A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published accused the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip of arbitrarily arresting and torturing critics, targeting the others’ supporters as a rift between the rival factions deepens, in what could amount to crimes against humanity, like reported by i24news.tv.
The 149-page report titled “Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent” detailed more than two dozen cases of people detained for no clear reason beyond writing a critical article or Facebook post, or belonging to student groups or political movements associated with the rival authority.
HRW says that the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza 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, many of them without trial.
“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,” he added.
The report was compiled based on interviews with 147 witnesses, including former detainees and their relatives, lawyers, and representatives of nongovernmental groups, as well as photographic evidence, medical reports, and court documents.
In the cases documented, HRW says that Palestinian forces “often threatened, beat, and forced detainees into painful stress positions for prolonged periods, including using cables or ropes to hoist up arms behind the back.”
On one occasion PA security forces tied a cord around a detainee’s penis for eight hours, causing it to swell and turn blue, HRW said.
“Security forces also routinely coerced detainees into providing access to their cellphones and social media accounts. These measures appear aimed at punishing dissidents and deterring them and others from further activism,” the report says.
In Gaza, Hamas also beat and systematically abused prisoners.
HRW says that the systematic practice of torture by Palestinian authorities detailed in its report violates a number of major human rights treaties to which the Palestinians have acceded to over the past five years, and “may amount to a crime against humanity prosecutable at the International Criminal Court (ICC).”
HRW met with Palestinian Authority Intelligence Services in Ramallah in assembling its report, but said it was unable to accept an offer to meet Hamas authorities in Gaza after Israel denied representatives of the organization permits to enter the enclave.
Both authorities denied that the abuses detailed in the report amount to more than isolated incidents that were investigated and for which implicated personnel were held accountable.
HRW says, however, that data provided by the authorities shows that only a handful of citizen complaints have resulted in a finding of wrongdoing and even fewer led to any disciplinary action or referral for criminal prosecution.
“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,” said 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 urged governments that financially support the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to “suspend aid to the specific units or agencies implicated in widespread arbitrary arrests and torture until the authorities curb those practices and hold those responsible for abuse accountable.”
“The attacks by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on dissidents and demonstrators, reporters and bloggers, are both systematic and unpunished,” Porteous said. “Governments that want to help the Palestinian people develop the rule of law should not support security forces that actively undermine it.”
HRW noted that while the US has slashed its aid budget for Palestinian health and education services earlier this year, Washington was still slated to provide $60 million in assistance to Palestinian Authority security forces for the 2018 fiscal year and $35 million for the 2019 fiscal year.
A number of European states provide support to Palestinian Authority security forces.
Qatar, Turkey, and Iran all provide financial assistance to the Hamas authorities in Gaza.
The PA rejected the allegations, accusing Human Rights Watch of allying with the US government. Hamas did not respond.
Haitham Arar, head of human rights at the PA’s interior ministry, said the government “rejected everything in the Human Rights Watch report”.
“The report confuses politics and human rights and is consistent with the (US) Deal of the Century with the aim of weakening the PA,” Arar said, referring to Trump’s long-delayed peace plan that Palestinians fear will be biased towards Israel.
Hamas and Fatah have been at loggerheads for over a decade, following the Islamist group’s victory in 2006 parliamentary elections.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah and much of the international community refused to accept the result, leading to increased strife and a near-civil war that saw Hamas seize control of the coastal enclave in 2008.
Numerous attempts to reconcile the rival parties have failed.