Hidden hand of US counter-terrorism guides PA

The State Dept. report highlighted the settlers’ revenge attack on the home of a member of the Dawabsheh family a year after a baby was burned to death and three members of his family died later from burns or smoke inhalation. Here Palestinian security forces inspect the house set alight in Duma on July 20, 2016. Photo by AFP

Country Reports on Terrorism 2016

United States Department of State Publication
Bureau of Counterterrorism
Released July 2017

The West Bank and Gaza, and Jerusalem

Overview: The Palestinian Authority (PA) continued its counterterrorism efforts in the West Bank where Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine remained present. The PA Security Forces (PASF) constrained the ability of those organizations to conduct attacks, including through arrests in February and April of Hamas members in the West Bank who were planning attacks against Israelis.

The PA exercised varying degrees of authority over the West Bank due to the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) continuing presence in certain areas, per Oslo-era agreements. The Israeli Security Forces (ISF) also arrested members of suspected terrorist organizations operating in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Extremist Palestinians continued to conduct acts of violence and terrorism in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The heightened period of violence that began in October 2015 abated significantly in April 2016. However, sporadic lone offender stabbing, shooting, and vehicular attacks against Israelis continued. A majority of perpetrators did not have any known organizational affiliation.

Attacks in 2016 resulted in the deaths of five Israeli citizens, including two dual U.S.-Israeli nationals, and three ISF officers. Extremist Israelis, including settlers, continued to conduct acts of violence as well as “price tag” attacks (property crimes and violent acts by extremist Jewish individuals and groups in retaliation for activity they deemed anti-settlement) in the West Bank and Jerusalem. In March, Israeli settlers set fire to a Palestinian home south of Bethlehem and spray-painted “Death to Arabs” on the walls. The UN reported 101 incidents of settler violence in 2016, compared to 221 in 2015. Israeli NGO Yesh Din reported 19 incidents of settler violence during the October – November Olive Harvest, compared to 15 in 2015. There were no reports of fatalities.

Hamas continued to maintain security control of Gaza. There is evidence that Hamas continued to prepare for future conflict with Israel. Several Gaza-based terrorist and militant groups continued to launch rockets against Israel from Gaza.

Gaza remained a base of operations for several Salafist splinter groups, such as Jaysh Al Islam, and clan-based terrorist groups that engaged in or facilitated terrorist attacks. Hamas confronted Salafists in Gaza by arresting and detaining a number of them this year, but at the same time Hamas likely maintained ties to Salafists in the Sinai. Despite claims of responsibility from individuals or groups in Gaza purporting affiliation with ISIS, there is no definitive link confirming membership on a large scale in Gaza.

2016 Terrorist Incidents:

 In February, three Palestinian assailants shot and killed an Israeli National Police (INP)officer and injured a second in Jerusalem’s Old City. INP shot and killed the attackers.

 In April, a Palestinian member of Hamas detonated a bomb on a bus in Jerusalem,injuring approximately 21 people. The assailant died of injuries from the explosion.

 In March and July, suspected Israeli settlers conducted two arson attacks against Palestinian homes in the West Bank village of Douma, damaging homes of the relatives of the Dawabsheh family, whose house in Douma was set on fire by settlers in July 2015 and resulted in the deaths of three Palestinians.

 In June, a Palestinian assailant stabbed to death a 13-year-old Israeli-American dual national in her home in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba. A private security guard fatally shot the attacker.

 In October, a Palestinian member of Hamas shot and killed an Israeli civilian and INP officer, and injured 12 others, while carrying out a drive-by shooting in Jerusalem. INP shot and killed the attacker.

The United States continued to assist the PA’s counter-terrorism efforts by providing training and equipment to the PASF in the West Bank. The United States also assisted the PA criminal justice system to conduct more thorough investigations and prosecutions of terrorist-related activity, among other criminal acts, and to ensure safe incarceration of those held for trial or after conviction for such crimes.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated his commitment to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, and pursuit of an independent Palestinian state through peaceful means. President Abbas supported a security program involving disarmament of fugitive militants, arresting members of terrorist organizations, and gradually dismantling armed groups in the West Bank.

In July, President Abbas instructed the PASF to intensify measures in the West Bank to ensure the safety and security of people; security services subsequently increased efforts to disrupt criminal activity, including the proliferation of illegal weapons.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security:

The PA continued to lack legislation specifically tailored to counter-terrorism, although existing Palestinian laws criminalize actions that constitute terrorist acts. The PASF were active throughout the year in seizing illegal weapons and closing down weapons manufacturing facilities in the West Bank.

The PA arrested terrorists, including Hamas elements suspected of terrorism, in the West Bank, and the PASF and public prosecutors received training to enable better investigations of terrorism-related crimes. The PA continued to develop its civilian justice institutions (e.g. judiciary, police, prosecutors) to improve both investigative and prosecutorial functions.

The United States provided assistance to enable the PA to reduce case backlogs, improve warrant executions, and upgrade forensic services.

The Preventive Security Organization (PSO) is the key PA institution by mandate and law that works to prevent internal terrorist events and investigates security-related criminal conduct. In practice, the General Intelligence Organization and the Military Intelligence Organization also play a critical role in this effort.

The PSO conducted investigations in coordination with public prosecutors, but this co-operation could improve, especially the PSO’s ability to conduct criminal investigations and gather admissible evidence. The United States assisted the PSO and the Security Forces Justice Commission to help the PA move the prosecution of all civilian cases, including those involving terrorism and security-related offenses, to the exclusive jurisdiction of the civilian courts, and enhance co-operation between security service investigators and public prosecutors.

Per the Oslo-era Accords, Israel controlled border security in the West Bank.

The primary limitation on PA counter-terrorism efforts in Gaza remained Hamas’ control of the area and the resulting inability of PASF to operate there. Limitations on PA counter-terrorism efforts in the West Bank included restrictions on the movement and activities of PASF in and through areas of the West Bank for which the Government of Israel retained responsibility for security under the terms of Oslo-era agreements. Moreover, ISF incursions into Palestinian-controlled Area A at times disrupted ongoing PASF counterterrorism operations.

The PA advanced its forensic science capabilities with the official opening of the Palestinian Civilian Police forensic laboratory in November. The laboratory is capable of conducting basic analyses/examinations in firearm and tool mark evidence, document examination, and drug and chemical analysis. The PA already has a basic ability to examine and compare unknown prints to known prints.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism:

In 2015, the PA became a full member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. President Abbas issued Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist financing Decree No. 20 in December 2015, which criminalizes terrorist financing and defined terrorists, terrorist acts, terrorist organizations, foreign terrorist fighters, and terrorist financing. It also makes terrorism and terrorist acts predicate money-laundering offenses, although the decree does not   fully meet international standards as it does not criminalize all forms of material support or the financing of an individual terrorist in the absence of a link to a specific terrorist act. Because the legislature has not convened since 2007, the PA remained unable to make legislative improvements (without decree) required to bring the current law up to international standards.

The Palestinian Financial Follow-Up Unit (FFU) is a fully functional financial intelligence unit with 19 employees and a computer system linking it with 15 banks licensed to operate in the West Bank. Seven banks are local and eight are foreign, operating through a network of 302 branches in the West Bank and Gaza. There are 311 money changers. The banks file suspicious transaction reports (STRs) and currency transaction reports electronically through this system. In 2016, banks filed 113 STRs, compared to 108 in 2015. Although the FFU has adequate staffing, authority, and equipment, restrictions in the law hinder its operational effectiveness.

The 2007 Anti-Money Laundering Law No. 7 restricts information sharing between the FFU and any law enforcement agency, with the exception of the Attorney General’s Office. While the FFU may pass information to any requesting authority according to the 2015 Decree, the Attorney General’s Office is the primary recipient of the FFU’s information. Moreover, the PA has no effective control outside of Area A. The absence of PA law-enforcement and regulatory power in Areas B and C increased vulnerability.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial
Crimes: .

Countering Violent Extremism:

The PA continued to counter violent extremism in the West Bank through security operations to prevent attacks, the PASF’s outreach to Palestinian communities to alert them to signs of youth at risk of extremism, and monitoring social media for indicators of extremism and intent to carry out violent acts. During an interview broadcast in March, President Abbas said he sent the PASF to schools to look for knives and to caution Palestinian youth against undertaking attacks against Israelis. The PASF thwarted hundreds of lone offender attacks, according to public statements by PA and Israeli government officials.

Continued drivers of violence included

    · a lack of hope in achieving Palestinian statehood,

    · Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank,

    · settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank,

   · the perception that the Israeli government was changing the status quo on the HaramAl Sharif/Temple Mount, and

   · IDF tactics that the Palestinians considered overly aggressive.

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The PA has taken significant steps during President Abbas’ tenure (2005 to date) to ensure that official institutions in the West Bank under its control do not create or disseminate content that incites violence. While some PA leaders have made provocative and inflammatory comments, the PA has made progress in reducing official rhetoric that could be considered incitement to violence. Explicit calls for violence against Israelis, direct exhortations against Jews, and categorical denials by the PA of the possibility of peace with Israel are rare and the leadership does not generally tolerate it.

In April, President Abbas condemned an attack on a Jerusalem bus and said he was against all forms of terrorist activity that affect Israelis and Palestinians. In November, he said, “Incitement can lead to violence, and we must end it in every place.” During a speech to the Seventh Fatah General Congress in November, Abbas expressed his commitment to fight terrorism and to co-operate with regional and international parties in this endeavor, while reaffirming a “culture of peace and tolerance and the renunciation of violence and extremism.”

According to the PA’s Palestinian Broadcasting Company’s code of conduct, it does not allow programming that encourages “violence against any person or institution on the basis of race, religion, political beliefs, or sex.” In practice, however, some instances of incitement took place via official media. There were also some instances of inflammatory rhetoric and the posting of political cartoons glorifying violence on official Fatah Facebook pages.

The PA maintains control over the content of Friday sermons delivered in approximately 1,800 West Bank mosques to ensure that they do not endorse incitement to violence. Weekly, the PA Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs distributes approved themes and prohibits incitement to violence. The PA’s ability to enforce these guidelines varies depending upon the location of the Mosques and it had limited authority to control the content of sermons in Israeli-controlled Area C. A senior PA religious official met in October with prominent Israeli rabbis to discuss ways to increase religious tolerance in the region.

As part of a policy codified in 2003, the PA provided financial packages to Palestinian security prisoners released from Israeli prisons in an effort to reintegrate them into society and prevent recruitment by hostile political factions.

International and Regional Cooperation:

PA justice and security leaders continued to participate in regional conferences and meetings to counter terrorism. PASF personnel attended a variety of international training courses related to counterterrorism at training facilities in Jordan, Europe, and the United States.

© Copyright JFJFP 2017