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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 22:45 GMT
Palestinian descent into chaos
A crowd gathers to watch the execution of Palestinian collaborators
Collaborator executions often draw large crowds
Barbara Plett

Judge Ahmed Mobayad has not slept for four days, not since the murder that started it all.


The police have nowhere to work from, how can we control the street when we're stranded out on the street ourselves

Haider Ersheid, Jenin's Deputy Governor
"We tried to finish the trial quickly, to avoid the shedding of blood," he says, his weary eyes ringed with dark circles.

But it did not work. On 5 February, an angry mob stormed a court room in the West Bank town of Jenin where three defendants had just been convicted of killing a member of their clan, Osama Qmeil.

Judge Mobayad says gunmen at the head of the pack broke down the door and burst in, they grabbed the three men and killed them in the bathroom.

Lawlessness

This is the most shocking example of a growing breakdown of law and order in the Palestinian territories as society begins to crack under the strains of a 16-month conflict with Israel.


To be honest, we recognize what we are supposed to do, but we don't know how to implement that

Judge Mobayad

In this area tribal tensions and clan feuds intermingle with the fight against Israeli occupation.

In the market people look uneasily at the outsider, there is an edge to the air, blood has been spilled.

Osama Qmeil's murder was a revenge, because 10 years ago - in the first Palestinian uprising - he killed relatives suspected of collaborating with Israel.

In his village of Qobatiya, just 10 minutes from Jenin, the men who come to meet me tell me not to stay long.

They are tall and grim and authoritative. Like Osama they were fighters in the first uprising. Like him they were recruited into the Palestinian security forces during the peace process.

Angry people

But the peace process has collapsed, and the lines between activist and policeman are beginning to blur.

Palestinian police station in Jenin after Israeli attack
Israeli attacks have destroyed Jenin's security installations

One of the men tells me he was in the mob outside the courtroom.

"The people were angry, because the judges commuted the death penalties to prison terms since two of the defendants were minors," he says.

"The Palestinian Authority is not administering justice, revenge killers have started hiring youngsters because they will not be executed, and people have lost confidence in the courts".

Later I learn that like Osama this man also killed suspected collaborators in the first uprising.

Grim warning

The courtroom murders were clearly a warning to anyone else thinking about revenge.

There is a reason why they might be thinking about it now, and it is found in the ruins of Jenin's main security complex.

Israel bombed it several months ago, and it regularly strikes Palestinian infrastructure to avenge Palestinian attacks.

A security officer shows me where the murder trial should have been held - now a cavity full of chunks of cement and twisted metal, underneath a partially collapsed roof.

Jenin's Deputy Governor Haider Ersheid tells me that the high walls and careful security checks here would have kept out angry mobs.

"What happened was due to the fact that the offices of the security forces and of the governor have been completely destroyed," he says.

"The police have nowhere to work from, how can we control the street when we're stranded out on the street ourselves?"

Culture of violence

It is true that Palestinian institutions set up by the peace process, including the justice system, were fragile, plagued by mismanagement, corruption and official interference.

But under Israeli pressure they are being destroyed and replaced by a culture of violence.

As the Palestinian Authority weakens the militias grow stronger, and people are beginning to fear armed groups or clan leaders more than policemen.

"To be honest, we recognize what we are supposed to do, but we don't know how to implement that," says Judge Mobayad.

"We're asking Yasser Arafat to intervene directly".

See also:

05 Feb 02 | Middle East
Courtroom mob kills three Palestinians
22 Jan 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Question of betrayal
13 Jan 01 | Middle East
Palestinians execute informers
30 Nov 01 | issues
The running of Palestine
13 Aug 01 | Middle East
Palestinians crack down on collaborators
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