In an interview that somehow failed to make headlines, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah admitted last week that torture occurs in PA facilities. Hamdallah, speaking on camera to the German outlet Deutsche Welle, ceded, “certain things happen, torture happens, but it is not the policy [of the Palestinian Authority].”
Reports of torture are common in Palestinian Authority prisons. Palestinian human rights groups announced in January that they had received over 150 complaints of abuse in 2015 alone. A recent report from the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor found that PA forces had summoned or detained over 2,000 Palestinians in 2015, and that of those detained, 179 reported “not being shown an arrest warrant, confiscation of belongings and even beatings with sticks and solitary confinement.” Similar numbers were confirmed by Amnesty International, which found that despite the prime minister’s assurances, the PA does not investigate torture allegations.
In recent years, under the increasingly autocratic regime of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, political dissidents have suffered abuse at the hands of the PA during administrative detentions and arrests without trial. Reports emerged during last year’s student council race at Birzeit University that the PA had arrested and beaten several Hamas-affiliated students. A Palestinian watchdog group accused the PA of using “violent means” against journalists in December. And ahead of a Palestinian teacher strike in February, the PA arrested and held nearly two dozen teachers.
Palestinians have little recourse in confronting the PA’s abuses, but they may find hope in the case of Ahmad al-Deek, a 23-year-old student who filed a lawsuit against the PA last year after being detained over a Facebook post that was critical of PA leadership. Of course, al-Deek is not the first Palestinian to be arrested for a Facebook post. But, in his case, he was deprived of sleep and beaten with sticks for five days for expressing his opinion on the social media platform. Depending on how it plays out, al-Deek’s legal battle may encourage other Palestinians who have experienced torture to step forward.
In his interview, Hamdallah acknowledged that “sometimes mistakes happen,” but insisted the PA was taking legal action against security forces accused of torture. Though the Palestinian Authority prime minister attempted to present a rather benign view of the Palestinian political climate, his government’s actions belie a greater truth: the room for dissent in the West Bank is shrinking, and those who challenge the system continue to pay a painful price.
Grant Rumley is a research fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @GrantRumley