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Can Palestinian police get respect through soccer clinics?

The West Bank police force has embarked on a community outreach campaign, organizing soccer clinics, town meetings, and antidrug information chats for kids. Will it bolster respect for the much-maligned police?

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Palestinian soccer supporters are silhouetted prior the start of a soccer game between the Palestine team and the Jordan team in the West Bank town of A-Ram on Oct. 5.

Bernat Armangue/AP

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For years, the Palestinian police force has been considered by many in the West Bank and Gaza to be weak, corrupt, disconnected from the people – not to mention in cahoots with Israel.

But, in an effort to win the hearts and minds of the Palestinian grassroots, the West Bank police force has embarked on a community outreach campaign, organizing soccer clinics, town meetings, and antidrug information chats for kids.

On Tuesday, the National Security police force ran a one day soccer clinic for middle-school aged kids in the town of Tulkarem. Similar clinics have been held in recent months in the West Bank cities of Nablus and Jenin.

The policy is part of a broader move to professionalize and reform the Palestinian Authority security branches as a step toward strengthening law and order and, eventually, prospects for a viable state.

Until now, the praise has largely come from Western leaders and Israeli generals. That's recently being echoed at the grassroots by Palestinian civilians in the crime-ridden suburb of A-Ram – severed from Jerusalem by Israel’s concrete security wall.

In August, on the final day of an A-Ram community summer camp for group of preteen boys, dozens of hands shot up as Maj. Mohammed Barakat quizzed them about the job of the police and the dangers of experimenting with drugs.

"The Palestinian police [force] is Palestinian like you," Barakat explained. "We want to protect your homes and defend you from criminals."

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