Clans filled vacuum created by PA in Hebron, Fatah official tells ‘Post’

‘People no longer feel safe because of the anarchy’, Hatem Shaheen, a Fatah official in the city said.

 PALESTINIANS CLASH with Israeli soldiers in Hebron earlier this month. (photo credit: WISAM HASHLAMOUN/FLASH90)
PALESTINIANS CLASH with Israeli soldiers in Hebron earlier this month.
(photo credit: WISAM HASHLAMOUN/FLASH90)

The Palestinian Authority security forces are capable of restoring law and order to the areas in Hebron that are under their control, but they are not doing enough, according to Hatem Shaheen, a Fatah official in the city.

The recent wave of violence between feuding clans has had a negative impact on the economic and security situation in Hebron, he told The Jerusalem Post Sunday.

Palestinian residents of the city are thinking of moving out because of the deteriorating security situation, said Shaheen, who is also a practicing lawyer.

In the past few weeks, gunmen belonging to the Ja’bari and Uwaiwi clans have clashed in different parts of the city. Dozens of businesses and vehicles were torched during the clashes between the rival clans. At least four Hebron residents were wounded by gunfire, according to a source in the Hebron Municipality.

A number of truces reached between the clans over the past month collapsed shortly after they were announced through social media platforms. Attempts by leaders of other large clans in Hebron to end the street fighting have also failed.

 Fatah official and lawyer Hatem Shaheen, Hebron.  (credit: KHALED ABU TOAMEH) Fatah official and lawyer Hatem Shaheen, Hebron. (credit: KHALED ABU TOAMEH)

Earlier this month, Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch in Israel, arrived in Hebron to try and arrange a “ceasefire” between the warring clans. It is not clear at this stage whether he was successful in his mission.

Many residents of Hebron have criticized the PA for failing to enforce law and order in the city.

Some claimed the PA was afraid of antagonizing the large and influential clans, while others said many of the gunmen were affiliated with Fatah or serve in various branches of the Palestinian security forces.

Last week, Ziad Hab al-Reeh, the newly appointed PA interior minister, was dispatched to Hebron to help restore law and order. He held several emergency meetings with the commanders of the Palestinian security forces and representatives of some of the clans.

The situation in Hebron seems to have calmed down over the past few days, but many residents said it was only a matter of time before the gunmen return to the streets. The PA security forces still have not confiscated the weapons that are in the possession of the clans, the residents said.

As if that is not enough, the PA also has had to cope with large demonstrations in Hebron against the high cost of living. At some of the demonstrations, protesters shouted slogans against the growing scenes of anarchy and lawlessness in Hebron.

A Palestinian official in Ramallah expressed fear that the recent violence in Hebron would spill over to other parts of the West Bank.

“What is happening in Hebron is very dangerous,” the official said. “We need to act very quickly before the chaos and violence reach other Palestinian cities. We will not allow a tiny group of thugs and criminals to control the cities.”

There are a number of reasons behind the ongoing violence and tensions in Hebron, Shaheen told the Post.

“First, the number of people from Hebron who are employed by the Palestinian Authority is relatively small,” he said.

 Another reason is that Palestinians feel safe protesting against the PA in the Israeli-controlled part of Hebron, known as H2, where the Palestinian security forces do not operate, Shaheen said.

‘Chaos of weapons’

The recent events in Hebron and the “chaos of weapons” had a negative impact on local industry, said Shaheen, who was planning to run in the parliamentary elections as part of the Mustaqbal List, affiliated with deposed Fatah operative Muhammad Dahlan.

During the election campaign, unidentified gunmen fired several shots at his home, but no one was wounded. Dahlan, who is based in the United Arab Emirates, heads a group that calls for reforms in Fatah and is fiercely critical of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the current Palestinian leadership.

Abbas called off the elections last April on the pretext that Israel had refused to allow the vote to take place in Jerusalem.

“Hebron is known as the economic capital of the West Bank,” Shaheen said. “The latest events have shattered the city; there’s no security. This is a severe blow to Hebron and the economy. I know many people who want to invest in projects but are afraid because of the anarchy. Many people are also thinking of moving out of Hebron because they don’t feel safe. The city is being emptied of its Palestinian residents.”

Asked whether Hebron was on its way to witnessing an uprising against the PA, Shaheen said he did not believe what is happening in the city could be described as an intifada.

“But let me be clear, the Palestinian Authority has lost what’s left of its credibility among the people,” he said. “The people have no confidence at all in the Palestinian Authority. The people see no progress in the political process [with Israel]; they see no hope at all, no economic prosperity, no security and no strong judicial system.”

Like many Hebron residents, Shaheen accused the PA of “neglecting” and “marginalizing” the city.

PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh visited Hebron a few months ago and promised that his government would do its utmost to restore law and order and carry out various economic projects. The visit came in the aftermath of an earlier wave of violence and criminal activities that hit Hebron, including armed clashes between rival clans and gangs.

“There was a lot of talk in the media about the visit, but we haven’t seen any results on the ground,” Shaheen said. “The people are no longer satisfied with written statements and the rhetoric of the leaders. The Palestinian Authority excels in many things, but not in steps on the ground.”

The PA bears “some responsibility” for the last round of fighting between the rival clans in Hebron, he said.

“The Palestinian Authority did not take a firm and decisive stance toward the feuding parties,” he added. “There have been several homicide cases in Hebron, but the culprits were not apprehended. Had the PA carried out its duty by arresting all those who harm security and cause damage to property, the situation would not have deteriorated. But when the gunmen and the criminals see no deterrence, of course they will continue. They know that they will not be held accountable for their crimes.”

According to Shaheen, instead of devoting its efforts and resources to combating the anarchy, the PA chooses to go after the “weak” people, including those who do not belong to any political party or influential clan.

Israel also bears responsibility for the “chaos” because, like the PA, areas under its control in the West Bank have become safe havens for the gunmen and criminals, he said.

Regarding the growing influence of the clan leaders in Hebron, Shaheen said: “As a lawyer, I don’t want to live in a country that is governed by clans or the rules of clans. Like any other person, I want to live in a country ruled by law and order. But I commend the clan leaders for playing an important role in the face of the incompetence of the Palestinian Authority.

“The Palestinian security forces can enforce law and order, but they’re not doing enough. The Palestinian Authority created a vacuum in Hebron that has been filled by the clan leaders. Without the heads of the clans, we would have seen more murders or even a civil war.”