Training for a future Palestine

A European program to support the Palestinian police and justice system is showing signs of maturity

Future Palestinian police in training (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
Future Palestinian police in training
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
An aggressive man lunges with a knife toward another man. At the last second, the intended victim pulls out a 53-cm. extendable baton and makes as if to smack the attacker’s arm.
“You see how I did that?” says the victim-turned- instructor to his class of potential Palestinian Traffic policemen, who nod. The demonstration is part of a two-week segment of a year course taking place in Salfit, in the West Bank.
Salfit seems an odd village to play host to the governing institutions of an entire Palestinian Authority district. Situated just south of Ariel, it seems like a medium-sized village but is actually home to more than 8,000 people. Its governing institutions oversee services for around 64,000 Palestinians in the Samarian highlands area.
The town looks like a typical West Bank Arab village; the residents seem neither wealthy nor poor. It sits protected by the hills around it, which are festooned with short scrub brush, olive trees and white boulders. The signs of international aid are ever-present, another typical feature of so many West Bank towns; a German Red Cross clinic here, a plaque describing an EU project there. The central artery of the village is a large new road, with divided lanes.
It is because of Salfit’s administrative prominence that a new police station was recently erected there. The four-story building, which has been painted light blue and white, is not impressive. It is set back from the main boulevard and can only be accessed from a small side road. It doesn’t project the kind of power associated with the PA’s desire to burnish the image of its police. It seems to be meant as part of a larger project; just down the road is a sign announcing that the Palestinian Ministry of Public Works and Housing is going to erect another police building, abutting the main street.
For several months, Salfit has played host to a training program of the Shorta al-Murur, the Palestinian Traffic Police – a project supported by a European Union mission called EUPOL COPPS.
EUPOL COPPS was inaugurated in January 2006, just three months before EU monitors at the Rafah border crossing on the Gaza-Egyptian border were forced to flee their positions, and a year and a half before the Hamas seizure of the Gaza Strip. The background discussions that created the EUPOL mission are not available, but it should be understood as part of increased Western commitments to cementing the PA’s rule in the West Bank and preventing the type of chaos that engulfed Gaza in the aftermath of the 2005 disengagement.
On July 20, the EU invited the press to observe a demonstration by the police. The event took place in the yard of Salfit’s central boys’ school. Children, teenagers and several adults, including one man from the Palestinian National Security Forces, looked on from the sidelines.
A 14-man squad (there are female Palestinian police, but none were present) of Traffic Police was called to attention by its commander. Its members came from all over the West Bank and differed in age, ranging into their late 30s. Two Palestinian trainers, set apart from the others by their urban camouflage and empty leg holsters, looked on in the background.
The Traffic Police wear the light blue of the Palestinian police. Ever since the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat created multiple layers of police forces, it has always been difficult to distinguish one from another; at the entrance to Salfit, for instance, there is a checkpoint, but it is manned by a unit separate from the Palestinian police.
The mustachioed Maj. Sufyan Omariya, deputy of the Palestinian Civil Police’s (PCP) Public Relations Department, explained, “This is the fourth training course for Palestinian police that has taken place in Salfit. The title of this exercise is self-defense tactics. The idea behind the course was to enhance the capability of the Palestinian police in dealing with road-related issues and violations that might occur in the Palestinian community...
The Palestinian police work with the human rights standards to deliver services to the community and help the Palestinian police to live in a good internal security situation.”
For 15 minutes, the Traffic Police performed three different drills involving traffic stops: one where they arrested a suspect on the street, another involving a motorcycle chasing a car, and a third in which they performed a routine license check of a motor vehicle.
Not the most exciting stuff, but there seems to be a deep understanding among the Palestinians and their EU advisers that training from the bottom up is integral to creating a society of law and order in which the state’s institutions are respected. This is in line with the “broken windows” theory that gained fame in the 1990s in Rudolph Giuliani’s New York City Police Department – the idea that zero tolerance of minor infractions can lead to widespread reductions of criminality in society.
ESTELA ARGUDIN-POMBO, a petite, black-haired field adviser in the EU delegation to Salfit, Nablus and Kalkilya, and one of the few female police officers with the EU mission, thinks the program has been very successful.
As part of the team delegated to provide ideas, support and assessment for the police’s community outreach, she says she has seen little street crime in Palestinian society.
“I used to do patrols in some of the tough neighborhoods of Barcelona, and there is no comparison, but in terms of community work, the idea is the same,” she says.
As part of her work, she has seen how the Palestinian police are encouraged to go out among their community and work with children in a program called “Young Policemen,” and to help with the olive harvest.
Indeed, faded photos of the Palestinian police working in the community are on display back at the Salfit headquarters.
In a mock classroom session also arranged for journalists, the Palestinian trainers walk their 14 students through two other drills. The first involves more defensive tactics, illustrating how a police officer might defend himself from a knife attack and subdue the suspect using non-deadly force.
Of course deadly force doesn’t seem to be an option, since the Traffic Police are neither armed nor trained in using guns. The EUPOL advisers are adamant on this aspect of their mission.
“We don’t train with live fire,” explains Jean Fredric Martin, a five-year veteran of the mission who trains the Palestinian Special Police Force (i.e. riot control). “If they do that, they do it somewhere else, like in Jordan.”
However, one of the Palestinian police trainers does enjoy showing off his skills with a blue plastic handgun, twirling it in a move reminiscent of Robo-cop, and drawing it from behind his back while riding shotgun on a motorcycle. The only weapon visible at the Salfit headquarters is a beat-up AK-47 that is passed nonchalantly back and forth between two policemen who seemingly guard the station.
The EU mission has focused on creating an indigenous training structure, and repeatedly stresses that its role is “support,” not training. Indeed, the mission’s publications note that “the support of the EU aims at increasing the safety and security of the Palestinian population and at serving the domestic agenda of the Palestinian Authority in reinforcing the rule of law.”
But there are some comical aspects to the indigenous training, as there seem to be some issues that need ironing out.
For instance, the software provided to the Palestinian police to help them identify and create a database on suspects has been donated by Turkey. It is in Turkish.
The program shows different facial profiles, such as “Sivri” (Turkish for “beaked or pointed face”). The trainer assures his recruits that “we will try to obtain all this in Arabic in the future.”
When trying to explain to his men how to spot a suspicious person, the trainer explains, “For instance, in Jericho people wear light clothing; if you see someone with an overcoat and a hat, that person is not from Jericho and might be suspicious.”
In another lesson, the police are instructed on the importance of interacting with their community: “We need to make sure that since you are the first ones on the street, you know that the citizens will come to you.
They don’t see you as Traffic Police, but as police. Sometimes citizens will be scared to come to you, so you should take the initiative. Don’t stand and stay isolated in the street, without interacting with the people.”
One of the younger traffic cops, named Anan, asks, “What do you mean, if people are gathering I should interact?” The trainer is confused. “Gathering?” Anan clarifies, “If I saw four people standing together, should I go say ‘what is wrong?’” The instructor then loses track of his original train of thought: “For instance, if you went to these four and one was a suspect, then he would try to mislead you.
You should be aware. [According to] most statistics, the criminal will stay near the scene and try to mislead the police. You need to make sure they don’t have weapons.
Is it obvious now? Clear?” It isn’t really clear. But then, there is another side to the mission. The Palestinians are a religious society; the motto of the Traffic Police, emblazoned on their badges, is “God, make this country safe.” With God’s help and Arabic-language software, the police may well be able to enforce the law in the PA-controlled areas.
THE EUPOL COPPS mission is staffed by 53 men and women, of whom 30 work with the police and 23 work in a separate part that deals with the Palestinian justice system. If the advisers know Arabic, it is because they have learned it themselves; the mission does not provide language training, but does give the advisers a crash course in the culture of the region.
Their office is in Ramallah, but the Europeans live all over the area between there and Jerusalem. The mission is supported by 17 EU member states, and it is clear that the personnel come from a wide variety of countries, including France, Spain, Italy, Sweden and Finland.
Unlike what one might find among the Americans staffing the “Dayton mission,” which trains the Palestinian security forces in Jericho, there is no acknowledgment of rank among the Europeans, who regard themselves as having no commander outside of the head of their mission, Henrik Malmquist. This is a close-knit group of people whose police backgrounds and European features set them apart from most Israelis and Palestinians.
Martin, whom everyone calls “Jeff,” is the poster-boy of the mission. A handsome, affable Frenchman, he combines a cheery demeanor with deep reserves of patience. He sports a small steel whistle around his neck.
“In a noisy society, you need to make more noise than the people you deal with, and especially in crowd control, which is my specialty, whistles are key,” he says.
Martin served 16 years in the French police before transferring to the Comoros in 2003 to work with that country’s border patrol.
After short tours in Djibouti (a country with close security ties to France) and Kosovo (as part of an EU mission), he joined the EU at the Rafah border crossing. When that mission was forced to flee, he came to Ramallah.
His five years of work enable him to see longterm successes.
“You don’t see results every day, but month after month. In this training, we begin with an introduction to human rights and then an introduction to self-defense tactics and move into use of force and police ethics. It takes time to drum in the importance of doing things in a technical way, like describing a suspect properly,” he explains.
“What I am very proud about it is that it is done with full ownership by the [Palestinian] trainers who trained in Jericho, and now it is done 100 percent by them using Palestinian skills,” he continues. “And they have this new technology, and they create programs by themselves. I am really impressed. It is a huge contrast to when I first came here and there was no infrastructure, nothing.”
The EU advisers have a close relationship with their Palestinian peers. A Finnish man tasked with the part of the mission that deals with law and order asserts that the atmosphere here is friendlier than on other missions: “I was in Kosovo and Afghanistan. It is a lot like the culture of Afghanistan here, in terms of the warmth and hospitality.”
ONE OF the legacies of Arafat’s rule and the Oslo process was that the PA was saddled with multiple layers of security forces. In the 1990s, these consisted of National Security Forces, General Intelligence, Military Intelligence, Border Police, Civil Police, Force 17 (Presidential Guard), Special Security Forces, Preventive Security and Criminal Police. The current structure of the various police and security services in the West Bank owes its complexity to the pre-2000 period.
The international community’s new approach to Palestinian security reflects a realization that the experience of the 1990s led to most of these organizations being penetrated by unwanted elements and to their leaders being appointed due to political connections rather than professional qualifications.
But the EU support for the police is truncated by the fact that they deal with only a part of the overall structure. The EUPOL COPPS are responsible specifically for supporting the Traffic Police, public order, criminal investigative division, juvenile police and ordinance defense units.
The financial support from the EU for the mission totaled 8.25 million euros for 2011 – a minor portion of the overall amount the Palestinians receive from abroad each year.
According to outgoing EU representative to the PA Christian Berger, around half a billion euros pass through his office on the way to the PA from Europe each year.
“I think the Palestinians receive the highest per-capita support from the EU and probably from the world,” he says.
“They get a lot of support to build the institutions for a future state. We have two large components. One is support to the PA to pay salaries and social support to poor families, which is the largest. The second largest is our support for UNRWA.”
The EUPOL mission budget also pales in comparison to the funding that Gen. Keith Dayton’s United States Security Coordinators teams received between 2005 and 2011, valued at over $261m., according to an article in Jordan’s Maan and a research paper by Naseem Khuri at Harvard’s Kennedy School. The role of the Dayton mission was to train the equivalent of the Palestinian army, the National Security Forces.
In September 2010, Dayton paid a parting visit to the EU mission’s Malmquist. There was a distinct contrast in their styles, the stern Dayton in a crisp suit and Malmquist smiling in a blue collared T-shirt (the typical uniform of the EU advisers).
Today the official liaison between the US trainers and the EU advisers is a burly former senior UK police officer, Neil Page, who works with EUPOL COPPS and other international actors to ensure harmony of effort.
For the July 20 demonstrations, Page tagged along, driving the large SUV that internationals typically use in the territories. A knowledgeable man with years of experience policing not only in the UK but also the mean streets of island nations in the West Indies, he cuts an odd figure, a UK national employed by the American consulate as a go-between with the EU.
It is not clear how well the liaison effort is progressing. Because both the Americans and the Europeans carry out some training in Jericho, presumably they get to look in on each other’s efforts. But the reality is that the two missions could not be more different.
The mission of Gen. Michael Moeller (Dayton’s successor) is staffed by ex-US military personnel employed through the contractor Dyncorp and maintains a low profile. The EU mission, by contrast, has a highly functioning website and works closely with the media.
The EU advisers are particularly proud of the work they have done with the Palestinian justice system. Julio de la Guardia, the mission’s press officer, explains that “in the policing aspect, we only train one part of the police force. There are other forces, such as the NSF, GI, Presidential Guard, MI, and we only work with the PCP. In the justice sector, we work with all aspects of the judicial system, so in many ways it is more comprehensive and complete.”
In a separate interview, Berger adds that “after 2002, when the EU made delegations responsible for their own work, we were able to hire consultants and experts, either locally or from Europe. As part of that, we have set up a major rule of law program [Seyada II ‘Empowering the Palestinian Justice System’] on the PA side, with a mixture of EU consultants, the head of which is a Dutch fellow named Alfons Lentze [who works with] the policing mission’s support for the criminal justice system.”
The EU commitment to its rule of law program totaled 40m. euros in 2010.
THE EU advisers seem content with their relations with the Israelis. One of the issues they often confront is coordinating the use of roads in Area C (Israeli-controlled West Bank) so Palestinian police can travel on them.
Palestinian police are not permitted to carry weapons in Area C, but this doesn’t seem to be an issue, since the EU mission does not train the police to use firearms.
Still, incidents do occur; in November, the Palestinian Monitoring Group claimed that the IDF “detained a Palestinian Police vehicle and provoked security officers.”
According to one source who wished to remain anonymous, there is good cooperation between the Israelis and the PA police on numerous levels. For instance, at the entrance to Salfit, there is an armed National Security Force checkpoint whose sole reason for existing is to keep Israelis from mistakenly straying into the village when they take the turnoff to Ariel.
“They prevent altercations on a regular basis that might otherwise occur,” notes the source.
This perception of close cooperation has resulted in criticism of the Palestinian police. For instance, David Cronin at the Electronic Intifada online publication claimed in October that the “EU police mission [is] complicit in Israeli, PA rights abuses.” Notably, most of the voices critical of the EU mission are not located in Area A or B, where the work of the Palestinian police is taking place.
THE ELEPHANT in the room, though, is the reality that the Palestinians are seeking an independent state. In private, the PCP’s Sufyan knows that the EU police are good ambassadors for his department.
Martin explains that “the Traffic Police are in front of the people every day. It is important that they have the proper skills and build confidence among the public... if there will be a state, the police will perform, but they need support.”
In comments to a French TV network, Sufyan elaborated that “we work hand in hand with standards of human rights for the development of a Palestinian police that will implement instructions from our chain of command. We hope to work with the highest methods of professionalism so as to act as a first keystone of the Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
Berger, who has worked closely with EUPOL COPPS – at one point personally delivering 48 Volkswagens to the police – argues that “we are currently in a stable period where the state- and institution-building can continue...
It is EU policy that we will recognize a Palestinian state when the time is appropriate, and we have done as much as we can to help them build up the institutions of a state... the next step is that both sides, the PA and Israel, must sit down and negotiate; the peace process must come to a fruitful and meaningful ending.”
Ideally the EU mission intends that its police will meet a certain standard prior to international recognition of a Palestinian state. What those standards are is not available to the public.
Leonie L. Evans, a student at Maastricht University, completed her thesis “Assessing Effectiveness: a Case Study of the EU Mission in Palestine” in 2010. She argues that “when taking into account the criteria and determinants set out above, yes, indeed, EUPOL COPPS has been effective... particularly when considering the difficult political environment it operates in.” But, she adds, EUPOL needs to increase its staff, make its budget more stable, and help create “a clear separation of the PCP from the politic level and stronger integration of the local civil society.”
Palestinian sources in the West Bank agree that the police are more capable and responsive than they used to be. One Arab woman explained to me that “we had a rash of car burglaries six months ago in Ramallah, and the police responded very well.”
In a village near Bidya, Maan news reported that the police had seized dangerous fireworks from children who were playing with them. As part of the program that Argudin-Pombo advised, the Palestinian police were encouraging communities to prevent children from playing with fireworks.
It is not the romantic image the Palestinians have of a state of their own, but it may prove to have more long-term effects than the chaotic, corrupt security forces that were the bane of the West Bank from 1994 to 2004. ■