That’s Some Overhaul
A Reuters piece on Feb. 9, 2007 mentions that overhauling the Palestinian security forces will cost 4.2 to 7 billion dollars over the next five years. What’s more, the recent aid package agreed upon in Paris committing to 7.4 billion for the Palestinians doesn’t contain any provision for the security services. The Reuters report follows a piece in the Jordan Times announcing plans to train a 50,000 person police force for the West Bank. This translates to 1 police officer for every 42-70 citizens (depending upon which population figures for the West Bank are accepted), an unprecendented concentration of police presence. Currently, there are only 7,000 Palestinian police officers in the West Bank (Reuters, Jan.13, 2008), so the new plan calls for a seven-fold increase.
The planned expansion would result in a density of police at least three to four times that of major American cities that have to contend with much higher crime rates than the West Bank. The training, apparently with US backing, is to be “restricted to typical police work, such as crime fighting and VIP protection” according to the Jordan Times.
This new plan has not been contested publicly despite past concerns about the size of the Palestinian security forces. A little history of the Palestinian police forces would be helpful here. The Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip of September 1995 limited the Palestinian police force to 24,000 with 60 percent (14,400) stationed in the West Bank based on its share of the population. Keeping the force proportional to the size of the increasing population would translate to 22,000 in the West Bank in 2008.
The unusual size of the force with respect to its population is readily apparent when compared to police forces in major American cities and in Israel. Criminology Professor Jerome Skolnik tabulated the ratio of police/1000 citizens in American cities ranging from 1.7 to 5.4 (Letters to the Editor, New York Times, Feb. 3,1996). The calculated concentration of police per citizen in the West Bank would rise from 2.8-4.7 per thousand citizens to 14.7-23.8 per thousand, three to four times the police presence of the most highly policed American city in Skolnick’s study.
Size of force
Police / 1000 citizens
Planned force – Revised West Bank Palestinian population projection1
Planned force – PCBS West Bank Palestinian population projection2
Current force- Revised West Bank Palestinian population projection1
Current force – PCBS West Bank Palestinian population projection2
New York Police Dept. 3
Israeli police officers 4
Los Angeles Police Dept. 5
The unusually high proportion of Palestinians undergoing police training becomes evident from a review of West Bank demographics. Forty two percent of the Palestinian West Bank male population, or 520,000, are between the ages of 18-49. Assuming that the trainees will be between the ages of 18-49 and mostly male, this translates to nearly one out of every ten males in this age group undergoing police training in Jordan. On top of that, there are 58,000 members of other branches of the Palestinian Authority security forces, many of whom are stationed in the West Bank.
A comparison of crime statistics magnifies the imbalance in the size of the planned Palestinian force. The number of reported criminal offenses per police officer in the expanded West Bank force would be a small fraction that of major U.S. cities or neighboring Israel.
Criminal offenses in jurisdiction
Criminal offenses per police officer
The announced training plan is part and parcel of what appears to be an increasing militarization of Palestinian society. On November 14, 2007, NPR did a feature piece on a new academy in Nablus training security officers, ostensibly to handle the Islamist threat. That academy is being funded by Saudi Arabia and the EU.
There is a serious concern here that the training may train a new generation of militants and terrorists. Abu Yousuf, senior commander of Palestinian President Abbas’s Guard, Force 17, was quoted as claiming that Palestinian resistance owed much of its success in killing Israelis during the second Intifada to American training they received (Aaron Klein, World Net Daily, Aug. 22, 2007). Force 17 is again receiving U.S. funded training.
In December, the House subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia held hearings on this topic. Charles Snyder, Acting deputy assistant secretary for civilian police and African, Asian and European programs in the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, testified that
We’ve developed a very careful vetting process, quite detailed vetting process, and we just signed an agreement, in fact, with the FBI to use their terrorist screening system for the rest of the people we’re going to train, the next 1,000 people that we’ll begin to training. We’re very conscious of this concern, and we’re going to take extraordinary steps to see that none of these funds go astray. (Dec. 12, 2007)
Hopefully, Mr. Snyder is right. But the absurdly high police to citizen ratio and low criminal offense to police ratio for the West Bank raise a number of questions.
1) Considering the saturated media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, why has this item been so unreported? The article is featured on the Jordanian Foreign Ministry web site.
2) Why does the West Bank, with a crime rate a fraction that of New York or Los Angeles, require such a large police force? If one argues that a territory like the West Bank has different requirements than a city, that still leaves the comparison with its neighbor, Israel.
3) Where is this extra 4.2 to 7 billion dollars going to come from? A major goal of the Western aid package to the Palestinian Authority is to helped restructure and build the economy. In what way does such an abundance of policemen and security forces help reform and sustain the Palestiinan economy?
4) Does this represent a new level of militarization of Palestinian society? What safeguards are there to ensure that this force is not used for other purposes, like forming a new Palestinian army?
1 Zimmerman, Seid and Wise, The Million and a Half Person Gap, AEI, Jan. 10, 2005
2 Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics, Palestinians at the end of the Year 2006
3 CCR on-line directory, figures are for 2007
4 Statistical Abstract of Israel, 2006, Israel Central Bureau of Statistics
5 Lapdonline.org, Statistical digest 2005. The figure is for “sworn officers of the law.”
6 Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics, 2006
7 Area connect, 2006 (using FBI figures)
8 Lapdonline.org, Statistical digest 2005
9 Israel Police web site, 2005, Trends in Crime