Fatah, Hamas rule increasingly authoritarian

RAMALLAH, occupied West Bank (IPS) - What remains of Palestinian civil rights is rapidly being eroded by the dictatorial Palestinian governments that respectively control the divided Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Palestinian civilians are paying the price as the Islamic resistance movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and the Fatah-affiliated and western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA), which rules the West Bank, continue to target their political opponents as part of their bitter power struggle.

“We don’t have a police state here in Palestine. We have two police states. One in Gaza and one in the West Bank,” says Rabie Latifah from the Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq.

“The abuse of Palestinian civilians by both Fatah and Hamas security forces has become systematic and is no longer the exception to the rule,” Latifah told IPS.

Mysterious bomb blasts, assassinations by masked gunmen, detainees denied access to their lawyers, torture and death in detention, the random arrest of critical journalists, and the banning of peaceful demonstrations are but a few of the human rights violations sweeping the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

While armed men are being arrested, politically motivated arrest campaigns are also targeting citizens suspected of merely sympathizing with the opposition.

“We have endured over 40 years of occupation and human rights abuses by the Israelis, and now we are doing it to ourselves,” says Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR).

“Our center continues to press the authorities in both Gaza and the West Bank to address the issue of human rights abuses being perpetrated under their respective authorities. However, the situation has not improved,” Sourani told IPS.

“It is clear that both Palestinian governments are more interested in consolidating their power than respecting the civil rights of Palestinians,” says Latifah.

Journalists who are viewed as being sympathetic to the opposition remain a prime target for both Hamas and the PA.

The Preventive Security Services (PSS) of the PA, responsible for the brutal interrogation of Palestinian detainees, has been accused of a number of violations including the torturing to death of several Hamas members while in detention.

The PSS in the northern West Bank city Qalqiliya has refused to release Hamas member Mustafa Sabry, a 43-year-old Palestinian journalist and city council member, despite being ordered to do so by the PA High Court in Ramallah.

The High Court judges ruled that the military prosecution did not have the authority to arrest Sabry as he is a civilian. This is not the first time the PSS has refused to accept the verdict of the PA’s judiciary.

Human rights groups have expressed alarm about Palestinians on death row who have been tried by military courts and allegedly not received a fair trial.

“The current civil and criminal courts of the PA still can’t implement the death penalty. The death sentences that were handed out here were by PA military courts,” said PA judge Thuraya Judi al-Wazir.

“We have a problem with this and want to limit the jurisdiction of the military courts and return the trial of civilians charged with treason, and other offenses warranting capital punishment, to the civilian courts. A draft bill to this effect is currently before PA President Mahmoud Abbas who controls the West Bank,” Wazir told IPS.

Making international headlines has been the banning of the Qatari-based Al Jazeera Network for airing an interview with Fatah member in exile Farouk Qaddoumi during which he accused PA President Mahmoud Abbas of being involved in a plot to poison the late Yasser Arafat.

The network’s West Bank’s operations have been closed down pending a court order. Appointed PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad has also threatened a lawsuit against Al Jazeera.

At the same time, Hamas’s Internal Security Services (ISS) has arrested a number of journalists and closed down several pro-Fatah newspapers.

“Journalists are again paying the price of the political tension between the different Palestinian factions,” Reporters Without Borders said in a press release.

Both Palestinian political factions also continue to deny opposition groups the right to hold peaceful protests, with riot police employed to break up any such gatherings by force.

On Tuesday this week a bomb explosion at the wedding celebrations in the Gaza Strip of a relative of a senior Fatah member injured 60 Palestinians, several seriously.

The groom was the nephew of former Fatah security advisor Muhammad Dahlan, who was forced to flee Gaza for the West Bank when Hamas overthrew the PA in 2007, after winning elections in 2006.

Gunfire and beatings were used by Hamas police to break up another Gaza wedding party of relatives of Sami al-Madhoun, a Fatah militant who was shot dead by Hamas during the civil unrest in 2007.

Madhoun’s relatives had refused to take down a picture of Sami despite being warned to do so. Like Dahlan, Madhoun was suspected to be responsible for the torture and murder of several Hamas men.

A number of extrajudicial killings of those suspected of collaborating with Israel have taken place in Gaza.

“Six masked men broke into our home and blindfolded and handcuffed my brother before taking him away in a car,” recalled Ighlas Ghanem, whose brother Haider was shot by unknown gunmen in December during Israel’s Gaza war.

Haider, who was accused of working with Israeli intelligence, had managed to escape from prison as Israel’s bombing campaign targeted Gaza jails.

“We received a call the next day telling us Haider was dead and where his body was located. He had been shot in both knees and elbows before being shot in the head,” Ighlas told IPS.

“If this situation continues there is a possibility of a civil uprising in both Palestinian territories against their respective governments,” says Latifah. “A similar situation was prevalent in Gaza before the 2007 coup. Palestinians have had enough.”

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