At about 10am on Saturday morning 2,500 members of the new Fateh security force in Jenin gathered in different parts of the city to march towards the center of town for what would be the first public showing of the fighting force.
Wearing black t-shirts carrying the image of the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, the fighters marched in step and chanted slogans from the first intifada. Some members of the group also wore black face coverings distinguishing them as wanted men – wanted by Israel.
This particular demographic within the force is not a small one, both because the force is largely made up of re-constituted Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade fighters, and because this is the city of Jenin, “the besieged city,” as it’s sometimes called, referring not only to the complete invasion and occupation in 2002 which left much of the refugee camp razed to the ground, but also because of the relentless invasions and assassinations since that time. Despite, or perhaps because of, this ongoing siege the resistance is strong in Jenin. One only has to notice the hundreds of "martyr posters" (those killed by the Israeli army) new and old that cover the walls in the city’s center, or listen to the nearly continuous gunfire at night, to know this – which is probably why Jenin was the city in which Fateh could most easily assemble a force of its own on short notice.
The creation of this force comes just 18 days after Hamas created its security force in Gaza. But this new force, strangely enough, has nothing to do with the resistance. I spoke with Atta Abu Rumeileh, the head of the new Fateh security force in Jenin who said that “this force will not be a substitute for the police, or any other system of the legal Palestinian National Authority,” but would rather be “soldiers who follow the orders of the police commander.”
In essence, reinforcements for police who generally give out traffic tickets, or at most, investigate robberies. Robberies which, I might add, seldom occur in Jenin and when they do occur are often accompanied by an IOU written by the burglar. While I was in Jenin, one such case involved the theft of 1000 shekels (about 230$) from a popular meat seller in the city center. The burglar left an IOU explaining that he needed to feed his family and would return the money as soon as he was paid the four months salary that he is owed by the government (no government employee has been paid in four months due to the cut-off of international aid). Rumeileh did say however, that the force would be deployed “wherever there are attempts to make troubles or create illegal forces in the
The conflict over Palestinian policing goes far back into the history of this occupation however. Historically it has been one of the most divisive issues in Palestinian politics, and one that is constantly exploited by Israel to create divides and factionalism among Palestinians. This is in part due to friction between Palestinian political parties as to who is represented in the national police force, but also more importantly in what exactly the police have a mandate to prosecute. During 2002, Israel as well as the international community, was putting pressure on the PA to take a more active role in policing the Palestinian resistance.
Inevitably clashes between the Palestinian police and Hamas militants turned to violence in Gaza, and created a lot of bloodshed entirely peripheral to Israeli military operations. One example from October of 2002 is particularly striking. The Israeli Army had just completed a raid in the southern
Much of the current distrust by the Hamas government of the police forces in Gaza can be traced back to these clashes in 2002 and 2003, where the PA police acted consistently as a Fateh force deployed against Hamas. When Hamas created its 3,000 strong Security Force in Gaza in May, it was largely out of distrust of the Palestine National Security Force believed to be loyal to Fateh. Eighteen days later there is a parallel Fateh force in Jenin and Tulkarem, believed to be created purely as a show of force by Fateh loyalists, and the contradictions that began with this occupation are born out.
In this conflict that seems to be between Fateh and Hamas, it is important not to take too simplistic a notion of the interests of each party. This conflict is largely over power, and not influence. It is important not to forget that the resistance is not limited to Hamas, and it certainly is not limited to Gaza. It is in every Palestinian town, and every village. It is both Fateh and Hamas, and if this resistance is ever going to lay down its guns, there will have to more than police, and more than elections. There will have to be justice.