The five hours during which hundreds of Jews rampaged unhindered through Hawara, attacking people and property and setting fires, encapsulated decades of encouragement of settler violence and the calculated disregard and leniency on the part of the Israeli military, police, state prosecutors, courts and successive governments. But those five hours also proved yet again how compliant the Palestinian Authority is with the artificial division of the West Bank into categories A, B and C, set by the Oslo Accords – a division that was supposed to be temporary and expire by 1999.
This is one more reason that the Palestinian public despises and detests the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. While its security forces, who underwent training in Arab and Western countries, have not found a way to protect their compatriots against settler attacks, they are always there in order to suppress them.
The 14 Million Initiative, which is attempting to revitalize the Palestine Liberation Organization and call for elections for an all-Palestinian national council and legislative assembly, had scheduled a live press conference from the Watan TV studio on Wednesday. Treating the word “election” as a nuclear threat, the PA’s security forces besieged the building housing the studio and broke into the offices in order to foil the press conference. This was not the first time this happened; security forces disrupted another of the initiative’s attempts in November.
Last week, Palestinian security forces set up roadblocks at the exits of several cities in the West Bank, in order to prevent teachers in government schools, who have been striking since February 5, from attending a central rally in Ramallah. The PA and the public school teachers’ union had signed agreements on a modest wage hike of 15 percent and on holding a free and democratic election for the union in May 2022. This followed an initiative led by several non-profit educational associations, parent groups and the Independent Commission for Human Rights (a quasi-governmental body).
An election was never held, as expected. In early February teachers learned that despite the agreement, January salaries did not include the raise upon which they had agreed; they even remained at 80 percent of regular salary levels, as before. This led to the strike, now in its fourth week, which 50,000 teachers have joined and has kept one million students at home. The leaders of the strike are keeping a low profile out of fear of arrest, as has happened with previous teachers’ protests.
Even though their children are at home, parents’ associations are supporting the teachers’ demands. The financial crisis is real: Israel continues to withhold hundreds of millions of shekels belonging to the PA every year, equivalent to the allowances the PA pays families of prisoners held by Israel, but the public does not believe that there is no money for decent teachers’ salaries.
The PA’s message is clear, then: it continues to abide by its agreements with Israel (including the security coordination) but not by its agreement with the teachers, one of the most important sectors that guarantee the common well-being.
Hawara (and the congested road passing through it) was classified more than 25 years ago as Area B, in which Palestinian policemen are prohibited from operating and from staying there while armed or in uniform. The heavily armed IDF and Border Police, though, are a constant presence – near garages and convenience stores, gas stations and falafel stands. Everyone knows who they are sent to protect. The settlements in the area are renowned for their violence: Yitzhar and its outposts, feverishly sprouting like mushrooms after rain; Itamar and its own expanding outposts; the Givat Ronen outpost, close to the settlement of Har Bracha.
The Palestinian villages of Burin, Madama, Einabus, Urif, Aqraba, Beita, Yanun and others have been living under the threat of terror posed by these interlopers since several decades. Trees chopped down, stolen olive harvests, arson, gunfire at farmers, Palestinians assaulted in their homes, village springs tapped – these are not acts of “revenge” taken after an attack on Jews. They constitute a calculated plan to take over more Palestinian land through violence and intimidation. Everything, both then and now, was and is done under the auspices of the monopoly wielded by the IDF over security.
Obviously, no Palestinian security agency has attempted to challenge this in order to protect the residents from their recidivist assailants. Instead of the Netanyahu-Smotrich-Ben-Gvir government thanking the Palestinian Authority for its obedience and loyalty, it blames it for every Israeli fatality in an area under full Israeli control, namely, the entire West Bank and Israel proper. At the same time, Israel demands that the PA discipline the desperate and inept young Palestinians who have armed themselves in the West Bank. It’s no wonder that the Palestinian public loves and admires those young armed men, even though they are not capable, trained or prepared to protect it physically against settler attacks or to foil the theft of their lands.
On the night that Jews rampaged through Hawara, many of its residents who were outside the town could not return home. Through social media, Nablus residents offered them their hospitality. This was joined by the Palestinian national security apparatus, which opened its headquarters to them. The responses were barbed, a Nablus resident told Haaretz. “What are you, a charity?” furious people asked sarcastically.
Experience teaches us that IDF soldiers and Border Policemen would have shot and even killed any Palestinian who tried to deter the attackers and defend his family, neighbors or property, with a gun, club or knife. Or he may have been arrested and convicted in a military court before being sentenced to many years in prison for possessing an illegal weapon, shooting and endangering Jewish lives.
Even if Palestinian Authority policemen could have arrived quickly in Hawara to protect their countrymen from Jewish assailants, the army would have blocked them or even killed or imprisoned them, with military judges sentencing them to long prison terms without heeding the explanations of their attorneys. Any local attempt to mount a defense using weapons would have ended in bloodshed, mainly on the Palestinian side, and with an uncontrollable escalation. It is understandable, then, why such an intervention is unlikely as of yet.
But beyond declarations, condemnations and demands that the United Nations provide international protection, for years, senior Palestinian officials have refrained from rising up or calling off an agreement, or setting clear and well-defined conditions for continuing security coordination with Israel, as a response to settler violence.
Instead of sending its security forces to foil press conferences and demonstrations that call for democratization, and instead of spying on its own people, the PA could have permanently stationed these forces – unarmed and in plainclothes, but trained in riot control – in villages frequently attacked by settlers. It could have informed Israel that it is doing this because Israel’s army and police are not fulfilling their duties as dictated by international law and even the Oslo Accords. It could have sent its most senior commanders on regular tours of these villages, to participate in plowing and olive picking, herding sheep with villagers while explaining to Israeli officers that they were unavailable for coordination meetings with the IDF, the Shin Bet and the Civil Administration, since they were busy protecting their people.
The obvious conclusion is that the Palestinian security agencies and their supreme commander Mahmoud Abbas hold sacred not just the security coordination with Israel, but also the borders of the Bantustans created by the temporary-permanent divisions into areas A, B and C. That is how the narrow personal and economic interests of the ruling group, so disconnected from its people, may be maintained.