Torture in Palestinian jails ‘systematic’

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The Palestinian security forces “systematically” abuse and torture prisoners in what could amount to crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
The rival authorities of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas both used threats, arbitrary arrests and violent abuse against detainees, said the New York-based group.
The report is likely to put pressure on governments that fund the PA’s forces, including the United States, which has maintained security funding despite cutting aid to the Palestinians.
Omar Shakir, HRW’s Israel-Palestine director, said the actions by both sides amounted to potential war crimes that could be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court.
“Both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas authorities in Gaza are systematically, arbitrarily detaining critics and torturing those in custody,” he told AFP.
“Systematic torture as part of a government policy is a crime against humanity.”
He said the allegations undermined Palestinian criticism of Israeli rights abuses.
“You have Palestinian leaders going around the world speaking about Palestinian rights at the same time as they are directing a machinery of oppression to crush dissent,” he told AFP.
The PA rejected the allegations, accusing Human Rights Watch of allying with the US government. Hamas did not respond.
The Palestinian territories have been split between rival administrations since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in a near civil war in 2007.
In its report, HRW said both sides particularly focused on those allegedly affiliated with the rival faction.
Methods employed by the Palestinian Authority included beatings, electric shocks and stress positions.
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.
Sami Al-Sai, a journalist, was arrested in 2017 on suspicion of relations with Hamas.
The 39-year-old was beaten, had threats made about his family and hanged from a ceiling by handcuffs.
He eventually pleaded guilty to various charges including “creating sectarian strife” and was jailed for three months.
“Every day I expect that they will rearrest me, and torture me again, but they can’t do anything more than they did.”
In Gaza, Hamas also beat and systematically abused prisoners.
A Western diplomat said the report was alarming, without suggesting what action could be taken in response.
The United States under Donald Trump has cut around $500 million in aid to Palestinians this year, but continued to provide roughly $50 million a year for security coordination with Israel.
“It is noteworthy that at a time when the United States has cut funding for UNRWA, which provides vital health and education services to Palestinians and to hospitals in east Jerusalem, the only source of funding remaining is to security coordination (and) to security forces that are involved in really serious abuses,” Shakir said.
He called on Western states to temporarily suspend funding to the PA security forces.
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 toward Israel.
HRW said the report was the result of two years of research and nearly 150 interviews.

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