HRW report on abuse by PA, Hamas: A system designed broken

The HRW report demonstrates Palestinian leadership’s weakness, inability to lead their people and deliver liberation.

PA security forces REUTERS
Members of the Palestinian security forces clash with demonstrators during a protest against 'political arrests by the Palestinian Authority', in Hebron, February 25, 2017 [Mussa Qawasma/Reuters]

On October 23, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published an extensive 149-page report titled “Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent” on the abuses and crushing of dissent by both the Hamas led government in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the occupied West Bank. The report comes out of 2 years’ worth of research including interviews with former prisoners and activists and an analysis of the systematic abuses of human rights.

It provides an overview of a deteriorating situation in Palestine wherein the context of Israeli occupation and colonisation, the Palestinian leadership is crushing dissent and political organising. The interviews collated by HRW detail some horrific cases of torture and interrogation. One particular method known as “shabeh” was described –  where detainees are held in excruciating positions for hours and even days upon end. Sometimes they are made to crouch or squat, others are hung from ceilings. In addition, prisoners held in custody are routinely beaten, often leaving scars or life-long injuries and threats are made to their families. More recently there has also been a cyber crackdown targeting journalists and activists who have been arrested for writings and social media posts. 

These arbitrary arrests and interrogations of students, activists, journalists and political opposition is characteristic of many despotic regimes in the region and around the world.  


While the report does not reveal anything new – indeed various Palestinian NGOs and organisations have long documented this kind of repression – it elevates these extensive and troubling details to an international platform. Importantly, it also calls on the international community to suspend the assistance to the PA security forces until it complies with international conventions.

Rather than placing the onus solely on the Palestinian leadership, this report needs to be considered in the wider political and historical context which has facilitated these abusive regimes. The creation of the PA by the Oslo Accords sought to contain and maintain the Palestinian populations in the 1967 territories. In Fanonian terms, this created a colonised elite that would watch over the rest of the colonised peoples on behalf of the coloniser. Essentially the PA and its security forces became an extension of the Israeli occupation. Furthermore, the intense development of the security sector in the years following Oslo intertwined politics and security, resulting in security personnel being elevated to politically powerful positions.

The merging of the political and security elites created the perfect environment for a police state. Meanwhile, this has all happened under the watchful eye of Israel and the donor community. The security coordination that exists between the PA and Israel demonstrates this par excellence. This coordination among many things involves the sharing of intelligence, the arresting of activists and the quelling of political mobilisation, all conducted under the false auspice of preventing terror. Indeed, the security coordination facilitated the assassination of the political activist Basil Al Araj nearly a year-and-a-half ago in Ramallah. Al Araj had previously been held and tortured by the PA, and upon his release went into hiding knowing full well that the Israeli occupation forces would come after him. He resisted arrest for six months before they found him with the assistance of the PA. 

Meanwhile, in Gaza, Hamas is similarly accused by HRW of abuses and violations of human rights to those under their rule. In addition to living under an Israeli imposed siege and regular Israeli bombardment, Palestinians contend with an oppressive authority determined to quell political criticism.

The abuse of power documented in the new HRW report is not a sign of strength from the Palestinian leadership. Rather it demonstrates its weakness and its inability to lead their people let alone deliver liberation. These testimonies thus present an important challenge to a system that was designed broken. They reveal an intricate system of abusers and abused which services the Israeli regime in its endeavour to conquer fully the Palestinian people. However, perhaps one of the most important aspects of this report are the questions that it provokes among Palestinians themselves. The time has come for us to think about what kind of leadership we actually want and what comes next after Abbas, rather than who comes next.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.