Adnan Abu Amer
Middle East Monitor / May 5, 2020
After the spread of the coronavirus, the West Bank witnessed the formation of emergency committees to reduce the potential risk of the spread of the pandemic, installed barriers at city entrances and imposed quarantine on Palestinians in the affected villages. The problem with these committees is that they are limited to Fatah members and did not include other Palestinian organisations.
In order to face the COVID-19 pandemic, the PA in the West Bank formed emergency committees in all governorates of the West Bank, made up of Fatah members only. Their tasks are to establish security barriers at the entrances of West Bank cities, although this task is specific to the security services and the police.
The members of these committees lacked methods to deal with Palestinians; some used this as an opportunity to flex their muscles, insult people and even for thuggery, turning the committees into an additional burden on the Palestinians in the West Bank.
If the PA involved civil society in managing the crisis, performance would have been better, but what happened instead was detestable partisan behaviour that expresses the conviction amongst wide circles in Fatah and the PA that the Palestinian homeland is their own and therefore they seek control and monopoly.
Weeks after forming the committees, and increasing complaints against them in the West Bank, it has become clear that they need to be evaluated in order to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.
It is difficult to read the directions of forming these committees in isolation from the general policy of the PA, which continues to exclude their political opponents, impose domination on the committees and abort any political activity by the rival factions during the current crisis.
The coronavirus crisis has changed the mind-sets of rulers around the world, but the PA has failed to do so. This is a catastrophe in itself, as the pandemic may be a major opportunity to turn a new leaf in terms of the division and the dark thoughts of dominating the national decision.
It is possible to talk about a number of reasons that led the PA to interfere in the formation of emergency committees, and not to allow the rest of the factions to engage in them, the most important of which is that it sees no need to give the competing factions the opportunity to breathe, and to reappear on the scene, even within the realm of social activity, because the nature of Fatah’s structure does not allow for partnership in any activity.
Palestinians have recorded the “bullying” by the emergency committees that block the entrances of towns with stone and dirt berms and prevent the movement of citizens in a manner similar to that used by the occupation. They have also been using excessive violence, shooting young men, and imposing the prohibition of movement by force, which has made the committees a burden on the Palestinians.
Hamas and other Palestinian factions believe that the PA’s continued formation of these committees in a purely partisan style expresses the PA’s love for exclusivity. It is also proof of its rejection of partnership and goes against calls for solidarity made by the PA, which carries out political arrests. This is because it is forcing its citizens to distribute humanitarian and medical aid through one organisational body, which is considered a major restriction to the needy.
Legal and human rights organisations also criticised the formation and work of the emergency committees in the West Bank, demanding they be remedied and put back on course to guarantee freedoms and protect the rights of citizens.
They pointed out that there are many real problems that affect the formation of these committees, and their working mechanisms, some of which amount to violations of Palestinian rights and freedoms.
No public legal authorisation announced the formation of these committees in spite of the fact some are carrying out the duties of security services. This requires us to warn that there is no specific jurisdiction these committees belong to, as sometimes they follow local councils, sometimes organisations, security agencies, and sometimes they follow organisational figures.
These committees have made structural and field mistakes, as well as being exclusively affiliated with Fatah and PA. They deal with the Palestinians in a discriminatory manner, allowing some citizens to pass through the security barriers they have erected to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and preventing others. There are also complaints related to the mechanism of distributing social assistance, weak transparency, lack of disclosure of revenues and spending.
The bodies are being used as another means for Fatah to continue to reign over the occupied West Bank, ignoring all other popular committees and bodies and the will of the Palestinian people at large.
Adnan Abu Amer is a Palestinian academic