HRW report: PA, Hamas are torturing Palestinians

HRW said that while the authorities regularly receive citizen complaints and have systems to investigate them, only a minority have resulted in a finding of wrongdoing.

The hand of a Palestinian inmate is seen in a prison in the West Bank city of Nablus February 11, 2008.  (photo credit: ELIANA APONTE/REUTERS)
The hand of a Palestinian inmate is seen in a prison in the West Bank city of Nablus February 11, 2008.
The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza “routinely arrest and torture peaceful critics,” Human Rights Watch said in a 149-page report released on Tuesday detailing Palestinians’ violations of their own people’s rights.
The report, “Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent,” is the most comprehensive one that the NGO has done focusing on Palestinian- against-Palestinian torture since at least 2011.
Since the Hamas coup seizing the Gaza Strip from the PA in 2006 and the failure of national unity efforts, the report said that the PA-Hamas feud has deepened, leading each to target the other’s supporters – sometimes even more than Israel and Israeli “collaborators.”
The PA also allegedly has repeatedly tortured supporters of Muhammad Dahlan, a Fatah rival of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Reports by HRW and other groups with voluminous narratives of Palestinian being tortured are usually focused on allegations against Israel, with criticism of Palestinian treatment of their own relegated to a few pages tucked into large reports on the entire world.
Also, whereas allegations of Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) officials using torture on Palestinians usually revolve around charges that the Palestinians are directly involved in terrorism and are a ticking bomb, many of those described as being tortured in this report merely made a negative post on Facebook or were accused of lowgrade crimes like theft.
The report confronted the PA and Hamas with equal criticism, making no distinction between the PA, which is widely accepted globally as more progressive and non-violent toward Israel, and Hamas, which is shunned by many in the West as supporting terrorism and seeking to overthrow Fatah in the West Bank.
In another twist, HRW used “Palestine’s” ratification of human rights treaties against the PA and Hamas, calling the alleged torture violations of their obligations, and asking the International Criminal Court (ICC) to probe the two regimes’ torture as war crimes.
A quarter century after the Oslo Accords granted Palestinians limited self-rule over these areas, and more than a decade after Hamas seized control over the Gaza Strip, HRW’s report detailed more than two dozen cases of people allegedly detained “for no clear reason beyond writing a critical article or Facebook post, or belonging to the wrong... political movement.”
“Twenty five years after Oslo, Palestinian authorities have gained only limited power in the West Bank and Gaza – but yet, where they have autonomy, they have developed parallel police states,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. “Calls by Palestinian officials to safeguard Palestinian rights ring hollow as they crush dissent.”
“The fact that Israel systematically violates Palestinians’ most basic rights is no reason to remain silent in the face of the systematic repression of dissent and the torture Palestinian security forces are perpetrating,” added Shawan Jabarin, executive director of the Palestinian human rights organization al-Haq and a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee.
HRW interviewed 147 witnesses, including former detainees and those close to them, and reviewed photographic evidence, medical reports and court documents.
Regarding the need for ICC involvement, HRW said that as far as it could determine, “few security officers have been prosecuted and none have been convicted for wrongful arrest or torture.”
In another unusual move, HRW called on the EU, the US, Turkey, Qatar, Iran and other governments that financially support the PA or Hamas to “suspend aid to the specific units... implicated in widespread arbitrary arrests and torture” until the torture ends and those responsible are held accountable.
HRW said that even as funding has been slashed in 2018 for health and education services for Palestinians, the PA “continued to set aside funding for security forces, including allocating $60 million in International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement non-lethal assistance to PA security forces” in 2018 and $35 million in 2019.
Also, HRW called on Facebook and other social media giants to refuse to cooperate with Palestinian interrogators where it was likely that they were abusing the rights of the users.
The report implied that sometimes social media giants cooperate with the interrogators and that, in addition, security forces routinely coerced detainees into providing access to their cellphones and social media accounts.
The PA has also used a new Electronics Law to block 29 news websites viewed as sympathetic to Hamas or competitors of Abbas.
It met with the PA 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 the visit.
Both authorities deny that abuses were systematic, while admitting that “isolated cases” may occur, said the report.
Hamas authorities even said in a letter to HRW “that it considered itself committed to uphold all international treaties ratified by the State of Palestine,” while at the same time admitting to arresting persons for essentially being politically disruptive.
However, HRW said that its evidence contradicted these claims.
The NGO said that while the authorities regularly receive citizen complaints and have systems to investigate them, only a small number have resulted in findings of wrongdoing, according to data provided by the agencies. Even fewer led to an administrative sanction or referral for criminal prosecution, it said.
The report said that Palestinian authorities often rely on overly broad laws that criminalize insulting “higher authorities,” creating “sectarian strife” or “harming the revolutionary unity” to detain dissidents for days or weeks, releasing them without referring them to trial while leaving the charges outstanding.
PA security forces also held 221 Palestinians for various periods between January 2017 and August 2018 in administrative detention without charge or trial under a regional governor’s order, Human Rights Watch said.
The report did not discuss what judicial limits there were on the administrative detention. Israel is also highly criticized globally for using the practice, but has some judicial oversight and limits.
A number of former PA detainees interviewed by HRW had also been detained by Israel.
The report asserted that Israel coordinates with PA forces on security issues, implying that the detainees were passed from prison to prison.
In Gaza, Hamas sometimes conditions release on the detainee signing a commitment to halt criticism or protests, said the report.
On September 27, the Independent Commission for Human Rights reported that Hamas arrested more than 50 people affiliated with Fatah and that PA forces in the West Bank detained more than 60 people affiliated with Hamas in the span of just a few days.
According to HRW, Palestinian interrogators often beat and forced detainees into painful stress positions for prolonged periods, including using cables or ropes to hoist up their arms behind their backs. Police often used similar tactics to obtain confessions by people detained on mere drug or other criminal charges.
The report does note rare cases where PA courts acquitted tortured Palestinians of the charges against them, but does not provide context to indicate whether this showed that judicial authorities can act independently of the PA.
Either due to lack of access or due to Hamas’ lack of cooperation, the report is more vague regarding the details or integrity of the group’s justice system, though it clearly criticizes it as insufficient.
In April, the Jerusalem District Court issued a partial judgment of NIS 13 million against the PA relating to its torture of around 52 Palestinians between the late 1990s to the early 2000s.