When the Palestinian Authority does Israel’s dirty work, is it any surprise that so many Palestinians no longer differentiate between the two?
By Hagar Shezaf
As the latest wave of violence erupted, I drove to cover a demonstration in the West Bank city of Al-Bireh, adjacent to Ramallah. During one of my interviews, a 20-year-old man told me he and the rest of the protesters were rising up against the “regime.” “Which regime?” we asked. “Both — they are the same thing,” he said as he laughed and ran away. The notion that the Palestinian Authority and Israel are one and the same repeated itself during interviews with many political activists in the West Bank.
Security coordination between Israel and the PA has been at the heart of public debate in both the West Bank and Israel over the past few months. From Mahmoud Abbas’ threats to put an end to coordination to the position taken by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), according to which the PA does all it can to suppress West Bank protests, it seems that this is one of the central political issues in Palestinian society today.
A new report by Israeli human rights organizations B’Tselem and Hamoked, which details alleged abuse and torture of Palestinian detainees in the Shin Bet’s “Shikma” interrogation facility, gives us another glimpse into this security coordination. According to the report, one-third (39) of the Palestinian detainees interviewed for the report were arrested by Palestinian security forces prior to their arrest and interrogation by Israel’s Shin Bet.
Twenty-six of the detainees told the organizations that the Shin Bet was in possession of Palestinian Authority interrogation records, of which 22 said that Israeli interrogators told them explicitly that the PA had handed those records over to the Shin Bet.
In 22 out of those 39 cases, the Israeli interrogators told the detainees that they had the Palestinian Authority interrogation records in their possession, at times even producing confessions that had been signed for the PA.
One of the detainees, Adi ‘Awawdeh, a 21-year-old student from Karmah, describes how he was re-arrested by Israel just days after being released from 70 days of detention, which included torture, under the Palestinian Authority:
My ﬁle was prepared and all done, because the [Israeli] interrogator showed me the ﬁle he got from the PA. I saw my ﬁngerprints there. The interrogator said: ‘Here’s your ﬁle. It’s all ready. Do you want to add anything and save us some time?’
These testimonies reflect the nature of coordination between the Israeli army and the PA, one that Maj. Tali Kvitoro, an officer in the District Coordination and Liaison (DCL) in Jenin, nicknamed “indirect contact.” In an article published in 2011, Kvitoro goes into detail about how the shared security interests of Israel and the Palestinian Authority led to a system in which the IDF transfers intelligence over the the PA’s security branches, “about the existence of a bomb-making laboratory in Nablus, for example, which is then destroyed by Palestinian security forces.” Thus, Israel and the PA transfer intelligence between each other on a regular basis, with the latter carrying out arrests and other actions instead of Israel’s security forces.
This tight security coordination has become part and parcel of Mahmoud Abbas’ rule. In the same article, Kvitoro describes Abbas’ rise as a significant turning point: “From 10 years of crisis to shared security interests.” This new era brought about a reform in the U.S.-supported Palestinian security sector, such that it matched the Palestinian Authority’s commitments laid out in President Bush’s “roadmap for peace.”
Hamas’ rise to power in the Gaza Strip caused the CIA to deepen and bolster its support — under the auspices of General Dayton — in developing the Palestinian Preventive Security Force (in charge of the “war against terror”) and the General Intelligence Service. Even then the U.S. was heavily criticized for supporting agencies that tortured detainees.
Back to the report: the fact that the PA uses torture is not new. Throughout 2015 the Independent Commission for Human Rights (IHCR), the Palestinian Authority’s national human rights institution, received 292 complaints of torture in its prisons and interrogation facilities across the West Bank. One can only assume that the actual number is much higher. It is also no big secret that the Shin Bet uses torture, with dozens of reports by Israeli and Palestinian organizations on the agency’s use of sleep deprivation, violence, and abuse.
What is interesting in the new report is the fact that it points to the connection between the torturers. It is startling to discover to what extent PA interrogation records — which were extracted through torture — are used by Israeli authorities.
“I was tortured by the PA, they hung me up for days. They would hang you from the window, from the top window frame (by the hands), with your feet in the air, you could just barely reach the ﬂoor with the tips of your toes,” says 20-year-old Muhammad ‘Asi, from Beit Liqya. “They let me rest only two or three hours… The [Israeli] interrogator explicitly said that he wanted to show me how much better they are. That means he knows how I was interrogated and tortured by the PA.”
The use of torture has proven time and time again to be an efficient way of obtaining forced confessions. It is not, however, the most efficient way of obtaining reliable information. Last December, professor experimental brain research Shane O’Mara published a book titled “Why Torture Doesn’t Work.” One of the book’s central arguments is that the extreme force inflicted on the brain and body during torture actually causes them to collapse, turning the detainee into a source of unreliable information. The book also reignited public discussion on the CIA’s torture methods, which were used following 9/11 on detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt.
Israel uses confessions that were extracted using torture in PA prisons, including hanging detainees from the ceiling them locking them in a freezing room for hours. According to one of the testimonies, an Israeli interrogator even threatened one detainee that if he does not confess, the PA would re-arrest him.
Similar to the CIA interrogation facilities in Egypt and Afghanistan, the report shows that the most horrific instances of torture were not committed by Israeli interrogators, but rather by the Palestinian Authority itself. While the report does not discuss who is behind the arrests by the PA, the relatively high percentage of cases in which Israeli interrogators told the detainees that their interrogation records came straight from the PA offers a look at just how systematic security coordination is when it comes to forced confessions.
The ability to use interrogation records collected through torture without actually resorting to abusing detainees is one of the main reasons why many view the PA as nothing more than Israel’s subcontractor.
Hagar Shezaf is an Israeli journalist based in Jaffa. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.