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Violence among the Palestinians

Underneath the surface of the highly publicized Israeli/Palestinian conflict lies another level of suffering--one that is underreported and generally overlooked: the violence and human rights violations perpetrated by Palestinians against other Palestinians. This internal conflict affects the everyday lives of Palestinian people living in the occupied territories as their rights are debased by their own judicial system governed by the Palestinian Authority.

For over a decade the PA has violated Palestinian human rights and civil liberties by routinely killing civilians--including collaborators, demonstrators, journalists, and others--without charge or fair trial. Of the total number of Palestinian civilians killed during this period by both Israeli and Palestinian security forces, 16 percent were the victims of Palestinian security forces. More specifically, in the 1993 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the government of Israel states that 139 Palestinians were killed by other Palestinians. In 1992 it was 182 and in 1991 it was 140.

As part of the Oslo Agreement between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, signed in September 1993, the PA agreed not to punish Palestinian civilians and collaborators. Miranda Sissons, researcher for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, said in a personal interview that, as a result:

   there were fewer street killings, but it still disappointed Human Rights
   Watch standards. In the last five to six months, the situation has
   deteriorated--there has been intensification, and Palestinian civilians are
   reacting with a great deal of anger.

During the first intifada (uprising), which began in December 1987 and lasted until mid-1992, there were hundreds of Palestinian civilians killed by Palestinian security forces. Joel Himelfarb, assistant editorial page editor of the Washington Times, said in an interview that graphic photos of victims in the Gaza strip were published by the New York Times in its book the Near East Report.

Due to such crimes, some observers, including many within the Israeli government, conclude that the Palestinians aren't capable of or ready for self-rule. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said, "The Palestinian Authority wants to be treated as an equal with other governments. President Arafat must ensure that the PA has a functioning judicial system which operates to protect the human rights of all Palestinians." It isn't, however, surprising that such conditions should prevail. Subject, oppressed, or embattled peoples throughout history have commonly turned on themselves. The occupation and war conditions under which Palestinians currently live readily foster internal hostility and the loss of civil liberties. In fact, we see similar developments to a lesser degree in the United States as the armed-camp mentality promoted by the government's War on Terrorism has created a pretext for creeping, large-scale losses of traditional liberties followed by significant violations. In both cases such developments need to be identified and addressed. And in neither case does such exposure necessarily constitute a denial of real external threats or a rejection of the legitimacy of responding to those threats.

Demonstrators and Journalists

According to Freedom House's annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World 2001-2002, the chaotic nature of the intifada along with strong Israeli reprisals has resulted in a deterioration of living conditions for Palestinians in Israeli-administered areas. The survey states:

   Civil liberties declined due to: shooting deaths of Palestinian civilians
   by Palestinian security personnel; the summary trial and executions of
   alleged collaborators by the Palestinian Authority (PA); extra-judicial
   killings of suspected collaborators my militias; and the apparent official
   encouragement of Palestinian youth to confront Israeli soldiers, thus
   placing them directly in harm's way.

Groups of Palestinian civilians who are needlessly harassed, arrested, or killed by the Palestinian security forces include demonstrators, journalists, and clan members. It seems evident that any Palestinian civilian will encounter fatal opposition if she or he expresses any opinion other than that of the government. For example, there were reports of mass arrests when about thirty students were detained after a demonstration at Birzeit University on February 26, 2001. Then on February 29 the PA initiated new regulations, in contravention of existing law, that limited freedom of assembly. These regulations included a penalty of up to two months imprisonment or a fine if Palestinians organized processions, demonstrations, or public meetings without prior approval from the district police commander.

Late in 2001 Palestinian demonstrators were killed when they violently clashed with Palestinian security forces over the PA's detention of militants suspected of masterminding attacks against Israelis. After the Israelis declared several ceasefires and during demonstrations in Gaza in support of Osama bin Laden in early October of 2001, Palestinian president Yasser Arafat called upon Palestinians to refrain from attacking Israelis. As a result Palestinian security forces chose not to open fire on Israelis but rather decided to shoot Palestinian civilian protestors, killing three. In a private interview Michael Goldfarb, senior press officer of Freedom House, said: "Any demonstration against the PA is not tolerated, and Palestinians are sent to jails and even shot and killed by security forces. Rocks are thrown, and the PA uses firearms."

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