Exporting repression from Ulster to Palestine

Sectarianism with a smile: the late Ian Paisley claimed that Catholics “multiply like vermin.” (DUP Photos)

Imagine that a police force is being developed for a future Palestinian state. Imagine that the chief advisers to that force had spent much of their professional lives with an institution that was synonymous with repression. Imagine that instead of bringing a downtrodden people closer to freedom, the advisers were really helping the Palestinians to oversee their own occupation.

It is not necessary to imagine any further. This scenario is being actually being played out.

For the past eight years, the European Union has ran a “security” operation in the occupied West Bank.

Five different men have headed the EU Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support — or COPPS, as the operation is known — to date (excluding those who have led the office on an interim basis). Four of these officers had previously served with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) or its successor the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

A short trip to Belfast should be enough to illustrate why the liberation of Palestine is unlikely to be the foremost concern of an ex-RUC member.

When I visited that city in August, I was struck by the abundance of Palestinian flags on the Falls Road, a largely Catholic neighborhood. By contrast, I saw a few Israeli flags fluttering alongside the ubiquitous Union Jacks in Protestant areas.

There are exceptions, of course. But it is a simple fact that Ulster Protestants have tended to identify more with Israelis than Palestinians.

“Inherently divisive”

The RUC was dominated by Protestants throughout its history.

In 1998 — three years before it was replaced by the PSNI — just 7 percent of its officers were Catholic. That was despite how Catholics comprised more than 40 percent of Northern Ireland’s population, according to a 2001 census.

That imbalance was compounded by the RUC’s behavior.

A 1994 study by the Committee on the Administration of Justice — a civil rights group — found that almost half of all young Catholics experienced harassment by the security forces. “Arming one side of the population in Northern Ireland to police the other is inherently divisive,” that study notes.

Earlier this year, an Irish television documentary proved that the British government authorized torture by the RUC against people detained without trial in the 1970s. In 2004, a Canadian judge tasked by the British and Irish governments with investigating the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane stated there was “strong evidence” that the RUC had colluded with his killers.

During the 1980s, a probe by a senior Manchester policeman pointed to an “inclination, if not a policy” on the RUC’s part “to shoot suspects dead without warning, rather than to arrest them.”

I contacted COPPS, asking if its leaders have recommended that tactics tested in Northern Ireland should be replicated in Palestine. A spokesperson for the operation responded that it “does not give any preference to any specific model or methods” of policing.

That reply is in no way reassuring.

Paul Kernaghan, one of the men to head the EU’s operation in Palestine, has explicitly urged that the RUC model should be exported.

Four years ago, he told an inquiry into the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq that “at various stages in the RUC’s existence, it had a fairly high level capability and, indeed at one stage, a light armored capability.” He contended that “you need something like that” in Iraq.

Brutal tactics

Baton guns were perhaps the RUC’s most contentious weapon. Three children were killed with the plastic bullets fired from these batons in 1981 alone. One of them, twelve-year-old Carol-Ann Kelly, was doing nothing more sinister than bringing a carton of milk home from the shops.

The Palestinian Authority’s security forces — the forces “mentored” by the EU — also make liberal use of batons. During demonstrations in the West Bank against Israel’s attack on Gaza in early 2009, those forces beat fellow Palestinians with batons, as reported by a UN team of investigators.

Similarly brutal tactics were employed by the PA’s forces when numerous Palestinian youths objected to how Mahmoud Abbas, the authority’s president, invited Shaul Mofaz, a former Israeli defense minister, to Ramallah in 2012 and during protests opposing the US-initiated “peace” talks last year.

Striking comparisons

Drawing analogies between different geographic regions and different periods of history can be problematic. The injustices endured by Catholics in the north of Ireland were severe. Those suffered by Palestinians are many times worse.

Still, there are some striking comparisons.

Both the Palestinians and Ulster Catholics have been suffered as a result of settler colonialism.

The racist discourse of the Protestant establishment in the north of Ireland during the “Troubles” is almost identical to what Israeli politicians say about Arabs. Ayelet Shaked, a member of Israel’s Knesset, called Palestinians “little snakes” in July; the recently-deceased Ian Paisley, a Free Presbyterian preacher and long-time leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, once claimed that Catholics “multiply like vermin.”

The RUC was subservient to the British Army; the PA’s security forces are subservient to Israel.

Aiding illegal wars

Colin Smith, another former head of COPPS, has spoken of how part of his work involved “facilitating contacts” between Israel and the PA police. Such liaison was “progressing,” even though the PA forces had to pass through Israeli military checkpoints, he said in 2008.

Furthermore, the EU has equipped stations located in Area B of the West Bank. That zone (demarcated under the Oslo accords) is under Israeli military control.

As well as serving in the RUC, Smith has been one of the top police officers representing Britain in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

Smith, of course, is not the only one to have found that participating in an illegal war can enhance your career prospects. Tony Blair has not been short of job offers either.

Blair’s role as the Middle East “peace envoy” complements the work of the EU’s police operation. Together, they are trying to dupe the world into thinking that the Palestinians are being put in charge of their own destiny, while constantly kowtowing to the Israeli occupation.

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Comments

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This disgusts me. Those Zionists in the RUC are just going to Palestine to persecute the Palestinians for the benefit of an illegitimate dictatorship Medinat Yisrael. These evil people still walk Irleand's street and unfortunately Palestine's streets as well now. I hope they won't get away with trying to bully the people of the West Bank.

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I think that the author is a little bit unfair with the EU support to the Palestinian police.
Yes, there are similarities between the conflict in Northern Ireland and the conflict in Israel/Palestine. But the analogy Protestants-Catholics/Israelis-Palestinians is not really relevant here. The COPPS is helping the Palestinian police, not the Israeli police, to maintain order in Palestine.
Yes, the RUC was controversial, perceived as one-sided and discriminative. This is why the RUC has been reformed and replaced by the PSNI, which is far less controversial (All major political parties in Northern Ireland, whether catholic or protestant, support the PSNI).
Given their experience about policing in a zone of conflict, it is not surprising to find officers from RUC/PSNI in the COPPS. I see no reason to suspect them of helping the Palestinians to torture their own people.

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This revelation may not surprise given that there has been a long record of cooperation between the British state and Israel in the field of security and repression as practiced in the North. Interrogation techniques as practiced during internment were subsequently implemented on Palestinian prisoners. An exchange of intelligence and military know-how continued throughout the Troubles as did mutual visits between R.U.C./British Army and I.D.F. personnel. Who better to suppress the Occupied than those historically indoctrinated to make "Croppy lie down"?
The E.U., as paymasters, have now joined Israel in the suppression of the Palestinians.

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"The COPPS is helping the Palestinian police, not the Israeli police, to maintain order in Palestine."
You seem to be under the illusion that there's a difference between the Palestinian and Israeli police in the West Bank. Abbas's police "maintain order", as you put it, by crushing any sign of resistance to the occupation.

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We could probably assess their intent by looking at what the RUC is doing in Iraq:

"The tactics which I am teaching are straight off the streets of Belfast."
- PSNI Chief Inspector Kevin Smith, now training & recruiting in Basra

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David Cronin

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David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada. His latest book is Corporate Europe: How Big Business Sets Policies on Food, Climate and War (Pluto, 2013). His earlier book is Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation (Pluto, 2011).