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Palestinian Authority Security Cooperation and the Internationalization of Occupation: The Case of Ahmad Sa’adat

[A protest for Palestine in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on 29 March 2012. Image by author.] [A protest for Palestine in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on 29 March 2012. Image by author.]

“Security coordination is sacred.” Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas made that statement in Ramallah in May 2014 to an Israeli audience. He was referring to the policy of high-level intelligence and security cooperation with the Israeli occupation military. For Palestinians, security coordination has meant interrogation and imprisonment in PA prisons and a “revolving door” between PA and Israeli jails. This policy consumes over one-quarter of the PA’s budget. In practice, PA security forces regularly suppress Palestinian demonstrations and stand aside while Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers invade Palestinian homes and land, and assault, wound, and kill Palestinians.

The intertwining of the interests of the PA’s top leadership with that of global imperial powers comes not only through the Western donor funding that provides a significant portion of the PA's budget, for security and for general operations. It is also reflected in the PA leadership's vision of the pseudo-independence of a future “state” of Palestine. Abbas repeatedly has floated a proposal to replace the Israeli occupation troops with NATO occupation troops.

The US government is the leading defender of Israeli impunity in international forums and provides massive amounts of aid annually that contributes to Israel’s military attacks on Palestinians. Nevertheless, Abbas has urged a US-led NATO occupation of Palestine, while disclaiming any Palestinian right to an armed force, even in self-defense against attacks. He has not suggested any demilitarization of the Israeli state. This ideal of the “third party presence” reemerged in the recent UN Security Council draft resolution promoted by the PA’s leadership. “We will be demilitarized,” Abbas said to the New York Times, noting that NATO should remain a presence in Palestine “for a long time, and wherever they want, not only on the eastern borders, but also on the western borders, everywhere...to reassure the Israelis, and to protect us.” Such a dependent relationship on Western imperial powers has characterized the PA since its creation in 1993.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was among those political factions that warned against the recent Security Council resolution because it neglected Palestinian refugees' right to return and included provisions for “land swaps.” They also opposed the call for a “third party presence” to replace Israeli troops on the grounds that it would undermine, rather than protect, Palestinian sovereignty. There is perhaps no better illustration of the problems with security cooperation than the case of Ahmad Sa'adat, the General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Sa’adat passed the thirteenth anniversary of his imprisonment on 15 January 2015. In 2002, he was arrested by the PA and imprisoned in the PA prison in Jericho. There, it was American and British guards who oversaw his confinement. In 2006, Israeli military forces raided the prison, and captured him and his comrades. Since then, Sa'adat is confined in Israel's Gilboa military prison, serving a thirty-year sentence. He is one of nearly 6,500 Palestinian political prisoners.


A Wanted Man

Ahmad Sa'adat was the newly elected general secretary of the PFLP when he was declared wanted by Israeli occupation forces at the height of the second intifada. The PFLP, a leftist political party formed in 1967, is the second-largest faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

In the early 1990s, the PFLP had rejected the US-led bilateral negotiations. They also rejected the 1993 Oslo Accords that created the PA because it institutionalized Palestinian submission to Israeli interests and a reliance on Western powers, and utterly neglected the majority of the Palestinian people: refugees demanding their right of return. Throughout the decade, the predictions of those who opposed Oslo were increasingly proven correct as a discourse of peace gave way to a reality of stagnating negotiations, Israeli economic domination and continued military occupation, and a growing Palestinian drive to resist these circumstances.

The 1990s were a difficult decade for the PFLP amid the global crisis of the Left, the fall of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc, the first Gulf War on Iraq, and the US pursuit of unipolar hegemony. The dismantling of PLO institutions and unions in Palestine, Lebanon, and across the Palestinian diaspora, and their replacement with PA agencies, marginalized the PFLP and other parties that rejected Oslo, as well as the majority of the Palestinian people living as refugees in exile and diaspora who were denied representation and their political voice.

The US-led bilateral negotiations collapsed in July 2000. Amid the burgeoning opposition to the tattered Oslo Accords, a second intifada was sparked in September 2000. PFLP members were active participants in struggle.

On 27 August 2001, Israeli forces assassinated Abu Ali Mustafa, then the PFLP's general secretary, with a US-made missile filed by helicopter into the window of his Ramallah office. Mustafa had returned to his birthplace in the West Bank two years prior, pronouncing the slogan: “We come to resist, not to compromise.” His two years in Palestine coincided with the ever-expanding Israeli settlement construction, discontent with PA authoritarianism and corruption, and the clear failure of the negotiations to achieve any form of sovereignty—let alone liberation—for even a portion of the Palestinian people.

The PFLP was determined to not react quietly to Mustafa’s assassination, one of a string of “targeted killings” by Israel to eliminate popular Palestinian leaders at the highest level. The leadership convened and elected Sa'adat, a West Bank leader with strong support among the PFLP’s grassroots and a history of leadership inside Israeli prisons, as their new general secretary.

Meanwhile, the PFLP’s military wing, the Popular Palestinian Resistance Forces—soon to be renamed the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades—retaliated. On 17 October 2001, PFLP fighters Hamdi Quran and Basil al-Asmar assassinated Rehavam Ze’evi, a far-right Israeli politician, cabinet member and Tourism Minister in the government of Ariel Sharon. Ze’evi was the founder of right-wing Israeli party Moledet, best-known for its commitment to racism and to ethnic cleansing on both sides of the Green Line. He urged the expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza and the stripping of voting rights from Palestinian citizens of Israel, saying that Palestinians should be eliminated “the same way you get rid of lice.”

Following the assassination of Ze'evi, the PFLP announced, “the terrorist Sharon and his criminal band must know that Palestinian blood is so precious, and the wave of attacks against Palestinian officials and militants will not go unpunished.”

Despite the fact that the assassination of Ze'evi came in response to the assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa and a number of other Palestinian leaders—or perhaps because this Palestinian action threatened the Israeli military dominance maintained through massive quantities of US-made and funded weaponry—Israeli officials claimed victimhood, describing the assassination of Ze'evi as “our September 11.” 

Israel, with US support, demanded that the PA arrest Sa'adat and other PFLP members. Then-director of the PA intelligence service, Tawfiq Tirawi, called Sa'adat to a meeting in a hotel in Ramallah on 15 January 2002. Sa'adat trusted Tirawi's assurances that he would be safe. During the meeting, PA special forces stormed the room, seized Sa'adat, and transferred him to Yasser Arafat's Muqata, the PA's presidential compound. One month later, four more PFLP cadres, Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh, Majdi Rimawi, and the fighters involved in the Ze'evi assassination, Quran and al-Asmar, were arrested in a series of PA raids and brought to the Muqata.

The arrested Palestinians, along with Fouad Shobaki, the former PA security officer who the Israelis accused of attempting to import weapons to the Palestinian resistance, were used as key pawns in the negotiations around the Israeli siege of the Muqata that immobilized Arafat. On 25 April 2002, during their confinement in the compound, Abu Ghoulmeh, Rimawi, Quran and al-Asmar were subject to a hastily convened PA “military trial” in a two-hour session with no right of appeal, which pronounced sentences of one to eighteen years against them.

Shortly thereafter, on 1 May, the six Palestinians imprisoned in the Muqata “were handed over to a joint American-British security team.” For the next four years, the Jericho prison, supposedly administered by Palestinians, was presided over by US and British security officials who managed the political detention of the Jericho Six. One of the British officials reportedly had previously commanded the infamous Maze Detention Center in Northern Ireland for British occupation forces.

Sa'adat was never charged or tried by the PA. On 3 June 2002, the Palestinian High Court of Justice ruled that he should be released immediately. Palestinian and international human rights organizations also called for his release. But subject to the overall control of the US, Britain and Israel, Sa'adat remained a political prisoner of the PA.

In 2006, in the run-up to the Palestinian Legislative Council elections (Sa'adat participated as a candidate, and was elected), the Change and Reform slate affiliated with Hamas was widely seen as an alternative to end the PA's involvement with security coordination. Following its victory in the 25 January elections, Khaled Mishaal, Hamas’s senior leader, stated that the new PA leadership would act quickly to end the Jericho agreement and release Sa’adat. The new PA officials were to take office on 29 March 2006.


Imprisoned in Israel

On 14 March, eighty Israeli military vehicles, including bulldozers and helicopters, invaded Jericho and demanded that everyone inside the prison surrender. They killed two Palestinian guards and demolished part of the prison. The attack began shortly after the US and British guards suddenly left Jericho, claiming “safety” concerns. Sa'adat and the rest of the Jericho Six were plucked from the PA captivity in which they had been held since 2002 and transferred to Israel.

Sa'adat was tried by an Israeli military court, which he refused to recognize. His case took over two years to finish. He was never charged with the assassination of Ze'evi; instead he was charged with holding a responsible position in the PFLP (a prohibited organization under Israeli military orders) and “incitement” for his public speeches. He was sentenced to thirty years on 25 December 2008, only two days before the Israeli military would launch Operation Cast Lead against Palestinians in Gaza. While in Israeli prison, Sa'adat led multiple hunger strikes, and he was held in isolation for over three years after he issued statements in support of the resistance in Gaza. Sa'adat was still in isolation in May 2012 when a hunger strike of thousands of Palestinian political prisoners won the removal from solitary confinement of nineteen Palestinian political leaders.

He has been denied family visits from three of his four children since his imprisonment, Iba, Sumoud and Yassar. All carry West Bank identity cards and must apply for permits to see their father in Gilboa prison. They have been denied permits since the attack on Jericho, on unspecified “security grounds.” His son Ghassan and wife Abla, who hold Jerusalem IDs and thus may visit without a prior permit, are now officially banned from visiting him. Sa’adat was banned from all family visits by a military order in September 2014, and the order was renewed for an additional three months in December.

When Sa'adat was sentenced, he spoke before the military court: “To start, I do not stand to defend myself in front of your court. I have already confirmed that I do not recognize the legitimacy of this court as it is an extension of the illegal occupation under international law, and I stand as well for the legitimacy of our people’s right to resist occupation...More than one party—the US, Britain and the Palestinian Authority—were complicit [in this abduction]. Notwithstanding...you cannot stop my participation in struggle, along with our people, in whatever space of action.”

Today, Sa'adat's words are both a reminder and a call to action to demand an end to the PA’s security coordination with Israel. Equally important is a call to end US, British, and European requirements and control that continue to ensure its implementation. The coordination arrangements only serve to empower the Israeli occupation, and to enable the imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians.

 

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