MARCH 28, 1997 -- SPECIAL ICEJ REPORT:

ARAFAT'S ARMY

By Patrick Goodenough

THE PALESTINIAN SECURITY FORCES ARE CAUSE FOR SERIOUS CONCERN FOR A NUMBER OF REASONS: THEY ARE FAR LARGER AND FAR BETTER ARMED THAN ALLOWED; THEY INCLUDE KILLERS IN THEIR RANKS; THE LEVEL OF CO-OPERATION WITH THEIR ISRAELI COUNTERPARTS HAS DIMINISHED; AND THEY CONTINUE TO ABUSE THE RIGHTS AND DIGNITY OF PALESTINIANS. THEIR BEHAVIOR AND ACTIVITIES MAY WELL CONSTITUTE THE MOST DANGEROUS VIOLATION OF OSLO YET.

It all sounded so reasonable. Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA)would be allowed a small, appropriately-armed police force, to maintain law and order in the areas under its control. In 1993, Israel's Police Minister Moshe Shahal said the nascent force would number "a few thousand" and be armed with light weapons. "Palestinians with a criminal record will not be recruited to the force," he later added.

Shahal's government, as well as the current one, insisted it would never allow a future Palestinian entity to enjoy such trappings of sovereignty as a military. As recently as early this year, the "Beilin-Eitan Agreement", which sought common ground on the permanent settlement with the Palestinians, found bipartisan support for the position that "The Palestinian entity will be demilitarized and it will have no army."

But events have overtaken us. Arafat already has an army in all but name--heavily-armed, dangerous, and growing. It comprises up to 80,000 men, and at least a dozen separate security organizations, including such obviously non-civilian structures as Military Intelligence and Naval Police. The wording of the Oslo II agreement makes it clear no such military force was envisaged by the Israeli negotiators. The PA police force was to constitute -- not be an appendage to -- various security agencies. The agreement provided for a force of "one integral unit ../... composed of six branches": civil police; public security; preventive security; a presidential guard; intelligence; and emergency/rescue services. A coastal police unit was also permitted.

The agreement states: "The Palestinian Police is the only Palestinian security authority" and elsewhere, "Except for the Palestinian Police and the Israeli military forces, no other armed forces shall be established or operate in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip".And yet, when PA officials now speak of their "police force" they refer to it as just one of a number of security services which comprise the broader "Palestinian National Security Forces".

Spokesmen have employed semantics to confuse attempts to establish the exact size of the force, for example by giving figures for the "civil police" alone when asked to provide the total number of policemen operating under the Authority. In February 1995, the force was 16,000 strong--or so the PA informed Israel--already 7,000 more than was allowed at that stage. Four months later, that figure climbed to 18,000.

In May 1996, the PA "civil police" chief, Brigadier-General Ghazi Jabali, said there were just 8,000 policemen in the force, a figure which he said should climb to 12,000 by the end of last year. But then he added that that figure did not include officers in "other branches" of the security forces. Currently, depending on whose figures are believed--and the PA is not giving out official numbers--the force is anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000-strong. "Under the terms of the Interim Agreement," the Israeli government said in a statement released last October, "the Palestinian Police at this stage should comprise no more than 24,000 policemen. A further 6,000 may be recruited at a later stage. Instead, the government said, the PA had more than 28,000 "policemen".

The "Note for the Record" attached to the recently-signed Hebron Protocol contains the sentence: "The Palestinian side reaffirms its commitments [that, among other things, the] size of Palestinian Police will be pursuant to the Interim Agreement". After the Hebron deal was signed, the government updated its assessment, saying the PA now had "over 30,000 policemen". (In the Hebron area alone, the permitted maximum of 400 policemen had swollen to "some 1,500", the government claimed.)

But other sources put the true number of "policemen" at closer to 50,000. And after last September's violence, Israeli intelligence sharply revised its assessments of Palestinian military strength, with defence sources saying they were now contending with up to nine security services, and at least 80,000 fighters with automatic weapons, including thousands of armed men from Fatah and other organizations. Recently, that figure of 80,000 was confirmed by one of the PA's most outspoken Arab critics, human rights activist Bassam Eid, who questioned the need for such a large security force to police a population of under two million.

In late January, the PA's Ministry of Information responded to queries from INDEPENDENT MEDIA REVIEW AND ANALYSIS by saying it had no intention of reducing the size of its force, on the grounds "the number of police is of the level that was agreed upon in the Interim Agreement". Queries by the writer elicited the Information Ministry response: "Regarding your inquiry about the number of the Palestinian security services, and the number of the members in each service, we are sorry that we can not provide you with such information since it is not available."

WHEN PA policemen first began to operate in the autonomous zones of Jericho and Gaza in early 1994, the picture appeared optimistic. In May of that year, a senior IDF officer said the fledgling force had demonstrated eagerness to succeed, a high level of discipline, and a desire to co-operate with the IDF. But the problems soon began. A confidential report compiled by the Judge Advocate-General's office on Palestinian violations of the Oslo Accords, which was leaked to the media in January 1995, noted that the "Palestinian police" had within less than a year of its existence:

- Allowed a AK47 submachine gun registered to the force to be used in an October 1994 terror attack in Jerusalem;

- Failed to forward to Israel the names of its members, as required by the agreements;

- Detained Israelis on 13 occasions, entered areas of Jewish settlements without prior co-ordination with the IDF, patrolled alone on major roads and traveled between Jericho and Gaza through Israeli areas, without permits;

- Worn fatigues instead of the recognized police uniforms required by the agreements;

- Been caught on several occasions traveling in stolen vehicles; and

- Failed to respond to requests to extradite suspected killers of Israelis; to act against terror aimed at Israel; to pass on the results of investigations; or to control anti-Israel incitement.

As time passed, the infringements became more serious. Convicted criminals, including men who had murdered Israelis and suspected Arab "collaborators", were recruited. Illegal weapons were not being confiscated. PA security force members began operating illegally in Jerusalem. Anti-tank missiles, ground-to-air missiles, and possibly katyusha rockets were reportedly smuggled into autonomous areas. Human rights abuses became commonplace.

In July 1995, the then prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, agreed the PA could post civil policemen in all 460 Arab villages in the territories, including those just outside the Jerusalem municipal boundary and along the pre-1967 borders. The move completely contravened an undertaking Rabin had made several weeks earlier, to the effect Israel would not allow PLO police to be posted in the Jerusalem area, along the pre-1967 borders, or in the Jordan Valley.

Despite reports of co-operation between PLO and Israeli troops on joint patrols, two ominous incidents banished any illusion that the Israelis could completely trust their Arab counterparts. In July 1994, two Palestinians were killed and 75 hurt when riots erupted in Gaza. Eighteen IDF soldiers and border policemen were hurt. The IDF accused the PA troops of intentionally shooting at the Israelis. Considerably more serious was the violence which flared in September 1996, following the opening by Israeli authorities of an exit to an ancient tunnel in Jerusalem's Old City. As mobs rampaged, Palestinian troops turned their guns on the Israelis in clashes which left 61 Arabs and 15 Israeli soldiers dead. Unrest in Hebron this month saw a further deterioration in co-operation, with the Israeli army accusing PA police commanders of responsibility.

Another threat to stability has been the infighting which has become a feature in the PA forces. In one incident last year, an aide to police commander General Nasser Yusef was abducted by Preventive Security Service (PSS) agents and held for several months, during which time he was allegedly mistreated and pushed from a second-storey window. Arab sources said the aide, Major Farid Assalya, had been accused of treason and espionage, apparently because he co-operated with US efforts to obtain the extradition of those responsible for the 1985 terrorist abduction of the Achille Lauro cruise ship and the killing of American citizen Leon Klinghoffer. On another occasion, Yusuf himself was placed under suspicion of treason, as Arafat loyalists feared the general was becoming too popular and eyeing Arafat's job.

ONE of the most overlooked problems involving the PA police has been that of human rights violations. Arab rights activists have complained of abduction, detention without trial, torture and murder. At least 12 Palestinians have died in PA custody since 1994. Early this year, Bassam Eid called on the European Union, as the principal sponsor of the PA forces, to boycott Arafat's administration, which he said had created a climate of fear among Palestinians, quashed all dissent, and routinely used torture and arbitrary arrest against opponents. A current edition of Eid's publication, the PALESTINIAN HUMAN RIGHTS MONITOR, carries photographs showing the gruesome results of torture in PA custody. (Eid was himself kidnaped from his Jerusalem home and briefly held by Arafat's personal unit, Force 17, a year ago. Several months earlier, he had co-authored a report on Palestinian violence against alleged "collaborators". PSS chief Jibril Rajoub was cited as responsible. In return, he called Eid "an Israeli agent"--a charge which many saw as tantamount to a death sentence.)

Eid's concerns were echoed in February, when the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch asked the leaders of EU states to speak out against persistent human rights abuses by the PA when they met Arafat to initial an important EU-PA trade agreement. In a letter to European Council of Ministers' president Hans van Mierlo, the director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, said "the EU's involvement as the chief funder of Palestinian police programs gives it a special responsibility to speak out".He called on EU leaders to highlight what he called the arbitrary and abusive behavior of PLO security forces.

"The deteriorating human rights situation in the area of Palestinian self-rule requires such an initiative on your part," Roth wrote. "The first two-and-a-half years [of the autonomy agreement] have been characterized by arbitrary and abusive conduct by the manifold security agencies of the PA."Hundreds of persons have been arrested arbitrarily; the majority of these were never questioned or charged with a criminal offence. Our field research indicates that detainees who have been interrogated have routinely been subjected to torture, and at least 11 persons have died in detention."

In response to some of these complaints, Arafat said in February the PA would not tolerate abuses by its security forces. "We are the people who have suffered. We don't accept anything against human rights," he said, adding that offenders had been--and would continue to be--punished.

Arafat's army may be the most dangerous violation yet of the Oslo Accords. And yet, side-tracked by bulldozers on a Jerusalem hillside, virtually nobody -- certainly not the US, UN, EU or Arab League -- is talking about it.

A PROFILE OF THE PLO FORCES

By Patrick Goodenough

THE FOLLOWING BREAKDOWN OF PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY SECURITY FORCES IS BY NO MEANS COMPREHENSIVE. IN RESPONSE TO REPEATED INQUIRIES FROM THE WRITER, THE PA'S INFORMATION MINISTRY FINALLY REPLIED:

"REGARDING YOUR INQUIRY ABOUT THE NUMBER OF THE PALESTINIAN SECURITY SERVICES, AND THE NUMBER OF THE MEMBERS IN EACH SERVICE, WE ARE SORRY THAT WE CAN NOT PROVIDE YOU WITH SUCH INFORMATION SINCE IT IS NOT AVAILABLE." ADVISED TO CONTACT VARIOUS SERVICES DIRECTLY, THE WRITER DID SO, BUT RECEIVED NO RESPONSE.

PALESTINIAN NATIONAL SECURITY FORCES: The "forces" are commanded by Major-General Nasser Yusef, who has been described by various titles in media reports, including Palestinian Police Chief, Security Police Chief, Security Forces Commander and Director of Public Security.

GENERAL INTELLIGENCE SERVICE: Also known as the General Security Service, this branch is headed by Major-General Amin Al-Hindi, who was involved in planning the 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich.

MILITARY INTELLIGENCE: It is unclear how a unit named "military intelligence" fits into a supposedly demilitarized administration, but there it is. Headed by General Mousa Arafat, a distant relative of the PLO chairman, MI was embarrassed in early February when its commanding officer in Nablus, Colonel Hani Ayad, was arrested following the alleged murder by torture of a local businessman, Yousef Al Baba, in a Palestinian prison. Al Baba had owned a real estate company in Nablus and, according to his family, had refused to sell a piece of property to the PA.

CIVIL POLICE: With its distinctive blue uniform, the "civil police" is probably the unit most accurately termed a police force rather than a military or para-military outfit. (Members of most other services wear khaki or camouflage uniforms.) The force is headed by Brigadier-General Ghazi Jabali, who has been accused of stopping distribution of Arabic newspapers in retaliation for critical reporting. He also oversaw the June 1996 detention of a Palestinian civil rights activist, Eyad Sarraj. The Hebron division falls under Colonel Mohammed Amin.

FORCE 17: Yasser Arafat's praetorian guard is a hangover from Fatah's exile years, when members of this semi-autonomous and covert plain-clothes unit, often operating under diplomatic cover, carried out numerous atrocities. Its operatives were based at PLO missions, and maintained safe houses throughout Europe and the Middle East. Its infamous commanders included Ali Hassan Salameh, a key player in the Munich massacre. Its current head is believed to be Jawad Bassa.

SPECIAL SECURITY FORCE: This new unit was formed in February under the leadership of Colonel Mohammed Natour (Abu Tayeb), a long-time commander of Force 17, who was once on the Israeli intelligence services hitlist for elimination and is described by Neil Livingstone & David Halevy in their book "Inside the PLO" as a "covert operator and terrorist, not a military leader" (New York: Quill/William Morrow, 1990).

PREVENTIVE SECURITY SERVICE: The much-discussed intelligence and operations unit is headed in Judea-Samaria by Colonel Jibril Rajoub, in the Gaza Strip by Colonel Muhammad Dahlan, and in the Hebron area by Jamil al-Bakri. Its agents have been caught operating illegally in Israel's capital, and have been implicated in numerous abductions of Arab Jerusalemites.

NAVAL POLICE: Despite the nautical title, units of the Naval Police are also found in the land-locked PA-controlled cities of Judea-Samaria.

UNIVERSITY SECURITY ORGAN (JIHAZ AM EL-JAMAT): This unit was established by Arafat in 1996, to enforce security on Arab campuses, including the quelling of student unrest.

RAPID RESPONSE TEAMS: Unique to Hebron, these black-uniformed troops were recently seen in action during rioting in Hebron.

BORDER POLICE: The PLO's equivalent of the Israeli service which guards the country's border crossings.

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Written by Patrick Goodenough, International Christian Embassy Jerusaelm.

1997 Copyright ICEJ/Middle East Digest


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