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New Human Rights Watch report accuses PA and Hamas of using arbitrary arrests and torture

Israel/Palestine
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In April 2017, Alaa Zaqeq, 28, was dragged out of his in-law’s house in the al-Aroub refugee camp in the south of the West Bank by Palestinian security forces and thrown into the back of one of eight police vehicles waiting outside.

When he arrived at the Jericho detention facility hours later, blindfolded and handcuffed, an officer who hurled him against a wall said the abuse was a “welcome.” Over the next 23 days Zaqeq was beaten until he confessed, falsely he said, to the crime of financing the Islamic movement on campus where Zaqeq is a graduate student. Yet after his release Zaqeq was never charged with any crime.

Zaqeq is one of 147 people who spoke to Human Rights Watch over the last two years about arbitrary detention and systematic abuse in Palestinian jails, prisons and interrogation sites across the West Bank and Gaza. Researchers found the stints in prison are short and often do not end in charges, or signs of physical abuse that are visible upon their release. 

The new report, “Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent: Arbitrary Arrest and Torture Under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas,” examines 86 cases of Palestinians who were harmed under arrest, and interviews 95 former detainees. 

Among the most common forms of abuse is being held in the “bus,” described as “a room where Hamas authorities in Gaza blindfold detainees and force them to stand or sit in a small chair for extended periods of time, usually during interrogations to pressure them to confess. Detainees cannot speak, move, take medicine, sleep, or eat without permission from guards.”

Detainees are often made to sit or stand in “positional abuse,” known as the shabeh position.

Zaqeq, Human Rights Watch reported, was forced “to stand for stretches at a time with his legs spread out in a half squat, and later, on his tiptoes with a rope pulling his hands back.”

Demonstrations that mounted in January 2017 during the start of the electrical crisis resulted in 81 arrests, according to numbers provided by Gaza’s Ministry of Justice.

One Palestinian who described being arrested during a march against electrical shortages in the Gaza Strip said he was held for three days and forced to sign a “not to participate in any unlicensed demonstrations” waiver. The protester, Muhammad Lafi, 25, a rapper, was detained in Jabalia refugee camp after releasing a music video titled, “Your Right,” where he called for an uprising. While in custody he was slapped, punched and officers shaved his head. “They later instructed him to clean up his hair from the floor, saying, ‘You are our cleaner today,’” the report said.

A number of media workers alleged they were arrested without cause.

In July 2017 journalist Jihad Barakat, 29, was arrested for three days after photographing Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s car and convoy in a long line of cars at an Israeli checkpoint. After passing through the crossing, Palestinian security officials transferred Barakat to a detention facility in an unmarked car. He was never told why he was taken into custody. His cell phone was held for an additional 16 days after his release. Eventually, a judge acquitted him of the vague charge of carrying out “an unlawful or improper purpose.” In the ruling the judge explained it was not a crime to take a picture of the Prime Minister’s car in a public place.

Another journalist, fearing retribution after his arrest in the West Bank, fled to Jordan where he remains to date.

In September 2017 photographer Muhammed al-Haj, 38, posted to Facebook a memo he obtained written by the Palestinian Ministry of Interior directing the security service to continue coordinating with the Israeli security apparatus, in contradiction to a then recent statement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that said the practice had temporarily stopped.

Al-Haj and his brother were both summoned to police headquarters in Ramallah where one official ominously told him “there are people bothered by you.” While al-Haj was released that same day, he was again called in days later to retrieve a phone that he was forced to leave behind and turn over passwords. Once the mobile was returned, “Al-Haj took his cellphone to a cellphone shop, where he was told that two applications that facilitated the monitoring of his cellphone had been installed,” Human Rights Watch reported.

That same day al-Haj crossed the border into Jordan, “I do not want to live in a place where I am constantly harassed. … The PA exists to look after me, not to intimidate me,” he said. 

Human Rights Watch also found several cases were Hamas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority both arrested Palestinians from rival political parties. In September 2017 “Hamas security forces in Gaza had arrested more than 50 people affiliated with Fatah and that Palestinian Authority forces in the West Bank had detained more than 60 affiliated with Hamas, in the span of just a few days,” the group said in a press release. 

Palestinian riot police clash with protesters demonstrating against the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations as they try to march towards headquarters of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Aug 28, 2013. (Photo: Issam Rimawi/APA Images)

Increasingly, Palestinian security forces have erected checkpoints inside West Bank cities, which have been used as a means to locate and arrest groups traveling to demonstrations.

Five Palestinians were detained at one of these checkpoints while en route to a demonstration in Hebron in February 2017, all of whom were members of the Hizbut-Tahrir political party, a group that calls for a return of an Ottoman style caliphate and is sharply critical over local issues like labor wages and entitlements.

The rights group said one of the men arrested, Ismail Aqeel, was slapped on the neck by an officer and when “he asked why he had been detained, then another officer slammed his body against a metal door four or five times and hit him four or five times on the face.”

Twenty-nine more were later arrested when they intended to protest against the detention of the five, again taken into custody after being stopped at another checkpoint.

While precise figures on the total number of Palestinians arrested are not released publicly, Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir said, “it’s quite routine that individuals upon detention, are subjected to beatings.”

“What’s unique about these arrests, we are not talking about weeks or months,” Shakir said. Palestinians are often released within days with no signs of the physical abused they endured.

The Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security told Human Rights Watch in a letter that in 2016 and 2017 a total of 220 people had been detained over posts made to social media, of whom 65 were students and two journalists.

More robust data exists on the number of complaints made against security officers.

The quasi-governmental group, the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), tracks human rights abuses committed by Palestinians. In 2016 a total of 2,429 complaints were filed against Palestinian security officers from various departments in both the West Bank and Gaza, of which 355 alleged wrong-doing by the Palestinian Ministry of Interior. Yet the ministry did not investigate all of the incidents. In 275 cases, the ministry found the complainant was “proven incorrect.”

“Few security officers have been prosecuted and none have been convicted for wrongful arrest or torture,” Human Rights Watch said. The most common form of sanction against an officer was attending a mandatory training.

In Gaza, the Ministry of Justice did admit to physical abuse.

“There have been some individual cases of security agency staff beating some inmates or mistreating them verbally or physically, but these actions were not systematic and the perpetrators have been investigated and held accountable,” the Gaza Ministry of Justice said in a letter to Human Rights Watch.

A Hamas police bring new inmates to the prison controlled by the Hamas police in Gaza City on August 11, 2009. (Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/APA Images)

Of the instances recounted in the report of torture in Gaza, one of the most extreme cases resulted in the detainee being transferred to Jerusalem where he was hospitalized. Emad al-Shaer, 48, was arrested in October 2017 for allegedly possessing narcotics (no drugs were found). For three hours al-Shaer endured his hands tied behind his back and then strung by a cable to the ceiling while he stood on a table. Officers then took out the table, “leaving him dangling and screaming in pain,” the report said, adding, the same officer “slapped him several times in the face and put the blindfold in his mouth. They also tied his feet with a cable to the window.”

During this ordeal, which lasted three hours, interrogators threatened al-Shaer, telling him “You will die here today if you do not speak” and “May God take you,” and beating him with “a plastic hose.”

Allison Deger
About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Mondoweiss.net. Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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7 Responses

  1. bcg
    bcg
    October 23, 2018, 10:08 am

    I believe it – this has been reported for a long time. No surprise that people with power abuse people without power.

    But we shouldn’t be selective about which reports from HRW we believe, HRW is a serious and credible organization. Not to deflect from the topic here, HRW has put out many reports on human rights in Israel, and we should take those just as seriously –

    https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/04/24/us-human-rights-report-whitewashes-israels-abuses-against-palestinians

    The US State Department’s newly released human rights report, designed to be a “factual resource” on human rights abuses in nearly 200 countries and to inform US foreign policy, has numerous problems and omissions – including with the chapters covering Israel and Palestine….The US has for decades failed to sufficiently use its leverage to pressure Israel’s government to end decades of repression, institutionalized discrimination, and systematic abuse of Palestinians’ rights.

    • Misterioso
      Misterioso
      October 24, 2018, 11:04 am

      @bcg, et al.

      The incidents HRW lists are Inexcusable, disgusting and extremely disappointing. Needless to say, they also provide fodder for “Israel’s” Hasbara Central

      However, regarding the occupied Gaza Strip, let’s not forget the prime cause, which is laid out in an additional just released HRW report:

      Amnesty International Video and commentary:
      https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2018/10/gaza-great-march-of-return/

      “SIX MONTHS ON: GAZA’S GREAT MARCH OF RETURN”

      EXCERPT:
      More than six months have passed since the ‘Great March of Return’ protests started in the Gaza Strip on 30 March.

      “Their calls for Israeli authorities to lift their 11-year illegal blockade on Gaza and to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their villages and towns have not been met.

      “Why are Palestinians demonstrating?”

      “This year has marked 11 years since Israel imposed a land, air and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip. The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), among others, have characterized Israel’s closure policy as ‘collective punishment’ and called for Israel to lift its closure. Under Israel’s illegal blockade, movement of people and goods is severely restricted and the majority of exports and imports of raw materials have been banned. Travel through the Erez Crossing, Gaza’s passenger crossing to Israel, the West Bank, and the outside world, is limited to what the Israeli military calls ‘exceptional humanitarian cases,’ meaning mainly those with significant health issues and their companions, and prominent business people.

      “Meanwhile, since 2013, Egypt has imposed tight restrictions on the Rafah crossing, keeping it closed most of this time.

      “Over the last 11 years, civilians in the Gaza Strip, 70% of whom are registered refugees from areas that now constitute Israel, have suffered the devastating consequences of Israel’s illegal blockade in addition to three wars that have also taken a heavy toll on essential infrastructure and further debilitated Gaza’s health system and economy. As a result, Gaza’s economy has sharply declined, leaving its population almost entirely dependent on international aid. Gaza now has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world at 44%.

      “Four years after the 2014 conflict, some 22,000 people remain internally displaced, and thousands suffer from significant health problems that require urgent medical treatment outside of the Gaza Strip. However, Israel often denies or delays issuing permits to those seeking vital medical care outside Gaza, while hospitals inside the Strip lack adequate resources and face chronic shortages of fuel, electricity and medical supplies caused mainly by Israel’s illegal blockade.”

      Also, eminent Jewish journalist, Bradley Burston, long ago accurately described the horrors Israel inflicts on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem:

      “Occupation is Slavery”
      EXCERPT:
      “In the name of occupation, generation after generation of Palestinians have been treated as property. They can be moved at will, shackled at will, tortured at will, have their families separated at will. They can be denied the right to vote, to own property, to meet or speak to family and friends. They can be hounded or even shot dead by their masters, who claim their position by biblical right, and also use them to build and work on the plantations the toilers cannot themselves ever hope to own. The masters dehumanize them, call them by the names of beasts.” (Haaretz, Feb. 26/13)

  2. eljay
    eljay
    October 23, 2018, 10:50 am

    I condemn the violence perpetrated against Palestinians by their authorities. Shame on Hamas and the PA for trying to join the Israel-KSA brotherhood.

  3. Kay24
    Kay24
    October 23, 2018, 5:59 pm

    So not only do they suffer from the wrath of their occupier, they also suffer within their open air prison. These militants are abusing their own people, on their power trips. Don’t they realize that the occupier uses this to justify the occupation and attacks?

  4. dionissis_mitropoulos
    dionissis_mitropoulos
    October 24, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Torture is of course morally atrocious. My only worry is that people will be left with the impression that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are morally equivalent. But the Palestinian Authority is a dictatorship imposed upon the Palestinians by Israel and the West for the sake of Israel, whereas Hamas is a social movement and a resistance organization — without this of course being an excuse for torture.

    Like Hamas, i too call for free and fair elections in both the West Bank and Gaza so that the Palestinian people will be allowed to express who they want to lead them. According to the IDF Chief of Staff Hamas is very popular:

    https://mondoweiss.net/2018/08/country-protecting-borders/comment-page-1/#comment-926158

    P.S. Hamas should of course try to stop these practices. Israeli imposed dictators like Abbas are instruments of domination and we can’t really have any moral expectations of him not to torture — the right address for complaining about Abbas’s torture is our governments that support his torturing practices. From Hamas though we should expect more.

    Meanwhile, we in the West could start from ceasing calling them “terrorists”. Then, we could make moral demands of Hamas with a straight face, without looking like hypocrites.

    • dionissis_mitropoulos
      dionissis_mitropoulos
      October 25, 2018, 1:59 pm

      For the record, Human Rights Watch (HRW) wasn’t able to accept Hamas’s invitation to go to Gaza to better investigate the allegations against Hamas, because Israel did not allow HRW to enter Gaza. This much we are told by HRW itself:

      https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/10/23/palestine-authorities-crush-dissent

      “Human Rights Watch met with the Palestinian Authority Intelligence Services in Ramallah, but was unable to accept an offer from Hamas authorities to meet in Gaza because Israel refused to grant permits for senior Human Rights Watch officials to enter the Gaza Strip for this purpose. Israeli authorities also rejected Human Rights Watch’s request for senior representatives to enter Gaza during October 2018 to present this report at a news conference. “

      Hamas denies that there is a single prisoner that is held for her/his political views, and pleas for on the spot investigation by HRW:

      http://hamas.ps/en/post/1633/hamas-recommends-interior-ministry-s-comment-on-hrw-s-report

      “The Ministry of Interior and National Security DOES NOT hold in detention any person because of his/her political views or exercising his/her freedom of expression. All the prisoners in Gaza are being held due to criminal acts they have committed and each has a legal file about his/her case.
      5. We have confirmed to Human Rights Watch, and we hereby confirm once again, that the ministry is prepared to receive a team from the organisation to visit all the jails in the Gaza Strip. Then, Human Rights Watch would closely investigate the jails and the prisoners’ conditions there. We reiterate that we have [done] nothing wrong that may prompt us to hide the truth and we are ready for absolute cooperation with any organisation.”

  5. Citizen
    Citizen
    October 25, 2018, 6:20 am

    Jeez.

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