Palestinians find Israelis hold keys to justice

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The Independent Online
NEW evidence emerged this week that 'Palestine' is coming of age when the first ever Palestinian police force solved the first ever Palestinian bank robbery.

The story had a predictable ending, however, when the Palestinian police had to ask Israel to put the robbers in jail.

The incident is being hailed as a sign that Palestinian police are just as determined as any other force to make the punishment fit the crime. But with no Palestinian courts or prisons yet in place, it is still Israeli justice which prevails.

The robbery took place near the West Bank town of Tulkarm three weeks ago, when a Palestinian gang attacked a Cairo-Amman Bank van, assaulting the Palestinian guards and stealing dollars 360,000 ( pounds 240,000). The attack provoked widespread publicity as it was the first time Palestinian criminals have targeted an Arab institution. During the intifada, when Palestinian unity was all, Arab-on- Arab crime became taboo. Attacks on Israeli institutions were seen as a justifiable protest against the occupation.

Since peace has become a real prospect 'ordinary' crime has grown - a sign, some say, that a normal society is beginning to return.

Since the signing of the September peace accord Palestinians have had police training in Jordan and Cairo. Although no official Palestinian police force has yet been formed, would-be policemen are already exerting their authority under the auspices of Palestine Liberation Organisation offices throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

'Security officers' of the PLO in Tulkarm set out to find the bank van robbers, discovered their identity and the whereabouts of most of the money.

The PLO police called the Israeli police, who arrested and jailed the robbers. Their action was criticised by some militant Palestinian factions who prefer a more peremptory style of justice - punishing those accused of 'moral offences' by kneecapping.

The Palestinian police said they had no choice but to ask Israelis to arrest the robbers. 'We have no laws, no prisons and no courts,' they said. 'We could not do it ourselves.'

Their action was praised by several Palestinian organisations in Tulkarm and by the Jordan-based Cairo-Amman Bank. The Israeli police hailed it as a sign that Palestinian-Israeli co-operation is possible.