Palestinians' Fort of Torture
As Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies occupied themselves in the past two weeks issuing warnings to President Trump against moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, reports resurfaced concerning the brutal conditions and human rights violations in a Palestinian prison in the West Bank.
These reports, however, were buried, along with the abuse, in favor of attention to rhetoric directed against the Trump Administration. Anything uttered by Abbas and senior PA officials regarding the possible transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem made it to the headlines of major newspapers and TV networks around the world.
At one point, it actually appeared as if the mainstream media in the West was interested in highlighting and inflating these statements in a bid to pressure Trump into abandoning the idea of moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Western journalists ran to provide platforms for any Palestinian official interested in threatening the Trump Administration.
The threats included warnings that the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem would "destroy the peace process," "jeopardize regional and international security" and "plunge the entire region into anarchy and violence." Some Palestinian officials went so far as to state that such a move would be considered an "assault on all Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims." They also threatened to "revoke" Palestinian recognition of Israel's right to exist.
Regrettably, as Palestinian officials from across the political spectrum joined forces to broadcast sensational headlines in the mainstream media around the world, the reports about torture of Palestinian detainees in a PA prison failed to attract the interest of the many journalists covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The torture that takes place in PA-controlled prisons and detention centers is not new.
Over the past few years, Palestinians have become accustomed to hearing horror stories about what is happening within the walls of these structures. Yet, because it is not Israelis who are perpetrating the abuse, the reports are ho-hum to these journalists.
A Palestinian who points a finger at Israel is guaranteed a sympathetic ear among journalists. When a Palestinian complains of torture at the hands of Palestinian interrogators or security officers, it is seen as just more of the same. Worse: It is seen as "Oh those Arabs, what can anyone expect from them?"
Ironically, it is the Hamas and Palestinian Authority media outlets that publish such reports. The two sides regularly report about the abuse of human rights and torture in each other's prisons and detention centers as part of the smear campaign they have been waging against each other for the past decade.
Hamas-affiliated media outlets are teeming with reports documenting cases of torture in PA detention facilities in the West Bank. Similarly, PA media organizations are always happy to hear from any Palestinian who is prepared to recount his or her ordeal in a Hamas prison in the Gaza Strip.
The bottom line: both Hamas and the PA, according to testimonies and reports, are practicing torture in their prisons. Neither cares a fig for the rights of detainees and prisoners, and both scoff at the values of international human rights. But because human rights organizations, lawyers and relatives are so often denied access to the Palestinian prisoners and detainees held by Hamas and the PA, they cannot get any first-hand information from the prisoners themselves. They are people -- being tortured in prison!
All of this makes perfect sense, of course: Hamas is an extremist Islamist movement that does not consider itself obliged to abide by international laws and treaties concerning basic human rights. Indeed, the concept of human rights simply does not exist under Hamas in the Gaza Strip, where public freedoms, including free speech and media, are non-existent.
Then how does the Western-funded PA, which has long attempted to join international bodies such as the United Nations, explain its systemic barbarity?
For years, the PA has been acting as an "independent state" that is recognized by more than 100 countries. As such, foreign governments, especially American and European taxpayers, are entitled, or rather obliged, to hold the PA accountable for human rights violations and demand transparency and accountability. This right derives from the fact that the PA is asking to become part of the international community by winning recognition for a Palestinian state. Unless, of course, the international community is willing to welcome yet another Arab state that tramples upon human rights, and practices torture in its prisons.
The most recent evidence of torture in the West Bank was disclosed in a report by a Hamas-affiliated online website. The report sheds light on some of the torture methods employed by PA interrogators and offers a unique insight into the conditions detainees are held under. The report refers specifically to the notorious Jericho Central Prison, which is controlled by various security branches of the PA.
Entitled "Jericho Prison -- A Fort of Torture?" the report describes conditions inside the prison as similar to those sensational films aired on TV screens to draw the attention of viewers.
A Palestinian who was recently released from the Jericho Central Prison is quoted as saying that anyone who arrives at the facility is first blindfolded and his hands tied behind his back before he is severely beaten by five to 10 security officers. One of the most common forms of torture in the PA prison, he recounted, is called the "shabah" position, where a prisoner's hands are shackled and he is hung from the ceiling for several hours. During this time, the detainee is beaten on all parts of his body. If the detainee tries to move or change his position, the beating gets worse. Sometimes, the "shabah" takes place inside the prison lavatories.
Another infamous form of torture in the Jericho Central Prison is the "falaka," where the victims are whipped on their bare feet. According to the testimony of another former detainee, who is identified only as Abu Majd, he was subjected to the "falaka" with a plastic hose for several hours each session. Sometimes, one of the "interrogators" would also slap him on the face while he was being whipped on his bare feet.
Abu Majd reported that he was also subjected to another well-known form of torture, where he would be asked to "climb" a non-existent ladder on a wall. Because there is no ladder and the detainee cannot "climb" it, he is punished with more beatings.
Other former detainees recounted sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and being locked up in a small closet with powerful air-conditioning as common practices of torture in the same prison. This is in addition to verbal abuse, of course, and forcing detainees to sleep on the floor without mattresses or blankets.
In 2013, two Palestinian detainees reportedly died from torture in the Jericho Central Prison five days apart from each other. They were identified as Arafat Jaradat and Ayman Samarah.
Earlier this month, the father of Ahmed Salhab, who was recently detained by PA security forces and taken to the Jericho prison, complained that his son's health was seriously harmed as a result of torture. The father said that his son was suffering from acute pain after being hit on the head by his interrogators.
Detainees in Palestinian prisons have reportedly gone on hunger strikes to protest their incarceration and torture. Unfortunately for them, they are not going on hunger strikes in an Israeli prison, where such actions garner the immediate interest of the mainstream media.
A London-based human rights organization reported 3,175 cases of human rights violations, including arbitrary detentions, by the PA security forces in the West Bank during 2016. According to the report, hundreds of those detained include university students and lecturers, as well as schoolteachers.
During the same year, the PA security forces also detained 27 Palestinian journalists, the report revealed.
PA political and security officials dismiss these reports as Hamas-orchestrated "propaganda." But one does not need wait for Hamas to tell the world about torture and human rights abuses at the hands of PA security officers. Among the thousands of Palestinians who have experienced incarceration in PA prisons and detention facilities during the past two decades, many are willing to tell their stories. But who is willing to listen?
Not Western governments, human rights organizations and journalists. Most of them seek evil in Israel, and Israeli alone. Yet such a policy aids and abets the emergence of yet another Arab dictatorship in the Middle East. For now, the residents of Jericho will continue to hear the screams of the tortured detainees in their city. The rest of the world will close its eyes and ears and continue to pretend that all is rosy in the land of Abbas.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.