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The killing of Ziad Abu Ein and the PA's security coordination policies

Palestinian Minister Ziad Abu Ein died as a martyr due to the Israeli occupation of Palestine; Mahmoud Abbas must honour the memory of martyrs with actions, and not just words

Before 10 o'clock on Thursday morning journalists were already filing in to Ramallah's "al-Muqataa" - the Presidential compound - in preparation for the official “funeral-in-state” of Palestinian Minister Ziad Abu Ein. The Presidential guard was busy rehearsing its marches and a red carpet was being laid with precision. Soon the first family members and officials began to take up their positions. In the streets outside noise was building. Nationalist chanting was beginning to ring out and, occasionally, rounds of automatic gunfire could be heard. Notably, and unusually over recent years in the West Bank, the rounds were not being fired by the Israeli military.

Palestinians are in no doubt that Ziad Abu Ein was killed by the Occupation. Eye-witness accounts backed up by photographic evidence state that Abu Ein was attacked by Israeli forces at an olive tree planting event in the Ramallah village of Turmasiyya that was held to mark international Human Rights Day. Some witnesses said Abu Ein was choked whilst other reports say he was beaten in the chest with rifle butts or a soldier's helmet.

A post-mortem was carried out on Wednesday night which according to the Palestinian Authority's Minister of Civil (PA) Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh, showed that Abu Ein died due to “being hit by occupation troops and because of the heavy use of tear gas". Israel unsurprisingly refutes these claims.

What is abundantly clear is that Palestinians buried Ziad Abu Ein on Thursday as a martyr.

In the hours after Abu Ein's death, the PA's Jibril Rajoub said a decision had been made to halt “security coordination” with Israel.  The Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine ‘s (PFLP) Khalida Jarrar, however, was reported as saying that whilst there was widespread agreement about the cessation of security coordination, including from Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas himself, the official decision would not be made until Friday.

Despite these contradictory statements and the lack of an official statement from Abbas on the issue, events at Thursday's funeral suggested that on some level things already seemed to have changed. The funeral procession included masked members of Palestinian armed resistance brigades. It was these groups whose gunfire could be heard from inside al-Muqataa during the official ceremony and who gathered close to the Martyr's cemetery to release several barrages of rounds in to the air. This public show of force could not have happened without some kind of official decision to allow it, or at least not to attempt to prevent it.

Shooting at funerals was a common practice during the Second Intifada but was stopped by the PA, and apart from occasional examples inside refugee camps, it has not been seen over recent years. More significantly, resistance members openly carrying and shooting weapons in the centre of Ramallah has not been seen at all for a long time. Some activists on social media sites said this was the first time in ten years that armed fighters had been seen in the city centre.

The PA-Israeli security coordination policies this year have seen non-violent Palestinian demonstrations prevented by PA forces from approaching Israeli settlements and checkpoints, so the allowing of open shooting of weapons by resistance brigades in Ramallah suggested a shift in the PA's approach in practice. It seems likely, however, that at this stage this was a temporary step aimed at diffusing popular anger rather than a clear statement of changed policy.

As well as the prevention of popular resistance, the security coordination policies earlier this year allowed Israeli forces to base themselves outside Ramallah's central police station whilst they rained bullets on Palestinian youth, eventually killing one as PA policemen watched from the station's windows. These policies have been understandably rejected outright by the Palestinian street since their inception. For the Palestinian people, already being forced to endure a brutal military occupation amidst a wider settler-colonial project, coordination on matters of “security” between Palestinian and Israeli authorities is another pill that cannot be swallowed.

The killing of a PA official and well-known Palestinian activist is another horrendous act of the Occupation. It is one of many similar acts that regularly happen to Palestinians who are not “leaders” or “officials”. Dozens of mainly young Palestinians have been killed by the official Israeli “security” apparatus inside the West Bank and East Jerusalem this year, whilst others have been killed by settlers. On the most staggering level, more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in Gaza in just 50 days this summer.

The idea that amidst these ongoing killings of Palestinians and the mass colonisation of Palestinian land any official Palestinian body should agree to participate in “security coordination” with the state that is carrying out these acts seems dumbfounding. This system has been created by the game of global politics. The existence of today's Palestinian government is dependent on international financial support which comes at the expense of Palestinian rights and is dependent on certain demands - such as “security coordination” and the continuation of the Oslo process in which such Israel-PA agreements find their roots.

Friday night's planned PA meeting, after which an official announcement of the halting of security coordination was scheduled to take place, was “postponed”. The latest rumours suggest it has been “rescheduled” for Sunday. By now, Saeb Erekat and Hanan Ashrawi - both leading figures in the Palestinian establishment - have also made statements declaring that security coordination would be halted. Yet Abbas himself, the man who this summer declared these policies as “sacred”, remains silent.

Abbas seems to be under immense pressure from many of his closest figures to make this move, whilst Israel and the international community are no doubt also “in dialogue” with Abbas to ensure a retention of the status quo. In the street, and despite the many statements that have been made, there seems little belief that Abbas will make such a decision and stick to it. The Palestinian people have by now seen endless PA “promises” amount to nothing.

Ziad Abu Ein died as a martyr and he will be remembered by Palestinians as such. Yet it is not in his name alone that security coordination must be stopped immediately. Palestine has lost thousands of martyrs, whilst thousands of “living martyrs” remain locked up in Occupation prison cells. Over half of the entire Palestinian people are today living in enforced exile, and are being denied their rights to live in their true homes. Collective and individual Palestinian rights must be the cornerstone of internal political decisions, and Abbas must honour the memory of martyrs with actions, and not just words. 

Rich Wiles is an award-winning photographic artist, author and film-maker who has been based in Palestine for more than 10 years. His latest book is Generation Palestine: Voices from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (Pluto, 2013).

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah attend funeral of Palestinian Minister Ziad Abu Einat in Ramallah, West Bank, on 11 December (AA)

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