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Violence Threatens Relations Between Israeli-Palestinian Security Forces


Every day, Israeli military and police commanders talk to their Palestinian counterparts about what they're doing. It's a way of keeping the daily friction between Israelis and Palestinians from escalating. But as violence has risen over the past six months, there have been a few tense confrontations between the two sides' security forces as well. NPR's Emily Harris reports.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: It was a sunny day, last December, outside city hall in a Palestinian suburb of Ramallah. Two Jeeps of Israeli soldiers pulled up and one Palestinian cop got mad.


ABU KHARMEL: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: This is a video posted on Facebook of those tense moments as the Palestinian officer yelled at the Israeli soldiers. I caught up with that Palestinian officer later, and he agreed to talk if I only used his nickname, Abu Kharmel. He told me the arrival of those Israeli troops surprised him.

KHARMEL: (Through interpreter) I said, this is a checkpoint and you have no permission to be here. I asked you to leave, move. He started arguing. I am armed. He is armed, too.

HARRIS: Military coordination means the Israeli army gives advanced notice before entering areas where Palestinian police have jurisdiction. This information often trickles down to Palestinian beat cops as orders to stay inside, out of the Israelis' way.

Abu Kharmel has worked under this coordination system for two decades. But over the past six months, Israeli troops have stepped up searches and arrests in Palestinian areas. Abu Kharmel.

KHARMEL: (Through interpreter) The idea of the Israeli army going into areas with Palestinian police stations means people will lose trust in us.

HARRIS: The Israeli military spokesperson, Colonel Peter Lerner, notes the increase in military action in the West Bank came in response to the wave of Palestinian stabbing and shooting attacks against Israelis, against soldiers and civilians. Peter Lerner.

PETER LERNER: We only go on specific missions in order to protect Israeli lives. I mean, the last five, six months, we've exposed four explosive laboratories, Palestinians, Hamas-initiated, trying to establish labs in order to carry out suicide attacks again.

HARRIS: When Lerner says again he's talking about 15 years ago, the second intifada. At that time, Israeli soldiers and Palestinian police actually got into firefights. Last week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said, the increased military presence in Palestinian cities now is, again, causing friction. In a rare interview on Israel's channel two TV, he cited an incident with his presidential guards. He said this came close to a clash.


MAHMOUD ABBAS: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: But the two sides still work together. Former Israeli military intelligence Officer Eran Lerman says confrontations between security forces remain uncommon.

ERAN LERMAN: I think, overall, you can easily see the security establishments on both sides are sufficiently satisfied, let's put it like this, with the level of ongoing cooperation.

HARRIS: But he warns that moments of friction can be used as inflammatory propaganda. And they are. A few of the recent attacks have been committed by Palestinian police. And a Hamas TV station runs a fictional video showing a policeman pull his gun in anger after seeing Israeli troops mistreat Palestinians. The ad urges cops to assert their, quote, "dignity."

And dignity is something that cop I spoke with at the beginning of the story relates to. He has no interest in attacking an Israeli. But when the video of him yelling at Israeli soldiers to leave surfaced on Facebook, getting 25,000 views, he says he gained respect.

KHARMEL: (Through interpreter) After this happened, people started to trust me.

HARRIS: Israeli media reports say officials on both sides are now reviewing how they coordinate security in the West Bank. Emily Harris, NPR News, the West Bank. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.