Palestinian activists held protests around the world to mark the annual Prisoners Day on April 17 and demanded an end to security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli occupation. The protests were held at the location of Palestine Liberation Organization offices under the name End Coordination in several cities including Gaza, Ramallah, Amman, Washington D.C., New York, San Diego, Berlin, Stockholm, and London. While there are no reports of clashes at most of the protests, Israeli forces fired gas canisters and rubber bullets at protestors in a dozen Palestinian cities.
Alaa Tartir, a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre on Conflict, Development, and Peacebuilding (CCDP) at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), defines security coordination in the latest issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies as “a defining feature of the [Palestinian Authority (PA)] security doctrine and a major source of tension between the Palestinian people and their leadership.” This is manifested “in a number of ways including: the [Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF)] arrest of Palestinian suspects wanted by Israel; the suppression of protests against Israeli soldiers and/or settlers; intelligence sharing between the IDF and the PASF; the revolving door between Israeli and PA jails through which Palestinian activists cycle successively for the same offenses; and regular joint Israeli-Palestinian meetings, workshops, and trainings.”
According to a poll by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, 80% of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza oppose security coordination. Yet, despite its unpopularity, PA leader and PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas insisted that “security coordination is sacred” while speaking to a group of Israelis in May, 2014. More recently, on March 16, only ten days after the Israeli assassination of Basel al-Araj, a Palestinian youth organizer and intellectual, Abbas reiterated his support for security coordination and dismissed that it had any relationship with al-Araj’s death during an interview with Al Watan, a Qatari newspaper.
Palestinian activists and human rights organizers fiercely disagreed, as they condemned the assassination of al-Araj, describing it as a direct result of security coordination. In the wake of his death, they launched an online campaign to challenge Abbas’ positions. For them, Prisoners Day was an opportunity to push their demand further as it coincided with a call to end security coordination by veteran Palestinian political prisoner Marwan Barghouti, who is now in his 10th day of an open Freedom and Dignity hunger strike along with 1500 other prisoners in Israeli jails.
Although popular protests against security coordination are a relatively recent phenomenon, it must be understood that the security arrangement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel is grounded in nearly twenty five years of the “peace process” as a product of the 1993/94 Oslo Accords.
In his article, Criminalizing Resistance: The Cases of Balata and Jenin Refugee Camps, Tartir traces this relationship based on field research in the Balata and Jenin refugee camps. One of the key features of security coordination is the role of the U.S. and the financial assistance it provides to the Palestinian Authority, a sizable portion of which is strictly dedicated to bolstering the PASF. Tartir notes that since 2007 these forces “were often referred to as “the Dayton forces,” in reference to U.S. Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, the chief architect of the United States Security Coordinators team (USSC) responsible for training the nine battalions that carried out the security campaigns in Balata and Jenin refugee camps.”
“In a 2009 speech in Washington, Dayton saluted the “new Palestinian men” his team had created and quoted senior IDF commanders as asking him, “How many more of these new Palestinians can you generate, and how quickly?” The U.S. general also referenced the words of a senior Palestinian official speaking to a graduating class of PASF troops in Jordan that were trained under USSC auspices. “You were not sent here to learn how to fight Israel,” Dayton quoted the official as saying, “but you were rather sent here to learn how to keep law and order, respect the right of all of our citizens, and implement the rule of law so that we can live in peace and security with Israel.”
Given such an arrangement, which represses any forms of Palestinian resistance to an unending occupation, the public outrage is unsurprising. Aarab Barghouti, the son of Marwan Barghouti, called for a show of solidarity with the prisoners by drinking saltwater, a symbol of prisoner hunger strikes, and challenged Mohammed Assaf, the iconic Palestinian winner of Arab Idol, to participate in the #SaltWaterChallenge. Barghouti’s video quickly inspired many Palestinians to show their support including families of many prisoners, human rights advocates, star athletes, as well as Arab pop icons.
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