Palestinian leaders and citizens are venting their anger and frustration over “civil rights” violations by Palestinian Authority (PA) Security Forces after an undercover anti-drug unit last week stormed bars and restaurants in Ramallah searching for prohibited substances.
A witness to the incident said “several plain-clothed ‘officers’ came to two places I was in, targeting specific people, searching them, and forcibly extracting them under the guise of law enforcement.”
Speaking to The Media Line under the condition of anonymity, the witness added: “They are criminals using their titles and authority to conduct acts of police brutality.”
The witness claimed that after violently removing people from the venues, the undercover officers led them into the street and adjacent parking lots where they “took the liberty of openly beating and kicking the people they were arresting in front of other patrons.”
A tourist, who asked for her name not to be used, supported the first witness’s account, telling The Media Line, “They created a mess because they were pushing people outside of the bar.” She expressed shock at the violent tactics Palestinian security officers employed.
“I wasn’t afraid as I know they don’t target internationals, but seeing how terrified the Palestinians were was extremely sad,” she added.
A third witness, who also requested anonymity, stated that the Palestinian officers were “aggressive” and doubted that they had legal documentation to support their “unjustifiable” behavior.
“The PA has a duty and obligation to act in a civilized manner with its own people,” the witness told The Media Line. “It must treat its people, who have been suffering from seventy years of occupation, with some dignity.”
The witness dismissed the PA’s “usual claims” that they are acting to protect their people.
“It’s for their own agendas; it’s a small taste of what kind of corruption goes on in the background,” the witness said, citing how the Palestinian security forces dealt with a recent protest in Ramallah.
Last month, the security forces forcefully broke up a demonstration against the sanctions imposed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas against Hamas for the latter’s failure to follow through on a power sharing deal. Witnesses claim the forces arrested journalists and dozens of protesters, while destroying cameras and beating many of the protesters.
These accusations follow an exposé earlier this year in which an anonymously authored document—which had reportedly been circulating on WhatsApp—showed transcripts of phone calls made by PA leaders, as well as members of armed Palestinian factions, lawyers and journalists, revealing that the PA was spying on its own members.
Responding to these alleged instances of civil rights violations, Adnan al-Dumairi, a PA National Security spokesman told The Media Line that the security forces work within the law, based on the training they received and in line with guidelines from the Independent Commission for Human Rights, the PA’s human rights institution.
“Citizens of Palestine have the full right to prosecute any security officer who breaks the law. We have seen cases where citizens filed law suits against military personnel and the latter were punished,” al-Dumairi said.
When asked about last week’s incident in Ramallah, he promised to investigate it, but added that the security forces likely had to search people in some cases in which they strongly suspected drugs were involved.
Nevertheless, he urged Palestinians to stand up for their rights and speak out in cases where they believe security forces are acting arbitrarily outside the confines of the law.
A spokesperson at the Palestinian Police Office told The Media Line that officers “are working towards strengthening the community policing approach. Considering the dire conditions of many Palestinians living under occupation, we provide the safest environment we can.”
For the second time this month, Tawfiq al-Tirawi, a Fatah leader and member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), issued a press release on Monday to highlight what many Palestinians see as endemic corruption among Palestinian security forces.
“After the rise in violations of the rights of some individuals and the public, as well as private institutions, by some officials in different areas of responsibility, who are illegally taking advantage of their positions in cases of abuse, humiliation, fraud, torture, detention, theft, and administrative and financial, as well as moral corruption, I appeal to all who have grievances that cannot be compensated by law, and anyone who has a right and can’t exercise it, or has been assaulted by any person or entity,” the statement read.
Tirawi encouraged Palestinian citizens who have grievances supported by evidence in the form of documents or witnesses to visit his office for legal guidance.
“I will follow them personally, whether in the judiciary, the Anti-Corruption Authority or in all official and governmental institutions,” the release concluded.
A recent study by Palestinian researcher Alaa Tartir, director of programs of the Palestinian Policy Network, revealed that there were approximately 83,200 Palestinian security forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with three-quarters stationed in the former territory.
The Palestinian government allocates 29%–31% of its budget to the security services, an average of about $1 billion annually.
Article written by Dima Abumaria
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line