All Things Considered: February 9, 2004

Gaza Crime Rates Rise


In the Palestinian territories, there's another issue that's fueling public anger: crime. A wave of criminal activity, from robbery to kidnapping and murder, has spread through the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports.


PETER KENYON reporting:

Last week, as Gaza City residents shopped for the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday, this market street was crowded but peaceful; young girls walking arm in arm, children scurrying among the stalls of fruits and vegetables, taking their play area where they can find it in this crowded city. Compared with other densely packed urban settings, crime here is not a huge problem, but in recent months, an increasing number of disturbing stories has appeared in the local press, generally ignored by international media focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On this day, the Al-Ayyam newspaper reports on the discovery of a dead boy, three and a half years old, at the bottom of an abandoned well on the edge of the Jabaliya refugee camp. Witnesses said a man enticed two young boys into his car with the promise of a bicycle. The second boy escaped, but police say they have no strong leads toward arresting a suspect.


KENYON: In a narrow unpaved alleyway in a Gaza neighborhood, Dr. Ali Laruqi(ph) says he's hearing a flood of complaints from Gaza residents about the lack of security.

Dr. ALI LARUQI: (Through Translator) National security does not really exist in town, because the authority is not really in charge of the order of the law here. There is a big increase in the level of the crimes like killing and stealing and raping and kidnapping.

KENYON: Laruqi comes from a respected family, and as in the West Bank, such families have been pressed to step into the law-and-order vacuum to mediate disputes through traditional reconciliation committees. Laruqi says the committees do work up to a point, but he wishes the Palestinian police could do more.

The comments in Gaza are not unlike those heard almost every day in Iraq, where residents cite the lack of security as their number-one problem. Palestinian lawmaker Marwan Kanafani chairs a committee which recently issued a scathing report condemning the Palestinian Authority's failure to enforce the law.

Mr. MARWAN KANAFANI (Palestinian Lawmaker): I would say that the Palestinian Authority is also in trouble with the Palestinian people because of such incidents, because many people are being killed or kidnapped or robbed, you know, and we all are asking for security. We are all accusing the government of not doing anything.

KENYON: Recognizing the public anger, the authority last week announced a new consolidation of security services and a new effort by the police. But Colonel Rashid Abu Shoubak, head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service, says the incursions by the Israeli military have thrown that new program in doubt. He says last week's Israeli operation in Gaza City underscored the limitations facing the Palestinian security forces.

Colonel RASHID ABU SHOUBAK (Palestinian Preventive Security Service): (Through Translator) We had a plan, which was supposed to start immediately after the feast, including a complete system for collecting the unpermitted weapons and to stop smugglings of weapons, which now we don't know if we are really able to do it with all these Israeli invasions.

KENYON: Israel says its raids are targeted at wanted Palestinian gunmen, bombers and attack planners. Officials say they protect innocent Israeli lives, and steps are taken to minimize civilian casualties. But aid workers in Gaza says despair is growing here, and three years of harsh Israeli restrictions and military operations have driven the Gaza population to new depths of misery. Paul McCann, with the United Nations refugee agency, says functional unemployment is at 60 to 70 percent and home demolitions by Israeli forces are far outstripping efforts to build new shelter.

Mr. PAUL McCANN (United Nations): There's a bizarre and unpleasant statistic of the average number of demolitions per month, which in 2002, was running at around 30 houses every month. In 2003, that was running at about 60, 65 houses per month. And in January 2004, we're up to over a hundred, so it's a disturbing trend.

KENYON: Kanafani says there's no question the Israeli measures have had a crushing effect on all Palestinians, including the security forces. Nut he says that's not an excuse for Palestinian inaction.

Mr. KANAFANI: I understand the circumstances. But on the other hand, we have to see the Palestinian Authority, and especially the security and police, do something to protect the Palestinian individual.


KENYON: On a busy Gaza City street last week, two taxi drivers got into a noisy sidewalk fight. A Palestinian police car pulled up and the officers demanded the drivers' ID papers. One driver refused, yelling and gesturing at the police. After a brief argument, the police gave up and left. Palestinian officials say the situation will improve, but Gazans want to know when. Peter Kenyon, NPR News.

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