Is PA doing enough to stop arms proliferation in West Bank?

Chaos prevails in the West Bank amid the proliferation of weapons, which embarrasses the Palestinian Authority that seems unable to curb this spread of arms that upped crime rates.

al-monitor Armed members of the Palestinian Fatah movement take part in a march in al-Ain refugee camp, west of Nablus in the West Bank, to protest Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied Palestinian territory and express support for President Mahmoud Abbas, June 7, 2020. Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images.
Ahmad Melhem

Ahmad Melhem

@ahmadme44502893

Topics covered

crime, weapons, security coordination, west bank, fatah, arms, palestinian authority, security

Aug 17, 2020

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The cities of Ramallah and al-Bireh in the central West Bank turned into a war zone Aug. 5, following the killing of Fatah leader Khalil al-Sheikh. Sheikh is the brother of Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the Palestinian General Authority of Civil Affairs and member of the movement’s Central Committee.

Following the killing, dozens of young men close to Sheikh took to the streets of Ramallah and al-Bireh, carrying M16 rifles and firing bullets into the air until dawn. This came amid conflicting stories about Sheikh’s killing. Palestinan security services are still investigating the matter, but to this date no investigation results have been shared.

In an attempt to prevent the security situation from spiraling out of control and to contain the incident’s repercussions, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh visited the Red Crescent Hospital after Sheikh arrived there injured. Sheikh was later pronounced dead, amid an unprecedented deployment of security services in the streets. On Aug. 6, Shtayyeh issued a decision to form a committee to investigate the incident.

What happened in the city of al-Bireh falls within the context of the rampant chaos and the spread of weapons in the West Bank. An increasing number of people have been using arms in recent months, whether in quarrels or even at celebrations such as weddings.

On July 30, a citizen was killed and four were injured in a family feud that broke out in the town of Beit Furik, east of the northern West Bank city of Nablus.

Another citizen was shot dead in the city of Qalqilya on July 26. On the same day, a citizen was killed in a family brawl in the town of Kafr Aqab near Ramallah.

On July 25, Emad al-Din Abu al-Ameed, secretary-general of Fatah in the Balata neighborhood in Nablus, was killed by Palestinian security services during a dispute over the opening of a supermarket despite the government’s decision to close commercial stores during the coronavirus pandemic. On July 21, a young man was killed in Bethlehem while working at a construction site near the Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem.

The phenomenon of arms proliferation and the resulting chaos worries the Palestinian Authority (PA). A source in the Fatah movement told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the Palestinian leadership has been discussing for days how to confront this phenomenon. The source said that decisions are expected to be issued in the coming weeks to address this problem. “Israel is showing leniency in allowing the entry of weapons to the West Bank. It is confident that these weapons will be used internally, not against it,” the source said.

What further exacerbates the PA’s fear is that this weapons proliferation comes in tandem with a stifling political and economic crisis.

This crisis emerged after the PA rejected the US Middle East peace plan, known as "the deal of the century," and the Israeli annexation plan. The PA suspended security coordination with Israel and refused to accept the tax clearance revenues, which prevented the government from paying the salaries of its employees.

While the proliferation of arms among the Palestinians reflects the PA’s weakness, it also paints a bleak picture of the chaos and instability that will prevail in the West Bank should the PA collapse.

The governor of Jenin governorate, Akram Rajoub, who has repeatedly publicly called for dealing with weapons proliferation, told Al-Monitor, “We must put an end to the proliferation of weapons and the ensuing chaos. This phenomenon has dangerous repercussions on Palestinian society, the social fabric and the citizen’s security.”

Rajoub added, “This phenomenon is weakening the entire political system. The PA must reconsider all measures taken to curb it in order to preserve a strong society against Israel.”

Commenting on the inability of the PA and the security services to confront this phenomenon, he argued that they are showing flexibility in some areas and firmness in others. “The rule of law shall be applied to all with no discrimination. It shall be enforced on everyone without giving exceptions to any tribe or organization. These exceptions will keep us from building a society that respects the dignity of the citizen.”

He added, “Palestinian citizens are starting to feel the security services’s inaction regarding this phenomenon for many considerations. If this situation persists, the rule of law will surely be undermined.”

Rajoub wondered whether the PA wants a state of law or a state of clans and gangs. “In light of the continuing proliferation of weapons, if we do not reconsider our actions we will face a real and strategic crisis that will afflict our Palestinian society,” he said.

Human rights bodies and institutions had warned of the repercussions of the proliferation of weapons in the West Bank. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said in a press statement Aug. 6 that the chaotic use of weapons in the West Bank threatens civil peace, stressing the need to take serious steps to instill the rule of law and achieve accountability.

Ammar Dweik, director general of the Independent Commission for Human Rights, told Al-Monitor, “Since the beginning of 2020 we have witnessed a decline in the security situation. This appeared in the increase of the crime rate by 43% compared to last year.”

On the proliferation of weapons in Area A under the PA’s control, Dweik said, “Many of those who carry weapons are affiliated with political parties or protected by influential figures in the PA.” He called for the imposition of the rule of law, which completely prohibits the carrying of weapons at festivals and during public gatherings.

“Stopping security coordination with Israel has made it difficult for the Palestinian security services to contain weapons proliferation. This suspension prevented Palestinian security from accessing several areas,” Dweik said.

He emphasized that the Palestinian security services have the capability to enforce the law and combat the proliferation of weapons, but they need a political decision and will in order to impose the law on everyone without exception. “There is no political decision to impose the law and withdraw weapons. Such a step would entail a confrontation with some influential people and strong entities in the Fatah movement. This will not be easy,” Dweik added

On the dangers of this phenomenon in the future, Dweik noted, “The current situation paves the way — in the event the PA weakens and loses its strength — for the occurrence of an uncontrollable dangerous security chaos. Disarmament has become an urgent necessity.”

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