TORTURE AND PHYSICAL ABUSE BY THE SECURITY FORCES
According to testimony gathered by Human Rights Watch, detainees who undergo interrogation by the Palestinian security forces are commonly tortured, while detainees who are not interrogated - the vast majority - are generally not physically ill-treated. In the early period of the PA, torture was mainly used against suspected collaborators with the Israeli security services and drug offenders; however, following the February-March 1996 suicide bombings in Israel, the practice of torture also became widespread during interrogation of those arrested for political or security reasons.
PA officials either deny the phenomenon or insist that incidents of torture are isolated. The PA "will not tolerate the torture of any Palestinian," said Major General Amin al-Hindi, the chief of intelligence. " We have brought to trial those who committed such abominable actions and we put them in prison, and they are still there."56 Hassan Abd al-Rahman, chief representative in Washington of the PLO, which represents the PA, said, "There is no policy to tolerate torture. These [incidents of torture] are individual acts."57
But organizations including Human Rights Watch have gathered testimony about dozens of cases of torture during interrogation, some of which are presented below.58 Some of the methods resemble the ones used systematically by Israeli interrogators, such as hooding, shackling and sleep deprivation.59 In other cases, detainees were severely beaten or burned with cigarettes.
Said Amr, who suffers from asthma, went into shock and temporarily lost most of his speech due to the way he was treated during interrogation on March 26, 1996. He recounted his experience to Human Rights Watch:
They [the General Intelligence Service in Gaza] put me in a cell and tied my hands to a bar on the ceiling so I had to stand the whole time. I don't know for how long I was like that-maybe for two days. They played loud music and didn't let me sleep. I had a bag over my head the whole time. I wasn't able to breathe. My situation got very bad and they removed the bag. I stood for six hours waiting to go into interrogation. They interrogated me and sent me back to the cell. I slept for two hours and when I woke up I wasn't able to speak. Many interrogators came to see me and they were a bit confused. Then they released me.60
Twenty-six-year old Adib Ziadeh, a student at Birzeit University, was arrested without a warrant by the General Intelligence Service on March 8, 1996, and taken to the intelligence section of Jericho prison for interrogation. On April 1, Ziadeh, who had not been permitted access to a lawyer, was finally granted a family visit. According to the Human Rights Action Program of Birzeit University, Ziadeh described to his family, in the presence of a PA official, how he had been severely beaten with a stick and a whip and hit and kicked by interrogators. In addition, he had been held in a small room for prolonged periods and deprived of sleep. The family reported that deep bruises were visible on his body, face and neck. He was taken to the hospital twice after losing consciousness; each time he was brought back for further interrogation. Ziadeh was never charged with an offense.61 He was finally released on January 16, 1997.62
A detainee arrested by the General Intelligence Service in March 1996 and interrogated in Jericho recalled the methods to which he was subjected:
They kept me isolated in a cell for the whole time of interrogation, which was twenty-three days. They would start the interrogation very late at night. They put me in shabeh [standing or shackling to a chair] outside, and it was winter so it was cold. They beat me, with their hands and with cables. They asked me questions about myself and the others that they had arrested with me. I had bad bruises and almost every day I had nosebleeds.63
Another young man who was arrested by Military Intelligence in January 1996 told Human Rights Watch:
They handcuffed me and tied my hands behind the chair-one was hitting my face, the other kicking my handcuffed hands. My hands started to bleed. After maybe half an hour they took me to another room. They removed the handcuffs and started to beat my hands and feet for another half hour. Then they took me to a cell and put handcuffs again behind my back. They tied a cable to my hands and connected it to the ceiling. They started pulling until I was forced to stand. With another cable and a stick they beat me between my back and my knees. For two hours they beat me and asked me my political views. Then they beat the soles of my feet for half an hour. All of this continued for [a total of] about three and-a-half hours. At the end, one of the captains said to me, "Don't tell anyone what happened to you. This will not benefit you."64
Deaths in PA Custody
In the three years since the PA was first established, at least fourteen persons have died in PA custody. Several others have died in suspicious circumstances, shortly after release from detention (see Appendix A).
PA investigations into deaths in detention have been unsatisfactory. In several cases, no autopsies are known to have been performed. The investigative process and conclusions of investigations have remained secret, although officials have sometimes cited the victim's preexisting medical condition or other outside factors as the cause of death. Even when the PA announces that it has investigated and punished law enforcement officials for their involvement in torture, it sometimes does not divulge their names and punishments. These steps are necessary if the process of holding them accountable is to be monitored and verified.65
In several cases, the PA initially acknowledged the use of force during interrogation, only to announce later that the investigation exonerated the PA of responsibility. For example, when Farid Jarbu died in Gaza on July 6, 1994-the first death in PA custody-there were traces of violence on his body.66 Although Justice Minister Abu Medein issued a statement on July 9, 1994, announcing that a forensic medical investigation ordered by the attorney general identified violence as the cause of death, the three policemen arrested in connection with the incident were eventually released. Arafat's spokesperson Marwan Kanafani later announced that, "The inquiry proved there was no foul play."67 However, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, whose director Raji Sourani represents the Jarbu family, never received a response to the complaint it filed with the attorney general on July 10, 1994, regarding his death. According to Mazen Shaqura, public relations officer at PCHR, "There is an open file at the attorney general's office against those responsible. None of them have been demoted or removed. The attorney general says he suspended them from work and there was supposed to be a trial in July 1995. But they have never been brought before a judge."68
Following the September 29, 1995, death of Palestinian-American Azzam Muhammad Ibrahim Muslih, PA Attorney General al-Qidrah initially denied PA responsibility, stating that Mr. Muslih "headed a gang of thieves that is also responsible for the death of people....He was confronted with all the evidence that proved his guilt, and as a result he was shocked [and suffered a heart attack.]"69 The Mandela Institute arranged for his exhumation and an autopsy, however, and reported that Muslih had suffered broken bones in his chest, as well as signs of violence in several places on his body.70 Five people, including security agents, were then reportedly detained in connection with this death, and three were then given prison sentences.
On July 31, 1996, twenty-six-year old Mahmud Jumayal died after being tortured by the Coastal Police in Jneid prison near Nablus, where he had been held, without charge, since mid-December 1995. Mr. Jumayal, who was already brain-dead, had been admitted to Ramallah hospital under a false name on July 27. He died shortly afterbeing transferred to a hospital in Israel, from extensive bleeding in the brain.71 After visiting Jumayal on July 30, attorney Khader Shkirat, general director of LAW-The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (hereinafter LAW) reported:
Multiple lacerations are visible all over his body and his chest is deeply bruised. He appears to have been branded with a hot iron instrument....Both hands and ankles have been wounded, apparently by wire.72
In contrast to suspected Islamists, who make up the bulk of political detainees, Mahmud Jumayal was a member of the Fatah Hawks, a militant branch of President Arafat's dominant political faction. His death exposed President Arafat to popular pressure and condemnation, including from Fatah, which called for a general strike to protest the use of torture.73 Abd al-Jawad Salih, a member of both the Legislative Council and the cabinet, said in a council meeting:
There are seven who have died under torture in the prisons, and there are a few more, I don't know how many, who have been killed through violence and deceit in the streets. We haven't heard about verdicts against these people.74
This view was common even among Fatah leaders such as Bilal Dweika of Nablus:
This is not the first crime. What happened to Mahmud Jumayal crowns a series of violations by the security forces against strugglers from Fatah and ordinary citizens....No crime justifies such violence.75
Responding to the outcry over Jumayal's death, President Arafat promised the Legislative Council, in a speech on July 31 in Bethlehem, "We will not forgive anyone who has committed an offense under any circumstances."76
The PA then brought the three officers allegedly responsible for Jumayal's torture to trial before the state security court in Jericho, where two of them were sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment and a third was sentenced to ten years. However, like other security court trials, these summary proceedings were marred by due process violations. The defendants were represented by a state-appointed military lawyer who provided no defense and had no opportunity to call witnesses. It was also unclear why the accused officers were tried by the state security court instead of by a civil or military court.77 While the prompt response to this brutal death could have been anencouraging sign, the haste and unfairness of the trial were more indicative of a desire to soothe public anger than to seek justice.
Less than two weeks after Jumayal's death, four detainees who had been arrested in Tulkarm on August 2 while participating in a demonstration and were then held in Jneid prison, were hospitalized after allegedly being beaten by batons, water hoses and chairs during interrogation. A field worker from LAW who visited the four-Ayman Sulayman al-Sabah, Mahmud Mustafa Abu Jamus, Tha'ir Abd al-Karim Shirta and Muhammad Wasfi Diab-reported that "several were beaten by [sic] a chair, and all were marked or wounded on their bodies."78 Al-Sabah, who suffers from asthma, reported that he had also been forced to stand on one foot with his hands in the air and sit down and stand up hundreds of times in succession.79
At least eight detainees have died in suspicious circumstances since Jumayal's death. On August 7, 1996, Nahid Mujahid Dahlan was in a comatose state when he transferred to a hospital in Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip; he was pronounced dead several minutes after his arrival. There were reports that a suicide note accompanied Dahlan's body when he arrived at the hospital. Although not in custody when he was discovered in a coma, Dahlan, according to his family, had been summoned by the General Intelligence Service in al-Qarar village in the Gaza Strip on an almost-daily basis between July 27 and August 7-the date of his death.80 Although human rights groups such as Addameer and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights called for an autopsy and investigation into Dahlan's death, no findings were publicized by the PA. Instead, for having issued a press release about Dahlan's death, the director of Addameer was detained for fifteen days and accused of publishing false information (see below).
On August 11, sixty-six-year-old Khalid Isa al-Habal died in detention in Ramallah. Al-Habal had been arrested the previous week, along with his five sons, over a violent land dispute with neighbors. The governor of Ramallah announced that al-Habal had committed suicide by hanging, but his wife, Nuzha, was quoted by the press as saying that, "There were signs of beating on his body, on his testicles and arms and back. The skin on his neck looked fine, it is impossible that he strangled himself."81 The PA reportedly conducted an autopsy but the findings were not made public.82
Yusif Ismail al-Baba, a thirty-one-year old merchant, died in Rafidiyya Hospital in Nablus on February 1, 1997, four weeks after his arrest by the Military Intelligence Service. Although al-Baba was never charged, he was allegedly arrested in connection with a property dispute. His body bore cigarette burns, rope marks around the hands and feet, and bruises from blows to the head, according to a Nablus-based lawyer working with LAW who examined al-Baba's corpse after the family received it from the authorities. Hospital officials speaking on condition of anonymity told LAW that al-Baba died of massive internal bleeding. They also stated that al-Baba had been brought to the hospital on January 30 but sent back to interrogation the same day.83 He died two days later.
PA officials initially refused to release al-Baba's corpse unless his family agreed to bury it immediately, but they later relented when the family refused to abide by these terms.84 However, the Nablus general prosecutor did not permit an independent doctor to attend the autopsy conducted on February 2.85 On February 3, Justice Minister Abu Medein confirmed that al-Baba had been "illegally imprisoned and...subjected to extreme torture which led to his death," but announced that al-Baba's medical file had "disappeared," and that hospital employees had been detained for questioning.86 A few days later, Abu Medein accused the security services of obstructing his investigation and covering up the death, and called on President Arafat to eliminate the "impediments [that continued to be] put in the way of the justice ministry and the attorney general....There must be a stand by the cabinet ministers and the president because there are too many violations in these security agencies."87
There were strong protests by Palestinians over al-Baba's death, including a joint statement issued February 5 by human rights organizations, members of the Legislative Council and other notables. Over the weekend of February 15-16, Palestinian police announced the arrest of Capt. Hani Ayyad, the head of Military Intelligence in Nablus, Abd al-Muti Sadiq, deputy governor of Nablus, and Bassam Hilu, director-general of the governor's office. Police also arrested one nurse who was suspected of concealing al-Baba's medical record.88 Despite the justice minister's promise to try all suspects "according to the law," no information on the whereabouts or legal status of these detainees has been released.
Human Rights Watch has received numerous accounts of incidents where police have acted in a violent, sometimes lethal, manner when lesser means would have been effective. These include interventions in private disputes and in cases of suspected prostitution or drug-dealing. At other times, injuries have resulted from negligent conduct, or were inflicted during apparent attempts by law enforcement or other PA officials to demonstrate their power vis-a-vis the population. In the process, law enforcement officials have violated international standards regulating the use of force, including the use of live ammunition. LAW and other organizations documented several cases of wrongful deaths during 1996.89 Whether or not such conduct is due partly to a lack of training, the PA has failed to address the problem by investigating and punishing guilty law enforcement officers and their superiors.
On April 26, 1996, thirty-two-year old Ibrahim Rishmawi was summoned to the Beit Sahour police station. According to an affidavit he provided to a field worker for B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, Rishmawi acknowledged to police that he had damaged the house of a suspected collaborator with Israel. Then, according to his testimony:
Five police officers jumped on me, took off my shoes and sat me down in a chair, my chest to the backrest of the chair. Two officers grabbed my feet, tied me and beat the soles of my feet with sticks. They beat me from 2:00 to 5:00 in the morning. When I asked if they were beating me because I had damaged the house of a collaborator with Israel, they beat me harder, and beat me all over my body with sticks and the butts of rifles.90
Rishmawi was eventually released, after signing an undertaking not to damage the house in the future.91
In early February 1996, only one month after the PA had established itself in the West Bank city of Ramallah, police arrested pharmacist Musa Alloush, accusing him of selling drugs without a prescription. Alloush was arrested and severely beaten. A police major confirmed the beating to the Guardian:
He was very impolite with us. He kept saying impolite things. We told him to be quiet, and then we attacked him....There is a big difference between torture and just beating. We didn't use any torture. He made us angry and we beat him.92
The Guardian reported that the PA was considering legal action against the newspaper for alleged "misrepresentation of facts" in its article about Alloush.93
On January 24, 1996, armed policemen in plainclothes in Bethlehem arrived at the house of Khalil Hazboun, who was involved in a land dispute at the time. Hazboun and another Bethlehem businessman, Victor Atallah, were taken to the police station and interrogated about forging land documents-accusations that they denied. According to Hazboun's testimony to B'Tselem:
[Seven policemen] forced me to lie down on the floor. Two policemen put my legs into the strap of a rifle, spun the rifle around and the strap bound my legs. I couldn't move. Each of the policemen had 20 millimeter thick electric wire in his hand [with the copper wire exposed]. Five policemen beat me on the soles of my feet, causing them to bleed. I yelled out. One of the policemen stepped on my face with his shoe. Two of them grabbed my shoulders so I couldn't move and one grabbed my head between his legs. While they beat me, some policemen smoked and extinguished the cigarettes on my feet. They said to me: "Admit that you forged documents and we'll let you go." I immediately responded: "I did it."94
Hazboun was eventually released, after signing a document saying that he had bought land without paying for it, and relinquishing ownership of the land to the other party in the dispute. The incident sparked a wave protests in Bethlehem when it became known that the police chief had ordered his forces to intervene following a request from the other party in the conflict.95
This sort of conduct has led, in the words of a West Bank judge who asked not to be identified, to the creation of "courts outside the courts":
There are branches of the security forces that think they have the authority to settle disputes, but they have no authority to intervene. Or, one party or his lawyer will pay the security forces to intervene-the problem is resolved quickly, but not fairly. It's a question of who has more influence.96
A West Bank human rights activist observed, "Instead of a system of accountability and judicial determinations, there is a system of side settlements and forgiveness, but not of punishment [for those who break the law]."9756 Interviewed by Salih Qallab in Al-Majallah (London), November 24-30, 1996, as reported in FBIS-NES, November 30, 1996. 57 Meeting with representatives of Amnesty International USA, the Center for Victims of Torture, Human Rights Watch/Middle East, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights and Physicians for Human Rights USA, Washington, DC, September 17, 1996. 58 See also "The Practice of Torture in the Palestinian Authority," in The Palestinian Human Rights Monitor, no. 3, May-June 1997. The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, which prepared the report, states that it is based on forty-two cases it studied. 59 On Israeli methods, see Human Rights Watch/Middle East, Torture and Ill-Treatment: Israel's Interrogation of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories (New York: Human Rights Watch, June 1994). On the similarities between Israeli and Palestinian interrogations, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote:
"[T]he interrogation dungeons of the Shin Bet [the Israeli General Security Service or GSS] were an excellent school for the future torturers. And it is no coincidence that the Palestinians tortured by the PNA describe methods that are amazingly similar to the Shin-Bet's interrogation methods. Like several other things, we have bequeathed to them the art of torture, together with the concept of detention without trial." (Gideon Levy, "The Legacy of Occupation," Ha'aretz, June 23, 1996.)60 Human Rights Watch interview, Gaza Strip, July 25, 1996. 61 Human Rights Action Program, Birzeit University, "Birzeit University Protests Treatment of Student Detained by Palestinian Authority in Jericho," April 6, 1996. 62 Amnesty International Urgent Action (AI Index: MDE 15/05/97), February 10, 1997. 63 Human Rights Watch interview, West Bank, July 17, 1996. 64 Human Rights Watch interview, West Bank, July 16, 1996. 65 See, for example, Amnesty International, "Amnesty International Calls for End to Torture Following Death in Custody," (AI Index: MDE 15/53/96), August 2, 1996. 66 See Human Rights Watch/Middle East, "The Gaza Strip and Jericho: Human Rights Under Palestinian Partial Self-Rule," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 7, no. 2, February 1995, p. 20. 67 Barton Gellman, "Second Arab Dies in Custody of Palestinian Authority," Washington Post, January 19, 1995. 68 Human Rights Watch interview, Gaza City, July 24, 1996. 69 "Palestinians Deny Torture," New York Times, October 2, 1995. 70 "Palestinian Detention Facilities...," Mandela Institute Newsletter, p. 2. 71 Al-Haq, "Palestinian Detained under the Custody of the Palestinian Authority Admitted to Hospital Brain-Dead," Ramallah, July 30, 1996. 72 LAW, "Prisoner Declared Clinically Brain Dead after Beating by Palestinian Coastal Police," July 30, 1996. 73 "Arafat Orders Probe of Officers on Torture Charges," Reuter, July 31, 1996. 74 Joel Greenberg, "7 Die in Jail, Setting Arab against Arab," New York Times, August 2, 1996. 75 "Arafat Orders Probe of Officers on Torture Charges," Reuter, July 31, 1996. 76 Greenberg, "7 Die in Jail...," New York Times. 77 See Al-Haq, press release no. 116, August 5, 1996, and Amnesty International, "Palestinian Authority: Amnesty International Calls for an End to Torture and Political Detention Without Trial," AI Index: MDE/15/55/96, August 16, 1996. 78 LAW, "Four Hospitalized from Torture under Interrogation," August 10, 1996. 79 "New Nablus Torture Charge," Washington Post, August 10, 1996. 80 Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, press release, August 14, 1996. 81 "Man killed in PA police custody," Palestine Report, August 23, 1996. 82 Ibid. See also, Amnesty International, "Palestinian Authority: Prolonged political detention, torture, and unfair trials," AI Index: MDE 15/68/96, p. 24. 83 LAW, "Update on Torture Death of Yussef Ismail al-Baba in Palestinian Prison: Palestinian Authority Admits Problems," February 4, 1997. According to LAW, the hospital officials refused to be identified for fear of reprisals. 84 "Cigarette burns found on body of Palestinian torture victim," AFP, April 5, 1997. 85 Mandela Institute, "Mandela: Death in Palestinian Custody," press release no. 5/97, February 1, 1997. 86 "Palestinians tortured prisoner to death-official," Reuter, February 3, 1997. 87 "Justice minister calls on Arafat to rein in security forces," AFP, February 6, 1997. 88 Patrick Cockburn, "Torture Deaths that Shame Palestine," The Independent (London), February 21, 1997. See also, "Palestinian Police Make Arrests in Baba Torture Case," Al-Quds (internet version) in Arabic, February 17, 1997, as reported by BBC Monitoring Service, February 20, 1997. 89 LAW statements on these cases: LAW, "Unexplained Fatal Shooting by Palestinian Security Forces, April 1, 1996; "More Accidental Shootings by Palestinian Police," August 4, 1996; "Two Injured, One Killed in Police Shooting at Football Match," September 24, 1996; "Accidental Fatal Shooting by Palestinian Police," July 31, 1996; "More Accidental Shootings by Palestinian Police," August 24, 1996. See a summary in "The Police: In the Service of the People--A Real or Imaginary Slogan?" People's Rights, April 1997, no.2. 90 Testimony given to Bassem `Eid of B'Tselem, June 28, 1996, Beit Sahour, West Bank. 91 Ibid. 92 Derek Brown, "Palestinians Beat `Rude' Pharmacist," Guardian, February 16, 1996. 93 Derek Brown, "News Report on Beatings Irks Arafat Police," Guardian, February 20, 1996. 94 Testimony given to Bassem `Eid of B'Tselem, Bethlehem, January 27, 1996. 95 Hillel Cohen, "Palestinian Police Arrested Wealthy Bethlehemite," Kol Hair (Jerusalem), February 9, 1996. 96 Human Rights Watch interview, Ramallah, July 14, 1996. 97 Human Rights Watch interview, Ramallah, July 13, 1996.