What if the Israeli ambassador in Britain were to write an article in a major British daily, showering praise upon the Irish police? And demanding changes in British policy toward Ireland? Such an impertinence by a foreign envoy is hardly thinkable.
Yet the converse recently occurred in Israel. The British ambassador published an op-ed on Ynet, the internet site of Israel's biggest daily, in which he praised the Palestinian police force and its British trainers. Israel, he urged, must give that force more scope for its activities, while the world must pour in more money. Even more incredible, his piece appeared eleven days after the British Daily Mail published a major article alleging that the Palestinian police, trained by UK policemen and MI6, were engaged in the systematic torture of suspects.
The Mail's Internet site has over a hundred million visitors a month, more than any other newspaper in the world. Some of its articles get hundreds of comments and these comments may attract thousands of likes and dislikes. Were the ambassador and his Foreign Office bosses aware of that major news source? If not, they had failed to do their homework. If they were, then the ambassador's article was a grotesque error of judgment and good taste.
The Daily Mail article is comprehensive and specific, accompanied by artists' representations of the methods of torture employed. The headline spells it out in detail: "Hooded, hanged and left in agony for hours on end: Palestinian security chief tells how he has tormented 'suspects' with MI6's knowledge... and reveals how Britain helps pay for it with £33m foreign aid." There are drawings of victims suspended from the ceiling and walls or bound on their backs across chairs.
The newspaper's informant, a former PA security man, makes it clear that the intention is to inflict unbearable pain while leaving a minimum of identifiable traces."I'm not going to lie to you," he said. "Torture is used. We have to protect our people." Only, it has become more refined. "In the Nineties, we used to torture them badly. We beat them hard and we made them like a car that doesn't function. But we were defending our home, the region and the rest of the world. I am happy it was justified."
He told the reporter that now "the preferred method is termed 'shabeh' – the hooding and tying of the prisoner in a variety of agonising positions for up to eight hours," a method that "takes considerable skill." As the PA security man put it: "You have to deal with it as if you were playing a guitar. Each case has its own speciality."
Paradoxically, the security man was eager to speak to the reporter, because he was proud of the achievements of himself and his colleagues, yet he anxiously refused to be named. "He spoke only on the strictest condition of anonymity as he feared becoming a torture victim himself should his identity become public. But he wanted to speak out because he was sure that the ends – a Palestinian state and the defeat of extremism – justify the means."
The article goes on to describe the British involvement in the training and financing of Palestinian security services, then details multiple cases where obviously innocent people were tortured. Even more disturbing, judges gave orders to free various suspects because the Palestinian police could produce no adequate information against them, but the police disregarded those orders and took the victims away for further "treatment."
On the British side, the Daily Mail suggests that the Foreign Office has indeed been made aware of what is going on. "British Consul-General Sir Vincent Fean, who leads Britain's diplomatic mission to the PA, has raised concerns with President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA prime minister, Salam Fayyad. But there have been no warnings that if the situation does not improve the flow of cash will stop."
So it is hard to believe that the British ambassador in Tel Aviv is ignorant of the worries of his colleague, the consul-general in Jerusalem. This gives the ambassador's op-ed on Ynet a macabrely comic flavor.
The ambassador begins with an unfortunate turn of phrase. "Last week I went to Jericho and saw the future. I spent the day with the Palestinian Authority security forces, seeing them train, hearing from their commanders, and talking to their Senior Leadership course."
Surely his Excellency has heard of the notorious statement made by Lincoln Steffens on his return from a visit to Soviet Russia in 1919: "I have seen the future, and it works." As the Wikipedia entry on Steffens notes, this was "a phrase he repeated often with many variations, despite the fact that the efforts he witnessed were responsible for the deaths of seven million Russians." Twelve years later, adds Wikipedia, his "enthusiasm for communism soured." We trust that the ambassador lives that long or at least repents earlier.
The whole of the ambassador's piece, like its opening, rings with the unqualified confidence of old-time apologies for the Soviet regime. Consider a few snippets. "The good news is that these are serious, professional, courageous commanders, committed to their task of keeping the areas under their control safe. They believe in their mission, and they are doing an increasingly good job." We saw that the former PA security man had the same pride in his work – and what that meant.
"The Palestinian commanders I spoke to were clear that they are doing their jobs not for Israel's security, but for the security of their own people. They know that Palestinians want to live in peace and security, free from crime and the threat of violence, just like anyone else." The Daily Mail article, of course, ascribes crimes and the constant threat of violence precisely to this police force.
"And, just like anyone else, they want law and order to be enforced by their own people, not by someone else." Except that the Daily Mail told us that the Palestinian police ignore the law when it is a judge ordering them to release a prisoner. As Judge Toubasi said to the reporter about a particular case: "We decided to release him and then his father came back and said he hadn't been freed. But my job is to make the decision, not to implement it. It's not an acceptable situation, but I don't have an army to force them to comply." That is, Judge Toubasi needs some other force to compel the police to obey the law.
And so on. But why does the ambassador indulge in this curious enterprise? His aim eventually emerges: he wants to stem the increasing loss of faith, not just among Israelis but of the world at large, in the whole enterprise of Palestinian statehood. To the Israelis, his message is that the Palestinian police have the Palestinians under firm control, so why not give that force more powers in Areas B and C of the West Bank? We suspect, however, that the Palestinians living there prefer even the Israeli security forces to their own. Israelis do at least obey court orders.
The ambassador's message to the world is a familiar one: Do please give the Palestinians more money. Please, please. Don't ask where it's all gone; just give, give. "The commanders said it was hard for them to fulfill their potential when their people were not being fully paid, and when they were not given money to pay for fuel for their vehicles. That is one of the reasons why the international community is so keen to put the PA's finances on the strongest possible footing, including through automatic payments from Israel of the Palestinian taxes it collects on the PA's behalf under the Paris Protocol."
On this point, too, the Daily Mail is explicit. "Our taxpayers give £33 million direct to the PA, while £53 million is donated by Britain for various aid projects – more UK aid per head than we give any other nation... The UK also provides and pays for the training of middle and senior ranking officers from every PA security agency... The reason why a territory with fewer than 2.5 million inhabitants gets so much money is political. The Israel-Palestinian peace process has produced no sign of a breakthrough for the past 20 years, but the international community believes the only way to create a Palestinian state is to build on the PA, which is also Israel's negotiating partner. But with about a third of the PA budget being spent on its security agencies, the consequence of Western generosity has been the creation of a police state."
Need more be said?