Of all places, it is in Azzariyeh, east of Jerusalem, that one can really learn to appreciate the activities of Palestinian law-enforcement authorities in cities like Ramallah and Nablus. In those cities, Palestinian security forces are seen as authority figures who are trying to protect and serve Palestinian citizens, not just as extensions of Fatah or subcontractors of the Israel Defense Forces or the Shin Bet security service.
Unlike Ramallah and Nablus, which are categorized as “A” areas, Azzariyeh and its neighbors Sawahra and Abu Dis are holed up in an enclave of type “B”, where the IDF does not allow the Palestinian police to be fully functional. The interim Oslo 2 agreement determines that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for maintaining public order in Area B, but in the same breath it limits the PA’s authority and the means by which it can protect the people from disruptions of public order. Almost every action taken by the Palestinian police in Area B requires IDF approval.
And Israel, which has no inhibitions about violating key clauses of the agreement, is particularly meticulous here: The number of police officers is limited, police are prohibited from moving from a makeshift police station in an apartment building to a proper one, they are not allowed to carry weapons or wear uniforms, and they are prohibited from bringing in reinforcements on their own to locate drug or weapons dealers or to deliver subpoenas. Is it any wonder that the Azzariyeh-Abu Dis enclave has become a place of refuge for the outlaws of the West Bank? Not that this enclave has not had its share of troubles. Since it was shut off by the wall in 2005, all its ties with its natural and immediate urban center, East Jerusalem, have been severed. The enclave’s isolation, and the impoverishment and despair to which it gave rise, are as painful as a fresh burn.
The artificial division between Areas A, B and C was supposed to be erased from the map, and dropped from the discourse, in 1999. Instead, Israel has sanctified and perpetuated it. The largest share – 60 percent – is designated Area C, meaning it is under full Israeli security and civil control. It is self-evident why Israel perpetuates the Area C classification. After all, it gives Israel a free hand to continue emptying that part of the West Bank of Palestinians and encourage more Jews to violate international law and settle there.
But what about Area B? Why does Israel insist that drug and weapons trafficking should flourish in an area several dozen meters away from Ma’aleh Adumim and some three kilometers from the Judea and Samaria District police headquarters – both of which sites, as is often forgotten, are violating international law due to their location on the land reserves of Palestinian villages? True, there is also unlicensed public transportation, unlicensed construction, environmental pollution – but the drugs and weapons trade dwarfs those violations. A similar situation exists in A-Ram, the hybrid city between Ramallah and Jerusalem that is also cut off from its past, its surroundings and its land by the wall. Just a hop, skip and jump (over a wall and barbed-wire fence ) away from Jerusalem, some 100,000 people have been left to fend for their own personal safety, a situation that can be reversed.
Is there some deliberate intention behind the painstaking adherence to a clause in an agreement that was supposed to be short-lived? That’s what many Palestinians have concluded. Some say the drugs and weapons dealers are collaborators, or potential collaborators, with Israel. This is why the Shin Bet and IDF are not allowing the Palestinian police to take action against them and why, according to them, Israeli security forces immediately find out about any Palestinian attempt to capture them. Some find here a strategic goal: The worse this intolerable situation gets in neighborhoods that are so close to the annexed Jerusalem, the greater the likelihood that the residents will leave and head over to Area A. In other words, it’s just another expulsion trick.
Listen to the Palestinians. The subjugated excel at analyzing the implications of their ruler’s actions. And if the Palestinians are wrong, then why will the IDF not let the Palestinian police operate freely?
* Amira Hass is a prominent Israeli journalist and author, mostly known for her columns in the daily newspaper Ha’aretz. She is particularly recognized for her reporting on Palestinian affairs in the West Bank and Gaza, where she has also lived for a number of years.
The daughter of two Holocaust survivors, and was educated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. On Oct. 20, the International Women’s Media Network reward Hass the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award. Hass was the recipient of the Press Freedom Hero award from the International Press Institute in 2000, the Bruno Kreisky Human Rights Award in 2002, the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 2003, the inaugural award from the Anna Lindh Memorial Fund in 2004 and Hrant Dink Memorial Award in 2009.