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October 24, 2018 9:22 am

HRW Report: Palestinian Authorities Systematically Torture and Oppress Their People

avatar by Steven Emerson

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US President Donald Trump with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, May 23, 2017. Photo: Shealah Craighead/White House.

Both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas use systematic torture and repression to stifle any dissent from their rule, a two-year investigation by Human Rights Watch (HRW) found.

The PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza conduct arbitrary detentions targeting people who criticize them, using broad legislation prohibiting activities seen as promoting “sectarian strife” or offending “higher authorities.”

Several PA agencies, including the Intelligence Services and Joint Security Committee, implement violent crackdowns on dissent and stifle many freedoms of expression and association, the HRW report said. Critics, from journalists to social media users, are routinely arrested in an effort to spread fear across Palestinian society and deter future activism.

For example, PA security personnel detained a Hebron-based activist last year, only one hour after he used Facebook to criticize the arrest of a journalist.

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Like Hamas, PA forces also detain activists engaging in peaceful demonstrations against governing authorities. University students and supporters of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ main rival Muhammad Dahlan are frequently persecuted.

Palestinian forces often put the detainees in pain-inflicting stress positions for a lengthy time to deter dissidents from expressing criticism. One journalist said that PA personnel tied his hands by rope to the ceiling of an interrogation room and slowly pulled the rope to apply pressure to his arms. Another young man held at a detention facility in Jericho claimed that officers used electrical shocks and tied a cord around his genitalia.

As a result, HRW determined that “torture is governmental policy for both the PA and Hamas,” and may constitute a crime against humanity based on international human rights treaties to which Palestine is a party.

The report is based on 86 cases and interviews with 147 individuals across the Palestinian territories, mostly former detainees. Investigators also consulted lawyers and NGO officials, in addition to other primary evidence drawn from court documents and medical reports.

Click here to view the full report.

While many observers expect a terrorist organization like Hamas to rule territory without respecting basic rights, the PA is often painted as a “moderate” governing body and primarily relies on funding from European countries and the United States. However, when it comes to crushing dissent, the PA is largely indistinguishable from Hamas.

HRW issued recommendations for various actors, including specific Palestinian bodies and officials, to end these practices. It also suggests that the US and European Union “suspend assistance to security forces involved in widespread arbitrary arrests and torture … until authorities take effective steps to stop arresting critics and torturing detainees and to investigate, prosecute, and punish security officers responsible for abuses, and publicly report on its compliance with these conditions.”

The Trump administration took specific measures against the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) last month, citing Palestinian incitement against Israelis as a major reason. In mid-September, the administration revoked residency permits for the family of the PLO’s envoy to the United States and reportedly shut down all PLO bank accounts in the country. Along with violent incitement, the Palestinian Authority’s widespread detention and torture practices deserve more international attention.

Steven Emerson is considered one of the leading authorities on Islamic extremist networks, financing, and operations. He serves as the Executive Director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, a non-profit organization that serves as one of the world’s largest storehouses of archival data and intelligence on Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorist groups.

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