December 4, 2008 / 10:59 AM / 10 years ago

Palestinians recount abuses in West Bank jails

HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters) - Allegations of torture, arbitrary arrest and other abuses of due legal process have long been common from Palestinians in the West Bank.

A member of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, part of the Fatah group, takes down a Hamas flag from the top of Nabi Younis mosque in Halhoul, near the West Bank town of Hebron, October 20, 2007. REUTERS/Nayef Hashlamoun

But lately more such accusations are leveled not at Israeli occupying forces but at fellow Palestinians, part of the bitter factional rivalry that has divided families and made the two Palestinian territories fiefdoms of the warring camps — Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip and secular Fatah in the West Bank.

To make sense of statistics provided by human rights groups, Reuters interviewed people in the West Bank city of Hebron about their complaints. Following are three of those in detail:

L., FACTORY WORKER

At the height of an uprising against Israeli rule a few years ago, Hamas recruiters tried to persuade L. to sign up as a suicide bomber. He refused, but thinks it was that contact which landed him in an Israeli jail for a couple of years. However, interrogations by Israelis, who never charged him with a crime, were polite, he said, compared to three nightmarish days last month, after Palestinian intelligence agents seized the young factory worker from his home in the middle of the night and proceeded to beat him and suspend him for hours from a hook by his wrists while his arms were tied behind his back.

Too afraid to let his name be published — he said his jailers warned him not to talk to the media — L. told Reuters this week that his interrogators repeatedly demanded that he admit to being a Hamas activist. “You’re Hamas! You’re Hamas! Tell us what you’re up to! Who are you working for?” they asked, while kicking and punching the prisoner as he hung or stood in what the torture manuals call “stress positions”.

“I told them that the Israelis had let me go,” L. said, smiling nervously at the irony of citing Israelis as a character reference to protect him from his fellow Palestinians. “If I was what they said, the Israelis wouldn’t have released me.”

He wears a beard and describes his politics as “Muslim” but L. says he is not a Hamas militant. “I’m religious, but not Hamas,” he said, blinking through glasses, his thin frame rocking with nerves during an interview in his apartment.

Clan leaders say L., now in his mid-20s, ended youthful associations with violent Islamists after coming out of prison three years ago. He married, became a father and settled down to a job, spending his little free time at his hobby, wood-carving.

He would not be able to identify his tormenters, he said, because they kept him blindfolded — sometimes using a Hamas party scarf. They were, L. said, not local men, to judge from their accents — he believed they may be from a contingent of Palestinian security forces dispatched to Hebron in October.

After three days of ill-treatment in Hebron’s military jail, L. was kept for a further week without incident. No bruises are still visible but he repeatedly rubbed his elbows and said he had twice seen a doctor to seek relief for pain in his stomach muscles caused by hours in uncomfortable postures: “They told me that when I saw the doctor not to say how I got hurt,” he said.

AMJAD AL-HAMMOURI, DENTIST, 34

It was around 7 p.m. on a Monday in mid-October and Amjad al-Hammouri was dealing with some final patients at his dental surgery in Hebron when about a dozen men pulled up outside. His father says the 34-year-old dentist is held by the Palestinian General Intelligence service and has not been home to his wife and two young daughters since — despite an order a month ago from the Palestinian High Court that he should be released.

Mohammed al-Hammouri, 67, a retired city administrator, told Reuters he suspects the reason for his son’s arrest lies in Amjad’s past as an Islamist activist who spent two and a half years in Israeli jails between 2002 and 2004. He ran for the Palestinian parliament on a Hamas-backed ticket in 2006 — Hamas won, though the younger Hammouri failed to get a seat.

His father, who lives in the building, was alerted to the commotion at the surgery. He saw that most of the men who took his son away in a white van wore plain clothes. They showed him what they said was a warrant for his arrest and then drove him to a center run by the intelligence service, or mukhabarat.

Since his detention, Hammouri has had several family visits but neither he nor relatives have been given an explanation for the arrest and no charges have been brought, his father said.

During visits at the intelligence service center in Hebron, guards are present throughout, he added, so although his son had made little complaint about the conditions of his detention, relatives worried that he was intimidated into silence.

“What can I do, if they ignore even the High Court?” Mohammed Hammouri said, sitting by a photograph of his son in an academic gown following his graduation in Jordan.

“No one knows what is going on.”

ABU ESNAINA, TECHNICIAN, 18

The questions leveled at the 18-year-old who repairs car air conditioners were ordinary enough in his rough-and-tumble Hebron neighborhood: “Where are you hiding your Kalashnikov rifle and pistol?,” the armed men asked the youth, who asked Reuters to identify him only by his family name, Abu Esnaina.

It was 8 p.m. on Saturday night and Abu Esnaina was at the home of his family, one of the largest and most powerful of Hebron’s clans. The men were from Abbas’s secretive General Intelligence service. They took him to a detention center.

“‘We know you have the guns’,” one man demanded, according to Abu Esnaina, recounting his 24 hours in the custody of the force, commonly known by its Arabic name, the Mukhabarat.

“I have nothing,” Abu Esnaina told them.

Abu Esnaina said the guards first ordered him to do push-ups and squats, making him go on until his muscles refused to respond. Then, he said, guards covered his head, tied his arms and legs to a chair, and beat him with a plastic-covered cable.

He was then taken outdoors, where his arms were bound behind his back. He said he was beaten again on his back and legs.

The guards took away his jacket and T-shirt and left him outside overnight. Shivering in the cold, Abu Esnaina said he was beaten again before dawn.

When Abu Esnaina was released to his family, he could not walk. During his detention, he says, he was never asked if he was a member of an armed group like Hamas.

Sad and angry, Abu Esnaina said he had never before been locked up, either by Israelis or the Palestinians.

Reuters spoke to him at Hebron's main hospital, where his family had brought him for treatment. Video of his injuries is here

Additional reporting by Naef Hashlamoun, Mustafa Abu Ganiyeh and Adam Entous; Editing by Samia Nakhoul

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