The Daily Mail reported yesterday that the British "government is sending British police and intelligence officers to the West Bank to try to stop a wave of brutal torture by Palestinian security forces funded by UK taxpayers."
Although senior Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders only publicly admitted for the first time yesterday that "torture, beatings and extra-judicial killings have been rife for the past two years, with hundreds of torture allegations and at least four murdered in custody", this is by no means a new revelation to anyone following the situation in Palestine.
Dr Daud Abdullah, the Director of the Middle East Monitor (MEMO), wrote an exclusive MEMO report in July 2009 entitled Concerns about British and EU roles in Palestinian Authority Human Rights Abuses in the Occupied West Bank in which he highlighted a disturbing catalogue of human rights abuses.
The MEMO report cited numerous instances of Palestinian men, women and children being subjected, by the Palestinian Authority, to torture, beatings, mock executions, psychological abuse and deaths in custody. The report also highlighted the involvement of the British government in the abuses by virtue, for instance, of Tony Blair's role as envoy for the International Quartet to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) as well as the multi-million pound British investment into the Palestinian Authority itself. The report, which was sent to Prime Minister Gordon Brown as well as to many members of Parliament, called upon the British government to dissociate itself from such practices and it called upon the government to try to rectify some of the damage done under its watch.
MEMO is not alone in having brought this travesty of justice to the public's attention. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Arab Organisation for Human Rights have also been trying to drawn attention to these human rights abuses for a long time. MEMO therefore welcomes this British initiative as a first step towards rectifying the horrific abuses that have been taking place in the West Bank.
It is the hope that the British training of PA Officers on issues such as "how to question suspects without torturing them" will help to reduce the amount of abuse taking place. The current stance taken by the PA is to say that "there were violations because not all the security officers were aware of human rights standards." As such, once they have undergone the requisite training provided by the British intelligence services there will be no further excuse for any subsequent violations.
Many of the arrests, and much of the abuse of the prisoners, have occurred as a result of allegations, founded or unfounded, that the victims had some form of contact with or sympathy for Hamas, Fateh's rival political party. This has naturally led to a state of affairs in the West Bank whereby public opinion cannot be voiced freely for fear of PA reprisals and this naturally has a knock on effect on the democratic process. Hopefully, therefore, this British mission may go some way to revive the democratic process in the West Bank where there is currently an atmosphere of intimidation and a definite air of distrust.
However, while there is certainly cause to welcome this British initiative, there are also grounds for arguing that we must not be too overly optimistic. The British presence has failed many times in the past to stop the Israeli government getting their way. In 2006, for instance, Ahmed Saadat the Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was captured when 1000 Israeli troops stormed the facility in Jericho where he was being held under British supervision. The British failed to prevent his capture by the Israelis despite him being held under their watch. Furthermore, there is a long history of security co-operation and co-ordination between the PA in Ramallah and the Israeli government. It is yet to be seen, therefore, whether the involvement of Britain, in any capacity, will have any success in weakening the Israeli grip over the PA and subsequently whether it will have any real impact on the PA and Israeli abuse of the Palestinian people.