Did the Biden administration give the Palestinian Authority (PA) a green light to resume its security crackdown on social media users, political activists and rivals in the West Bank? Since Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit in May to Ramallah, PA security forces have arrested or summoned dozens of Palestinians for interrogation. The Palestinian human rights group Lawyers for Justice revealed that some of the detainees confirmed that they were beaten and tortured in the PA-controlled Jericho Prison. (Image source: iStock)
Did the Biden administration give the Palestinian Authority (PA) a green light to resume its security crackdown on social media users, political activists and rivals in the West Bank?
Since US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit in late May to Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians, PA security forces have arrested or summoned dozens of Palestinians for interrogation.
Many of these Palestinians were accused of "insulting" Palestinian leaders on social media platforms or expressing support for the PA's rivals in Hamas and other Palestinian factions.
Abbas appears to be emboldened by the Biden administration's decision to resume unconditional financial aid to the Palestinians. This no-strings-attached money is being supplied without even a stipulation that the PA put an end to human rights violations and assaults on public freedoms.
The Biden administration, in short, seems to be sending a message to the Palestinians that the US supports Arab dictatorships that suppress and imprison political activists and opponents and that block the emergence of new and young leaders.
The Biden administration is also telling the Palestinians indirectly that the US will continue to support an Arab leader who has denied them the chance to hold long overdue elections for the Palestinian parliament and presidency.
The Palestinian human rights group Lawyers for Justice said in a statement published on June 5 that "the campaign of political arrests and summonses... affected many citizens on different backgrounds, including arrests based on political affiliation and arrests for exercising freedom of opinion and expression on social media or participating in popular activities after the [May 21] ceasefire" between Israel and Hamas.
The group revealed that some of the detainees confirmed that they were beaten and tortured in the Palestinian detention center of the PA's Security Committee in Jericho. The group wrote:
"Lawyers for Justice believes that the continued detention of the aforementioned detainees without actual evidence or justification allows their continued detention and involves prejudice to their rights and a derogation from their guarantees in obtaining all the fair trial guarantees... Which is considered a violation of personal freedoms, freedom of expression, and freedom of political affiliation... their arrest and detention were carried out according to invalid procedures..."
Tariq Khudairi, a political activist from Ramallah, was arrested by the PA security forces on charges of cursing former PLO leader Yasser Arafat during a demonstration in Ramallah. Khudairi was charged with "stirring up sectarian strife," a charge regularly made by the PA against anyone who dares to criticize PA President Mahmoud Abbas or other senior officials.
Lawyers for Justice said in a separate statement on May 29 that the forms of torture in the PA-controlled Jericho Prison included hanging detainees from the ceilings, beatings and verbal abuse. "Among the detainees was Mahdi Abu Awad, who confirmed that he was subjected to torture during his interrogation by the Jericho Prosecutor's Office," the group said. "[T]he Lawyers for Justice group requests the Palestinian government... prevent security services from continuing to infringe on the rights and freedoms of people..."
Yassin Sabah, a political activist who was arrested last month by the PA security forces on charges of participating in a demonstration in solidarity with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, told his brother that he was brutally tortured. The torture, he disclosed, included electric shocks and other forms of physical abuse. "Because of the torture and harsh conditions in prison, Yassin's weight dropped from 85 to 50 kilograms," according to the brother. "In addition, the PA has prevented human rights activists from seeing him in prison."
On June 16, the PA's Preventive Security Force detained 16-year-old Amir Abu Sharar because of a comment he published on Facebook during the fighting between Israel and Hamas. Abu Sharar suffers from diabetes and needs two injections of insulin a day.
"We will not accept this injustice," the teenager's cousin, journalist Salam Abu Sharar, wrote on Twitter. "We will not be silent about it, even if he is detained for 15 minutes. He is a sick child."
Palestinian businessman Badran Jbara said that he was forced to go into hiding last week because the PA security services wanted to arrest him due to a Facebook post in which he criticized the Palestinian leadership. Jbara, 59, who is a citizen of Panama, arrived in the West Bank to attend the wedding of his daughter. A few days later, several PA security officers raided his home in the town of Turmus Ayya, north of Ramallah, in an attempt to arrest him. Fortunately for Jbara, he was not at home during the raid.
The PA security crackdown has also affected supporters of Mohammed Dahlan, an arch-rival of Abbas who lives in the United Arab Emirates. Dahlan, a former PA security commander, fled the West Bank in 2011 after a fallout with Abbas.
In the past few weeks, the PA arrested or summoned for interrogation dozens of Palestinians who served as volunteers with the Dahlan-affiliated Al-Mustaqbal ("The Future") electoral list that was supposed to participate in the Palestinian parliamentary election. In April, Abbas called off the election, which was scheduled to take place on May 22.
"We condemn the illegal arrests carried out by President Mahmoud Abbas's security services against volunteers in the Future List election campaign," the list said in a statement.
"The Future List considers that the repressive apparatus of President Abbas took advantage of the media's preoccupation with the visit of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken [to Ramallah] to carry out a campaign of intimidation by arresting patriotic, law-abiding citizens. It has become clear that the repressive apparatus of President Abbas is afraid of the opposition. The Future List calls on all electoral lists approved by the Central Elections Committee, all human rights bodies and all honorable people of this country to form a united front to confront the arbitrary political arrests that aim to silence every free voice that rises in the face of tyranny and corruption practiced by the Palestinian Authority."
Earlier this month, Palestinian professor Sari Nusseibeh, who was running as a candidate on the Future List, called on Western diplomats to pressure Abbas to halt the crackdown on political activists and rivals. "The situation of the Palestinians does not bear such arbitrary measures," Nusseibeh cautioned.
It is not known whether the Western diplomats indeed raised the issue with Abbas or other senior Palestinian leaders. However, it seems clear that the diplomats care little if the PA is arresting, torturing and intimidating social media users and political activists.
These diplomats and Western journalists do raise their voices, and loudly -- when they have something damning to say about Israel. The silence of the international community and the Biden administration's blind and unqualified support for the PA encourages the Palestinian leadership to step up its repressive measures against Palestinians.
When Palestinians despair of any improvement in the PA leadership, they move towards Hamas and other terrorist groups that are seen by many Palestinians as a better alternative to Abbas and his Fatah faction.
It is hardly surprising, then, that the most recent public opinion poll showed a dramatic surge in the popularity of Hamas among Palestinians. What should be surprising -- and disturbing -- is that the Western world is directly aiding and abetting this bloody shift of allegiance.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.