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Amira Hass

Will the PA be forced to dissolve? The dangers of Palestinian recession

The PA cannot guarantee its residents a fair economic subsistence, even under the occupation, due to Israel’s prohibitive policies, which in eight years have cost the authority tens of billions of shekels.
By Amira Hass | Feb. 24, 2015 | 4:23 PM | 1

Flooding in Hebron, during last week's storms. Such distress, as well as power outages, compounds the PA's economic stagnation. Photo by Reuters
Flooding in Hebron, during last week’s storms. Such distress, as well as power outages, compounds the PA’s economic stagnation. Photo by Reuters

Between the U.S. court decision against the PLO and the cut off of electrical power to the northern West Bank – the warped logic of the continuing existence of the Palestinian Authority, an entity that should have been temporary but became permanent, reached new heights on Monday.

From the day of its founding two decades ago, the PA had responsibilities and duties, but was deprived of authority and resources. The Oslo Accords between an organization (the PLO) and a state (Israel) created this asymmetric reality: In it, the occupied bears legal and financial responsibility toward the occupier and its citizens, and it is punished if it rises up against the foreign ruler. The occupier is free to keep ruling and to harm the occupied.

Monday was a day of bad economic news for Palestinian society. In the background lies an acute recession, added to five years of chronic economic stagnation. Israel continues to freeze the transfer of Palestinian taxes that it collects, so since January 170,000 public service workers have received only 60 percent of their salaries, which are insufficient to begin with.

The results include a slowdown in commerce in the West Bank, belated payments to institutions and private businesses, and reduction of municipal projects, and therefore a further loss of revenue for the PA, workers who can’t even afford to commute to work, and mounting incidences of burglary.

Compounding the economic recession and stagnation are the hundreds of millions of dollars that jurors in an American court this week ordered the PLO and PA to pay compensation to Israeli-American victims of Palestinian armed attacks; the danger that the Israel Electric Corporation will continue to cut off electricity intermittently; and the flooding in Palestinian neighborhoods in Hebron and the Gaza Strip due to recent storms. All this comes on top of the emotional and physical destruction in Gaza, whose reconstruction seems farther away than ever.

Establishment of the PA relieved Israel of fulfilling its obligation to look after the needs and well-being of the residents of the occupied territories. Israel was not, however, relieved of its obligation according to international law, because the Israel Defense Forces constitutes the sole sovereign authority in the West Bank until today, and effective control over Gaza has remained in the hands of Israel since 2005. At the same time, since the creation of the PA, Israel has blocked its access to resources that would allow it to fulfill, as a subcontractor, the duty of the occupier to look after the needs of the occupied.

This is an entity that has to function without 62 percent of its territory, without control of water resources and the electromagnetic spectrum, without any control at borders and over population registry and citizenship rights, without freedom of movement, and without any control over the fate of existing and potential revenues – from customs duties, exports, mining, fishing, expanding industry or agriculture.

The World Bank has already determined that the Palestinians are losing billions of dollars annually because of Israeli control over Area C (there was a loss of $3.4 billion in 2011 alone), control that prevents growth and development. And that does not even include losses from Israel’s policy to strangulate manufacture and other productive activity in Gaza, by means of forbidding marketing and exports.

If the PA could guarantee its residents a fair economic subsistence, even under Israeli occupation – it would be able to demand that they and the local and municipal councils pay their electricity bills. But the enormous debts to the IEC and the PA’s difficulties in meeting other payments, like to suppliers, hospitals and universities, are the direct and natural result of restrictions on the freedom of movement and development that Israel has forced upon the authority: The two million shekels the PA owes the IEC are dwarfed by the tens of billions that the Palestinian economy has lost just in the past eight years because of Israel’s restrictive and prohibitive policies.

Is the dissolution of the PA a solution? A member of Islamic Jihad told Haaretz last week, “I detest the PA. Its existence is a disaster, but its dismantlement would be a greater disaster.”

For all their shortcomings, the Palestinian security apparatuses, he added, “maintain internal security within Palestinian society. They restrain and quash conflicts between clans and other groups, which tend to proliferate in times of crisis and of a loss if faith in the political system.” It is sufficient to look at the difference between Area B, in which it is forbidden for Palestinian police to operate, and Area A (which is under full Palestinian control): The Palestinian police cannot enforce laws in Area B (in locales including A-Ram, Abu Dis or Kafr Aqab), where illegal construction that violates safety regulations and rules runs rampant and criminals find refuge.

If because of the economic blows it is suffering the PA would dismantle itself – along with it the police and internal security apparatuses – rival armed militias representing opposing clan interests would fill the vacuum. Like the sewage in Gaza, which goes untreated because of Israeli restrictions and ends up on Israeli beaches, so would the deterioration of internal Palestinian security not stop at the borders of Area A enclaves.

There must be some Israeli politicians in Jerusalem who get that.

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Terror in the service of Jewish immigration

 

Palestinians are saying that the terrorist operation in the kosher supermarket, which was carried supposedly on their behalf, only caused them more harm.

By Amira Hass | Jan. 12, 2015 | 4:10 AM |  2

 

French police evacuate hostages after launching an assault at a kosher grocery store in eastern Paris, Jan. 9, 2015.Photo by AFP
French police evacuate hostages after launching an assault at a kosher grocery store in eastern Paris, Jan. 9, 2015.Photo by AFP

Only a few hours after the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris last Wednesday, the theory that the Mossad was behind the terrorist attack was heard among Palestinians. The goal: To convince France that Islam in being Islam is the problem, and so they should forget about the Israeli occupation.

Adopting the latest conspiracy theory allowed people to navigate between two poles: They expressed disgust over the murders, but avoided renouncing the murderers themselves, the motives given for the murders (protecting the honor of Islam and the prophet Mohammed) and from the assumed internal motives: discrimination and racism against non-whites within France.

Palestinians cannot but help identifying with other victims of discrimination and racism. But they also feel from up close, and personally, the dread of Arab infighting and the terror of Islamic organizations. It is easy to count the dozens of Palestinians who have been drawn to Islamic State, but it is hard to quantify the continual fear of all Palestinians for the well-being of their families, friends and acquaintances in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan – victims of those same internal wars, terror and brutalization – and in the past week, the homeless victims of the cold. Therefore the two polar opposite feelings are the essence of the Palestinian position on the events in Paris.

In theory, after the terror attack on the kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher in Porte de Vincennes on Friday and the murder of four French Jews (of North African origin, and two of them at least had “an Arab appearance”), the conspiracy theory was shaken. But then came the reports that Israel would encourage the emigration of the Jews of France and Europe to Israel – and now the conspiracy theory received a boost: The attack served Zionist and colonialist interests.

How far this theory took hold among the Palestinians, it is hard to measure or know. In the meantime, not only Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned and sent his condolences, Hamas did too. The Palestinian Liberation Organization and nongovernment organizations in the West Bank, including the journalists’ union, called for a mass rally on Sunday afternoon for “solidarity with France, the friendly nation, against terror.” And Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in a level-headed and logical speech, said the heretical terror is harming Islam more than any cartoon or book.

To the same extent, Palestinians may realize that the terrorist operation in the kosher supermarket, which was carried supposedly on their behalf, only caused them more harm. Mass immigration of Jews to Israel is not just a point in a statistical competition over the demographic balance. This immigration allows and justifies taking control over more Palestinian land, on both sides of the Green Line. Even before they have arrived in the country, Jews have greater rights here than the Palestinians who were born here. On their arrival, they will receive rights that are denied to Palestinians.

For example: The Jews of France can live in Jerusalem and continue to hold French citizenship. At the same time, Israel is revoking the residence status of Palestinians from Jerusalem who for reasons of work or family acquired permanent status in other countries. In practice, they are expelled from the country. A French Jew can have two homes in Israel and another in France. A Palestinian who lives in Area C, and his family also has a home in Area A, is sentenced to expulsion from his home in Area C. And that is how the West, which enables Jews to hold dual citizenship, is a partner in the discrimination and expulsion of Palestinians.

Palestinians (and other Arabs) who are divided between supporters of the regime in Syria and its opponents are unanimous over one issue: The West, Western imperialism and the close allies of the United States – Qatar and Saudi Arabia – have a hand in creating the disaster: if by supporting repressive Arab regimes, if through indirect and direct support for militias and terrorist movements that operate in the name of Islam that accepts increasingly outlandish and murderous interpretations. The goal: To allow the continued Western control over oil resources, to guarantee the continued profitable economic involvement (weapons, and after the destruction – construction) and to always guarantee the well-being and security of Israel.

The global attention that focused on the dead in Paris reinforces the Palestinian theory in particular, and that of the Third World in general: As far as it is a matter of the policy considerations of the Western powers, the lives of non-whites are not taken into account, only the well-being and comfort of the whites, including among them Jews and Israelis.

And here once again is the unavoidable comparison: Jews, with equal rights in France and with a comfortable economic and social status, who are afraid of attacks by Muslims, will be welcomed with open arms in Canada, and maybe in other Western countries, not just in Israel. Palestinian refugees in Syria whose lives are in danger every moment have nowhere to seek refuge. Europe accepted just a handful of them (and of the refugees from Syria.) Not a single Western leader apparently considers demanding that Israel allows Palestinian refugees from Syria to be absorbed by their close families: in the West Bank, and yes – also within Israel.

Citizens of France from an Arab-North African and Muslim origin are sensitive to this sort of discrimination in European attitudes, and find in it an ancient colonialist approach. If France and Europe want to not only draw intelligence lessons but also sociological and political ones, they must conclude that the continual expulsion and dispossession of the Palestinians is really a central part of the problem, and a truly aggressive policy against the Israeli occupation is part of the solution.

Amira Hass tweets at @Hass_Haaretz

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After Palestinian dies in Shin Bet hands, time to question the interrogators

 

For years, Palestinian detainees and prisoners have complained about sleep deprivation, painful and prolonged handcuffing, humiliation, beatings and medical neglect. By international standards, this is torture.

By Amira Hass | Feb.25, 2013 | 1:30 AM | 12

Arafat Jaradat, 30, died while under interrogation by the Shin Bet security service. Every week dozens if not hundreds of Palestinians start down the road he began on February 18.An Israeli actor is seen demonstrating one of several standard torture techniques reportedly used by the Shin Bet. Photo by AP

Dozens of Israelis whose names are unknown are on a parallel track: the soldiers who make the arrest in the dead of night, the military doctor who examines the new detainee, Shin Bet interrogators in their changing shifts; Israel Prison Service guards, workers at the prison clinic, and the judge who extends the remand.

True, thousands of others take this road or sometimes a longer and harder one – and stay alive. This is probably what the Shin Bet and the prison service will say in their defense. But from the Palestinian perspective, every stop on the road of detention and interrogation involves enormous physical and psychological pain that the army, the police, the Shin Bet and the prison service inflict intentionally.

This goes well beyond the suffering that should be caused by taking away a person’s liberty and issuing an indictment. For years, Palestinian detainees and prisoners have complained about sleep deprivation, painful and prolonged handcuffing, humiliation, beatings and medical neglect. By international standards, this is torture.

Jaradat was not a ticking bomb. He was arrested on suspicion of throwing stones and an incendiary device at Israeli targets. After three days of interrogation the police asked the court (in the name of the Shin Bet) to extend his remand for another 15 days for questioning. The remand hearing took place on Thursday, February 21, at the Shin Bet’s Kishon interrogation facility, in front of a military judge, Maj. David Kadosh. The judge ordered the remand for 12 days.

Unclear confession

Kamil Sabbagh, an attorney for the Palestinian Authority’s Prisoner Affairs Ministry, asked the police investigator at the hearing whether there were other suspicions against his client; he was told there were not. He asked whether Jaradat had confessed, and the police investigator answered: “partially.” Sabbagh concluded that Jaradat had confessed to throwing stones.

Experience shows that the additional days of interrogation – many, considering the minor nature of the offenses – were not intended merely to extract more confessions, but to get Jaradat to implicate others or to gather personal information, even of an embarrassing nature, to use in the future. From reports by detainees to their attorneys, it’s clear that sleep deprivation combined with painful and prolonged handcuffing is very common. As we learn at military court and elsewhere, people confess to things they haven’t done or implicate others falsely, only to be allowed to sleep.

In the short time Jaradat and his attorney had before the remand hearing, Jaradat, who was suffering from a herniated disc, was able to tell Sabbagh that he was in pain from prolonged sitting. Judge Kadosh knew about the pain from a secret report he had been shown.While the judge was writing his decision, Jaradat told Sabbagh that conditions were difficult for him in isolation and he wanted to be moved to another cell. Sabbagh had the impression that Jaradat was under severe psychological stress, and told the judge this.

The judge then added to his decision: “The defense attorney requests the court’s permission to present the matter of the suspect’s mental health while in a cell alone, and his concerns about psychological damage. He requests that the suspect be examined and properly attended to.”

The role of informants

The remand hearing took place at 10 A.M. Thursday. As of Sunday, Sabbagh did not know when Jaradat had been moved to Megiddo Prison, where he died. Palestinian organizations representing prisoners say one possibility is that he was placed in a cell with informants at Megiddo.

Unlike Shin Bet interrogations, which are documented in memos, the existence of informants is not officially acknowledged by the authorities. Informants use various means to extract information, whether true or false. They boast about their exploits as members of Palestinian organizations, they suggest that the detainee is a collaborator because he does not discuss his actions with them, and they threaten him.

The investigation of Jaradat’s death must go through all phases of his detention and interrogation – and those of thousands of others. But any interrogation will be flawed from the outset because, by authorization of the High Court of Justice, Shin Bet interrogations are not filmed.

Only two weeks ago, on February 6, justices Asher Grunis, Hanan Melcer and Noam Sohlberg turned down a petition by four human rights groups demanding the annulment of a 2003 law letting the police forgo the filming or audiotaping of security suspects’ interrogations. The organizations also asked the court to require the Shin Bet to visually document the questioning of suspects. The justices said that because the law was now under scrutiny, “the time has not yet come to examine the petitioners’ arguments themselves.”

The Palestinians do not need an Israeli investigation. For them, Jaradat’s death is much bigger than the tragedy he and his family have suffered. From their experience, Jaradat’s death isn’t proof that others haven’t died, it’s proof that the Israeli system routinely uses torture. From their experience, the goal of torture is not only to convict someone, but mainly to deter and subjugate an entire people.

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