By Khalid Amayreh in Dura, southern West Bank
Heavily-armed Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces on Friday, 26 August, stormed the southern West Bank town of Dura, in the Hebron district, attacking civilians and laying siege to at least two large mosques. Backed by hundreds of plain-clothes intelligence officers and secret policemen, the troops, who came in several four-wheel drive cars, "donated by the United States" stormed the Grand Mosque in Dura to oust Sheikh Nayef Rajoub from the Mosque. The Fatah Minister of Wakf and Islamic Affairs in the western-backed Ramallah based government, Muhammed al Habbash, had issued an order barring Rajoub from giving sermons, including on Fridays. The order generated widespread dismay in Dura as Rajoub is viewed as one of the most eloquent Islamist speakers in the West Bank. Rajoub was the imam of the Grand Mosque in Dura for nearly 25 years before he was elected as a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council in the 2006 elections. He was also appointed as Minister of Wakf and Islamic Affairs before he was arrested by the Israeli government in June, 2006.
The 50-year-old Islamic leader was released from Israeli jails nearly two months ago, having spent more than 50 months in Israeli custody. All in all, he spent nearly 8 years in Israeli detention centers on charges pertaining to his Islamic activism. To avert what could have been a bloody showdown, some local dignitaries eventually convinced Rajoub to leave the Grand Mosque. Then, surrounded by hundreds of supporters, he headed for the nearby al-Mujahed Mosque, where he started giving a sermon about the month of Ramadan. However, the troops pursed him there, storming the interior of the Mosque. At this time, a commotion ensured inside the mosque as dozens of crack troops, known as Rapid Deployment Forces, entered the mosque with their boots on, provoking worshipers who yelled at them, calling them "Dayton soldiers and Israeli soldiers." Keith Dayton is an American general who has been training the PA to fight the Islamist opposition to PA concessions to Israel. Meanwhile, the troops brought a Fatah preacher to give the sermon at the Grand Mosque. However, very few worshipers opted to pray behind the new imam. When the congregational prayer was over, Sheikh Rajoub, who is also brother to former PA strongman Jebril Rajoub, was escorted home by hundreds of his clansmen who warned the PA troops against any attempt to harm the Islamist leader.
Rajoub, in a brief interview with MIddleEastMonitor, denounced the fascist behavior of the PA: "They are trying to undermine Islam in order to please Israel and the United States. They are trying to obtain a certificate of good conduct from Israel by storming mosques and beating worshipers. Even the Zionists didn't indulge in these dastardly behaviors." Rajoub said the PA had no right to prevent Muslim Ulema (He has a Master degree in Sharia) from preaching in the mosques. "Preaching the message of Islam is the most essential function of Muslim scholars. And there is nothing more sinful than preventing the message of Islam from being preached in the mosques." Dozens of young Muslim activists were arrested from Dura and surrounding areas. Local sources put the number of detainees at 40-50.
Islamist leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have accused the PA of waging a flagrant war on Islam in order to deprive Hamas of its natural base of support. The new policy has assumed several manifestations, including appointing preachers with dubious credentials, screening lax hits on public TV, and not allowing mosques to broadcast Quranic recitations prior to the Azan time or call for prayer. The PA denies the charges, arguing that these were administrative steps meant to regulate the mosques. Earlier, the PA Wakf minister, known for his deep dislike for Hamas, barred Sheikh Hamed al Beitawi from preaching in the mosques of Nablus. Beitawi is the head of the League of Muslim Ulema or religious scholars. More to the point, PA forces have arrested several sons and relatives of some Islamist MPs, including Khaled Tafish from Bethlehem, Muhammed Abu Jheishe from Ithna west of Hebron, and Sehikh Beitawi himself.
Repression in Ramallah
On Wednesday , 24 August, Members of the General Intelligence violently thwarted a meeting organized by liberal and leftist intellectuals, including members of the PLO executive committee, who had planned to declare their opposition to the latest PA decision to join unconditional direct talks with Israel. As the meeting was due to start, PA security personnel began screaming, whistling and chanting slogans supporting PA leader Mahmoud Abbas. The forces then ganged up on the participants and journalists, beating them, injuring several people. The PA defended the violent repression, claiming that the meeting was illegal. Organizers accused the PA of acting as a police state. "This is the real face of this authority. I wasn't surprised at all by this, and I really want to say to it that you and Israel are just two faces of the same coin. I feel so disgusted by this rotten authority. You are the biggest disgrace to the Palestinian cause," said H. Adham, a young political activist. Zakariya Muhammed, a prominent writer and intellectual, described what happened in Ramallah as a "stigma of disgrace on the authority's forehead." "Anyone can bring a hundred thugs and hoodlums to foil a meeting and prevent people from voicing their feelings about the political situation. What happened is a clarion proof of the PA's moral stagnation and political bankruptcy." Many ordinary Palestinians are worried that the PA might resort to employing harsh tactics to suppress possible public protests against a possible deal with Israel that would sacrifice legitimate Palestinian rights such as Jerusalem and the right of return for millions of Palestinian rights uprooted from their homes and villages when the Israeli state was created more than 62 years ago. Israel and the PA have been negotiating directly or indirectly for more than 15 years, but without reaching any substantive results, mainly due to adamant Israeli refusal to give up the spoils of the 1967-war.
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