By Khalid Amayreh
Islamist parliamentarians in the West Bank and anguished families of political detainees being held by the Palestinian Authority have urged a visiting delegation of EU politicians to call on their respective governments to link financial aid to Ramallah's human rights record against its own citizens. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have spoken recently of "rife and rampant" torture in jails and detention centres run by the PA's security forces.
The unofficial EU delegation, led by veteran British Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, included colleagues from Germany, Poland, Portugal, Ireland, and Scotland. The delegation met with numerous Palestinian leaders, including elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council who have just been released from Israeli jails for participating in the 2006 election and affiliation with the political wing of Hamas. In Hebron, the delegation met with 10 such elected members, including Dr. Aziz Dweik, the Speaker of the Palestinian parliament.
After some welcoming remarks, Dr. Dweik told the visitors that the current peace process is "utterly futile"; Israel, he added, is proving to the world that it is not interested in genuine peace by its ongoing settlement expansion across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. "Do you think that a country that keeps building settlements on occupied land, and keeps transferring its own citizens to live on a land that belongs to another people really wants peace?" he asked.
Another MP, Omar Abdul Razzak, told the European delegates that Palestinians were not against Israelis because they are Jews: "We have nothing, absolutely nothing, against Jews per se. We are against Israel because Israel happens to be our tormentor, oppressor, and grave-digger, and I am not speaking metaphorically."
The delegates toured the Old Town of Hebron, where tens of thousands of Palestinians are basically held hostage by Jewish settler violence, harassment and provocations. These settlers are regarded as being among the most extremist anywhere in Israel/Palestine; they call openly for the ethnic cleansing of non-Jews in what they call the "Biblical Land of Israel". Some local rabbis say that Palestinians should be made to choose between expulsion, enslavement as water carriers and wood-hewers, or outright extermination. The local council has been forced to install wire mesh to shield Palestinians from settler violence on the city's streets. Hebron is home to 180,000 Palestinians and around 400 Jewish settlers whose raison d'être seems to be to harass the Palestinians into leaving. Many live in the upper floors of buildings along key thoroughfares and instruct their children to harass Palestinians in the streets below. This includes throwing human waste out of the windows onto passers-by.
Ever since a local settler called Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians while they were praying in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in February 1994, the Israeli occupation authorities have increased their oppressive measures against the indigenous community; long curfews are now a feature of life for Palestinians in the, forcing businesses and shops to close. Ironically, the Israeli army is there to guard the settlers, and does little to stop their harassment of Palestinians.
The Palestinian MPs and other local activists stressed to the delegation that the state of human rights in the occupied territories, particularly the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, is deteriorating; one MP described the PA as a "police state without a state".
"You pay them a lot of money," said another. "The PA lives off European money, but you don't know how this money is spent. I tell you some of your money is used to pay the salaries of those who torture and kill our people, people who in any European country would be viewed and treated as criminals themselves." In the name of humanity, honesty and civility, he added, "I ask you to urge the EU as well as national European governments to pressure the PA to stop this criminal torture in PA jails and detention centres."
The delegation was given a list of recent victims, some of whom are still being tortured in Hebron and Jericho. The Jericho jail has been described as "the most notorious" for the torture carried out there. Officially, the PA denies that torture takes place in its prisons. It also denies that it holds political prisoners. However, interviews and first-hand testimonies of detainees or former detainees give damning evidence which contradict the PA's denials. At the end of their visit to Hebron, the EU delegation visited Ahmed Salhab Tamimi who has been almost paralysed as a result of the torture he received at the hands of the PA intelligence service secret police. Mr. Tamimi's mother wept as she told the delegations, "Your money is enabling the PA to torture and kill our sons".
Muhammad Abu Ejheishe, MP, said the EU had promised repeatedly to monitor the PA's human rights record: "Either the Europeans are not paying sufficient attention, or the PA is managing to deceive the EU." Abu Ejheishe's son, Muath, is one of 14 inmates reportedly subjected to severe physical and psychological torture. His lawyer gave the following testimony from his client:
"I am a political detainee, and I am subjected to torture because I happen to be the son of an Islamist Legislative Council member. The torture I am undergoing includes long hours of beating, shabh [prolonged confinement on a small chair with one's hands being cuffed and tried to one's back]. I was also hanged by my hands and feet for several hours. However, the torturers were always sure to make sure that the hanging process didn't last for too long lest it left irreparable damage such as paralysis, injuries to the spinal cord, dislocation to the limbs or fractures."
According to this detainee's father, his son was "punished severely" for daring to speak up about the torture he has experienced.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.