The Systematic Torture of Palestinians in Israeli Detention

torture israeli arrest palestinian prisoner

By Yara Hawari  


Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, the Israeli Security Agency has been torturing Palestinians. Al-Shabaka Senior Palestine Policy Fellow Yara Hawari argues that the use of torture in Israeli detention is systematic and legitimized through domestic law, and outlines steps for the international community to hold Israel to account and bring an end to these violations. 


The recent case of Samer Arbeed highlighted once again the systematic use of torture against Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons. Israeli soldiers arrested Arbeed at his home in Ramallah on September 25, 2019. They beat him severely before taking him to Al Moscobiyye detention center in Jerusalem for interrogation. Two days later, according to his lawyer, he was hospitalized as a result of severe torture, and lay in critical condition for several weeks. A judicial body had authorized the Israeli Secret Service, the Shin Bet, to use “exceptional methods” to extract information in this case without going through the courts. This led Amnesty International to condemn what happened to Arbeed as “legally-sanctioned torture.”  

In August 2019, shortly prior to Arbeed’s arrest, the Israeli occupation forces began a targeted campaign against Palestinian youth and arrested over 40 students from Birzeit University. The arrests increased after Arbeed’s detention and, as many of the students have been denied access to lawyers, it is expected that many have also been subjected to torture. 

The above actions are nothing new. Since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) has been systematically torturing Palestinians using a variety of techniques. And though many countries have incorporated the prohibition of torture into their domestic legislation (despite it remaining a widespread practice under the guise of state security), Israel has taken a different course: It has not passed domestic legislation prohibiting torture’s use, and its courts have allowed for torture to be used in cases of “necessity.” This has given the ISA free rein to use torture extensively against Palestinian political prisoners. 

This policy brief focuses on the use of torture in Israeli detention (both upon arrest and in prisons), tracing its historical as well as most recent developments. Building on the work of various Palestinian organizations, the brief argues that the practice of torture, embedded in the Israeli prison system, is systematic and legitimized through domestic law. It outlines clear steps for the international community to hold Israel to account and bring an end to these violations. 

Torture and the Law

The question of torture occupies an important place in discussions on ethics and morality. Many have argued that the practice of torture is reflective of a sick and corrupt society. Indeed, torture requires the total dehumanization of a person, and once that occurs the boundaries of the degradation are limitless. Moreover, whilst the common excuse offered by security apparatuses for the use of torture is that it can yield life-saving information, this has proven factually baseless. Many leading experts, and even CIA officials, argue that information obtained under torture is usually false. Detainees can be coerced into confessing anything in order to stop the pain they are enduring. 

The international legal regime prohibits torture through customary international law as well as a variety of international and regional treaties. Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” International humanitarian law, which governs the behavior of parties during conflict, also includes the prohibition of torture. For example, the Third Geneva Convention prohibits the “violence of life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment, and torture” as well as “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” Further, the Fourth Convention states: “No physical or moral coercion shall be exercised against protected persons, in particular to obtain information from them or from third parties.” Israel has not passed domestic legislation prohibiting torture, and its courts have allowed for torture to be used in cases of ‘necessity,’ giving Israel free rein to torture Palestinian political prisonersCLICK TO TWEET

So absolute is the prohibition on torture that it is considered jus cogens in international law, meaning that it is non-derogable and no other law can supersede it. Yet torture continues to be used by many countries around the world. Amnesty International defines it as a global crisis, stating that it has reported on violations of the prohibition on torture by a large majority of UN member states over the last five years. 

The US-led “war on terror” following 9/11 particularly led to horrific cases of systematic torture, especially inflicted on Arab and Muslim prisoners. The Guantanamo Bay detention camp, established by the US in 2002 to hold “terrorists,” has been and continues to be a site of torture. Images of prisoners blindfolded, shackled, and kneeling on the ground in orange jumpsuits were shared across the world. 

Yet perhaps the most defining images of this era came from the Abu Ghraib US military prison in Iraq. Leaked photos and soldiers’ reports revealed that the prison was the site of widescale torture, including the rape of men, women, and children.  The US administration at the time condemned these acts and tried to suggest that they were isolated incidents. Human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, reported to the contrary. 

Further, recent testimonies from Abu Ghraib reveal sinister links between US and Israeli interrogations. In a memoir, a former US interrogator in Iraq claimed that the Israeli army trained US personnel in various interrogation and torture techniques, including what became known as the “Palestinian chair,” in which a detainee is forced to lean over a chair in a crouched position with their hands tied to their feet. The excruciatingly painful practice was perfected on Palestinians – hence its name – and was adopted by the Americans in Iraq. 

Despite these scandals, very little action has been taken to protect prisoners of war, and torture continues to be justified in the name of security. In Donald Trump’s first interview after being sworn in as US president, he declared that, in the context of the “war on terror,” “torture works.” Works of popular culture, such as television programs like “24” and “Homeland,” also normalizes the use of torture, particularly against Arabs and Muslims, and promotes the idea that it is justified in the context of the greater good. There has also been a recent rise in television series and films dramatizing the activities of the Mossad and Shin Bet, such as “Fauda,” “The Spy,” and “Dead Sea Diving Resort,” all of which heroize the activities of the ISA whilst demonizing Palestinians as terrorists. These series and films present to the world an image of Israel that allows it to justify its violations of international law, including torture. 

Whilst Israel ratified the Convention against Torture (CAT) in 1991, it has failed to incorporate it into its domestic legislation. Moreover, despite the UN committee’s affirmation to the contrary, Israel claims that CAT does not apply to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. This allows Israel to assert that there is no crime of torture in Israel, with it actually permitted in cases of “necessity,” as was claimed in the Arbeed case. This “necessity” is also known as the “ticking bomb,” a security doctrine used by many governments to justify torture and violence in situations considered time sensitive.

Israel has also passed several rulings around the issue of torture that have bolstered and condoned the activities of its security services. For instance, in 1987 two Palestinians hijacked an Israeli bus and were subsequently captured, beaten, and executed by the Shin Bet. Although there was a gag order on the Israeli media, details of the torture and execution leaked and led to the establishment of a government commission. Whilst the commission concluded that “pressure [on detainees] must never reach the level of physical torture…a moderate measure of physical pressure cannot be avoided.” The commission’s recommendations were incompatible with international law due to their vague description of “a moderate measure of physical pressure,” and essentially gave Shin Bet free reign to torture Palestinians. 

Over a decade later, and as a result of petitioning from human rights organizations, the Israeli  Court of Justice issued a 1999 ruling to the effect that ISA interrogators were no longer allowed to use physical means in interrogations, thus outlawing the use of torture. The court ruled that four common methods of “physical pressure” (violent shaking, shackling to a chair in a stress position, prolonged frog crouching, and sleep deprivation) were unlawful. Yet the court added a clause that provided a loophole for interrogators, namely that those who use physical pressure will not face criminal responsibility if they are found to have done so in a ticking bomb situation or out of necessity for the state’s defense – in other words, if the detainee is found to be an immediate threat to public security. Children are not spared the ordeal of imprisonment and torture within the Israeli military system

Torture as a necessity in the name of security was reaffirmed in 2017 when the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled in favor of Shin Bet, who admitted to what they called “extreme forms of pressure” on Palestinian detainee Assad Abu Ghosh. The defense was that Abu Ghosh possessed information about an impending terrorist attack. The court considered it “enhanced interrogation” rather than torture, and declared that it was justified due to the ticking bomb doctrine. Such a ruling has been consistently repeated.

Though Palestinian human rights organizations regularly submit complaints to the Israeli authorities they rarely receive a reply, and when they do it is often to inform them that the case file has been closed due to a lack of evidence. In fact, 1,200 complaints have been leveled against the security services for torture since 2001, but no agent has ever been prosecuted.

The Israeli Prison System: Sites of Systematic Torture

Every year, the Israeli military prison system detains and incarcerates thousands of Palestinian political prisoners, mostly from the 1967 territories. Since the beginning of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the establishment of martial law over those areas, Israel has detained well over 800,000 Palestinians, amounting to 40% of the male population, or one-fifth of the population as a whole. 

Israeli law also permits the military to hold a prisoner for up to six months without a charge under a procedure known as administrative detention. This period can be indefinitely extended, with the “charges” kept secret. Prisoners, and their lawyers, thus do not know what they are charged with or what evidence is being used against them. On the last day of the six-month period, those detained in this way are informed if they will be released or have their detention extended longer. Addameer-the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association has defined this practice as itself a form of psychological torture

It is during the period of initial detention, whether administrative or otherwise, when prisoners are often deprived of contact with lawyers or family members that they are subjected to the most severe forms of interrogations and torture. If they reach trial, they face judgement from Israeli military personnel and are often denied adequate legal representation. This system is illegal under international law, and Palestinian and international human rights groups have documented a vast array of human rights violations.  

Children are not spared the ordeal of imprisonment and torture within the Israeli military system, and are nearly always denied the presence of parental guardianship during interrogations. One such example was in 2010, when Israeli border police arrested 16-year-old Mohammed Halabiyeh in his hometown of Abu Dis. Upon arrest the police broke his leg and beat him, intentionally kicking his injured leg. He was interrogated for five consecutive days and faced death and sexual assault threats. He was then hospitalized, during which time Israeli agents continued to abuse him by pushing syringes into his body and punching his face. Halabiyeh was tried and prosecuted as an adult, as is the case with all Palestinian child detainees over the age of 16 in direct contravention of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Israel arrests, detains, and prosecutes between 500-700 Palestinian children each year.

At present there are 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners; these include 190 child prisoners, 43 female prisoners, and 425 prisoners held under administrative detention, most of whom have been subjected to some form of torture. According to Addameer, the most common methods used by Shin Bet and interrogators include the following: 

  • Positional torture: Detainees are placed in stress positions, often with their hands tied behind their backs and their feet shackled whilst they are made to lean forward. They are left in such positions for prolonged periods of time during the interrogation process. 
  • Beatings: Detainees often suffer beatings, either by hand or with objects, and are sometimes knocked unconscious.
  • Solitary confinement: Detainees are placed in isolation or solitary confinement for long periods. 
  • Sleep deprivation: Detainees are prevented from resting or sleeping and are subjected to long interrogation sessions.
  • Sexual torture: Palestinian men, women, and children are subjected to rape, physical harassment, and threats of sexual violence. Verbal sexual harassment is a particularly common practice in which detainees are exposed to comments about themselves or their family members. This type of torture is often considered effective because the shame around sexual violations prevents detainees from revealing it. 
  • Threats on family members: Detainees hear threats of violence against family members to pressure them to cede information. There have been cases where family members have been arrested and interrogated in a nearby room so that the detainee can hear them being tortured.

The above methods of torture leave lasting damage. Whilst physical torture can leave serious bodily damage, including broken bones and chronic muscle and joint pain, especially as a result of stress positions or being confined to a small space, the psychological damage can be even worse, with such conditions as deep and lasting depression, hallucinations, anxiety, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts. Many mechanisms of torture require the complicity of actors within the Israeli military court system, including medical personnel

Many mechanisms of torture require the complicity of actors within the Israeli military court system, including medical personnel. This occurs despite the fact that the code of medical ethics as defined by the Declaration of Tokyo and Istanbul Protocol includes the stipulation that doctors must not cooperate with interrogators conducting torture, must not share medical information with torturers, and must actively oppose torture. In fact, Israeli doctors have long been complicit in the torture of Palestinian detainees and prisoners. Over the years journalists have uncovered documents that reveal doctors signing off on torture as well as writing false reasons for injuries sustained in interrogations. 

Doctors are also complicit in force feeding – another, albeit less common, mechanism of torture used by the Israeli regime. Force feeding requires a detainee to be tied down as a thin tube is inserted through a nostril and pushed to the stomach. Liquid is then dripped through the tube in an effort to replenish the body. Medical personnel must place the tube, which can end up going through the mouth or the windpipe instead of the esophagus, in which case it has to be retracted and replaced. Not only does this cause great pain, but can also lead to serious medical complications and even death.

In the 1970s and 1980s several Palestinian prisoners died from being force fed, resulting in a cessation order from Israel’s High Court. However, a 2012 Knesset law reinstated force feeding’s legality in an attempt to break Palestinian hunger strikes. In an address to the Israeli prime minister in June 2015, the World Medical Association stated that “force feeding is violent, often painful, and often [goes] against the principle of individual autonomy. It is a degrading treatment, inhumane, and may amount to torture.” 

Disrupting Israeli Torture 

For Palestinians, torture is just one facet of the structural violence they face at the hands of the Israeli regime, which entraps them in an open-air prison and deprives them of their fundamental rights. It is also one that receives little attention from the international community, usually because the Israeli authorities use arguments of state security bolstered by the “war on terror” narrative. This was the case with Samer Arbeed, who the Israeli media portrayed as a terrorist, resulting in most states maintaining silence on his treatment despite being petitioned and lobbied by many Palestinian and international human rights organizations. As with all violations against the Palestinian people, Israeli torture calls into question the utility of the international legal regime. 

On May 13, 2016, the UN Committee against Torture recommended more than 50 measures to Israel following a review of its compliance with the Convention against Torture, including that all interrogations should have audio and visual documentation, that detainees be allowed independent medical examinations, and that administrative detention be put to an end. These are, of course, important recommendations, and Israel should be made to comply with them. Yet in a time when third state actors are generally unwilling to hold Israel to account for violating international law and Palestinian rights, they are not enough. Torture receives little attention from the international community, usually because the Israeli authorities use arguments of state security bolstered by the ‘war on terror’ narrative

The following are some steps that those working for Palestinian rights in the international and domestic arenas can take with the aim of disrupting the systematic nature of Israeli torture:

  • Organizations and groups should build cases of individual criminal liability outside of Israel and Palestine for those involved in the torture of Palestinians. Accountability can be extended not only to those who commit the torture but also those that aid, abet, and omit information about it. This includes interrogators, military judges, prison guards, and doctors. As torture is a jus cogens war crime, it is subject to universal jurisdiction, meaning that third parties are capable of submitting criminal complaints against individuals. Whilst individual criminal liability does not necessarily address the systematic structure of torture against Palestinians, it puts pressure on involved Israeli individuals by limiting their movement and travel to other countries.
  • As the only viable independent judicial body capable of ending impunity for violations of Palestinian rights, the International Criminal Court has a responsibility to hold Israel accountable. The Office of the Prosecutor, with all the information and detailed reports that have been presented to it, should launch a formal investigation into violations within the Israeli prison system. 
  • State signatories to the Geneva Conventions and international human rights organizations need to pressure the International Committee of the Red Cross to uphold its mandate to protect Palestinian detainees and open an investigation into all accusations of torture. 
  • Palestinian civil society and institutions should continue to support those working to aid victims of torture. Such support can be enhanced by a dedicated and focused effort to expand these resources and make them accessible in all areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This should also include working to break the taboo of seeking therapeutic care and lifting the stigma around sexual assault. Sexual assault is usually not dealt with fully because victims are too ashamed to discuss their ordeal, and the lack of disclosure makes healing more difficult. Creating safer spaces for individual and collective testimonies is key to helping survivors recover.

With such concerted actions, Palestinians and their allies can work toward limiting the practice of torture so thoroughly embedded in the Israeli prison system and given cover by Israeli law, whilst also working toward helping those to heal who have suffered it. 

(Source / 28.11.2019) 

The Escalation of Israeli Collective Punishment of Palestinians

By Nada Awad 

The Israeli authorities forcibly transferred Palestinian Nadia Abu Jamal from Jerusalem in 2017, following the demolition of her family home in 2015. Israel’s National Insurance Institute also revoked healthcare and other social security entitlements from Abu Jamal’s three children, two of whom suffer from chronic medical conditions. The orders came as punitive measures after her husband, Ghassan, was killed while allegedly carrying out an attack. They demonstrate Israel’s expansion of policies that punish Palestinian individuals for offenses they did not commit.

Israel has used collective punishment against Palestinians since the military occupation began in 1967 through home demolitions and psychological and economic warfare against the families of alleged attackers – a violation of international law. While implemented across the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), the Israeli authorities have intensified measures on the families and extended families of alleged attackers in East Jerusalem in particular, and especially since 2015.

For example, Israeli lawmakers have proposed legislation over the last few years that would legalize actions such as those taken against Abu Jamal by officially enabling the state to revoke the permanent residency status of family members of alleged attackers. In December 2018 the Israeli Knesset passed the preliminary reading of a bill that would allow the forcible transfer of families of alleged Palestinian attackers from their hometowns to other areas of the West Bank. Netanyahu expressed support for the bill, declaring: “Expulsion of terrorists is an effective tool. To me the benefit exceeds the damage. Jurists say it’s against the law given how it’s defined, and it will surely be a legal challenge, but I have no doubt of its effectiveness.”

This commentary tracks the rise in Israeli collective punishment against alleged attackers’ families through such acts as forcible transfer, home demolitions, and economic warfare, and suggests possibilities for countering Israel’s efforts to inscribe these methods into law to use them to intensify the displacement of Palestinians from Jerusalem.

The Expansion of Forcible Transfer

Forcible transfer has been at the heart of Israeli policy to attain and maintain a Jewish majority in Jerusalem since Israel’s de facto annexation in 1967. 1 To reach this demographic goal, Israel implements discriminatory urban planning to limit the growth of the Palestinian population while Israeli law makes it difficult for Palestinians to either stay in or move to the city.

Palestinians living in Jerusalem following 1967 were ascribed the legal status of permanent resident. The Entry into Israel Law makes it easy for the state to revoke their permanent resident status by providing the Minister of Interior the prerogative to rescind the residencies of Palestinians based on the following criteria: living abroad for more than seven years; obtaining foreign nationality or permanent residency abroad; failing to prove “center of life” in Israel; and, since 2018, “breaching allegiance” to Israel.

Such revocation of residency rights is a direct means of forcible displacement, as Palestinians in this situation are denied even the right to be physically present in Jerusalem. These Jerusalem residency laws also restrict family unification for Palestinian Jerusalem residents with family members who do not hold Jerusalem residency or Israeli citizenship. For Palestinian Jerusalem residents who choose to reunite with family in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or diaspora, the result is the revocation of their residency rights in Jerusalem, leading to their forcible transfer from the city.Forcible transfer has been at the heart of Israeli policy to attain a Jewish majority in Jerusalem since Israel’s de facto annexation in 1967 Click To Tweet

Since the adoption of the 2003 temporary order to the Law of Citizenship and Entry into Israel, family unification applicants are barred from receiving permanent residency status. In other words, a non-Jerusalemite Palestinian who marries a Jerusalemite Palestinian cannot receive permanent residency status but is instead given periodic permits if the Israeli Ministry of Interior accepts the family unification application. The policy places Palestinians in Jerusalem at risk of being separated from their family and often coerces them to move from Jerusalem to live with spouses who are not granted the permits; they subsequently permanently lose their right to live there. There have been 14,500 Palestinian residencies revoked since 1967, with 11,500 of them executed since 1995.  

In October 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that the government was examining the “abolition of family unification” and the “revocation of residency and citizenship status of assailants’ families.” Such was the case for Nadia Abu Jamal, who hailed from a West Bank village. After she married Ghassan, and following a long family unification procedure, she obtained temporary residency permits to live in Jerusalem that she renewed annually. Following her husband’s alleged attack, the Ministry of Interior ordered Nadia to leave the city and moved to reject issuance of any permits to which she might apply. In January 2017, the police arrested Nadia at her in-laws’ home, where she had been staying since the punitive demolition of her own home, and forcibly transferred her outside of Jerusalem.

The pattern of the Abu Jamal case has since been repeated, and on a larger scale. The Israeli Ministry of Interior declared after an alleged attack in January 2017: “From now on anyone who plots, plans, or considers carrying out an attack will know that his family will pay a heavy price for his deed.” Aryeh Deri, speaking on behalf of the ministry, warned that “consequences will be harsh and far-reaching.”

The “far-reaching” consequences were clear in the case of Fadi Qunbar, who was accused of committing a car attack in July 2017. Deri revoked the permanent residency status of Qunbar’s 61-year-old mother in addition to 11 family unification permits held by his extended family. Among the 11 individuals to lose their right to live in Jerusalem was the husband of the daughter of Qunbar’s half-sister. The expansive scope of Deri’s application of the law marked a clear extension in the reach of punitive residency revocation. All of the Qunbar family members are waiting on a decision on whether they will be forcibly transferred from their homes.

The Qunbar case is just one example of how Israel has stepped up collective punishment measures in certain cases, establishing a precedent that paves the way for laws that allow such practices to be used in a widespread manner. In 2016 and 2017, Israeli lawmakers introduced at least four bills that would give legal basis for the revocation of residency permits of both persons who allegedly commit an attack and their extended families. Three of the four bills were amendments to Article 11 of the Entry into Israel Law.

The first, P/20/2463, allows the Ministry of Interior to revoke permanent residency status from alleged assailants and their relatives, in addition to rights related to the National Insurance Law and other laws. “There is no logic behind granting equal rights to residents who act against the state and giving them the ability to enjoy the social benefits which accompany one’s being a permanent resident in the State of Israel,” the bill stated. Shortly after, bill P/20/2808 stipulates that the Ministry of Interior can cancel a visa or permanent residency status of “family members of a person who commits a terrorist act or has contributed to committing that act through knowledge, help, encouragement, and support before, during, or after committing the terrorist act.” Bill P/20/3994 “gives the Minister of Interior the relevant right to exercise discretion with regard to the committing of terrorist acts.” And, as mentioned above, in December 2018, bill P/20/3458, which would allow for the “expulsion of families of terrorists on nationalistic grounds,” passed the preliminary reading at the Knesset. The bill would grant the Israeli army the authority to “expel the families of assailants who perpetrate or try to perpetrate a terror attack” within seven days. It calls for the forcible transfer of families of alleged Palestinian attackers in any area of the West Bank.

In addition, in March 2018, the Israeli parliament adopted an amendment to the Entry into Israel Law, allowing for the punitive revocation of the residency status of Palestinians based on “breach of allegiance.” Such revocation is prohibited under Article 45 of the Hague Regulations of the Fourth Geneva Convention which explicitly forbids the occupying power from demanding allegiance from the occupied population. Using a criterion as vague as allegiance, Israel can revoke the residency status of any Palestinian in Jerusalem.

Psychological and Economic Warfare

In 2015, the Israeli security cabinet upheld the demolition of an alleged attacker’s home as a legitimate punitive practice and called for the prohibition on new construction at the site of the demolished home and confiscation of the property itself. Since November 2014, Israel’s High Court of Justice overturned 11 cases in which families from Jerusalem appealed demolition orders, confirming the Israeli military’s decision to punitively demolish or seal homes. Out of five houses sealed off and confiscated, three were filled with concrete, making their sealing irreversible. This leaves the families of alleged attackers homeless and leads to their internal displacement.

These moves have come after a decade-long halt in home demolitions. An Israeli military committee in 2005 concluded that punitive house demolitions had counterproductive results, leading Israeli executive authorities to suspend the practice with some exceptions before resuming in 2014.The families of alleged attackers often find themselves isolated from a society that is afraid of retaliation measures Click To Tweet

Israel also withholds the bodies of Palestinians killed during alleged attacks as a form of collective punishment against families. In 2016, the Israeli parliament adopted an amendment to the Israeli Counterterrorism Law of 2016 that grants the Israeli police this authority. Since October 2015, Israel has withheld the bodies of 194 Palestinians, 32 of whom still remain in Israeli morgues. 2 In many cases, bodies have been conditionally returned to the family for burial following a long legal battle. Conditions required by the Israeli authorities for release often include an immediate burial – thus barring autopsy – that also must take place at night and be attended by a limited number of approved people.

New collective punishment measures have also targeted families’ livelihoods. The Israeli Minister of Defense issued several money confiscation orders against families of alleged attackers through the Combating Terror Law of 2016. The minister declared that confiscation is warranted on the basis that the money serves as compensation for the attack. In August 2017, Israeli police forces stormed several houses belonging to families of alleged attackers and confiscated large sums of money. For instance, the Israeli Minister of Defense confiscated $4,000 from the Manasra family after the Israeli army killed Hasan Manasra, 15, in 2015 during an alleged stabbing incident in a Jerusalem settlement. This new collective punishment measure aims at keeping families of alleged attackers in fear of reprisal and targets their basic economic resources.

In another precedent-setting action, the Israeli government filed two civil lawsuits against the wife and four children of Fadi Qunbar as well as the wife and five children of Misbah Abu Sbeih, who allegedly committed attacks in East Jerusalem in October 2016. The lawsuit against the Qunbar family demanded the family pay $2.3 million, while the lawsuit against the Abu Sbeih family imposed a sum that amounted to over one million dollars. The Jerusalem District Prosecutor’s office stated: “This lawsuit, which stems from a terrorist incident in which soldiers were murdered, is designed to recover the expenses incurred in events of this kind to the state’s coffers, as well as sending a clear message that the state will also settle accounts on a civil level with the perpetrators of hostile acts.” The office also stated: “In light of the fact that the [terrorist] caused the damage, his legal heirs are the ones who need to bear it and indemnify the state for it.”

The families of alleged attackers often find themselves isolated from a society that is afraid of retaliation measures. Today, victims of collective punishment by Israel are more and more reluctant to fight or report violations out of fear of further retaliation by the Israeli authorities. Following months and sometimes years of collective punishment, Palestinians often hope that their silence might shelter them from further punitive measures. This fear of retaliation and the attendant erosion of intra-Palestinian solidarity as a result of the expanding arbitrariness of state retaliatory power has deepened Israel’s impunity in regard to its violations of the international prohibitions on collective punishment.

Directives of International Law

International human rights law affirms the prohibition of collective punishment. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention affirms that “no protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.”

Moreover, the forcible transfer of Palestinians is a violation of international law, as Palestinians are considered a protected population. Indeed, international bodies have repeatedly affirmed the status of Jerusalem as an occupied city, designating the Palestinian people as “protected persons.” Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the forcible transfer of the protected Palestinian population and considers it a war crime. If used in a systematic and widespread manner, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court considers it a crime against humanity. 3 Israel’s collective punishment measures also violate the prohibition against the destruction and appropriation of property of protected persons.The international community’s opposition to Israel’s use of collective punishment has rarely risen above the level of verbal condemnation Click To Tweet

Further, the UN General Assembly declared in 2016 that “in addition to amounting to collective punishment, the withholding of bodies is inconsistent with Israel’s obligations as an occupying Power pursuant to the Fourth Geneva Convention (articles 27 and 30) and violates the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment.”

Israel is also forbidden from attempting to use state of emergency or security rationales to justify the violation of legal norms established by international human rights law. The UN Human Rights Committee has noted that the prohibition against collective punishment is non-derogable, even in states of emergency. Yet Israel consistently uses the security rationale to escalate punitive policies against the Palestinian population with the aim of forcible transfer.

Within the principles of international customary law, third states are responsible for preventing ongoing violations of humanitarian law by investigating, prosecuting, withholding aid or recognition, and cooperating to end the grave breach, including through retaliation measures against the violating states. However, the international community’s opposition to Israel’s use of collective punishment has rarely risen above the level of verbal condemnation. It is up to Palestinians and the Palestinian solidarity movement to pressure the international community and Israel to discontinue these violations.

Countering Collective Punishment

1. It is imperative for Palestinians and their allies to raise awareness in the media and civil society of Israel’s use of collective punishment as a means of forcible transfer, and to highlight this as a war crime and crime against humanity. This can help prioritize the topic on the UN’s agenda.

2. Palestinians should also pressure the International Criminal Court (ICC) to add collective punishment to its list of prosecutable crimes. The ongoing ICC preliminary investigation into potential breaches of international law throughout the OPT should be monitored, as it is a test case for international law regarding collective punishment. The naming of collective punishment as a criminal act by the ICC would be a step toward ending Israeli impunity, allowing for prosecution of this violation of basic human rights.

3. It is thus imperative to assist victims in submitting their cases of collective punishment to the ICC section that is dedicated to facilitating the participation of victims.

It is through holding Israeli war criminals to account that policies of collective punishment against Palestinians, leading to their forcible transfer from Jerusalem, will cease.

(Source / 21.02.2019)

Abbas and the Farce of Palestinian Democracy

By Yara Hawari 

Since Mahmoud Abbas’s accession to the Palestinian Authority (PA) presidency in 2005, he has dominated the Palestinian political scene by consolidating his grip over various institutions while constraining opposition parties and figures. In addition to the split between Hamas and Fatah, which has been a formidable stumbling block for internal Palestinian politics, this has left little room for democracy and popular political participation. Indeed, Abbas is now entering a decade past his elected mandated term as PA president.

In December 2018, in a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive meeting, Abbas announced a new Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ruling that called for the dissolution of the PA’s Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and for elections to be held within six months. The following day, Hamas rejected this, stating that the decision was not constitutional and that neither Abbas nor the SCC were permitted to dissolve the PLC. Hamas instead called for general elections for the presidency as well as for the PLC and the Palestinian National Council – the legislative body of the PLO.

This month, Abbas stated that the legislative elections would only take place if they include East Jerusalem. Yet the current Israeli regime has been clear that it would never allow for such Palestinian political activity in Jerusalem, as this would challenge Israeli claims of sovereignty over the entire city. Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the PLO Executive Committee and chief negotiator, said that the dissolution of the PLC is part of the transition phase for the PA into statehood; he even went so far as to call for general elections for a constituent assembly for the state of Palestine. Yet this too is unlikely in the context of political fragmentation.

Knowing this and likely knowing that Hamas would challenge the ruling, why did Abbas and his allies dissolve the PLC? It is important to note that Hamas has dominated the PLC since the 2006 elections; it holds 76 seats out of 132, while Fatah only holds 43 seats. However, since the split between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the PLC has been a dormant body, leaving the PA legislative process stagnant. Abbas has increasingly ruled by presidential decree in the face of this lack of an effective legislature. The dissolution of the PLC would allow Abbas to consolidate his power further by moving much of the decision-making process to the PLO Central Council, in which Hamas does not exist. In this way, Abbas can increase political pressure on Hamas.Through the dissolution of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Abbas can place the blame for a lack of democracy on Hamas and Israel Click To Tweet

The Basic Law (essentially the constitution) also contains a clause stating that if the president is unable to fulfil their role (that is, if they die), the chair of the PLC takes up the position for 60 days before a general election. The current chair of the PLC is Aziz Duwaik, a Hamas member.

It is also likely that Abbas wanted to decrease pressure from the international community to democratize the PA’s institutions and political processes. Through this move Abbas can place the blame for a lack of democracy (and unity) on Hamas, which is refuting the legitimacy of the dissolution of the PLC, and Israel, who will not allow elections in East Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Palestinian confidence in the political system continues to dwindle, particularly among youth. The PA is increasingly criticized for its corruption, repression of opposition, and inability to stand up to Israel, which continues to tighten its military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and apply collective punitive measures on all Palestinians. This has created a situation in which a Palestinian political system cannot flourish. Israel frequently imprisons Palestinian political figures, some of whom, such as Marwan Barghouti and Khalida Jarrar, have suffered lengthy incarcerations. In addition, Israel’s policies are designed to weaken and divide the Palestinian liberation movement. Overall, Israel has created a situation in the West Bank and Gaza in which, for most Palestinians, basic survival now supersedes political organizing and participation.

Increasing Democratic Space

  • It is clear that the PA will not achieve Palestinian liberation, nor will it be able to establish any kind of Palestinian sovereignty. Reform and revival of PLO institutions must be prioritized by those within the leadership who seek to democratize Palestinian politics. Focus must be on the decentralization of power and governance within the PLO; this would reduce the PA’s grip on the PLO’s overall liberation project. Within this process credible mechanisms of vertical and horizontal accountability must be established.
  • Political elites in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are influential within the security apparatus; this conflation must be rectified as it has resulted in increasing authoritarian, securitized measures against political activity that challenges the status quo.
  • Palestinian civil society and activists across historic Palestine and the diaspora need to call for a democratically elected, accountable, and representative leadership. This must be a collective call with measures to protect those who are vulnerable to repression and harassment from the security forces.
  • The international community needs to step up its efforts to pressure the Israeli regime to respect Palestinian rights. This includes allowing Palestinian democratic processes to take place in East Jerusalem in accordance with international law.
  • Furthermore, the international community must cease to encourage the domination of one political party or faction through its no contact policy with Hamas and others and through its designation of the majority of Palestinian political parties as “terrorist organizations.” It needs to show readiness to embrace a unified Palestinian leadership with all parties and factions represented.

(Source / 29.01.2019)

Allying Against Iran: Repercussions for Palestine

When the Iran deal – or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – was signed three years ago, Al-Shabaka analysts did not see significant changes in store for US-Palestinian relations, although they predicted that Palestinians’ situation would worsen when the US inevitably placated Israel and its lobby for, in Ali Abunimah’s words, “mildly defying” them. 1 Indeed, the following year, the US pledged to give Israel $38 billion in military assistance over a 10-year period – the largest military aid package ever given to Israel, or to any country, by the US.

Now, with the Trump administration having pulled out of the JCPOA and the US reinstituting sanctions against Iran, what does the U-turn mean for Palestinians? Diana Buttu, Osamah Khalil, and Mouin Rabbani examine how the closer relations among Israel, the US, and the Gulf states – with Iran as their common enemy – have informed US actions to the detriment of Palestinians, the repercussions of these developments on Hamas-Iran relations, and what Palestinians can do to challenge the forces against them.

Osamah Khalil

The benefits to Israel were in evidence before the US withdrew from the JCPOA, particularly with Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. The level of coordination and shared perspectives between the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government appears to be even closer than the cordial relationship between George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon. At the same time, Trump’s Jerusalem announcement fit into a broader historical pattern of the US attempting to impose a solution on the Palestinians and appeared to have the support of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It also appears that Trump’s eventual peace plan will rely in part on Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other Arab states pressuring Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership to accept a proposal that will be far less than their minimal demands. Washington will again blame the Palestinians for failing to seize the moment and will demonize the Palestinian leadership, including calls for change. This has already begun and was demonstrated again with the interview given by Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law and advisor, to al-Quds.

In some respects, Abbas has already prepared for this with his convening of a Palestinian National Council (PNC) meeting in April. The PNC members were Fatah cronies selected by Abbas. Although the goal was to provide Abbas with the appearance of legitimacy at a time when his domestic and international support has waned, it had the opposite effect. Abbas further demonstrated how ineffectual and unimaginative he and the Palestinian leadership have become.

Palestine and the Palestinians remain the major impediment to open and friendly relations between Israel and the Arab Gulf states. Although the Gulf states publicly object to Israel’s continuing occupation and oppression of the Palestinians and unwillingness to reach an agreement that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state, their protestations are increasingly less strident and support for Palestinian self-determination is not a priority. Instead, the Gulf states are focused on maintaining and extending their rule as well as curtailing Iran’s real or perceived influence.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is susceptible to pressure from the Arab governments, Israel, and the United States because it is dependent on aid for its survival. Moreover, the PA’s authoritarian rule is in line with that of other Arab states. The PA’s repression of critics is not merely to satisfy Israel and the United States, although those are important factors, but to ensure the continued dominance of a discredited leadership whose rule is maintained by patronage, fear, and a perceived lack of alternatives. With Abbas in poor health, it is likely that his replacement will be an individual from the security services who has been approved by Israel and the United States. Indeed, there are reportsthat representatives of the Palestinian security services have held meetings with their Israeli and Arab counterparts to prepare for the announcement of the Trump plan. Thus, Palestinians can expect an even more repressive PA that seeks to curry favor with the Trump administration, Israel, and the Arab states.

One way to challenge the US and its allies in the region is to focus on divestment from fossil fuelsCLICK TO TWEET

As for Hamas, it is in a difficult position. Although it still holds power in Gaza, regionally it is weaker than ever before. Nor has it demonstrated an ability to break Israel’s siege on Gaza or improve the movement’s standing regionally or internationally. Relations between Hamas and Iran and Syria are strained. It has a tenuous marriage of convenience with Egypt. Its ties to Qatar have also weakened, although Turkey has provided some limited support. Meanwhile, the US and Israel continue to portray Hamas as an extension of Iran’s influence in the region. Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah have encouraged this portrayal.

Though Abbas has negotiated and signed multiple national unity agreements with Hamas, he has no intention of implementing them without the movement’s total surrender. Abbas and his advisors do not appear to care how many Palestinians in Gaza suffer as a result of their policies, as they have hoped for over a decade that if conditions in Gaza are intolerable the population will eventually overthrow Hamas. Meanwhile, Abbas and the PA security services conveniently label any critic of their repressive rule as Hamas supporters. They have even extended this to protests in support of Palestinians in Gaza, as occurred recently in Ramallah. The PA’s security services and Fatah thugs dispersed a June protest with violence, intimidation, and sexual harassment. With the US’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, the above trends can be expected to continue.

As in Yemen and Gaza, Washington and its allies view Syria as another arena to curtail Iranian influence, real or perceived. Bashar al-Assad’s regime currently has the advantage against the opposition, whose control over territory is shrinking and support from outside powers has decreased. Regime and allied forces have recaptured most of the territory held by the opposition in southern Syria and may focus their efforts on Idlib next. At the same time, there is a concerted effort by the United States, Israel, Turkey, and the Arab Gulf states to ensure that Syria remains divided and unstable. As demonstrated by the destruction of the Yarmouk refugee camp, Syrian Palestinians will reflect the country’s political and geographic fragmentation.

As part of a broader Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) effort, there are opportunities to challenge the policies of the US and its allies in the region. One way is to focus on divestment from fossil fuels by major pensions funds and employers. Although Saudi Arabia and the UAE are attempting to diversify their economies, they are still heavily reliant on revenues from oil. Indeed, there is already a concerted effort by leading universities, cities, states, and major employers in the United States and internationally 2 to divest from these holdings. Studies indicate that divestment from fossil fuels coupled with investment in renewable energy can have a positive impact on portfolio performance. Activists and civil society organizations can therefore make a financial and moral argument in favor of divestment.

Similarly, the United States benefits through the recycling of petrodollars, particularly through arms sales to the Persian Gulf autocracies. A divestment effort focused on major military contractors, in particular those whose weapons have been used across the region, can demonstrate the implications of the policies and actions of the US and its allies in the region as well as the complicity of investors in gross human rights abuses. This is particularly important as many pension funds and major investors have corporate and investment responsibility guidelines and policies.

These actions would dovetail with existing BDS efforts focused on divestment from companies benefiting from the Israeli occupation. This can be expanded by emphasizing the shared interests and policies of the Trump administration, Netanyahu’s government, and the Gulf autocracies.

Diana Buttu

It is important to highlight how Israel benefited both from the JCPOA and from the US withdrawal from it. It is also important to underscore that Israel continues to evade de-nuclearization by continuing with its clandestine nuclear program. By some estimates, Israel has between 80 to 400 nuclear warheads, yet Israel has never submitted to inspections or even declared that it has nuclear weapons despite the real threat that it poses to Palestinians and neighboring countries. It is this double standard – one standard for Israel and other for Iran – and the benefits that Israel has reaped despite refusing to submit to inspections that should be highlighted.

Meanwhile, Israel’s strategy toward Iran is the same strategy it has adopted toward Palestinians: Make a ruckus and demand harsh sanctions with concomitant aid or weapons, and after receiving the compensation, push for the cancellation of any agreement and for even more aid and even more weapons. With the US withdrawing from the JCPOA, Israel will continue to demand even more US aid and weaponry while simultaneously attempting to link Hamas with Iran with the aim of ensuring that it has carte blanche to maintain the siege on Gaza and demand additional sanctions against Palestinians in exchange for not attacking Iran. The current US regime will undoubtedly oblige, given Trump’s close relationship with Sheldon Adelson, who has not only bankrolled Israel’s Birthright program, an Israeli university in an illegal settlement, and the right-wing newspaper Israel Hayom, but has donated to Trump’s campaign and had expressed frustration that Trump had not moved the embassy sooner. This will mean that while Israel continues to build and expand settlements in the West Bank, it will push to impose an even harsher blockade on Gaza under the guise of fighting Iran.

Israel benefited both from the Iran deal and from the US withdrawal from itCLICK TO TWEET

Assistance from Arab neighbors cannot be counted on. For decades, the Arab world’s support for Palestine has never been unconditional, and for several years countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia have simply paid lip service that they support Palestinian freedom. These countries, like others around the world, are driven by their own narrow interests and not by larger regional interests. This means that, when fearing Iran’s nuclear program, they willingly side with Israel, fulfilling the adage that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” Their views, however, are shortsighted: Though Jordan has cozier relations with Israel than with other countries in the Arab world, this has not prevented Israel from killing Jordanian citizens with impunity or stealing Jordanian resources. It will simply be a matter of time before Israel once again turns against these nations.

The cozier relationship between Israel and the Gulf states may also translate into increased pressure on Palestinians to accept any proposed American “deal.” In the past, Palestinians were believed to be the key to normalizing relations between Israel and the Arab world. Now, however, the Trump administration is viewing things through a different lens: Palestinians will be delivered through the Arab world. Using this logic, the Trump administration will continue to exert pressure on Iran to appease Israel and the Gulf states, with the quid pro quo that these same Gulf states will exert pressure on Palestinians. Again, this is shortsighted: Palestinians will not support any leader who makes these major capitulations to their rights, and it will only be a matter of time before the tide turns against such leaders, too.

Mouin Rabbani

The US withdrawal from the JCPOA has been an Israeli strategic objective from the moment the agreement was signed, and thus represents a major Israeli achievement and one that will further embolden Israel regionally and strengthen its sense of impunity in its dealings with the Palestinians. It is also relevant to note that this US decision was accompanied by a number of others, such as the US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the US assault on UNRWA, and the US withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, that were conceived and implemented as US measures to further strengthen Israel in its relationship with the Palestinians. In other words, we are dealing with a US administration that is not only fully aligned with Israel like its predecessors, but is increasingly aligned with the most extreme forces in Israel when it comes to the Palestinians and the Question of Palestine more broadly.

On this basis, the question is not so much how the US renunciation of its international legal obligations pursuant to the JCPOA will affect the Palestinians, but rather how this decision reflects a broader US initiative to align even more closely with Israeli policy. And what we have seen is a change in US policy, from becoming a tireless advocate and uncritical defender of Israel policy to what might better be characterized as an implementer of Israeli policy, including vis-à-vis the Palestinians. If Palestinian civil society wants to make a meaningful contribution to opposing these developments it should focus primarily on the rejuvenation of the Palestinian national movement.

It also seems fairly clear that the US is determined to pursue increasingly confrontational policies toward Iran, both in the region and with the objective of regime change in Tehran. And in this context the constant denunciation of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Palestinians more generally as Iranian proxies, much like the PLO was habitually written off as a Soviet proxy during the Cold War, suggests that the US considers Israel’s war against the Palestinians as contributing to its own campaign against Tehran. We have seen this with the tirades in the UN Security Council by US Permanent Representative Nikki Haley, and in Jared Kushner’s obscene censure of murdered Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza as “part of the problem.” Hence we should expect even greater Israeli impunity in its dealings with the Palestinians.

The reality of Iran-Hamas relations is that they took a substantial turn for the worse after the Hamas leadership broke with the Assad regime and relocated to Qatar in 2012, and Iran began to focus primarily on assisting Islamic Jihad. Relations began to improve again with the installation of the current Hamas leadership, particularly Yahya Sinwar. Sinwar’s approach has been that Hamas cannot afford to limit its regional relationships to Qatar and Turkey, and has thus sought to diversify them by reaching out not only to Iran but also Egypt and others. The new Hamas leadership also felt it was important to repair relations with Tehran because Iran, along with Hizbullah, are its main sources of military support (a form of support it did not receive from Qatar or Turkey, at a time when the Abdel Fattah El-Sisi regime in Egypt has severely constrained its ability to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip via the Sinai Peninsula).

Iran recognized that while it may have more affinity with Islamic Jihad, Hamas is much larger and more influentialCLICK TO TWEET

For its part Iran recognized that while there may be more affinity between Iran and Islamic Jihad, Hamas is a much larger and more influential organization. So the relationship had already been improving for reasons that have little to do with the US renunciation of the JCPOA. But with both Iran and the Palestinians now under siege by the Trump administration, and the prospect of a new conflict substantially greater, this will have helped strengthen the relationship further.

In regard to Arab regimes, there is no doubt that they would like to be rid of the Palestinian question in order to remove remaining obstacles to their alliance with Israel, based on a shared understanding that Israel is an ally and not an enemy, whilst Iran is an existential threat rather than a neighbor. But, particularly in Saudi Arabia, which has the most substantial population of the Gulf states, this is easier said than done. Even under the current circumstances of regional upheaval and polarization, Palestine remains a central concern for public opinion, and can thus affect the legitimacy of the regimes in question, particularly when they are already confronting intra-elite dissent as in Saudi Arabia. That said, it’s undeniable that these relations have improved very substantially in recent years, and that this has cost the Palestinians dearly. But it’s too easy to simply denounce Gulf autocrats for collaborating with Israel –  true as that assertion may be. The absence of a unified Palestinian leadership able and willing to exercise influence in the Arab arena is a key part of this equation.

The Syria conflict produced an interesting realignment within the Palestinian political system. Hamas, which despite its affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood had enjoyed a close relationship with the Assad regime, ruptured with Damascus while Fatah, which has been either at odds or in open conflict with Damascus for decades, improved its relations substantially.

More generally the Syria conflict and the attendant regional polarization has been politically catastrophic for the Palestinians. It should hardly come as a revelation that for virtually all of the regional and international parties involved in the Syria conflict in its various dimensions Palestine has become an at best secondary concern in recent years. Arguably, Syria was the arena in which the promise of a renewed and more energetic Arab approach toward the Palestinian cause, widely anticipated after the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, died a premature death.

The Syria conflict has also been not only a political but also a human and humanitarian catastrophe for the Palestinian community in that country. Entire Palestinian camps and neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble, and in many cases stateless Palestinians resident in Syria have encountered greater difficulty escaping the conflict than Syrian citizens. Syria is arguably the only country that since 1948 consistently afforded Palestinian refugees on its soil the same rights and privileges extended to its own citizens. Its destruction is beyond tragic, not only for the Syrian people, but also for the Palestinians.

(Source / 14.08.2018)