The EU is involved in developing the PCP
All pictures and video captured on iPhone 5
On the edge of the training yard as my questions continue, they admit that the female recruits currently training in the yard represent all of the women who are currently training with the force, 16 out of 250.
From its hilltop above Jericho the Palestinian Civil Police training academy overlooks the Dead Sea on one side and Jordan on the other, it’s an amazing vista. Jericho is said to be the oldest inhabited city in the world, fitting so that the Police Officers who serve in the Palestinian Police Force should be trained here.
Policing in Palestine is a difficult task, this is a land in which in many respects law and order means very little. Its people constantly speak of occupation, being besieged by the Israelis and struggling to maintain or even establish an identity.
My interest in being here is the role of women in this force, Islam is the dominant religion here and even though many of the women I have met tend to be the mainstay of the family, their standing in society often does not reflect that.
Female officers, the tiny minority
One of those involved in training here is Captain Qarout Rana, she is head of the administration unit and in the process of developing a training module on Police Ethics, the head of Public Relations puts her forward as proof that there is a place for women in the force. She explains that she is a civil engineer by training but likes life in the Police force.
“In all Police stations you will find female officers”, she says, “Whenever a house search is happening, a female officer must be present”. As she speaks, occasionally a fellow colleague offers clarifications.
I ask again what percentage of the force overall is female, “2.3% in the entire Police force”, somewhat short of the 4% we were told earlier by the man leading the training academy. Hurried Arabic clarifications follow, “actually 3.8%” the Capt. correcting her earlier miscalculation, “about 4%” says her male colleague.
These women will police in difficult terrain, in a society where they are viewed differently and treated differently to their male counterparts. I’m struck by their bravery, their willingness to serve in the job they want, despite the fact it may make for a difficult life.
But as our meeting moves on he then exposes what surprises most of those in the room who are not familiar with this place, “when Israeli soldiers decide to come here, into Palestinian territory, we must clear the streets, leave our posts and return to barracks”. When they remain here, we cannot police.
Some of the wool products made by Bedouin women
I am also struck by an earlier visit to a Bedouin family not far from Jericho, where the women are those who keep things together. They milk the sheep and goats, they bring the animals to market, cook the food, care for the children, and even herd the animals. In the community I visited they even sustain the house through their manufacturing of wool products, a brand called ‘Asheera Bedouin Handicrafts’. So if the women of the village do all this, what do the men do? The head of the family, sits on his floor, shrugs his shoulders, smiles and draws a long drag on his cigarette, slowly exhales and smiles again. His silence says it all.
In a conference room inside the Academy, in a pristine suit and polished shoes, in Arabic, through a translator, Zaher Sabah the director of the Police Training Academy tells me, “eight of our officers who train recruits here are female’. Three times I have to clarify that I want to know how many of the current recruits are female, eventually he admits that just 16 of the 250 police recruits currently in training are female.
Zahar Sabah is keen to speak about the difficulties policing, their lack of control over Israeli citizens who commit crimes in their region. The lack of co-ordination between the Israelis and his Police force. “In some locations our Police officers need the permission of Israeli authorities to attend crime scenes”, this obviously poses a serious difficulty for officers trying to investigate criminality.
In the most restricted areas the crime rate is high and criminal gangs, who traffic, tend to avail of the restricted areas to commit their crimes. Israel and Palestine is split up in various zones, following an agreement reached in the Oslo accord. Zones A, B and C, and so on. When the Palestinian Civil Police need to seek permission to enter into certain streets or areas the restrictions are often excessive, “no marked car, no uniform, no gun” explains the College leader. Co-coordinating such exercises is difficult, a chain of command must be followed, and it takes hours, sometimes days. “Three hours or three days, or sometimes not at all” explains Sabah, an impossible environment in which to Police.
“In all Police stations you will find female officers”
On the opposite side of the yard stand twelve or so male recruits, watching on. The arm-to-arm practice is solely female-to-female recruit. It’s an observation made to a trainer, who assures us that of course the sexes do mix for training, just not today. A shiny brochure from the European Union Police Mission for the Palestinian Territories offers evidence of that mix on its front cover. EUPOL COPPS is heavily involved in the training of officers and observation of policing.
Shifting the focus back to his female recruits is difficult, it is a contentious topic and one, which they’d rather not address. So to assuage my concerns outside in the training yard is assembled a gathering of female recruits being put through their paces by a senior officer.
He shouts and instructs, orders them to march up and down, over and back. They practice self-defence on one another, use batons, riot shields and chant, loud chants, usual police crowd control measures.
Militancy & armed resistance is a reality in the West Bank