Former prisoners reveal torture in Palestinian prisons
In broadcast dealing with one of most sensitive issues in Palestinian society, former prisoners in Gaza, West Bank provide painful testimonies of interrogation methods. Fatah admits phenomenon exists, while Hamas denies it, says 'prisons open to human rights groups'
Captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has not been afforded even one visit to his unknown whereabouts since he was taken captive by Hamas.
While his family, as well as security prisoners being held in Israeli prisoners have pled that this be rectified, it seems as though the treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Hamas and Fatah jails is far from upholding basic human rights – especially on the backdrop of the rift between PA regime in the West Bank and the Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip.
In the program, which was broadcast in a "commission of inquiry" format, the two prisoners claimed that torture during interrogations is a widespread practice. According to the data presented, some 100 Fatah member are being held in Hamas jails in the Gaza Strip, while some 500 Hamas members are jailed in the PA.
Speaking via satellite, a spokesperson from the Hamas interior ministry was quick to deny the allegations and provided an alternate version of events.
"There is no torture in our jails, and they are open to everyone. Human rights organizations follow the issue and make regular visits. All the media outlets can come and visit the facilities. Our interrogators are not masked, and every interrogation is listed in the minutes," said the spokesperson, Ehab a-Roussin.
However, the spokesperson's optimism did not succeed in unseating the testimony of Bilal Qawara, 22 from the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis, who comes from a family of Fatah supporters.
Wheelchair-bound, recounted what he endured at the hands of Hamas after being arrested in 2007 in an incident that killed two of his brothers.
"My life turned upside down. Before, I walked everywhere, and now – nothing. I just sit in my wheelchair and need someone to take be in order to go down the stairs," said the young man painfully. "Hamas broke into my house and snatched me away. I was interrogated for six hours. Afterwards, they threw me onto the street and shot me. I don't know who did it," Qawara recounted.
Since his injury, Bilal has undergone lengthy medical treatments in hospitals in the Gaza Strip and Israel. He is currently hospitalized in Ramallah.
'Hung in the air for full day'
It seems as though the situation on the other side is no better. Azzam al-Fahal, a bakery owner near Ramallah, was arrested last year by the Palestinian General Intelligence Services for membership in Hamas. Al-Fahal, a father of two, was suspected of holding arms. He was released only after promising to cease his activities.
In the BBC interview, he told of the horrors he endured for the two weeks he was jailed. "They handcuffed my hands and feet and beat me for an hour and a half. Afterwards, they put me in a cell in which I could neither sit nor stand.
"Moreover, the torture also had a psychological element as I was witness to the torture of Sheikh Majd al-Barghouti (who, according to Hamas, died as a result of the torture). My hands were tied with metal cuffs and I was hung in the air for an entire day," he recounted.
Unlike Hamas, the spokesperson for the PA General Intelligence Service in the West Bank General Adnan a-Demeiri admitted on the program that torture during interrogation and imprisonment does in fact exist. He emphasized that the torture is initiated and undertaken by insubordinate prison officers, who afterwards are tried for their actions.
"There are violations, but there is no policy of torture. We have tried officers that have strayed from orders. I do not deny that there were individual violations on the matter, but that was in the past. The situation now is different can be tracked," the Fatah spokesman said.
A-Demeir added, "More than 300 soldiers and officers have been tried for violating orders on torture-related matters or for harming personal dignity. This all comes on the backdrop of orders we receive from (Palestinian President) Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) to maintain the dignity of the prisoners."
A-Demeiri was joined on the program by a member of Fatah's Central Committee, Azzam al-Ahmad, who jeered at his Hamas rivals.
"Allegations of torture started since the split with Hamas. I do not deny that there were a few instances in which investigations were done illegally, but the matter has been taken care of. Even in the best democracies there are cases like this because the use of pain is a human phenomenon that exists everywhere, and we are fighting it.
"Until now, the security forces have not stuck to all 100% of the law, but the situation is getting better. Hamas does worse things than what happens in the West Bank," al-Ahmad said.
Another Hamas representative participating in the program, former minister Dr. Omar Abd al-Razeq, rejected these claims and pointed a finger back at Fatah.
"We condemn any use of torture and arrests on a political basis or organizational affiliation. Since the end of 2008, we did not make any political arrests. But if the subject has already been brought up, the PA authorities are the ones who torture in a variety of ways – be it wetting their cells or arresting their family members and threatening them," asserted al-Razeq.