Deteriorating Palestinian human rights under PA and Hamas
Aug 2, 2022 | AIJAC staff
A couple of recent reports have highlighted the apparently deteriorating human rights situation of Palestinians living under the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Maurice Hirsch of Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) has written a report documenting how, over the last three-and-a-half to four years, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been changing the Palestinian political system to effectively transform it into a one-man dictatorship. Meanwhile, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) submission, prepared with Lawyers for Justice, found “habitual, deliberate, widely known use of torture by Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and in Gaza.”
Meanwhile, a news report says the PA has arrested at least 94 opposition activists over the past two months in a major campaign.
This Update features analysis of these findings about Palestinian human rights – as well as an important new article about the related issue of the disporportionate attention given to the death of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May.
We lead with Israel-based human rights activist Emily Schrader. She summarises the findings from HRW, and PMW, as well as others from the Palestinian Independent Commission on Human Rights, focussing especially on the evidence of widespread mistreatment of dissidents by the security forces. She asks why it is that there is no international news interest in this evidence of deteriorating Palestinian human rights, and complete disinterest from pro-Palestinian activist groups supposedly dedicated to improving Palestinian welfare and treatment. For her argument in full, CLICK HERE.
Next up is Israeli Arab columnist Jalal Bana. He makes the point that the PA never pretended to be a democracy, but agrees the situation in terms of human rights and rampant corruption is indeed dire. He says the Palestinian street is furious and predicts a revolt against the regime’s behaviour. For his interesting perspective, CLICK HERE.
Our final article in this Update is historian and former diplomat Michael Oren’s take on the ongoing headlines still being occasioned by the death on May 11 of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during a firefight in Jenin. He notes that the ongoing attention to the reporter’s death – completely out of proportion to that given to the dozens of other journalists killed doing their job this year, and the 2,658 others killed since 1990 – is the result of a false narrative being fabricated by Al-Jazeera and Palestinian groups, and accepted by many, assertng that Israel has history or policy of deliberately assassinating journalists. This controversy is relevant to the issue of Palestinian human rights because it exposes how that cause is being damaged by the exclusive and obsessive focus on allegations of Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights. For this important article, which cuts to the essence of the ongoing Abu Akleh saga, CLICK HERE.
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Palestinian leaders are waging a war on Palestinians – opinion
How many Palestinians will be targeted and oppressed by their own leadership – for lack of a better term – before these self-proclaimed pro-Palestinian voices will speak up?
By EMILY SCHRADER
Jerusalem Post, July 25, 2022
Several weeks ago, Human Rights Watch (HRW) came out with a report criticizing the Palestinian leadership for widespread use of torture. While organizations like HRW are usually and disproportionately focused on condemning Israel, this is not the first report of its kind exposing the problems in Palestinian leadership, both in Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Shortly after, a report from UN Watch was released, detailing systemic torture of Palestinians. Within the week, a lawsuit was filed in the International Criminal seeking to hold the Palestinian leaders accountable.
The Palestinian Authority made international headlines last year with the murder of PA critic Nizar Banat, who was beaten to death by PA security forces. To date, no one has been held accountable for his death, and many of his supporters and protesters have been arrested, as well, on charges of unlawful assembly, insulting higher authorities and inciting sectarian strife. Indeed, the PA has a habit of arresting regime critics, even for something as small as a Facebook post.
Once arrested, Palestinians in the West Bank may face physical beatings, solitary confinement, the whipping of feet, forced confessions, stress positions for prolonged periods of time, inhumane prison conditions and more. The Independent Commission Human Rights (ICHR) received 252 complaints of torture and 279 of arbitrary arrest in the West Bank in 2021 alone.
In Gaza, Palestinians fare even worse. The terrorist organization Hamas is known for their draconian punishments and hardline Islamist positions. They have publicly executed dozens of collaborators with Israel, without any sort of due process, and they routinely bully, arrest and harm Palestinians who don’t fall in line with their terrorist agenda. They have also executed some of their own members for being gay and who can forget that they have started three wars with Israel in recent years resulting in a catastrophic humanitarian situation for the people of Gaza, all while their leaders enjoy a luxury life, in many cases, abroad.
But despite all the testimonies and the evidence from Palestinians themselves, you wouldn’t even know such reports exist if you looked at the activities of pro-Palestinian groups abroad or at the social media feeds of the largest Free Palestine advocates. It’s been radio silence from notable activists like Mohamed El Kurd, Muna El Kurd, Miriam Barghouti, Ahed Tamimi and others on the reports of systemic torture of Palestinians at the hands of Palestinians.
Activists from the international “Free Palestine” movement, seem utterly uninterested in acknowledging, much less directly addressing, the latest evidence that Palestinian human rights are eroding under both PA and Hamas rule (Photo: John Gomez, Shutterstock).
Palestinian human rights attorney Noura Erekat, who seemingly believes the Palestinian Authority (PA) should be dismantled for “collaborating” with Israel, hasn’t even commented on the recent reports on the torture of Palestinians at the hands of the PA or Hamas. Nerdeen Kiswani, most famous for her antisemitic calls to globalize the intifada in New York City, has not commented on the torture of Palestinians, nor has her organization Within Our Lifetime.
The official BDS movement, American Muslims for Palestine, as well as campus group Students for Justice in Palestine, have not shared any information on their social media accounts about the reports of torture and, strangely enough, the celebrities who are so quick to say “free Palestine” haven’t commented on the reports of torture either.
Based on the evidence, it would appear as if these activists don’t actually care about Palestinian lives unless they can blame Israel for a problem. The hypocrisy is staggering. How many Palestinians will be targeted and oppressed by their own leadership – for lack of a better term – before these self-proclaimed pro-Palestinian voices will speak up?
There is a war on Palestinians today, but it’s not being waged by Israel, it’s being waged by the undemocratic, corrupt, hypocritical Palestinian leaders.
The entire “free Palestine” movement and its supporters have turned their backs on Palestinians and are willfully blind to the crimes against humanity they are suffering.
The writer is CEO of Social Lite Creative LLC and a human rights activist.
The PA’s true colors
The Palestinian Authority was formed some three decades ago and never pretended to be a democracy. But the Palestinians have had enough and it’s only a matter of time before the younger generation revolts.
By Jalal Bana
Israel Hayom, July 27
A new report details the numerous ways in which ageing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been turning the PA into a one-man dictatorship – though the PA never pretended to be a democracy. (Photo: Yoshiko Kusano, World Economic Forum, Flickr).
A recent report by the Palestinian Media Watch research institute warned this week that in all likelihood, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is turning the PA into a dictatorship. This was puzzling – the Palestinian Authority, which was established about three decades ago, never pretended to be a democracy.
Democracy can exist in a state or a strong autonomous entity, where there is a separation of powers – something that does not exist in the PA. The struggle between Fatah, the ruling party, and rivals the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Hamas, is open and has been that way from the first day when a Palestinian policemen were given weapons and the authority to roam the streets of Palestinian cities, including in Gaza.
Formed by the power of the 1993 Oslo Accords, with international guarantees and Israel’s support, the Palestinian Authority cannot be seen as the basis for a democratic regime, chiefly over the lack of a functioning parliament comprising elected officials and the glaring absence of an independent judiciary.
Palestinian statehood aspiration and relations with Israel aside, the situation in the PA is dire. The Ramallah regime is mired in corruption and nepotism – a hallmark of totalitarian regimes. Fatah functionaries brutally fight anyone who goes up against them – on anything – and often violate human rights.
Opposition members who expose corruption on speak out against Abbas have paid with their lives for it, as was in the case of Nizar Banat, who died in Palestinian security forces’ custody in June 2021 and to this day no inquest has been launched into his death despite public demand.
The Palestinian Authority’s presidential compound in Ramallah has come to be seen by many Palestinians as at the epicentre of a mire of corruption and nepotism perpetrated by officials of the ruling Fatah party (Photo: PalestinianLiberator, Licence).
The corruption and menacing by Fatah officials who take down anyone who dares speak out against the PA now prevent local and international human rights groups from operating on the ground. The judiciary is controlled by Ramallah officials, the media cowers before the regime and will not criticize it, and those who do are silenced using the excuse of “the fight against Israeli occupation.”
The Palestinian street is furious – not more than ever. Under these circumstances, it is only a matter of time before the younger generation revolt against the regime.
Jalal Bana is a media adviser and journalist.
What reactions to the death of Shireen Abu Akleh reveal
The death of war correspondents rarely makes headlines, but that of Shireen Abu Akleh has been front-page news for weeks. A well-known Palestinian-American reporter for Al Jazeera TV, the fifty-one-year-old Abu Akleh was tragically shot during a battle between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Jenin on May 11. When, two months earlier, the Fox News photographer Pierre Zakrzewska and Ukrainian cameraman Oleksandra Kuvshynova were struck down by a Russian barrage in Kyiv, the story lasted a day. But even that coverage exceeded the attention given to almost all the 2,658 journalists, eleven of them from Al Jazeera, killed in combat since 1990. The reason is simple: taking risks is part of a war correspondent’s job. “If your pictures aren’t good enough,” the famed war photographer Robert Capra wrote, “you aren’t close enough.”
By contrast, the shooting of Abu Akleh has become the focus of prolonged press, governmental, and UN action. The White House, the U.S. Congress, and virtually every major American news outlet have repeatedly addressed it. How can the intense interest in one particular journalist be explained when the killing of so many of her colleagues was scarcely noted? What made her death so different?
The May 11 battle took place following the murder of nineteen Israelis by Palestinian terrorists, many of whom belonged to the Islamic Jihad branch in Jenin. Having lost security control of the city, the Palestinian Authority willingly stepped back to allow for the entry of Israeli forces who were met with overwhelming small-arms fire and explosive devices. While covering the clash, Shireen Abu Akleh died instantly after being struck in the head by a bullet. Another Palestinian journalist, Ali Samoudi, was wounded. Although Israel at first blamed the terrorists, it later admitted the possibility that one of its troops might have accidentally shot the reporters. The IDF immediately mounted an internal investigation headed by a senior intelligence and technical officer. The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, refused to release the bullet—5.56 caliber, the type used by the IDF but also by many Palestinian terrorists—that purportedly killed Abu Akleh. The Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh explained, “Those who fabricated the history of a people,” referring to the Jews, whose history he believes is imaginary, “can also fabricate a narrative.”
A narrative was in fact being fabricated, but not by Israel. Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera claimed, had been “assassinated in cold blood,” and the Palestinian attorney general Akram al-Khateeb stated that Israel had killed her “deliberately and directly.” Francesca Albanese, the UN’s special rapporteur on Palestine, called Abu Akleh’s death “yet another serious attack on journalism . . . in the occupied Palestinian territories and a “potential war crime.” Despite the reporter having “press” emblazoned on her helmet and flak jacket—the narrative maintained—the Israelis obviously shot her, and many reporters before her, on purpose.
Overnight, the case of a war correspondent killed in a crossfire—an occupational hazard elsewhere—became the grounds for accusing Israel of homicide and even the premeditated execution of journalists. Of course, if they’d intended to, Israeli soldiers would have little difficulty targeting those standing close by, exposed and unarmed, and clearly marked as the press. But, in fact, fewer correspondents have been killed covering the fighting between Israel and the Palestinians over the past 30 years than in the first five months of the Ukraine war. The narrative nevertheless took root and soon spread to much of the Western media.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented 44 journalists and media workers killed doing their job this year – a majority in either Ukraine or Mexico. (Image: © Committee to Protect Journalists).
At least five major outlets, among them CNN, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, launched large-scale investigations of the incident. Unlikely to have been undertaken if the Palestinians were to blame, the studies proceeded with an assumption of Israeli guilt. They all but overlooked the murder of the nineteen Israelis and the terrorists’ Islamic Jihad affiliation while focusing almost exclusively on the IDF incursion into Jenin. Decontextualized, the studies were already disposed to find Israel culpable of Abu Akleh’s death, which, with various degrees of intentionality, they did. They reached these conclusions without even glimpsing the key evidentiary bullet.
The investigations might have depleted the media’s fixation on Abu Akleh, but then Western governments stepped in. The United States, where the reporter held citizenship, was especially strident. On May 20, 57 members of Congress and nearly half of the Senate Democrats—together with the Republican Mitt Romney—insisted that “justice be served” and “accountability” assigned by a “full and transparent” FBI probe. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken acceded to this request on June 8 by announcing the establishment of an “independent inquiry” into the Abu Akleh affair.
Consequently, three weeks later, State Department experts arrived in Ramallah where they were finally allowed to examine the bullet. This, the experts found, was too damaged to determine which gun, Israeli or Palestinian, had fired it. Still, the State Department declared that Israeli troops, however unintentionally, were “likely responsible for the [reporter’s] death.” Israeli officials seethed; the United States had not only disrespected their military and judicial system, but publicly indicted their soldiers. Yet Israel’s anger paled beside that of the Palestinians, who instantly accused Washington of a whitewash.
Palestinian rage figured prominently in President Biden’s meeting with the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas on July 15. This took place before a large photograph of the late journalist, in front of journalists wearing Abu Akleh t-shirts, and in the presence of her family. President Biden again insisted on a “full and transparent accounting” of the incident, presumably by Israel. He pledged “to stand up for media freedom everywhere in the world,” as though Israel had denied that freedom. Abu Akleh’s family was invited to the White House.
More than two months after her death, the name Abu Akleh remains very much in the news. Such notoriety is partially due to the iconic status she has achieved among Palestinians and their supporters. But the far more significant factors are where Abu Akleh was killed, and who is alleged to have killed her. In no other war zone and by no other army would a reporter’s death be so extensively—and one must say obsessively—covered. No other country’s army and judiciary would be so condescendingly dismissed by its fellow democracies, including its closest ally, and its troops found guilty without trial or definitive evidence. The lamentable death of one war correspondent does not justify this radical departure from precedent. Far more than a single war correspondent’s death, the issue is the Jewish state.
Israel is once again being held to a double standard. During the 2003 Iraq War, for example, the United States routinely refused to investigate the killing of journalists by its military. American commanders, wrote Palestinian journalist Daoud Kattab, “made it clear that they were not responsible for the fate of freelancers who were not embedded with the U.S. army.” The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance states that “requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” is a form of anti-Semitism. Yet double standards alone cannot account for the overwhelming press and governmental response to Abu Akleh’s death. Something else, far darker, is happening.
The belief that Israel has a policy of assassinating reporters has, explicitly or tacitly, been accepted by much of the liberal world. How else to explain a recent Washington Post report that likened Abu Akleh’s death to that of Jamal Kashoggi, the Saudi journalist murdered and dismembered in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul? On what other grounds would the Atlantic, a liberal bellwether, have published an article by a Palestinian-American journalist comparing Israel to the Pakistani Islamists who kidnapped the Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl in 2002? Pearl, the article fails to mention, was tortured, beheaded, and cut into ten pieces.
Lurking in these and other articles is the assumption that Israel is waging a brutal war against journalists. The fact that Israel consistently loses that war—that the killing of reporters covering the Israel-Palestine conflict only increases the media’s focus on it—only reenforces that assumption. For who but a cruel and rapacious people would murder not for gain but merely for the sake of vindictiveness? Like the age-old accusations that Jews kidnap Christian children and use their blood for obscene rituals, the charge that Israel deliberately killed Abu Akleh and other innocent correspondents reflects an image of Jews as demonic. The suppression of free speech by annihilating those who champion it thus joins the lengthening list of sins—colonialism, racism, apartheid, genocide—cited to erase Israel’s legitimacy.
Even if the IDF does take responsibility for Abu Akleh’s death, apologizes, and compensates her family, their contrition is unlikely to alter or even to mitigate this trend. On the contrary, it will probably elicit charges of coverup and renewed claims of Israeli barbarity. Coverage of Abu Akleh’s death further evinces the sad fact that Israel is not judged in the court of public opinion for what it does, but for what it is: toxic.
It’s hard not to see how the poison spreads. The sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, all statistics show, is increasingly driven by anti-Zionism. The treatment of the Abu Akleh incident by many in the media and the government only fans that hatred. What began with a tragic accident in the streets of Jenin could conclude with deliberate attacks on the synagogues and day schools of America.
Michael Oren, formerly Israel’s ambassador to the United States, a member of the Knesset, and a deputy minister for diplomacy, is the author of the forthcoming Swann’s War.