The toughest cop beat in the world

Policing Palestine is no easy task - but it's being smoothed by the European Union and a former top British cop. EADT Political Editor Graham Dines concludes a series of articles on the West Bank.

Graham Dines

Policing Palestine is no easy task - but it's being smoothed by the European Union and a former top British cop. EADT Political Editor Graham Dines concludes a series of articles on the West Bank.

HAVING served with the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Belfast and Londonderry for 15 years, been security adviser for the Athens Olympics, and then senior adviser to the post-Saddam Iraqi police in Basra, Colin Smith is entitled to an easy life.

But at the age of 58, he finds himself as the head of the European Union's Co-ordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support, based in Jerusalem, Gaza and Ramallah.

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Not that Gaza presents any challenges right now - the Gaza Strip is effectively a no-go area for security, with Hamas ruling the roost in what President George W. Bush refers to as bandit country.

Colin Smith has also worked for the Metropolitan and Hampshire police forces, and when in Iraq held the rank of deputy chief constable and was rewarded with the Queen's Police Medal for distinguished police service.

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One of the key commitments of the European Union is to empower the Palestinian civil police and train them in the latest policing methods and technology. Brussels is considering whether to expand the mission's tasks to cover rule of law.

“The EU is trying to create a Palestinian police force - not the Royal Ulster Constabulary in exile, or the Met, or the Paris gendarmerie,” says Mr Smith, who works in tandem with the fledgling Palestinian civil police service headed by Hazem Attallha.

As part of its neighbourhood policy to aid countries which are physically close to the EU, funding for the policing mission in the current financial year is 6.4million euros, £5.06million.

The Palestinian civil police have 19,000 officers with 7,000 in the West Bank and 12,000 in Gaza - but those in Gaza are at their homes since Hamas took charge of the territory.

“In the West Bank, there are 84 police stations, eight decrepit prisons, six public order compounds, and in Jericho we have a training centre.

“The police have been chronically under-resourced. In an audit, we discovered that 31 police stations didn't have a single patrol car and throughout the West Bank, there were only 40 pairs of handcuffs.”

The EU's money will buy a forensic laboratory for scenes of crime investigation, a maintenance workshop for police vehicles, development of response units, and an IT system. In three years, the Palestine police should be capable of dealing with major organised crime and counter terrorism.

“My aim over the next 12 months is to look at the whole criminal justice system, but the bar must be set where we can meet it, not at Olympic level.”

That means instituting on the West Bank what the western world takes for granted - implementing a transition from arrest to detention, interviewing, charge, court, sentence, and prison,

There are 37 members on Smith's team, policing experts who come from EU member states Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK, as well as Norway and Canada.

“I have no executive power or executive authority - I am merely an adviser. I am not here to lecture or patronise,” says Smith, who is enough of a realist to know that while his job is to help the Palestine force to modernise, it is Israel that is calling the shots in the occupied West Bank. “The Israelis have genuine concerns - only a few years ago, Palestinians were blowing up Israeli citizens.”

In charge of policing the West Bank and also Gaza, Hazem Attallha says that the six years after the Oslo peace agreement was signed by Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation were spent building a police force to be like the best in the world. But since 2000 when the Second Intifada against Israeli occupation was launched, Israel sabotaged the police structure including the destruction of all the police stations, most of the police transport and communications.

“Israel is an occupying power with no interest in crime in our territory, but puts obstacles in the way of the civilian police trying to establish law and order for the ordinary Palestinian citizen.

“We are still suffering - a big problem is the 600 checkpoints set up under the Israeli occupation. If I want to go to a police station outside Ramallah, I cannot go armed or in uniform.

“I am the chief of police going around like a secret policeman - I would be arrested by the Israelis if I was in uniform. How can I deploy new units to solve problems in the villages?

“In every country in the world, the police are there to protect their citizens. Instead of helping us, Israel is hindering us by putting up road blocks and sending in armed patrols.

“Israel is destroying all our efforts every time they send an armed car onto our streets. By doing so, it is telling the people that it is still in charge.

“If I catch an Israeli citizen doing criminal work, I have to hand him over to the Israelis to deal with. I am never told what action is taken.”

He added: “This is a small land. We must live together. We should co-operate with Israel. But if Israelis think they can subjugate the Palestinians, they are stupid.”

As for Gaza where the Hamas so-called “bandits” have control over Gaza, he has been powerless to provide a civilian force for the past 13 months. “We have big numbers of officers in Gaza ready to resume policing when that becomes possible.”

In the meantime, the five police directorates in Gaza are not functioning, leaving the Palestinian police to cope as best it can with bringing law and order to the West Bank.

Graham Dines travelled to Jerusalem and the West Bank on a visit organised by the European Journalism Centre in Maastrict on behalf of the European Commission to study the EU's neighbourhood policy in action.

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