Newsletter : 5fax0117.txt
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>PD Jan. 17, 1995, V3,#11
Joint Israeli-PLO Patrols in Gaza
By Al Pessin (Gaza Strip)
While Israeli and Palestinian negotiators struggle over the next
stage of their peace agreement, hundreds of soldiers and policemen
from the two sides have been thrust together and asked to work
side-by-side to implement the first stage of the agreement. There
have been problems. But officers and soldiers involved say that,
overall, their joint patrols are a startling success story in the
often troubled peace process. This reporter rode with one of the
joint Israeli-Palestinian patrols in Gaza.
Information and orders crackle through the two-way radio in the
Palestinian jeep on this joint patrol with the Israeli army. The
Palestinian police lieutenant and his two young colleagues have
made their rendezvous with their Israeli counterparts and set off,
with their special orange flags flying, to patrol a stretch of
beach and fruit orchards in southern Gaza. It is sunny, windy
and, they are pleased to report, quiet.
They stop for a break along a small pond, with a herd of camels
grazing in the distance. There is not much conversation as they
stand around with their automatic weapons at the ready, but one of
the Palestinian policemen offers everyone a small snack -- fresh
fried falafel balls from a nearby Arab village.
Israeli Lt. Col. Kobi Michael is co-commander of the DCO, the
District Coordination Office, command post for the joint patrols.
"The joint patrols and the DCO's are the success point of all this
agreement. Seven or eight months ago, we were enemies. They took
a share in terrorist activities and we fought them and they fought
us. And suddenly, we are sitting here together in the same office,
at the same table and we drink coffee together and we eat together.
It was something very, very unusual."
The Palestinian co-commander, Col. Abu el-Farid, in his identical
office 20 meters away, puts it a different way.
Colonel el-Farid says the peace agreement has made the impossible
possible. He says he never dreamed he would be working with an
Israeli officer, but now, when they go on inspection tours they
ride in the same car, just to prove to anyone who sees them that
they are in this effort together.
The joint patrols operate in areas shared by Palestinians and
Israelis following the withdrawal of Israeli troops from most of
the Gaza Strip. They arbitrate disputes between Palestinians and
Israeli settlers and between Israeli troops at checkpoints and
Palestinian civilians who sometimes have trouble getting through.
The troops involved are constantly being changed, or switching to
different shifts or areas, so relations on patrol are not so close.
But at the command post, both colonels say they have developed a
unique friendship and a mutual commitment to make the concept of
joint patrols work. The Israeli commander, Col. Michael, puts it
"We are the same officers in the same place 24 hours a day. We are
eating together. We are sleeping together. We are sitting together
a lot of times in his office or in my office. And we are talking
not only about the work problems. He asks me about my daughters
and he tells me about his daughters and about his family. And
with time, we built a very close connection between us. And the
friendship and the informal connection between us, I think causes
a very strong mutual commitment between us. The relationship here
is a very unique relationship. We are more than colleagues; we
share the same aims. And I think that I can say that there is a
And that is a startling thing to say about men who were on opposite
sides of a conflict little more than a year ago.
The friendship between the Israeli and Palestinian officers was
put to a severe test earlier this month. There were several
shooting incidents between Palestinian police and Israeli troops.
Soldiers on both sides were reluctant to go on the joint patrols,
fearing the other side would stage an ambush in a remote location.
Once out on patrol they stayed far from each other and could no
longer work effectively. Michael says he had an emergency meeting
"We got together to understand that we have here a common problem.
And Abu Farid and I went out and we made a common patrol in Abu
el-Farid's vehicle to all the joint patrols and we joined them and
we talked with them and we tried to calm the tension between them."
After a few days, the situation eased, and the two colonels say
it was crucially important to ensure that what they call the
strongest bridge between the Israeli and Palestinian forces not
be irreparably damaged.
Not everyone is quite so enthusiastic about the joint patrols.
Both Palestinians and Israelis have their complaints. Israeli
settlers in Gaza worry about having armed Palestinian police so
close by. They fear that if one of them decides to attack a
settler, his Israeli colleagues might be reluctant to open fire
fast enough. Some Palestinians in Gaza believe the joint patrols
help extend the Israeli military presence in what is supposed to be
Col. el Farid has a response for both sides. He says when there are
problems the joint patrols are blamed. But he says when they
actually manage to solve a dispute, they gain a lot of respect for
themselves and for the entire peace process.
After a morning of work, the two colonels go out to lunch together.
They leave Israeli and Palestinian communications officers behind
at the command post. And nearby, men from both sides put on their
flak jackets and sunglasses, sling their rifles over their
shoulders and head out on joint patrol.
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