The southern West Bank city of Hebron is simmering and on the verge of boiling over unless the Palestinian Authority moves quickly to confiscate illegal weapons and restore order to the city.
Sensing that the situation may spin out of control, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh convened a special session of his government in Hebron to show its disgruntled residents that the lawmakers care.
The meeting late last month came following an uptick in violent attacks on private property, and criminal groups taking matters into their own hands.
Hebron, which is considered the largest among the Palestinian cities demographically, geographically and economically, has seen a spike in violence and crime among its residents.
Tribal and family law rules in many parts of the West Bank. Some attribute the rise of tribal law to the weakness of the PA’s judicial system and the lack of trust in its security services.
Hebron’s tribes are large and powerful, and their authority exceeds that of the PA, while clan law is seen as very effective in regulating society; and in what appears to be a power vacuum left by the PA, their power and influence are only expected to mushroom.
Violence erupted in August after the revenge killing of Basil Fakhri al-Jabari, allegedly at the hands of members of the Awiwi family, a rival clan.
Hebron residents held a fiery meeting recently demanding the PA put an end to the security chaos in their city.
In defiance of his superiors in Ramallah, a senior Fatah official in Hebron, Emad Khurwat, threatened that if the PA doesn’t take serious steps to eradicate weapons from the city and stop the violence, he will use force to prevent PA officials from entering the city.
In a scathing public attack on the PA and its leaders, Khurwat also said that: “Neither the Palestinian Authority, nor its president, nor its prime minister cares about the city of Hebron.”
Khurwat openly criticized the PA, saying its efforts are falling short and accusing it of abandoning the city’s needs. “The Palestinian Authority is conspiring against Hebron by neglecting it,” he said, hinting that “if the authority does not fulfill its responsibility, we will form an armed group that protects all the people of Hebron.”
Hamza, a resident of the city, complained of the “total chaos, and the predominance of weapons” in Hebron, calling on the PA to “assume its role and shoulder its responsibility, and restore security and order,” while threatening “to find alternatives to it.”
Due to the widespread phenomenon of large clans hoarding weapons and forming armed militias, smaller families in the city suffer oppression at the hands of these clans in the absence of PA security forces, Hamza said.
The city is in a state of lawlessness and anarchy, and desperate residents are urging the PA to intervene quickly before it’s too late.
Hamza accused the clans of “violating the rights of small families, and defending their clan members, even if they are drug dealers, weapons dealers, or spies for Israel,” adding: “They respect the strong, and oppress the weak.”
Aahed Al Ja’abri, a merchant and a resident of the city, hails from one of the larger clans, but that has not stopped him from sounding the alarm, saying that if the PA doesn’t assert itself and show force, it will “lose control forever” of Hebron.
“Blind loyalty to the family and clan is the most dangerous thing facing Hebron,” he said.
The mayor of Hebron, Taysir Abu Sneina, doesn’t mince words and points the finger at the PA, blaming it and Israel for the decline in security in the city, adding that “the diminished status of the PA is solely its fault for its neglect of the city in terms of the small number of police personnel, or the failure to distribute development projects fairly.”
“There is an absence of the role of the PA, and when there is no law enforcement citizens will try to take the law into their own hands,” he said.
But Abu Sneina does not absolve Israel of its responsibility.
“The Palestinian Authority conducts security campaigns in the H2 area, which is under Israeli control, where security clearance is required through security coordination. The occupation must end, and the authority must play its role in managing the country directly,” he said.
Abu Sneina warned that what is happening will have major consequences if it is not dealt with swiftly. “Hebron is the mainstay of the Palestinian Authority, and its collapse means the collapse of Palestinian society,” he said.
Political and social activist Issa Amro said that the security campaign in Hebron isn’t the only solution.
“The authority must exercise its role, there must be an effective law, and there must be a reform of the judiciary, which is flabby and weak, and sometimes cases die in the courts because it takes years before a decision is made,” he said.
Amro says there are several reasons why people are stockpiling weapons, and the main reason is the “lack of a democratic life and the existence of a dictatorship in Palestine.” Another, Amro explains, is that they have “little faith in the system.”
This is a result of “the weakness of the law, the lack of confidence in the police and the Palestinian security forces, and because of the corrupt judicial decisions,” he said.
He argues that the unstable political environment has contributed to the number of people who are buying and storing weapons, “for the post-Abu Mazen era.” Abu Mazen is the nom de guerre of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The article was written by Mohammad Al-Kassim and reprinted with permission from TheMediaLine