Six Palestinian churches in the West  Bank and Gaza Strip suffered
damage and arson attempts in reaction  to the words of Pope Benedict
XVI. Palestinian spokesmen of all stripes condemned these attacks and
said that the Palestinian  nation – Christians and Muslims alike – is
one, and is united  in its struggle against the occupation.
Reports on the attacks  in the Palestinian media described the perpetrators as "unknown."  In the Palestinian subtext, "unknown" implies "of  suspicious identity," a phrase that borders on a half-concealed  accusation that Israel's Shin Bet security services sent agents  provocateurs.

In Tubas, where an attempt  to set fire to a church failed thanks to the residents' alertness,  people said openly that the thrower of the Molotov cocktail might  be connected to the Israeli occupation. But the mayor of Tubas,  Oqab Darghmeh, who raised this possibility, also proposed another  option: Perhaps the perpetrator acted out of ignorance.

Most of the critics, however,  did not point an accusatory finger at the Shin Bet. They cannot  deny the ills that have become so widespread in Palestinian society:  criminal behavior and hooliganism masked by the images and jargon  of a national struggle, and the growing use of weapons in personal  and public conflicts, with the encouragement of Palestinian political  actors, who are in need of the atmosphere of chaos in order to  be seen as "strong."

But is it possible to separate  these ills completely from the Israeli occupation?

The latest book by historian  Hillel Cohen, Aravim Tovim ("Good Arabs"), offers several  historical proofs of the validity of Palestinian "paranoia"  about the political motives behind security control. Although  the subject of the book is the activity of Israeli security and  intelligence agencies among Israeli Arabs immediately after 1948,  a consistent policy of action and thought that stretches from the Mandate years until the present allows us to draw conclusions  that also apply to Israeli control over the Palestinians in the  West Bank and Gaza.

Cohen's research relies mainly  on police documents from the period, which have recently been  opened for public perusal (the Shin Bet documents are still classified).  They relate, for example, that the provision of weapons to collaborators  by the local authorities was a way of rewarding them. However,  the security forces' liaison committee mentioned in 1949 that  "the distribution of weapons to an element or members of  one group is likely to be useful to us; it will create the desired  tension among the various parts of the population and enable  us to control the situation." The security agencies, Cohen  reveals on the basis of written documents, occasionally even  initiated internal conflicts.

Moreover, the regional committee  for Arab affairs in the Triangle (the body that coordinated among  the various security agencies in this region) "does not  approve of providing the residents of the region with higher education," according to the minutes of a 1954 meeting, and the committee worked to prevent Arabs from being accepted  to institutes of higher education. Cohen allows himself to speculate  that the motive was its desire to prevent the creation of an  educated class that would succeed in organizing and making demands  of the state.

In other words, the security  services – even if they acted on their own initiative in various  places – operated in the context of an official paradigm: continued  theft of lands, continued fragmentation and weakening of Arab  society, and undermining the possibility of the Arabs developing  an independent leadership. Critics of the Military Administration's  policies – Israeli Arabs and the main opposition party, Maki  (the Israel Communist Party) – were described as "paranoid."  But Cohen, in the many examples he brings in his book, retroactively  proves that they were right.

Indirectly, this book by a  former journalist says that one does not have to rely on written  documents – which will be made public in another 50 years – in  order to believe a political analysis that differs from that  of the rulers. Hence, it was not simply shortsightedness and  neglect that caused the Palestinian territories to be flooded  with weapons during the 1990s. It was not "security"  that led to the creation of a class of new mukhtars from Fatah,  who received special privileges that were denied to other Palestinians  and that deepened internal tensions. It was not "shortsightedness"  that led to the weakening and political trivialization of Mahmoud  Abbas (Abu Mazen) as chairman of the Palestinian Authority, just  as it was not simple naivete that omitted the main point from  the Oslo Accords: the goal of a Palestinian state within the  1967 borders.

It is not local decisions by  regional military commanders that are fragmenting the West Bank  into isolated "territorial cells." It is not security  considerations alone that prevent Gazan students from studying  in the West Bank and American academicians from teaching in Palestinian  educational institutions. In the name of security – but not for  its sake – Israel is exacerbating ignorance and economic deterioration  in the occupied territories.

According to this analysis,  for which there is no shortage of evidence, the Israeli security  services are careful to act within the framework of a clear political  paradigm: maximum weakening, in every possible way, of the Palestinian  national collective, so that it will not be able to realize its  goal and establish a state worthy of the name, in accordance  with international resolutions.

Amira Hass writes for Ha'aretz. She is  the author of Drinking  the Sea at Gaza.