Return to vigilante justice

Family quarrels and political power struggles in palastina

Panic broke out when on 12. June in the center of ramallah sudden shots were fired. Men in civilian clothes opened fire in the middle of densely populated streets. Passers-by took refuge in shopping stores and side streets. "They’re israelis in civilian clothes," said one man, alluding to a covert arrest squad. "I wouldn’t be surprised if they were our own people," interjected another. Then uniformed police forces intervened. Result: two of the men in civilian clothes were shot and hospitalized. Only later it turned out that representatives of two families tried to solve their dispute by force of arms. So anyway, quite credibly, the official version of the palestinian interior ministry. Later, a human rights organization explained that two groups of al-aksa martyr brigades had fought each other.

It is also conceivable that members of the security forces, in civilian clothes, were themselves among the groups that described themselves. This is what happened when a woman whose child was enjoying herself in the games section of a shopping mall in ramallah did not pay her bill and got into an argument with an employee. She phoned for a relative at the police station. The latter came, but instead of settling the dispute, he shot into the air and started a mass panic. Rushed security forces did not calm the situation either, but opened fire themselves.

These are not isolated cases. Shooting is not always used to resolve disputes. But the disorderly proliferation of handguns and kalashnikov automatic rapid-fire rifles exacerbates the chaotic internal situation in the israeli-occupied territories.

Security chaos

Normally, the "chaos of arms," as palestinians call the situation, is directed against the political order or its representatives. The palestinian independent commission for citizens rights (piccr) in ramallah published a list of the "security chaos" in a local newspaper two weeks ago. After that, for example, on 4. April armed men enter youth center at balata refugee camp (near nablus) to pulverize ballot papers after local election. The same thing happened in a sports club near ramallah after the election of its board of directors.

In palestinian society, rough party politics also determines the composition of smaller associations. In recent months, the islamist hamas has made immense gains in local elections. After ten years of mismanagement, many people are fed up with the fatah movement’s autocracy.

The distribution of influential political posts is based on a system of favoritism. Family loyalty pays off; technical knowledge and management skills are often secondary. Political and family disputes are also sometimes inseparable. For example, members of a popular resistance committee (anti-party association) in the jabalia refugee camp in the gaza strip escaped on 11. June a member of the official domestic intelligence service. According to the palestinian centre for human rights (pchr) in gaza, the kidnappers shot at two passers-by, including a seven-year-old boy. Members of the kidnapped man’s family blocked streets until he was released.

In the second week of june, according to pchr, a total of seven palestinians were killed in internal clashes, the youngest seven years old. At least twenty were injured. Police officers themselves rarely take action against militant groups for fear of reprisals against themselves or their families.

After a brief period of relatively reliable justice in the 1990s, palestinian society is now tending toward vigilante justice again. In the spring of 2002, the israeli army once again occupied the cities that it had handed over to the palestinian authority (pa) a few years earlier. The infrastructure of the still new police force was bombed, and officers in uniform were henceforth forbidden. For a few months now, police forces have been visible again on the streets of the larger cities. But unlike the more mobile militant groups and criminals, the radius of action of the security agencies ends at the next israeli checkpoint. And even in the cities, the police have to stay at home when the israeli army is on the streets. In the west bank, only tulkarem and jericho are currently under the control of the palestinians themselves.

Judiciary in need of total reform

Nevertheless, the palestinian leadership is aware of its own mistakes. "If the government cannot end the security chaos," ahmad kurei, the palestinian prime minister, said at a meeting in nablus on 15. June, "then they have to leave and we need a new government."The people are fed up with the unlawful actions. The security apparatuses had to restore peace and order.

At the same time, armed men occupied kurei’s house in jericho in protest against the government’s failure to fulfill its promises. According to the palestinian newspaper al-hayat al-jadida, those sought by israel were promised financial aid and integration into the palestinian security organs. The registration of people living in the underground began two months ago. However, there appear to be difficulties with the paper that the new officials must sign. They pledge not to disrupt public order and to recognize the agreements that the pa has signed with israel. On 22. June qurei now declared nablus the first place where the rule of law and public order should be implemented and re-implemented. "We met with our brothers, those wanted (by israel) and their leaders", qurei explained at a press conference, "and discussed with them their rights and obligations and that we are responsible for their safety."

A political analyst for the daily al-ayyam, however, calls the problem fundamental and calls for total reform of the third power in the non-existent state. "If the palestinian judiciary functions, is independent and protected, and is free to perform its duties," he wrote on 11. June, "then everything else will be better as well."The reason for the commentary is the continuing interventions of judges and lawyers. The persons concerned are not safe from armed attacks even inside the court rooms. The non-functioning judiciary, according to one judge, is also due to the appointment of incompetent colleagues and the lack of independent supervisory bodies.

"If the government cannot control the situation, it should resign," hatem abdel qader, a member of parliament, told the press. He included the prime minister in this demand and specifically criticized interior minister naser jusef. "The security services must be reorganized on a rational basis," qader said. "To avoid disputes in the future, there need to be rules of respect for the hierarchies between the various bodies."

However, the mp himself has to put up with criticism in this direction. The people and especially the fatah base, from whose ranks come most of the armed attacks on politics and the judiciary, demand parliamentary elections and new elections for the fatah executive committee. Both had been scheduled to take place in july and august, but were postponed indefinitely at short notice.

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