Palestinian Authority: Running Israel’s Guantanamo ~ by @LinahAlsaafin

An Israeli soldier leads a handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinain man after he was arrested at an Israeli checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah on 17 September 2012. (Photo: AFP – Abbas Momani)

Scores of political detainees held in Israeli jails are released only to then be arrested by the Palestinian Authority, who is living up to its reputation of being Israel’s hired police force.

Thirty-year-old Alaa Sadeq from Qalqiliya spent nine and a half years in Israeli prisons before being released on 5 June 2012. Sadeq was charged with belonging to the political faction Hamas, as well as being active in the resistance against the Israeli occupation. Following his release, Sadeq began adapting to life outside of prison. His sister Mirvat tells of how he was busy getting his house ready for marriage. Sadeq got married on September 14. Four days later, he was hauled off and taken to the Qalqiliya detention facility.

Srour was among the 60 Palestinians arrested by the Palestinian Authority preventative security forces throughout the occupied West Bank on September 18th, in the PA’s biggest arrest rampage yet. The following day the PA arrested dozens more in Salfit, Hebron, Nablus, Tulkarem, and Qalqiliya, bringing the total number of political detainees to 114.

The arrested included a large number of Hamas supporters, nonaffiliated youth activists, university students, journalists, writers, and up to 35 ex-prisoners (in addition to some of their family members) who were freed in last year’s prisoners’ exchange deal which saw the release of 1027 Palestinian prisoners and one captured Israeli soldier.The PA arrested Adel Shawarweh from Bethlehem, who spent 13 years in Israeli prisons before his release through last year’s exchange deal. Legal researcher and former prisoner Fuad Khaffash of the Ahrar Center for Prisoners is also among the high profile names to be re-arrested by the PA. Most of the ex-prisoners had participated in the last mass 28 day hunger strike which began on April 17 and ended on May 14, with some losing up to 25 kilograms of their bodyweight in the process.

Political arrests by the PA of Palestinians in the West Bank are not a new phenomenon. In a study conducted by the prisoners’ rights group Addameer in 2009/2010, chapter two states that “Since the formation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, the PA security forces have arrested hundreds of Palestinians, not just from the rival faction of Hamas but many other members and cadres of the factions who oppose the approach of a political settlement.”

The same study defines political arrests as “the arbitrary arrest of anyone based on their political affiliation…the arrest or seizure of the freedom of any person against the backdrop of his partisan political affiliation or belief, or opinion, or opposition to or criticism of the existing political system or because of his sympathy with those who oppose this system.”

“Political and arbitrary arrests in the West Bank and Gaza have considerably lessened since the 2007 Fatah-Hamas division,” says director of Independent Human Rights Commission Farid al-Atrash, “but it is still present, unfortunately due to the lack of accountability and failure to hold others up to the law. The Palestinian law explicitly forbids the arrest of someone based on their political affiliation and ideology.”

Spokesperson of the security forces Adnan Dmeiri denied the fact that the recent wave of PA arrests carried any political dimensions.

“The recent arrests came on the basis of applying issues of law enforcement related to possession of arms that could provoke chaos in the West Bank,” he said on Thursday to Maan News Agency. Dmeiri went on to blame Hamas for “disturbing the Palestinian civil peace” by allying itself with “instigators of chaos.”

Fuad Khaffash and Anees Harb, from Nablus and Salfit respectively, have announced their open ended hunger strike in protest against their political detention. This isn’t the first time political detainees have used hunger strikes to secure their release from the eight PA detention facilities in the West Bank; earlier this summer, a small group of students who were all either supporters of Hamas or Islamic Jihad from Hebron University went on hunger strike in solidarity with their peers behind PA bars.Mohammad Abu Jneid, a student at Hebron University in the West Bank, was arrested by the PA in 2010 and sentenced to one year in prison. His detention was inexplicably renewed for another year, despite numerous calls for his release by various rights organizations. Abu Jneid protested by hunger striking for 25 days.

Fellow students Mohammad Sabarneh and Alaa al-Zaqaziq, who were imprisoned earlier this year, went on a hunger strike that lasted for 41 days and 48 days respectively protesting their detention and the targeting of students affiliated to Hamas by the PA.

Two days after the student elections took place in the spring semester at the same university, the PA preventative security forces began to pursue and arrest students affiliated with the Hamas student party, the Islamic bloc.

Human rights officer Hamed Qawasme conveyed that the students saw these arrests as based on their union work and activism and not, as the PA security forces alleged, based on security reasons.

“The security forces claimed that it had arrested the students based on criminal charges, such as the possession of guns, and not on political bases,” Qawasme said, yet he did not deny that Hamas students are systematically harassed and targeted by the PA.

In late June 2012, the Islamic bloc students staged a sit in, and a week later on July 2, six students embarked on a 21 day hunger strike, protesting political arrests and in solidarity with three of their peers mentioned above imprisoned by the PA who had already initiated their own hunger strike.

Maram Salem, a journalist for the Hebron-based Alam radio, relayed that the PA’s arrests of members of rival factions are not uncommon. “Political arrests are widespread throughout the West Bank,” she said. “A lot of the students affiliated with Hamas receive overt or veiled threats and always get summoned for interrogation by the PA and are kept under surveillance by agents of the PA.”

When the Hebron governor Kamel Hmeid ignored the students’ demands for the release of all students detained by the PA, the students then appealed to the PA Interior Minister, who signed and gave them a written obligation that the PA preventative security forces would not arrest or pursue students over their political activities on campus. The students broke their hunger strike, with one requiring immediate hospitalization as a result of kidney problems sustained during the strike.

A few days later, the student representative for the hunger strikers Rami Rajoub, who was previously detained by the PA, was arrested by the Israeli occupation forces on July 26 the night after he sat down for his last exam. Unfortunately, this basis of security coordination, where the PA arrests then releases a Palestinian only for Israel to arrest him shortly afterwards and vice versa, is also a common occurrence.

“The PA uses the excuse of arresting and holding Palestinians in their prisons based on ‘protecting’ the arrested from getting detained by Israel,” Hamed Qawasme clarified. “Families have responded by saying that they’d rather have their sons in Israeli prisons than PA ones, and some prisoners have even signed a paper contesting that they’ll take their chances regarding their potential arrests by Israel, and for the PA to just release them.”As for Alaa Sadeq, his lawyer has filed an appeal for his immediate release on bail. Sadeq’s family will hear what will become of him next Thursday after his court session was postponed twice, and have expressed their anger at the PA security forces.

“This isn’t the first time he has been arrested since his release in June,” says his sister Mirvat. “Two weeks after he was released from Israeli prison he was arrested and interrogated by the PA on his ‘activism within Israeli prison’ for two days.”

Addameer has called for the PA to immediately release all of its political detainees, and for a stop to the practice of political arrests and their denying responsibility for these arrests, in addition to ending political repression and suppression of speech, which according to the statement, “undermines our freedoms and collective and individual dignity.”

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