The Palestinian justice system was already fragile and politicized after operating from 1967 until 1994 under an Israeli military administration, which did not encourage an independent judiciary and neglected its physical infrastructure. It has suffered further from Israeli responses to the current Intifada, including drastic restrictions on freedom of movement, the destruction of police stations, prison and detention centers, and the harassment of human rights lawyers.
Restrictions on Freedom of Movement
The chaos caused by restrictions on movement has aggravated already severe delays in resolving court cases and further eroded the confidence of the public in the system. The PICCR has estimated that restrictions have caused increased delays in 80 percent of cases.40 The vast majority of Palestinian officials, as well as ordinary citizens, are unable to travel between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This has exacerbated the sense of separation and isolation of the two areas, required greater duplication of administration, and weakened coordination and the exercise of a unified authority.
Human rights defenders have also been hit by the restrictions. The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW), has recounted how a staff member was stranded in Hebron for four days in June 2001 trying to reach the LAW office near Jerusalem.41 On one attempt he had to turn back when the route was blocked by cement and stone barricades and his car was hit by bullets fired by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint. On the fifth day he succeeded in leaving Hebron:
One of the taxis he took was shot at and chased by Israeli soldiers, forcing him and the other passengers to flee the car and run for cover between the trees...The taxis whose drivers were determined to go on were forced to take high and very rugged mountainous routes, after passengers had been made to get out and cross 900 m on foot in a very dangerous area on their way to Bethlehem and Beit Sahour.
He finally reached the LAW office. The journey, which took one and a half hours before the Intifada, now took six and a half hours and required five different taxis.
The closures have also severely limited the ability of Palestinian families to visit their relatives detained in Israeli prisons and of Palestinian lawyers to represent these detainees. Some lawyers have occasionally been able to obtain permits to enter Israel, though the permits are not respected when there is a complete closure. Human rights organizations have had to hire lawyers based in Israel to take on cases.
Destruction of Police Posts, Prisons and Detention Centers
According to the information given to Human Rights Watch, such attacks have also sometimes threatened the lives of detainees. In the first use of Israeli fighter aircraft against Palestinian targets since the 1967 war, Israeli F-16 aircraft attacked several locations in Nablus on May 18, 2001, including Junayd prison. Eleven members of the Palestinian police were killed, including seven prison guards. Thirty-two others were injured.42 The Israeli attack was part of a coordinated strike on several West Bank targets, undertaken in response to a Palestinian suicide bombing attack outside a shopping mall in the Israeli city of Netanya earlier the same day, in which seven people were killed and up to one hundred were injured. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the Netanya attack. "The Palestinians are going to pay a very dear price," said Danny Naveh, Israeli minister-without-portfolio. "We lived a very difficult day today and our anger is great."43
The al-Saraya prison complex in Gaza City came under IDF fire on May 10, 2001 during an Israeli military action undertaken in response to two instances of civilian killings. On May 9, 2001, two Israeli children were found beaten to death close to the Gush Etzion settlement at Tekoa, near Bethlehem. PA officials condemned the killing and a little-known group, "Palestine Hizbullah Organization," claimed responsibility. Two Romanian workers were killed by a roadside bomb explosion as they tried to repair the fence at a border crossing in Gaza the same day, for which Hamas claimed responsibility. Colonel Hamdi Rifi, the director-general of the Prison Service, told Human Rights Watch that several Israeli missiles were fired at the al-Saraya prison complex in Gaza City during the Israeli attack on May 10, 2001, hitting the educational wing adjacent to the prison.44 The complex also houses police and security force headquarters. An Israeli Army spokesperson reportedly described the May 10 attack on Gaza City as "a self-defense action by Israel in response to many terrorist attacks over the last few days."45 The official IDF announcement of the incident made no reference to any attacks directed against Israelis from the prison complex.
Following these attacks, prisoners were released or moved to unofficial detention centers for their safety. The director of prisons in Gaza City told Human Rights Watch that from about June 2001 he began to release 300 prisoners considered not dangerous, for their own safety. Prisoners in Jenin and Jericho were reportedly moved from the main prison to a private building in about July or August 2001.
Harassment of Human Rights Defenders
‛Adnan al-Hajar, aged 33, is the legal coordinator of Al-Mezan, a human rights center in Jabaliya refugee camp near Gaza City. On April 23, 2001, he was arrested by Israeli police at the Rafah border crossing in the south of the Gaza Strip. He was returning to Gaza with members of the PLC after attending a twenty-day legislative training course in Egypt, funded by a U.S. NGO. Al-Hajar told Human Rights Watch that he was taken to Ashqelon prison. 47 Over the next month, he said, he was interrogated for five days out of every week, for up to twenty hours a day, and subjected to shabah. He was made to sit on a very low stool for up to twenty hours at a time with handcuffs on his hands and feet and a chain between the two sets of handcuffs, forcing him to be constantly bent over. Interrogators shouted loudly in his ears, which has caused continued problems with his hearing. He was not beaten, he said, but "they tried to scare me:"
He [the interrogator] told me...we assassinate lots of Palestinians and we can assassinate you...Don't believe you are protected by working at a human rights center...All the human rights centers are under my feet.
Al-Hajar said he was interrogated about his studies in Algeria, his work at Al-Mezan, and his relations with alleged members of Islamist groups and with the PA:
After fifteen days interrogation the head of security came and said, "You have to confess that you support any Palestinian group, Fatah, Islamic Jihad. If you tell us this we will call your lawyer to speak with the court and you will be released."
On May 23, 2001, after one month of detention, al-Hajar was released without charge.
Hashem Abu Hassan, a thirty-seven-year-old fieldworker for a well-known Israeli human rights NGO, was arrested on April 28, 2001 while traveling by taxi on the Nablus-Jenin road. He was detained for over twenty-four hours. According to B'Tselem, during his arrest IDF members searched through his field documents and took testimonies he had gathered from victims of human rights violations, saying the testimonies "are for Hamas."48 Abu Hassan was interrogated, and released on April 29, 2001.
39 See Human Rights Watch, Center of the Storm, pp. 111-129. A policy of severe restrictions on the movement of Palestinians has been in place since March 1993. See Human Rights Watch, "Israel's Closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, Vol. 8, No. 3 (E), July 1996.
41 The quotes are taken from LAW, Obstacles to LAW due to Israeli Attacks and Closures, June 13, 2001, http://www.lawsociety.org/Press/Preleases/2001/June/Jun13.html.
45 Lieutenant Olivier Rafowicz, quoted in Ewen Macaskill and Suzanne Goldenberg, "Israel Rockets Key Palestinian Sites: Fatah Offices Hit in Retaliation for Death of Romanian Workers and Jewish Teenagers," The Guardian, May 11, 2001.