Palestinians in Gaza face arbitrary detention, torture, and unfair trials on a daily basis. Who are the perpetrators? No, not the Israelis. It’s Hamas, Gaza’s own government.
A new report out from Human Rights Watch titled “Abusive System: Failures of Criminal Justice in Gaza,” details how “Hamas security services in Gaza routinely conduct arrests without presenting warrants, refuse to promptly inform families of detainees' whereabouts, deny detainees access to a lawyer and torture detainees in custody.” Military courts are often convened to try civilians, the report also mentioned.
“After five years of Hamas rule in Gaza, its criminal justice system reeks of injustice, routinely violates detainees’ rights, and grants impunity to abusive security services,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch in a statement. “Hamas should stop the kinds of abuses that Egyptians, Syrians, and others in the region have risked their lives to bring to an end.”
The reporter for HRW interviewed six detainees, six defense lawyers practicing in both the military and civilian courts, two relatives of a detainee who was executed, and one former judge. Human Rights Watch said the abuses violated not only human rights norms, but Palestinian law. In three of the cases, prisoners were sentenced and executed without “adequately reviewing credible claims” that the prisoners “confessions” were obtained under torture.
HRW said sometimes the detainees were accused of collaborating with the Israelis, but even more frequent were arrests made for being suspected sympathizers of the Palestinian Authority, the ruling party in the West Bank. “The intra-Palestinian political rivalry remains a significant factor behind many Hamas abuses against detainees in Gaza,” the report found.
One former detainee, a lawyer, said that in the mind of Hamas, the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority are equally bad. “According to Hamas,” he said, “If you’re collaborating with the PA it’s like collaborating with Israel, and they could jail you for five or six years for receiving money.”
This is hardly anything new. In January 2012, HRW announced it would be investigating suspected attacks on several human rights activists. In April and August, HRW released two statements, one calling for Hamas in Gaza to stop executing its prisoners, and for the Palestinian Authority to hold policemen accountable for the beatings of peaceful protestors in Ramallah.
Hamas claims to have disciplined “hundreds of members of the security services for abuses” since 2007, but no information on the discipline actions or who was involved is publicly available, HRW said.
Despite the abuses, Israel continues to provide Gaza with aid. In 2010, following a cabinet decision to ease the sea blockade on Gaza, Israel sent 14,000 tons of aid to Gaza in the form of food, cooking gas, baby formula, clothing, and shoes, and 152 medical trucks, among other amenities. From January to April 2012, Israel sent nearly 17,000 truckloads of aid to Gaza, and more 5,600 Palestinians from Gaza were treated in Israeli hospitals. In the same period, Hamas fired around 350 rockets at Israel, injuring around 30 people. Israel conducted a military campaing in Gaza in 2008 and 2009, Operation Cast Lead, in response to the firings, which left more than 1,000 Palestinians dead according to the Israeli Defence Forces.
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