Palestinian beaten before death in Israeli custody, family says

Abdo Yusuf al-Khatib al-Tamimi’s family demand answers after he died at Israel’s notorious Moskabiya detention centre.

Israeli forces fire tear gas at Palestinians after Friday prayers at the entrance of Issawiya, a Palestinian Arab neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem [File: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP]

Occupied East Jerusalem – The family of a Palestinian man who died in Israeli custody has alleged he was beaten by Israeli forces in the detention centre before his death, citing reports by other detainees and photos released after his death.

Abdo Yusuf al-Khatib al-Tamimi, 43, died at the notorious Moskabiya detention centre, also known as the Russian Compound, in West Jerusalem on July 23.

Al-Tamimi, a married father of four from the Shuafat refugee camp in occupied East Jerusalem, had been arrested several days earlier on a minor traffic violation.

His pregnant wife Rana said detainees had told the family al-Tamimi had been beaten by Israeli forces before his death.

“Our family received calls from other prisoners in adjacent cells in the Moskabiya stating that they had heard al-Tamimi screaming and the sound of blows raining down on him before he subsequently went quiet,” she told Al Jazeera.

“He went into prison a healthy man with no health issues.”

Amal Taha, Rana’s mother, said that according to other prisoners there had been a confrontation with prison guards prior to the alleged assault on her son-in-law.

“Abdo together with three other prisoners had been shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’, because it was Eid al-Adha, and were subsequently told by prison guards that this was not allowed,” Taha told Al Jazeera.

“My son-in-law argued with the guards and the argument escalated to the point that he was separated from the other three and taken into a cell on his own before the others heard him screaming before there was silence.”

Photos released after his death show a deep gash on his head which was subsequently stitched up, a bloody wound on his knee and extensive bruising on other parts of his body.

The Israeli Prison Services (IPS) announced that he had been “found dead” in his cell three days after his arrest.

“Although medics sought to revive him, they were unsuccessful and he died on the spot,” the IPS said in a statement, adding that it would investigate the circumstances of his death “as with any other such incident”.

Al-Tamimi’s body was reportedly taken to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in occupied East Jerusalem for an autopsy performed by the Israeli authorities in the presence of a Palestinian doctor. The autopsy results have not yet been made public.

The family said their request to speak to a senior official at Abu Kabir about the autopsy had been denied by the Israeli authorities.

The United Nations Human Rights Office in the occupied Palestinian territories said on July 23 it was “deeply concerned” about al-Tamimi’s death.

“The UN Human Rights Offices urges Israeli authorities to release the autopsy report and to pursue an independent and transparent investigation into Mr al-Tamimi’s death.”

According to Palestinian media outlet Wafa, “Several detainees’ institutions, including the Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs, and the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society held the Israeli occupation authorities fully responsible for the death of Abdo al-Tamimi.”

History of torture

Israel’s Moskabiya detention centre has a dire history when it comes to the treatment and interrogation of Palestinian prisoners.

According to Palestinian prisoners’ organisation Addameer, at least 73 Palestinians were killed during Israeli interrogations at various prisons, including in Moskabiya, since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967.

“Despite the absolute prohibition against torture, enshrined under article two of the International Convention against Torture, and ratified by Israel on October 3, 1991, torture against Palestinian detainees is systematic and widespread in Israeli occupation prisons and interrogation centres,” Addameer said in a 2020 report.

Israel has consistently denied allegations of ill-treatment of prisoners and torture.

Israeli courts allow the use of what they describe as “moderate pressure” in the case of “ticking time bombs” involving an imminent security threat.

Addameer said the rules on this had been eased by the Israeli High Court in 2018 during a case where the “ticking bomb” definition was expanded to include cases that were not imminent security threats.

According to the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), more than 1,300 complaints of torture during Israeli interrogations have been filed since 2001.

“Torture methods reported include painful shackling, sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme heat and cold, threats, sexual harassment, and religion-based humiliation,” said PCATI.

“There were two investigations but all the cases were closed without a single indictment by the Israeli Justice Ministry,” said PCATI.

Addameer has also been subject to gag orders by Israeli courts over the alleged torture of some detainees, including for three months in 2019 when members of the Palestinian armed group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) were arrested after being accused of carrying out a bombing near Ramallah, which killed one Israeli settler and injured two others.

“The issuance of this gag order was specifically granted to hide the crimes of torture committed against Palestinian detainees held at al Moskabiya interrogation centre in Jerusalem,” Addameer reported.

One of those interrogated was Samer Arbeed who was transferred to a hospital with life-threatening injuries after being interrogated at the Moskabiya for about 18 days.

Arbeed subsequently woke up in hospital with 11 broken ribs, renal failure and severe bruising, according to Addameer. He was put on a respirator for several weeks before being taken back for more interrogation which included losing all his nails as a result of torture.

In 2019, the Palestinian Human Rights Organisation Council said it held the Israeli authorities responsible for the death of Nasser Taqatqa, 31, who died from pneumonia while being held in solitary confinement in Nitzan Ramle prison on July 16, 2019.

Taqatqa was arrested from his home in Beit Fajjar a month before his death and had also been subjected to interrogation at the Moskabiya for most of the time he was in custody.

The exact circumstances of his death remain unclear as neither his family nor his lawyer were given access to his body.

Amal and Abdullah Tata, the parents of al-Tamimi’s wife Rana [Al Jazeera]

‘Why did you kill my father?’

Al-Tamimi’s family meanwhile are also left grieving and demanding answers.

Following her husband’s death, Rana miscarried one of the twins she was three months pregnant with.

“I loved my husband dearly, he was my life, he was an excellent father and had been very excited about the pending birth of the twins,” said Rana.

Al-Tamimi used to run a grocery store to support his family and in an additional cruel twist of fate a fire, caused by an electrical fault, broke out several days after his death, causing extensive damage to the grocery store and further economic privation.

Abdallah Taha, Rana’s father, angrily asked who would now provide for his daughter and his grandchildren.

“We are struggling financially ourselves and it will be hard to support five extra people,” he told Al Jazeera.

Al-Tamimi’s 12-year-old son, Muhammad, demanded to know why his father had died.

“I ask the Israelis who were behind this ‘Why did you kill my father? What did he do to deserve to be killed?’”

Source: Al Jazeera