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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The West Bank economy is booming - for weapons

From the peaceful, moderate West Bank:
Two years ago, an M16 automatic rifle could fetch $5,400 or more in the Palestinian West Bank. Now buyers at Hebron's clandestine gun market are asked to pay more than double.

Four months after Islamist Hamas routed secular Fatah in the Gaza Strip, fears that clashes between the Palestinian rivals could erupt in the West Bank and uncertainty ahead of a U.S.-led peace conference are fueling a scramble for guns.

Dealers at the gun market in Hebron, the West Bank's most populous city, say weapons sales have jumped by up to 70 percent since Hamas took control of Gaza, while buoyant demand and supply bottlenecks due to tighter security have inflated prices.

In the northern West Bank city of Jenin, every bullet for an AK-47 rifle costs 35 Israeli shekels, or more than $8. In Hamas-controlled Gaza, an AK-47 bullet goes for 4-6 Israeli shekels, $1-1.50.

Militants from both Hamas and Fatah, and the powerful family clans who are often called in to deal with West Bank crime or land disputes, are driving the market, according to gun dealers and senior Palestinian security sources.

But ordinary West Bankers, too, are taking no risks.

"I don't feel safe anymore," said 28-year-old Abo Abdo, who sold his car this month to buy a rifle to protect his wife and two children. "Everyone is buying guns."

Since the Gaza takeover, Western powers have started pumping cash into the West Bank in an attempt to bolster Abbas and further isolate Hamas in Gaza, and are training police and security forces loyal to the Fatah-backed administration.

But despite the drive to support him, many Palestinians doubt Abbas has the clout to keep the peace.

"We are facing a very grave situation," a Palestinian security source said. "People distrust the Palestinian police. They are buying guns to defend themselves."

Hebron restaurant owner Salam Shabanah is a case in point. He wants guns to protect his property, but says the scramble by militants and family clans for guns is inflating prices to the point he can barely afford them.

"The money I am saving is not enough to buy the guns I need," he said.

The Palestinian Authority, with tens of thousands of "security forces," cannot be trusted to keep the basic minimu standards of public safety. Hundreds of millions of dollars are going towards this sham of a government which is utterly incompetent.

The West trusts the PA far more than its own people do.

It goes beyond the immediate security problem - the entire Palestinian Arab culture is conditioned to look at violence as the solution to all problems. The thought process that a man needs to sell his car to buy a rifle is bad enough, but even worse is the idea that his owning a single rifle will actually protect him from the roving gangs in the streets with their RPGs and machine guns. This is the PalArab culture - glorifying violence - and since it was so successful at making heroes out of terrorists it is natural that the same mindset would spill over into intra-Arab relations.

The PA owns the media. It has had since at least Oslo to turn around this mentality from terror to co-existence, from violence to peace - but instead it has done the opposite. An entire new generation has been raised to romanticize death and terror.

It is difficult to imagine a group of people, and a leadership, that are less qualified to run their own affairs than the Palestinian Arabs and the PA.