Palestinian Authority arrest campaign ‘one of the worst in years’ | Palestinian Authority News

Ramallah, Occupied West Bank – The Palestinian Authority (PA) is carrying out one of its biggest political arrests in years against Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with at least 94 people arrested in the past two months.

Those arrested include university students and journalists, with at least 20 still in custody, according to the Ramallah-based group Justice Lawyers. No one was charged, and most were released after serving 10 days in prison.

“This is one of the biggest campaigns since at least 2012,” Muhannad Karajeh, head of the Attorney General for Justice, told Al Jazeera, adding that “a large number of those arrested have reports of abuse and torture in prison”.

Karajeh said the majority of those arrested were Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) activists as well as, to a lesser extent, individuals affiliated with the PA’s ruling Fatah party and the Palestinian Front wing. Description of the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

“We get new cases every day,” said Karajeh, which represents political detainees.

The lawyer also noted that a large portion of those arrested had been held in Israeli prisons in the past, making the PA’s detention of surnames more controversial for Palestinians.

“The majority were questioned about their political activity, such as whether they participated in elections – as candidates or as supporters of certain lists – and,” Karajeh said. others, like students, about their student union activities.

PA and its security forces are regularly criticized by human rights groups for what they call “systematic arrest and torture” of dissidents, including students, journalist and political activist.

In a joint UN submission by the Attorneys for Justice and Human Rights earlier this month, the groups said such activities were “consistent with government policy” and used ” to punish and intimidate critics and opponents, including those detained for social media posts. press, or membership in rival political movements or student groups”.

Talal Dweikat, a spokesman for the Palestinian security service, acknowledged that the Protected Area had conducted a recent arrest operation and justified it as necessary.

“There are strong instructions from President Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] about the level of security, for all security services in their various branches, about the importance of exerting all possible pressure to deal with any manifestation of chaos and disorder on the streets of Palestine,” he told Al Jazeera.

Dweikat added that the security services intend to continue their work, “the main objective being to provide security and safety to all Palestinian citizens”.

Torture in prison

The case of one person in custody, Ahmad Hreish, caused a stir after he reported that he had been tortured in the detention center.

The 28-year-old man has been held in solitary confinement for more than 50 days at Jericho prison, known by locals as the “slaughterhouse” – famous for holding and torturing political prisoners.

He has yet to be charged with any offence.

His sister, Asmaa, was present at the Jericho Magistrates Court’s trial against Hreish on June 13.

She said her brother was extremely tired and in tears when he talked about the torture he endured, including shabeh (strappado) and being beaten with sticks and rubber bands. Al Jazeera also received a transcript of the trial.

Hreish, who was previously jailed by Israel, told the court several times that he was not being questioned, although his detention was extended.

“There is something that you cannot understand, that your countryman is imprisoning a countryman, and not only that, they are torturing him,” 29-year-old Asmaa told Al Jazeera.

“It’s hard to explain the pain we’re going through,” she continued, adding that it was especially stressful for his wife, who is nearing the end of her pregnancy.

Internal division

Karajeh said he believes this latest operation is “essentially a message sent through the strength of the security encirclement enjoyed by the PA, against its enemies”.

PA has long-mistreated members and supporters of its main rival political group, Hamas, has been the de facto ruler in the besieged Gaza Strip since 2007 when it defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections. Fatah was kicked out of the Strip when it attempted a preemptive takeover, leading to several weeks of intense fighting.

The two parties have run the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank respectively since then, with internal divisions deeply affecting Palestinian politics.

In June, Hamas, was also accused on the arrest and torture of critics, said in a statement that it “strongly condemns the political arrests made by the security services of the Protected Area,” which it said, ” serve the interests of [Israeli] occupation and does not contribute to the unification of the national front”.

Recently, several student groups affiliated with Hamas have made similar condemnations of targeting students at different universities.

Some developments indicate that the Protected Area is tightening its restraints on growing opposition in the occupied West Bank, especially after kill by a prominent critic by security services last year.

‘Soft coup’

In May, the first student elections held since 2019 at Birzeit University near Ramallah, the Hamas-affiliated al-Wafaa Muslim Bloc won a landslide victory, winning 28 of the 51 seats in the assembly. student, beat Martyr associated with Fatah Yasser Arafat Bloc (referred to as Shabiba), won 18 victories.

The outcome of the election, which is seen as a reflection of Palestinian public opinion, was unprecedented. In 2019, groups affiliated with Hamas and Fatah won an equal number of seats.

Earlier this month, former Protected Area intelligence chief and current member of Fatah’s executive committee, Tawfiq Tirawi, said Fatah had appointed him to look into the reasons behind Shabiba’s loss.

“The plan of Hamas today is a gentle coup in the West Bank, to gain control of institutions and universities,” Tirawi told Palestinian TV channel.

In June, plainclothes Palestinian security agents attacked a peaceful demonstration by a student movement affiliated with Hamas at Najah University in Nablus. Staff members beat students and professors, inflicting serious injuries, using pepper spray on them and shooting them into the air, sparking outrage.

With internal divisions continuing to grow and the government increasingly employing more forceful means to stay in power, many Palestinians feel they are being forced to pay the price for having different views.

“They are targeting freed political prisoners in this latest campaign – liberated and honorable men,” Asmaa said. “You feel unfair. It is very difficult.”

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