On June 24, an activist and outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Nizar Banat, was arrested and beaten to death by the PA security services.
Many are dubbing this a political assassination. Since then, Palestinians across the occupied West Bank and beyond have hit the streets in protest. In their chants, the protesters demanded not only justice for Banat and his family but also the fall of the regime and the end of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s reign.
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The security forces responded to the protests across the West Bank, particularly in Ramallah, with violence and repression. They used Israeli-manufactured crowd-control weapons such as tear gas and stun grenades against the protesters. Officers in uniform and in civilian clothing also beat up and arrested activists and journalists.
While demonstrations and protests have long been sites of gendered violence, in the last few weeks we have also witnessed an increase in the targeting of female protesters and activists. In addition to using sexist insults and insinuations that often amount to verbal sexual harassment, security forces in civilian clothing have also physically harassed female protesters.
The sexual harassment of women in such spaces aims to punish them for exercising their rights and deter them from taking part in future political action. Moreover, it leads to male activists, concerned about their safety, then attempting to dissuade them from participating in protests.
Outside of protests, secret services have been known to call on women’s and girls’ families to “discuss” their activism and even threaten them. Indeed misogyny is the modus operandi for the Palestinian security forces and the larger Palestinian political establishment.
Palestinian human rights organisations and other civil society organisations have collectively condemned the abuses and the violence we have seen in the past few weeks. Yet this oppression is not new – it is part of a systematic attempt by the PA to stifle political opposition and freedoms. And the PA security forces are a key pillar of that attempt. Since the Oslo Accords were signed, they have grown exponentially. Indeed, today nearly half of all PA civil servants are employed in the security sector. The security sector also has a budget that is larger than the education, health and agricultural sectors combined.
The PA security forces exist under the framework of a “securitised peace”, meaning they are obligated to work in full cooperation with the Israeli regime. This security cooperation includes the handing over of information and the whereabouts of Palestinian activists to the Israeli army, as well as joint meetings and workshops which result in similar techniques of oppression used against Palestinians across a colonised Palestine.
Funded and trained by international donors including the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada, the Palestinian security forces serve to maintain Palestinian compliance to the occupying regime and subdue Palestinian resistance to the status quo.
There have been several internationally funded projects to ensure more women are employed in the Palestinian security sector but these efforts only served to fuel more misogyny and gendered violence. Indeed, by pushing for more Palestinian women in the police and the secret services, international donors have helped expand the sector’s capabilities in singling out Palestinian female activists.
The past few weeks have demonstrated once again that the PA and its security forces are not serving the Palestinian people. Some look at the human rights abuses committed by the PA security forces and claim that they are clearly “failing”. However, they are actually successfully fulfilling their main purpose: stifling Palestinian dissent. The PA security forces are nothing but subcontractors of the Israeli regime and, contrary to the accusations thrown at the protesters, it is they that have “a foreign agenda”.
As the PA continues to repress political opposition, people across the world are largely watching on in silence. However, it is more crucial now than ever before for anyone supporting the Palestinian struggle to recognise that the PA and its security forces are antithetical to our collective liberation.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.