One major impact of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has been the thousands of Palestinians who have been arrested, many of whom are held for years and never charged.
Currently, Israel holds over 10,000 Palestinian prisoners, including hundreds of women and children. Since the adoption of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and - recently in Gaza - Hamas have exercised police functions and have detained many Palestinians in the areas under their control.
Israeli human-rights organizations such as B’Tselem and governmental commissions such as the Landau Commission in 1987 and the Ben-Porat report released in 2000, have investigated and exposed systemic Israeli torture of Palestinian prisoners.
On July 28, the Palestinian human-rights organization Al-Haq published a scathing report of widespread arbitrary detention and torture of Palestinian political prisoners by the PA and Hamas.
Ironically, Hamas and the PA have actively called attention to the Israeli security forces’ torture of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Both have called Israeli torture practices illegal, cruel and violations of international human-rights law.
Psychologists have warned cycles of abuse are passed down, by example and exposure. Shamefully, both Hamas in Gaza and President Mahmoud Abbas’ PA security forces in the West Bank are duplicating Israel’s torture policies and practices, undermining Palestinian civil society, the rule of law and their own legitimacy as leaders. They are also undermining Palestinian efforts to bring world condemnation of and an end to Israel’s torture of Palestinian detainees.
B’Tselem carefully tracks Israeli torture practices, which, according to Al-Haq, are similar to the practices that Hamas and the PA use against their own citizens and political detainees. Many of these practices were first made public in the Ben-Porat report released by the Israeli government in 2000.
The institutional practice of torture is dangerous, counterproductive and a violation of international law. It inflicts physical, mental and physiological pain on detainees, destroying the tortured, the torturer and their families and corrupting and polluting the entire society at large.
In addition, the use of political violence and torture has a very direct and devastating impact on the legitimacy of Palestinian political institutions and their claim that they are the official representatives of Palestinian aspirations.
As a Palestinian American, I join Al-Haq in calling on Hamas and the PA to immediately cease torturing political detainees and hold those who have authorized such torture responsible.
The use of torture in any society is corrosive to the state that condones it. If such practices are allowed to fester and become the law of the land in Palestine, they can cause greater harm than the occupation itself.
MAI ABDUL RAHMAN