After years of Israeli objections, armed Palestinian police in dark blue uniforms have taken up positions in this lawless suburb of Yerushalayim, highlighting the shared interests of Israel and the Palestinian self-rule government on day-to-day issues even when political tensions run high.
The officers hope to catch scores of fugitive criminals and break up a rampant trade in illegal substances and stolen cars in three Arab areas on the outskirts of the capital. The criminal activity, some in Arab-Jewish partnerships, routinely spills over into Israel with most cars stolen there.
“Crime has no color,” said Adnan Damiri, a spokesman of the Palestinian security forces. “It can harm us and them.”
In Abu Dis, which abuts eastern Yerushalayim, unarmed police patrolled the streets in the 1990s, but were ordered by Israel to leave after the outbreak of the Intifada in 2000.
Since then, Israel only has permitted Palestinian police to return for specific needs, such as crowd control or arresting fugitive criminals, Damiri said. At the same time, Abu Dis and other Arab suburbs of Yerushalayim fell outside the jurisdiction of Israeli civil police, leaving a vacuum that drew car thieves and dealers in illegal substances.
Earlier this month, Israel finally lifted its ban and allowed 90 armed, uniformed officers to deploy in four communities — Abu Dis, Azariyeh, Ram and Biddou — which have a combined population of about 130,000.
Lt. Col. Kobi Gertswolf, head of the civil coordination branch of Cogat, the Israeli defense agency responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said such measures promote peace and stability.
“We want every regular Palestinian resident to have the ability to work … and have a regular life. This is our simple interest,” he said. “All of these steps, they can really ease the life of the Palestinian residents.”