The Palestinian Authority and Hamas are torturing Palestinians. Still.
The two Palestinian governments, the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, are both major violators of human rights. Assaults on public freedoms and crackdowns on political rivals are just the first chapters of a very long story.
Yet this narrative does not appeal to the international community, especially the mainstream media and human rights organizations in the West. For them, human rights violations are news only when they come with a "made in Israel" sticker on them.
Yet their obsession with Israel might just kill the Palestinians. Particularly at risk are those who daily put their lives on the line to halt Hamas and PA violence against their own people.
The Palestinian Authority has used international funds to build prisons and detention centers in the West Bank where torture has become the norm. And Hamas, which in 2007 seized control over the Gaza Strip, transformed the area into a radical Islamist emirate with a startling disregard for human rights and public freedoms.
The Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), a Palestinian group that seeks to promote "inherent values of justice, equality and human rights," reports a dramatic rise over the past two years in the number of complaints about torture in Palestinian prisons run by Hamas and the PA.
Dr. Ammar Dwaik, Director General of ICHR, revealed that his group received 782 complaints regarding torture -- 614 in the Gaza Strip and 168 in the West Bank. Dwaik noted, however, that the large number of complaints does not necessarily indicate a "big violation" of human rights. Dwaik explained that the torture inflicted upon detained Palestinians by Hamas and PA investigators during interrogations is related to the absence of advanced equipment. "They have to rely mainly on extracting confessions (by force)," he said.
Dwaik means that Palestinian security services lack modern technological tools that could facilitate their work, such as the ability to conduct DNA tests or eavesdropping. That is why interrogators have to resort to violence and torture sometimes to extract confessions from suspects.
Dr. Ammar Dwaik (center), Director General of the Independent Commission for Human Rights, reports a dramatic rise over the past two years in the number of complaints about torture in Palestinian prisons run by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. (Image source: ICHR)
Reporting that the number of complaints about torture in the Gaza Strip had sharply increased in 2014 and 2015, Dwaik also blamed economic hardship for the grave human rights violations. He noted the anger and frustration of security officials in the Gaza Strip, many of whom have not received salaries for months. Still, he added, this does not justify torture.
Dwaik also stated that the ICHR received complaints about the detention by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas of 35 Palestinian journalists in 2015. At least another 15 Palestinians were summoned for interrogation or briefly detained for posting controversial comments on social media, especially Facebook.
In recent years the ICHR has made some progress toward raising awareness of human rights among the Palestinian security forces, according to Dr. Dwaik. Yet this progress is likely to be a drop in the proverbial bucket until the international community and media start showing serious interest in the human rights abuses perpetrated by Hamas and the PA.
These undemocratic and repressive regimes have proven themselves utterly incapable of mustering even a minimal degree of tolerance for dissent.
Hamas and the Palestinian Authority also deprive Palestinians of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. In Hamas- and PA-run areas, the right to hold free and fair elections is a dream. For an entire decade, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been unable to vote for a new parliament and president. Neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority desires such elections, each for excellent reasons of its own.
Each side fears that in a free election it could lose some of its power. Why hold an election if you are not sure about the results?
In addition, how can the elections be fair and free when the two parties are cracking down on each other's supporters?
For both of these regimes, the status quo works. Hamas has within its clutch the entire Gaza Strip, while the Palestinian Authority is sitting pretty in the West Bank, under the protection of the Israel Defense Forces. As every Palestinian child knows, whither the IDF goes, so goes the Palestinian Authority.
Sixty years of failed leadership: that is the true Palestinian tragedy.
Needed desperately: scrutiny of Palestinian society by international media and human rights groups -- beginning with a good look Palestinian prisons -- to jump-start a Palestinian street intifada against its true oppressors, its leaders. Anyone stepping up?