Furious clashes erupted this week in the Palestinian refugee camp of Balata, between Palestinian Authority security forces and local gunmen. The clashes erupted when a Palestinian security force entered the camp, seeking to arrest several men whom Palestinian sources said are criminals and thugs. Sources on the ground informed TV7 that the Palestinian forces waged a gun battle with the local militants for hours, before the security forces withdrew empty handed. Meanwhile, one of the wanted men, Khattam Abu Rezak, explained that they would not turn themselves in because of the way Palestinian prisoners are treated by the Palestinian Authorities, while noting that the reason the authorities wanted to arrest them was because they are worried that some people in the refugee camp are planning to stage a coup against President Mahmoud Abbas.
“(Because of the way prisoners are) being treated in Palestinian prisons, we are afraid to turn ourselves in and face the same treatment – being handcuffed, blindfolded and having our hands tied above our heads for days and nights.” / “If President Mahmoud Abbas, who is being told by some people that we in the camp are planning to stage a coup against him – an accusation we deny, if the president send us a well-trusted delegation, then the Balata problems can we resolved in 15 minutes,” said Hattem Abu Rezak, ‘Wanted’ resident of Balata.
The camp of nearly 30,000 people, most of whom are descendants of refugees from the 1948 war that followed Israel’s founding, is one of the most destitute places in the West Bank. Over the decades, through violent Palestinian uprisings and Israeli security clampdowns, the population has grown ever angrier and more marginalized, as the camp deals with growing poverty. During the time of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, he directed their frustration squarely at Israel, with Balata’s young men willing recruits to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, the armed wing of the Fatah Party that Abbas now heads. These days, however, most of the wrath is aimed at Abbas himself and his failure to keep his promises. Until Arafat’s death in 2004, and in the early years of Abbas’s rule, Fatah remained a tightly unified party, the overwhelming force in Palestinian politics.
But in recent years, as discontent has grown with the leadership’s failure to deliver an independent Palestinian state, competing factions have emerged, with Islamist Hamas organization gaining an ever-growing support-base among the Palestinian population of the West Bank. It is important to note that the tension in Balata and other West Bank refugee camps are bubbling to the surface now, because at the end of the month Fatah will hold a party congress, its first since 2009, to elect a new central committee and leadership council.