Human rights workers seldom agree with Donald Trump and his entourage.
Yet this week I found myself echoing a view expressed by Jason Greenblatt, a Middle East envoy for the US president. For very different reasons to the ones he cited, I arrived at the same conclusion as Greenblatt: the Palestinian people deserve better than the Palestinian Authority.
This was evident as I observed the PA’s handling of a protest on Wednesday evening.
The protest was organized by ordinary Palestinians who object to how the PA has imposed sanctions on Gaza. It was banned by the PA on the spurious pretext of avoiding disruptions to the Eid al-Fitr holiday celebrations.
Yet the protest went ahead – without official approval – in Ramallah, a city in the occupied West Bank. Its organizers refused to be bullied into canceling a display of solidarity with their fellow Palestinians in Gaza.
During the early stages of the protest, riot police working for the PA attacked its participants. They beat protesters, taking a number of them into custody. I saw one riot police officer – his face covered by a balaclava – rolling a stun grenade towards the crowd.
After about an hour, groups of thugs and secret police dispersed among the crowd took over the task of suppressing the protest.
The thugs in question wore hats, identifying themselves as supporters of Fatah, the party dominating the PA. Some of these hats depicted a kuffiyeh, the Palestinian checkered scarf. The irony involved here was sordid: the kuffiyeh is supposed to be a symbol of liberation.
The secret police in the crowd were easy to spot, if you looked for them. They were men with large muscles, who watched over everyone else. They could be found in groups of four.
The secret police could be seen pointing out individuals to the thugs with the Fatah hats. If individuals who had been pointed out resisted arrest by these thugs, they were dragged away and beaten. None of the thugs looked older than 25.
The thugs grabbed many protesters and placed them in headlocks. Other protesters were punched and slapped in the head. One man had his shirt completely ripped off him by the thugs before they handed him over to the riot police.
Numerous protesters were rounded up and placed in vans, which were waiting near al-Manara Square in the city center. In one case, a protester was placed in an ambulance.
I later learned that protesters who had been rounded up were driven to police stations and to the headquarters of the PA’s “preventive security” division.
While I was standing next to some protesters on Wednesday, I suddenly felt my arms being restrained. One of the secret police had forced my hands behind my back. He did not use extreme force to do so. But he was certainly asserting his control.
The man told me to come with him. He pushed me down a lane. “Don’t be scared,” he whispered. “We respect people.”
I would have laughed – if I was not worried about having my head bashed in, which the man could have done on a whim.
The secret police officer brought me near the vans full of protesters who had been arrested. He handed me over to another man, who was carrying a walkie-talkie. That man asked me – in fluent English – what I was doing at the protest. Where was I from? Was I a journalist?
I replied in Arabic that I was not a journalist.
The man took my phone and went through the photos and messages saved on it. When he handed the phone back to me, he asked me for my ID card. I told him I did not have it with me.
The man then instructed the secret police officer who had grabbed me to take me away. I was ordered to go home. As I did so, I was followed through the streets by three other secret police officers.
Police working for the Palestinian Authority are funded and trained by the European Union and the United States. A key purpose of this training is to ensure that the PA works in the interests of Israel.
The way they handled this week’s protests illustrated how the PA’s police can be similarly brutal to Israel’s forces of occupation. Palestinians surely deserve better than that.
The author is a human rights worker in Palestine. They requested anonymity as they had been instructed by their organization to remain silent on how the PA handled Wednesday’s protests.