Monday, February 8, 2010

'A prescription for civil war'


By Jon Elmer in Bethlehem

"Abu Abdullah has never been charged with a crime, but he has been arrested by Palestinian security forces so many times in the past two years that he has lost count.

He has been arrested at work, in the market, on the street, and, more than once, during violent raids by masked men who burst into his home and seized him in front of his family.

Deep in the heart of the Deheishe refugee camp on the outskirts of Bethlehem, Abu Abdullah describes in detail the beatings he has endured in custody, the numerous cold, sleepless nights in cramped and filthy cells, the prolonged periods bound in painful stress positions, and the long hours of aggressive questioning.

"The interrogations always begin the same way," Abu Abdullah explains. "They demand to know who I voted for in the last election."........

The arrests are part of a wider plan being executed by Palestinian security forces - trained and funded by American and European backers - to crush opposition and consolidate the Fatah-led government's grip on power in the West Bank.

Under the auspices of Lieutenant-General Keith Dayton, the US security coordinator, these security forces receive hands-on training from Canadian, British and Turkish military personnel at a desert training centre in Jordan. The programme has been carefully coordinated with Israeli security officials......

By the end of Dayton's appointment in 2011, the $261mn project will see 10 new security battalions, one for each of the nine West Bank governorates and one unit in reserve.
Their aim is clear. Speaking before a House of Representatives subcommittee in 2007, Dayton described the project as "truly important to advance our national interests, deliver security to Palestinians, and preserve and protect the interests of the state of Israel".

Others are even more explicit about what the force is for. When Nahum Barnea, a senior Israeli defence correspondent, sat in on a top-level coordinating meeting between Palestinian and Israeli commanders in 2008, he says he was stunned by what he heard.

"Hamas is the enemy, and we have decided to wage an all-out war," Barnea quoted Majid Faraj, then the head of Palestinian military intelligence, as telling the Israeli commanders. "We are taking care of every Hamas institution in accordance with your instructions."......

As a grim status-quo established itself in Gaza, Dayton's new mission became clear. The job of the security coordinator was now "to prevent a Hamas takeover in the West Bank," according to Michael Eisenstadt, Dayton's former plans officer.

A coordinated attack on Hamas' civilian apparatus was launched immediately after the takeover in Gaza in June 2007. Major-General Gadi Shamni, the head of the Israeli army's central command, led an initiative to target the base of Hamas' support in the West Bank. The plan, dubbed the Dawa Strategy, involved pin-pointing Hamas' extensive social welfare apparatus, the lynchpin of their popularity amongst many Palestinians.......

Israeli Brigadier-General Michael Herzog, the chief of staff to Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, summed up the Israeli view of the project. "[Dayton's] doing a great job," he said. "We're very happy with what he's doing."

The Dawa Strategy has seen more than 1,000 Palestinians jailed by Palestinian Authority (PA) forces. The arrests - though concentrated on Hamas and its suspected allies - have touched a broad swathe of Palestinian society, and all political factions.They have targeted social workers, students, teachers, journalists. There have been regular raids on mosques, university campus' and charities, and repeated allegations of torture carried out by US and European-funded security officers, including several deaths in custody.....

But on the streets, the mood is darkening as the foreign-backed security services tighten their grip on the West Bank. Naje Odeh, a leftist community leader in Deheishe who operates a thriving youth centre in the camp, characterised the security apparatus as akin to the US-allied regimes in Jordan and Egypt. "If you speak out, you are arrested," he explains. "This behaviour will destroy our society." ......."

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