"To serve and protect" is the motto of many a police force. In the case of the tens of thousands of Palestinian police and security officers, what they serve and protect are the interests of Yasser Arafat and a handful of his henchmen. As for the Palestinian population at large, well, they're on their own.
Since Mr. Arafat's arrival in Gaza in 1994, he has established at least nine different intelligence services and deployed nearly 40,000 Palestinian policemen. In addition, high-ranking security officials in major cities, like Jibril Rajoub in Hebron, have their own private security details. The connections between all the different security forces are murky at best. And the actual size and scope of the secret police and undercover intelligence services are also unclear. What is clear, however, is that the Palestinian Authority has one of the highest ratios of security personnel to civilian population in the world.
The police have been busy. Since May 5, it has been the official policy in the Palestinian Authority to impose the death penalty on any Arab who sells land to Jews -- and a trial is not necessary for passing sentence. Since that declaration, at least three men have been killed by Palestinians for being real estate agents, and the police are the prime suspects. In the first case, a 70-year-old man, Farid Bashiti, was found with his hands tied behind his back, shot in the head. A Palestinian policeman is already in Israeli custody for his part in Mr. Bashiti's slaying. The second victim, Harbi Abu Sara, was 46 and was shot in the head four times. The third victim was from the city of Nablus. The details of his death are still unclear. But the killings were clearly the product of single design. In all three cases, the men were brought to the same house in Ramallah for interrogation before they were murdered. Israeli investigators say they have evidence that a senior Palestinian security officer is involved in two of the three murders and the kidnapping of a fourth victim, also suspected of land sales to Jews. And earlier this week, Israeli police foiled another kidnapping attempt, once again directed at a land-sale suspect, and arrested four Palestinian security officers and two other men.
As for Chairman Arafat, he has defended the death-for-land-sales policy and its enforcement, saying, "we are talking about isolated traitors. And we will impose against them what is on the law books. That is our right and our obligation to protect our land." Apparently, that also goes for suspected land dealers. Palestinian police arrested 12 men on suspicion of land sales in the past two weeks, according to Palestinian Attorney General Khalid Qidrah. This comes on top of another six arrested the week prior. And Palestinian Justice Minister Freih Abu Medein, who originally announced the policy, says he has a list of another 200 suspected land dealers Palestinian security forces will be "investigating." At the same time, plainclothes Palestinian security officers have been harassing suspected land dealers in East Jerusalem by threatening them with arrest or death.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government is still trying to get the Palestinian Authority (PA) to hand over suspected terrorists, as per the Oslo accords. In March the government submitted a list of 31 terror suspects, none of whom have since been handed over to Israel. Among the list of 31, 11 suspected terrorists are now members of, that's right, the Palestinian police force.
As for what PA policemen and security forces do to their own people, the record is abysmal. According to Palestinian writer Fawaz Turki, "To date, 14 Palestinians have died under torture at the hands of thugs (no other word will do here) from the dreaded intelligence services." Twenty-six-year-old Mahmoud Jamal Jumayal was tortured to death in July 1996. A month later, the Palestinian Authority tried and convicted three PLO security officers in connection with Mr. Jumayal's death. A Palestinian court in Jericho sentenced Capt. Abdul Hakim Hijjo and Lt. Omar Kadumi to 15 years plus hard labor and Sgt. Ahmed Biddo received a 10-year jail term plus hard labor. A police force diligently policing itself? Maybe so, maybe not. The trial took less than two hours and Palestinian human rights activists denounced it as a sham. Were the right men brought to justice -- or did authorities find scapegoats to convict before anyone could complain? Many Palestinians held in PA jails have tried to commit suicide, and one man who did not succeed told his family that he was going to try again. As he explained, "Why wait and let them do it for me?"
Police have also harassed editors and human rights activists who have had the temerity to criticize the PA or the chairman. There are allegations that Palestinian policemen have threatened Israelis living near PA autonomous zones and within Palestinian-controlled cities. Last September, PA police and security officials turned the guns they got from Israel against Israeli soldiers, and this year during several days of riots in the West Bank and Gaza, PA policemen, alongside civilians, hurled rocks at Israeli soldiers and civilians.
There is no Palestinian state or autonomous Palestinian region. There is only a kleptocracy run by thugs and goons who are destroying any hope the Palestinian population might have had that the Oslo accords would lead to freedom and democracy. Oh yes, and the last $100 million installment of U.S. aid (for a grand total of half a billion in taxpayer funds) is on its way to the Palestinian Authority. Ain't life grand?
Let My People Learn:
This month marks the fiftieth anniversary celebration of Akiba Hebrew Academy, the unique Jewish community day school in Philadelphia that arried two great distinctions - one of the the first schools ever financed in its entirety by the local federation of Jewish agencies and an educational institution which never turned away any student for financial considerations, even though the school was indeed private and charged tuition.
Most recently, when two hundred Israel resident Akiba graduates gathered for their own Jerusalem-based reunion, I found that the vast majority of Akiba alumni who now live in Israel were scholarship students at Akiba who otherwise could not have enjoyed a Jewish education.
I was also a scholarship student at Akiba. As was my sister.
Ever since my late father left Hebrew School during the depression in order to work in the afternoons to help his family's income, it had been my father's hope that his children should benefit from the Jewish education that his parents could not afford for him.
It was therefore a great day in his life when he came home from work with the word that a Joseph Cohn, then the head of the scholarship commitee at Akiba had called him during his lunch hour to inform him that I had been accepted as a full scholarship student at Akiba.
My father offered to do his part to fund raise for the school, and volunteered our garage to stock wine for Akiba wine sales each Passover. And when a few wine bottles broke, the taste of Akiba wine accompanied our family car for many years to come.
Yet if I were living in Philadelphia today and if I lived on a salaried income like my father a generation ago, I would not be able to afford day school Jewish education for my children. Scholarships have all but disappeared. Jewish education now remains the province of the rich.
Indeed, many of my friends who work in Jewish Communal Service throughout the US affirm that they cannot afford Jewish education for their children. When I ask my colleagues in the Jewish Federation world as to the reason for the high cost of Jewish education and the lack of community resources to back it up, their explanation remains brutal and realistic: Jewish education is not a sexy item on the fundraising agenda. Jewish educations is not attractive like causes in Israel. Indeed, fundraising for projects in Israel from the US alone now reaches more than $1.5 billion dollars, half of which comes from private Israeli rganizations that raise funds outside of the framework of Israel Bonds or the UJA.
With so much diaspora Jewish resources coming into Israel, and with the Israeli stock market on a continuing high and the per capita Israeli income now approaching the per capita American income, perhaps we in Israel should extend direct assistance for scholarship funds so that Jewish students abroad can learn in day schools of their choice, even if their parents cannot afford it.
What Israel would request in return is that every Israel scholarship graduate spend a commensurate time in Israel, giving service to Israel, whether in schools, hospitals, social services or even in the IDF.
The time has come for Israel to extend itself to preserve the Judaism of the next generation of diaspora youth. That is not only accomplished by sending teachers as "shlichim" or by bringing young Jews to Israel for the summer.
What we are talking about is letting Jewish young people having the right to right to learn the basics about who they are. And Israel can facilitate that right.
We in Israel now have the resources to make sure than Jewish education is not the exclusive province of the "well to do" abroad.
The time has come to ask not what disapora Jews can do for Israel, but what Israel can do for Diaspora Jewry. "Let my people learn" could be the slogan of Israel's fiftieth anniversary.
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