Friday, June 22, 2018

Why Europe must halt support for Palestinian Authority's police

Each summer the European Union’s governments decide to help preserve an unjust situation.

The decision – which involves renewing the annual mandate for a policing operation in the occupied West Bank – is presented as largely procedural. No real scrutiny takes place on how the EU trains the Palestinian Authority to oppress fellow Palestinians.

Almost certainly, the same ritualistic rubber-stamping will occur again this year. That is despite how the argument for refusing to extend the mandate when it expires at the end of June has just become much stronger.

Last week, the PA’s forces used tear gas and sound grenades against West Bank residents determined to display solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Gaza. That violent suppression of a protest occurred in Ramallah, the city where the EU’s policing operation is headquartered.

Disgracefully, EU representatives are claiming that the thuggery has nothing to do with them.

I inquired if the EU policing team in Ramallah was investigating whether it had provided training to any of the forces who resorted to brutality last week. The EU team has “neither an executive mandate nor a monitoring role in relation to its Palestinian partner authorities,” a spokesperson for the team, replied.

That poor excuse for apathy raises questions about what agenda the EU is really pushing.

Established 13 years ago, the policing operation is one of the EU’s longest-running foreign policy initiatives. In its publications, the EU team in Ramallah expresses a delight in seeing its PA proteges graduate and take up their beats.

But when those forces assault peaceful demonstrators, the EU team does not even bother to check if the cops involved had previously been its students.

Playing Cupid

The latest newsletter from the EU’s operation in Ramallah offers a clue on its priorities. It says that the EU’s team had been “successful” in re-establishing dialogue between the PA’s forces and the Israeli police.

The “exceptionally fruitful” efforts by the EU team had resulted in joint workshops involving the PA and Israel’s national police on “practical topics of mutual interest,” according to the newsletter.

Pause for a moment and reflect on those words.

A European Union body is congratulating itself for acting as a kind of dating agency. The EU plays Cupid so that the Israeli police force – which is based in occupied East Jerusalem – can get cozy with officers from the Palestinian Authority.

What the EU is really fostering is collaboration between an occupying power and an occupied people. In their own countries, Europeans look back on collaboration with their occupiers, especially by police, with revulsion and shame.

Last week’s brutality was also reminiscent of how the PA’s forces tried to break up West Bank protests against Operation Cast Lead, a major Israeli attack on Gaza, in early 2009. The EU’s then foreign policy chief Javier Solana praised the PA’s forces for their handling of demonstrations.


Solana’s stance chimed with the strategic thinking which led to the EU policing mission being launched. That thinking can be traced back to documents drawn up when Britain held the Union’s rotating presidency in 1998.

Those papers inferred that the PA’s forces should be trained and equipped so that they would crush “terrorism.”

Israel has repeatedly applied that term to all forms of resistance by Palestinians. Following its recent massacres in Gaza, for example, Israel has sought to smear the unarmed demonstrators and even medics that it has killed and wounded as terrorists or terrorist sympathizers.

The protests held in Ramallah over the past couple of weeks challenge a situation that the EU has helped to entrench. Under that situation, the Palestinian Authority has added a new layer of repression to that which West Bank residents already had to face.

The economic warfare and movement restrictions to which the PA has subjected Gaza – a focus of the Ramallah protests – proves that its tactics and Israel’s are complementary.

As well as training police recruits, the EU has funded the construction of new prisons in Nablus and Jenin, both cities in the West Bank. The EU’s team in Ramallah has been providing advice to the PA on how these prisons should be run.

The ostensible reason for building these new facilities is to reduce overcrowding in the PA’s existing jails.

That claim should be treated with great skepticism.

The PA has often locked up its political opponents, including those wanted by Israel. Palestinians are routinely arrested and tortured by Israel after first being detained by the PA.

The new jails will more than likely be used for such incarceration.

Mahmoud Abbas, the PA’s president, has described “security coordination” with the Israeli state as “sacred.” Ordinary people who are genuinely concerned about human rights would regard as profane the very idea of making a government within an occupied territory serve the interests of the occupier.

The European Union helps perpetuate that profanity.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 20 June 2018.

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