunity.
The 25 women riot police were chosen from 39 women currently deployed with the Hebron Police. They underwent an intensive two-week training course with instructors at the Special Police Force Training School in Jericho, where they were introduced to modern methods of riot control, non-lethal crowd suppression and the use of specialist equipment.
“We were trained in dispersing demonstrations, crowds, strikes and marches where women were involved, as well as restoring order at sports stadiums during matches,” says Abu Allan, who first joined the Palestinian Authority police force in 1996.
“We learned how to handle tribal and family disputes in Hebron, protection of public festivities and ceremonies, escorting dangerous female prisoners from jail to the court, and VIP protection,” she says.
The training included being pelted with stones, attacked with burning tires belching thick black smoke, and put under intense physical and psychological pressure for hours on end.
“Our confidence in our capabilities and skills has increased significantly following the training course,” she says.
Since they returned to duty, the women officers have been in heavy demand, day and night, in Hebron and the surrounding villages.
“Women are more capable of dealing with women than men, and Palestinian law does not allow men to deal with women,” says Lieutenant Colonel Midhet Hijou, commander of the Palestinian Authority Special Police Force in the West Bank.
Hijou, who commands 1,400 officers, says Abu Allan and her colleagues have proved to be “very successful.” He says he has an urgent need for the newlytrained personnel so they can arrest women suspects, confront women demonstrators and conduct body searches on women suspects.
The high priority attached to the new unit by Palestinian police chiefs is clear from the amount of time and resources they are investing in the women officers.
They are being given special training courses and supplied with whatever equipment they need.
While the women’s unit could certainly be duplicated in other West Bank cities, the need first became noticeable in conservative Hebron, where hundreds of Hamas women took to the streets in early 2009 to protect demonstrators protesting against Israel’s large-scale invasion of Gaza. The phalanx of women surrounding the demonstrators made it almost impossible for regular police forces to disperse them or deal with the riots that erupted.
Meanwhile, the women officers then on the force found themselves unable to confront street demonstrators because they had not received the same training as their male colleagues. Frustrated at their own lack of effectiveness, they approached their superiors and asked to be treated as equals.
“It was we who asked Colonel Ramadan Awad, the commander of the Hebron police force, to train us in riot control procedures,” says Abu Allan. “On one occasion, we were sent to disperse a demonstration by Hamas women. We had no helmets, no protection shields and no protection vests. After two hours, we had achieved only partial success. Then along came my well-trained and well-equipped male colleagues from the Special Police Force and they finished the job in a few minutes.”
The women on the new force were selected “based firstly on their personal desire to join the unit, testing their capabilities to carry out the job, and their physical appearance,” says First Lieutenant Nael Attawneh, a Hebron Special Police Force trainer.
He says the team undergoes the same riot control training as their male colleagues, including physical exercise, self-defense, and the use of shields, batons and tear gas.
They study arrest procedures, body and house searches, and human rights. While the emphasis is on non-lethal methods of crowd control, the women are also trained in the use of pistols and the AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle.
Attawneh says the results were immediate.
“When they went to the next field mission following the training course, they looked highly confident in their skills and capabilities. They were fearless. They performed perfectly, amazingly,” he says.
Still in its early days, the new force still turns heads in the Hebron region, where residents are still not used to the sight of a woman in uniform with a pistol on her hip.
There are a total of 500 women among the 8,500 officers in the Palestinian civil police force in the West Bank. Police Commander Major General Hazim Attallah has encouraged women to join the police and compete against their male colleagues for high-ranking positions in the field.
Among the women appointed by Attallah to senior positions are Wafa Sharqawi, director of Ramallah Central prison; Lieut Col Abeer Abu Sara, director of Beit Sahour police station; the head of police interrogations in Qalqilya and the Jericho director of police operations.
“When I went home to Dahriyeh south of Hebron with my colleague wearing my police uniform, and armed with my pistol, the market stallholders on both sides of the street came out and started calling to each other,” says Abu Allan.
Others ask to have their pictures taken with Abu Allan, saying she looks like the policewoman they have seen in foreign movies.
She says her next ambition is to be allowed to drive one of the Special Forces jeeps, so the women can go out on patrol, lights flashing and sirens blaring, without any male officers in the driving seat.