BBC and Palestinian Guns
The Oct. 12, 2000 BBC NewsHour report contained an internal contradiction regarding Palestinian weaponry. In an interview with BBC reporter Claire Bolderson, Muhammad Abu Hazia (phon.), head of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq, claims that Palestinian police in Ramallah were forced “under the pressure” of the surrounding Palestinian mob to turn over two captured Israeli soldiers to the crowd, which then murdered the Israelis in the center of Ramallah. Bolderson asks Hazia how the mob was able to overcome the armed police. Hazia responds that the Palestinian public was even more heavily armed than the police:
“Because the weapons in the hands of the people surrounding it [the police station] were much more than the weapons of the police.”
Yet, later in the hour, BBC reporter Frank Gardener does not challenge the contradictory statement of an outraged young female Egyptian student who claims that the Palestinians are completely unarmed:
“Innocent people, people who do not have weapons, people who are helpless, who do not have any sort of arms to defend themselves, are being shot to death every day brutally.”
Write to the BBC Newshour at [email protected]. Ask them to report accurately in the rest of their broadcasts what their Palestinian guest from Al-Haq had to say: Many Palestinian “civilians” are even more heavily armed than the Palestinian police. These are the same Palestinian “civilians” who are attacking Israeli troops and civilians.
FACT: The Palestinian Authority and populace has acquired vast numbers of illegal weapons. PA guns were first turned on Israel in the 1996 riots at the time Israel opened a new exit to an ancient archeological tunnel in Jerusalem. These firearms were also used in the September/October 2000 riots. Characterizations of this violence as simple stone-throwing are inaccurate.
Palestinians themselves have underscored the prevalence and danger of an armed populace.
An Oct. 11, 1999 New York Times article detailed the abundance of illegal arms – a violation of the Oslo accords – in the Palestinian areas. Entitled “West Bank Shooting Starts What Accords Could Not,” the article discusses a feud between Palestinians in Nablus that led to shooting deaths:
What most shook not only Nablus but the Palestinian Authority was the vast number of automatic weapons that poured into the streets. At the climax, after Mr. Abu Salhieh was gunned down in the butcher shop, the usually tranquil town square filled with 1,000 men, many firing wantonly in a brazen exhibition of illegal arms.
In a limited sense, the violent episode in Nablus accomplished what the latest peace agreement had not. It propelled Palestinian officials into starting to hunt down thousands, if not tens of thousands, of illegal weapons whose seizure has been required by every peace accord since 1995.
But the crackdown, focused on the Balata refugee camp and its thriving black market, did not go smoothly and ultimately went only so far. After an ugly showdown with the camp’s youth that evoked scenes from the intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israel several years ago, the Palestinian officers arrested 17 men they said were arms dealers.
They did succeed in putting out the word, which seeped through rutted streets where weapons had been worn as freely as cell phones, that the guns must be locked away; the authorities, for the meantime, mean business.
Those authorities did not, however, actually confiscate many weapons.
It is Israel that has traditionally seen the accumulation of weapons in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a threat. But this crackdown, in response to an internal crisis, made clear that the Palestinians, too, recognized the proliferation of weapons as a threat to security — their own.
Addressing the problem represents a true challenge for Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, who risks a backlash if he comes down too hard on his own people. Complicating the picture, it is not just civilians, but also Mr. Arafat’s outsized security forces, who have been amassing and abusing illegal guns.
Increasingly concerned about what they see as the militarization of Palestinian society, several Palestinian officials and human rights groups have been sounding alarms.
“We cannot close our eyes and pretend this phenomenon does not exist,” said Hasem Khader, a Palestinian legislator from the Balata camp. “It is frightening and dangerous, and if it is not too late, something must be done.”
. . . . . Only several hundred weapons are held legally in the West Bank and Gaza. The far larger illegal cache, the Israelis guess, numbers 30,000 to 40,000 weapons. Pistols, grenades and M-16 and Kalashnikov assault rifles are smuggled into Gaza and the West Bank from Jordan and Egypt, stolen from Israeli soldiers or purchased from Israeli criminals.
Prices average $500 to $2,000 a gun, and dealers are easily found. Nablus residents said they used to wander into the Balata camp and see M-16’s openly displayed on kaffiyehs as if in a produce market.
Last month, Muhammad Daraghmeh, a Palestinian reporter, discovered a clothing store in the heart of Nablus that sold submachine guns as well as blue jeans. A dealer there offered M-16’s for about $2,000 apiece and said he had bought the weapons in Ramallah, moving about 20 a month for some $3,000 profit.
. . . . . “Weapons became a part of our character,” he [Mr. Khader] said. “Now they are so much more freely available and so much cheaper. So everyone, as they can afford a house, can afford a weapon.”
See also excerpts from the March 1999 report on “Weapon Abuse in the Palestinian Territories” by LAW – The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment. It discusses the growing militarization and abundance of arms among Palestinian security forces and civilians (http://www.lawsociety.org/Reports/reports/1999/weapon.html).
LAW has followed with great concern the growing phenomenon of weapon abuse in Palestinian society, whether by members of the security forces whose role it is to impose law and order, or by the public in displays of power or bravado.
. . . The above victims, together with the many others injured since the arrival of the PNA, died because of the growing problem of weapon abuse, whether by security services agents or by civilians.
Use the above reports to counter news reports that portray Palestinian violence and rioting as due to civilian “stone throwers.” The Palestinian crowds seen on television are a volatile mix of civilians, including children, many of them bussed to the scene by the Palestinian Authority, Tanzim militia (plain-clothed and heavily armed) under the control of Yasir Arafat, and uniformed and non-uniformed Palestinian “security forces” and snipers who hide behind the crowds and shoot at Israeli personnel.