The Fatah thugs are regularly sent by the Palestinian Authority, which is funded by the West, to threaten and batter journalists, writers, university students and political opponents -- driving them into the open arms of Hamas and other extremist groups.
Until recently, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank used to arrest Palestinians who criticized its leaders, especially Mahmoud Abbas.
But now the Palestinian Authority has resumed using thugs to break the bones of its critics.
It is an easy and quick way to deal with the critics and deter others from speaking out against Palestinian Authority leaders.
The thugs are often members of Abbas's ruling Fatah faction. However, they do not hold any official position in the Palestinian Authority; they do not belong to Palestinian Authority security forces or any government-related agency in the West Bank.
This allows the Palestinian Authority to distance itself from the thugs each time they perpetrate a crime.
But the thugs, who are referred to by Palestinians as "Shabbiha," are known to act on instructions from top Palestinian Authority leaders.
In the Arab world, "Shabbiha" are known as groups of thugs and militiamen who are used by the government to crack down on critics and political opponents.
The Palestinian Authority's "Shabbiha" are not as ruthless as Syrian President Bashar Assad's thugs. They do not go around slaughtering innocent women and children, and they do not rape young girls.
The Palestinian "Shabbiha" -- most of whom are on the payroll of the Western-funded Palestinian Authority -- have managed to impose a reign of terror and intimidation on the Palestinian public.
The last time the Palestinian Authority used its thugs was last weekend at Bethlehem University.
During a conference to promote boycott and sanctions against Israel on campus, a Palestinian activist asked Palestinian Authority Minister of Economy, Jawad Naji, a provocative question: How come the Palestinian Authority talks about promoting the boycott of Israel while at the same time it continues to conduct security coordination with Israel, and some of its leaders hold secret meetings with Israelis?
At the end of the conference, as he was driving home, the activist, 34-year-old Nizar Banat, was intercepted by seven thugs, who dragged him out of his car and beat him severely.
Fatah later issued a leaflet justifying the assault on Banat -- apparently carried out by its own thugs -- and threatened to use an "iron fist" against anyone who dares to criticize a Palestinian Authority leader.
The use of Fatah thugs by the Palestinian Authority is not a new phenomenon. The thugs are often recruited from refugee camps and their mission is to do the "dirty work" for the Palestinian Authority leadership.
The thugs are regularly sent to threaten and batter journalists, writers, university students and political opponents in the West Bank. Another of their preferred methods is the torching of vehicles.
With the help of the thugs, the Palestinian Authority leadership was able to suppress what appeared to be the beginning of a "Palestinian Spring" in the West Bank two years ago.
Then, Fatah thugs recruited by the Palestinian Authority attacked dozens of Palestinian protesters who had set up tents in the center of Ramallah. The protesters were beaten and their tents set on fire as Palestinian Authority policemen stood on the side and refused to interfere.
By resorting to this policy of terror and intimidation against its critics and political opponents, the Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank is once again showing that it is not much different from other Arab dictatorships. It is these measures that have driven many Palestinians away from the Palestinian Authority and straight into the open arms of Hamas and other extremist groups.
by Khaled Abu Toameh
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