Human Rights Watch (HRW) has claimed in a new report that the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas routinely arrest and torture opponents and critics, in what have been described as "parallel police states".
Released today, the 149-page report – titled "'Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent:' Arbitrary Arrest and Torture Under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas," – found 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 […] 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.
HRW stresses that this "systematic practice of torture by Palestinian authorities may amount to a crime against humanity prosecutable at the International Criminal Court (ICC)". It calls on "Palestinian authorities [to] abide by the international human rights treaties they acceded to over the last five years", as well as for the ICC to open a formal probe into the conduct of the PA and Hamas.
The report was based on interviews with 147 witnesses, including former detainees and their relatives, lawyers and representatives of nongovernmental groups. It also reviewed photographic evidence, medical reports, and court documents, HRW explained. The report is divided into sections focusing separately on the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip.
With regard to the West Bank, HRW writes that "in recent years, the Intelligence Services, Preventive Security, and the Joint Security Committee have been the PA agencies most involved in detaining those suspected of […] criticism of the PA […] or in other types of peaceful dissent". It adds that between January 2017 and August 2018, PA security forces held 221 Palestinians in administrative detention without charge or trial for various periods, citing figures from the Independent Commission for Human Rights.
HRW details the example of Mamdouh Hamamra, a 34-year-old journalist for Quds News Network based in Bethlehem. Hamamra was arrested in August 2017 and charged under the controversial Electronic Crimes Law, imposed by the PA to crack down on criticism of the Authority on social media. Hamamra went on hunger strike and was subjected to daily interrogations, in which intelligence officers "slapped him, slammed his body against the wall, and held him by the neck, threatening to hit him with a plastic hose". The officers also put him in "painful stress positions and subject[ed] him to shabeh", a method of torture in which the prisoner is shackled to a small chair, deprived of sleep and their head covered with a sack, according to B'Tselem.
Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, two former PA employees and supporters of exiled PA leader Mohammed Dahlan – Abdel Basset Amoom and Ramy Al-Jarba, from Al-Bureij Refugee Camp – were arrested in April 2016. The pair were taken to the Internal Security offices in Gaza City and warned that they would be tortured there. Officers at the facility had Al-Jarba "undergo a quick medical exam and then ordered him to turn in circles until he grew dizzy, then repeatedly punched him in the head and face, kick[ing] him in the legs".
Deputy Programme Director at HRW, Tom Porteous, summarised the report saying that "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. Calls by Palestinian officials to safeguard Palestinian rights ring hollow as they crush dissent."
HRW adds that though it met with the PA's Intelligence Services in Ramallah, it was "unable to accept an offer from Hamas authorities to meet in Gaza because Israel refused to grant permits for senior Human Rights Watch officials to enter the Gaza Strip for this purpose". All PA and Hamas security agencies denied HRW's allegations, claiming the incidents did not "amount to more than isolated cases that are investigated when brought to the attention of authorities, who hold perpetrators to account".