GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian police are creating new community ties and beefing up security in the West Bank by deploying the force's first mobile station to Area C.
“This station aims to reach communities that are too far from police stations in the cities in Area C," Jabir Tamizi, the mobile unit's director, told Al-Monitor. "These villages and towns do not have any Palestinian police stations because they fall under Israeli control by virtue of the 1993 Oslo Accord." The station is entering these areas in coordination with Israel, he noted.
Tamizi explained that citizens in Area C must resort to Palestinian police stations in Area A and Area B under Palestinian Authority (PA) control, while police coordinate with Israeli authorities to obtain access for limited hours to Area C to conduct investigations and arrest fugitives.
“However, this mobile police station can spend a full day in any village or town located in Area C in coordination with the Israeli authorities, to receive complaints from its residents and relieve them of the burden of going to the Palestinian police stations in Area A and Area B,” Tamizi said, pointing out that the mobile station will support the 10 fixed police stations in Hebron governorate, in Areas A and B in Hebron.
He added that the mobile station also aims to enhance security in densely populated cities in the PA-controlled areas at certain times — for example, in public markets, which are very crowded during the holidays.
Tamizi noted that the mobile police station initially introduced its objectives July 30 before starting fieldwork. The station headed to villages and towns in Area C in Hebron such as Surif, Arroub, Deir al-Asal and Beit Awwa, where officers have met with residents to learn about their most common issues.
There are 194 Palestinian residential communities in Area C, which constitutes 61% of the West Bank; Hebron has the largest number with 54.
Youssef al-Sharqawi, a retired brigadier general in the Palestinian security services and an expert on Palestinian security affairs, told Al-Monitor that Israel doesn't allow Palestinian security services to enter Area C in the West Bank except with prior coordination — and that takes more than an hour. Thus, emergencies have to wait in Palestinian communities, he said.
He explained that Israel grants Palestinian security services access to these areas in exchange for the PA’s commitment to its security obligations to Israel, based on coordination between them. Most importantly, PA security services must protect Israeli settlers who enter PA-controlled cities by mistake, and hand them over to the Israeli army, Sharqawi noted.
Israeli settlers often enter PA-controlled cities in areas A and B by mistake, and the PA protects them from Palestinian citizens — although the PA doesn't provide any protection to Palestinians in Area C from settlers' repeated attacks. On Aug. 7, Palestinian security services handed over to the Israeli authorities nine settlers who had entered PA-controlled areas in Nablus after getting lost on their way from one settlement to another.
Sharqawi believes that a mobile police station in Area C is a positive step in strengthening communication between Palestinian residents of these areas and the Palestinian security services.
Mohammed Jawabra, from Surif village in Area C, told Al-Monitor, “The idea of a mobile police station that reaches towns and villages that are far from police stations in the cities is very impressive, especially in the absence of a permanent Palestinian security presence these towns.”
He also noted the time factor, adding, “When a citizen is attacked by aggressors in the town, the Palestinian police take an hour or two to get to the scene, and this is a long enough time for aggressors to escape and remove important evidence in any crime.”
Despite Israel's security and administrative responsibility for Area C, Palestinian citizens refuse to file complaints against each other with the Israeli army as an occupying power, but instead submit grievances to Palestinian police stations in areas A and B.
“We hope that the presence of a mobile police station will enhance the level of security here," Jawabra said.
However, Hussein al-Masalama, a well-known tribal figure from the village of Beit Awwa in western Hebron, told Al-Monitor, “The mobile police station is a mere formality and [won't] really serve to properly enhance security in the towns and villages in Area C.”
He stressed that Palestinian villages and towns in these areas are in dire need of permanent police stations.
“When it comes to incidents that require immediate police intervention such as family disputes or thefts, residents take the lead and rush to provide assistance, since the police [still] can't make it in time before coordinating with the Israeli army. Residents resort to the police for non-urgent incidents such as financial disputes," Masalama said.
“The low level of security in Area C, given the absence of Palestinian security services, has led to an outbreak of drug trafficking, since the Israeli army doesn't care about prosecuting drug traffickers around here,” he added.
Tamizi said the mobile station will operate in each Area C town for a full day "to receive citizens' complaints and resolve disputes between them." If the station needs to stay longer, police will coordinate with the Israeli army.
He pointed out that experienced Palestinian officers are working with the mobile police station and can handle all kinds of incidents including family disputes and even major crimes such as murder or drug trafficking.
The mobile station has recorded several complaints in Palestinian communities in Area C, including in Al-Arroub camp and the villages of Beit Awwa and Deir al-Asal. Citizens mostly have reported thefts of cell phones and money, and the mobile station is investigating these crimes.
Yet Tamizi noted, “Only one mobile police station cannot meet security needs in the villages of Area C. We intend to launch more of these stations in the future to enhance Palestinian security and connect citizens with police in these areas."
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