March 26, 2019

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New HRW report about PA and Hamas abuses not bad – but still attacks Israel

Human Rights Watch issued one of their rare full reports on human rights abuses by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas authorities in Gaza routinely arrest and torture peaceful critics and opponents, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. As the Palestinian Authority-Hamas feud has deepened, each has targeted the other’s supporters.

The 149-page report, “‘Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent:’ Arbitrary Arrest and Torture Under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas,” evaluates patterns of arrest and detention conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, 25 years after the Oslo Accords granted Palestinians a degree of self-rule over these areas and more than a decade after Hamas seized effective control over the Gaza Strip. Human Rights Watch detailed more than two dozen cases of people detained for no clear reason beyond writing a critical article or Facebook post or belonging to the wrong student group or political movement.

“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,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. “Calls by Palestinian officials to safeguard Palestinian rights ring hollow as they crush dissent.”

I find it interesting that they didn’t quote one of their Middle East directors like Sarah Leah Whitson, but Tom Porteus, who works in Washington. It gives the impression that there was a push from the non-MENA sections of HRW to stop being so obviously and obsessively anti-Israel.

The head researcher, Omar Shakir, is indeed very anti-Israel but this report is generally not bad. Research that should be done by journalists is suppressed exactly because the PA and Hamas will arrest and beat journalists who don’t toe the party line, so this is a rare case where HRW can actually do some good in the region.

The level of silencing by the Palestinian leaders is something that simply does not get reported enough, except that Hamas will report on PA abuses and vice versa. But it goes beyond that – ordinary people are silenced and threatened for complaining about their government, even to protest against electricity cuts or the like.

And the things that the West accuses Israel of are all things done routinely by the PA and Hamas – without any outrage. Here’s only a tiny example of how the PA and Hamas routinely monitor and arrest students:

Palestinian authorities closely monitor criticism of the PA at universities. In January 2017, PA forces detained Fares Jbour, an electrical engineering student in Hebron, and questioned him about his participation in a book drive organized by the Hamas-affiliated Islamic Bloc on campus. Jbour told Human Rights Watch that PA forces had arrested him five previous times over his peaceful activities with the bloc, and said that prosecutors charged him with “weapons possession,” “forming militias,” “heading an armed gang,” and “money laundering,” but released him without referring him to court. In February 2017, Hamas police held Youssef Omar, who teaches history at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza, along with four other professors, apparently over their activism with the union of university employees, which opposed Hamas’ attempt to appoint a new university president without consulting the PA. 

Even so, HRW cannot resist adding in lines like “Israeli authorities have also incarcerated hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza since 1967, the majority after trials in military courts, which have a near-100 percent conviction rate.” The source for “hundreds of thousands” of prisoners is not given, because it is probably fiction – Palestinian sources regularly mention 800,000 or a million prisoners without any source whatsoever, and those numbers have been repeated as truth without a single NGO actually checking the numbers, even though Israel only arrests hundreds a year, not tens of thousands.

HRW also peripherally accuses Israel of torture in this report.

There was a curious parenthetical comment praising Hamas activities in Israeli prisons:

The Israeli army arrested Osama al-Nabrisi in the early 2000s and an Israeli military court sentenced him to 12 years in prison on what he said were charges of placing Molotov cocktails near an Israeli settlement. During his time in detention, he joined the Hamas political wing—Palestinians in Israeli prisons affiliate themselves with political factions, which look after the needs of its members and serve a key social role for detainees. 

Even so, the report does shed light in English on activities in the territories that are largely silenced, and that is to be commended. It will be interesting to see Hamas and PA responses.

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