Top Five Human Rights Abuses Hamas and the Palestinian Authority Have Inflicted on Their Own People

AP Photo/Adel Hana

As the war between Israel and Hamas rages on, public debate in the West on the overall conflict has also become more prominent, especially among Americans. Since Hamas launched its October 7 attack on the Jewish state, the fighting has been quite fierce, with numerous casualties on both sides.

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However, amid the ongoing debate over the Israel/Hamas conflict, one issue that has flown under the radar is the abuses that Hamas and other groups have inflicted on Palestinian civilians.

This article will list the top five human rights abuses these groups have carried out over the duration of the Palestinian refugee crisis.

1. Extrajudicial Killings

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas have both been guilty of carrying out arbitrary executions without due process. A report written by Bassem Eid for the Centre or the New Middle East noted that “there have been a considerable number of deaths at the hands of the PA in the absence of a death sentence, or indeed any valid prosecution.”

In the Palestine Centre for Human Rights’ annual report for 2014, 15 West Bank Palestinians were recorded as having been killed in the Palestinian Authority. These deaths came as a result of both the use of extreme force by PA security forces and mistreatment while in detention, as well in cases relating to family disputes and instances of domestic violence and honour killings. In all, two of these individuals were killed during operations carried out by security services, while one died while being held in detention by the PA.

2. Use of Torture

Torture remains a horrific and common practice under Hamas and the PA. Eid’s report mentions “severe mistreatment and willful neglect” along with “extreme forms of torture” leading to deaths in custody. Using torture violates international human rights law and is typically employed by authoritarian regimes to extract information or to send warnings to dissenting voices in the communities being oppressed by the government.

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One of the favorite methods of torture employed by these organizations is known as “shabeh,” according to Human Rights Watch. The organization’s report told the story of an activist and journalist who was tortured in this manner:

“A plainclothes officer met me at the door [of the Intelligence Services Prison in Jericho]. He blindfolded me, handcuffed my hands behind my back, and started hitting me and slamming me against the walls… this lasted for about 10 minutes. The officer took me to the warden’s office and took the blindfold off, telling me that this was my “welcome”... [an officer] then said hang him, as in take him to shabeh. I was transferred from the office to the toilets, there they blindfolded me again, handcuffed me behind my back, put a piece of cloth and rope at the center of my handcuffs and pulled it up to the side of the door. There was a hook between the door and the ceiling. They pulled the cloth up, raising my hands behind my back. My legs were not shackled, and the tip of my legs were touching the ground. I was held in this stress position for 45 minutes. An officer hit me with a big stick on my back, between my shoulders, more than once.

3. Arbitrary Arrest and Detention

Both Hamas and the PA arrest political opponents, just as other authoritarian regimes have done throughout history. In fact, after Hamas was “elected” in 2007, it has not held another election and rules Gaza with an iron fist.

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In the West Bank, the PA has systematically rounded up dissenters and critics.

Both the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) in Gaza have in recent years carried out scores of arbitrary arrests for peaceful criticism of the authorities, particularly on social media, among independent journalists, on university campuses, and at demonstrations. As the Fatah-Hamas feud deepened despite attempts at reconciliation, PA security services have targeted supporters of Hamas and vice versa. Relying primarily on overly broad laws that criminalize activity such as causing “sectarian strife” or insulting “higher authorities,” the PA and Hamas use detention to punish critics and deter them and others from further activism. In detention, security forces routinely taunt, threaten, beat, and force detainees into painful stress positions for hours at a time.

4. Suppression of Peaceful Protests

Hamas and the PA aren’t exactly fans of freedom of assembly, especially if Palestinians are gathering together to protest these groups. Hamas, in particular, has been quite oppressive in silencing dissenting voices. In January 2017, when hundreds of protesters took to the streets to protest the electricity crisis. One activist was charged with “inciting against the government, damaging public property, and calling for riots,” and only released after he pledged not to “participate in any unauthorized demonstrations.”

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The PA in the West Bank has employed similar practices to crack down on protests. In 2020, the organization arrested activists for protesting peacefully according to Amnesty International.

On 19 July, authorities in the West Bank arrested 19 anti-corruption activists for holding a peaceful protest in the city of Ramallah, which breached an overly broad COVID-19 ban on assembly. While three were released, 16 were charged with “illegal gathering” and “violating the emergency rules”. All were released on bail; their trial continued.

5. No Freedoms for Press

One of the reasons why Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have support among Palestinians is because both entities work to silence dissenting views coming from journalists, who are routinely censored and threatened. Jewish talk show host Dov Hikind brought this up when I interviewed him on his experience traveling through Israel after the October 7 attack.

I mean, what's going on in Gaza? Yes. It's Hamas that's responsible. But it's not exactly a free society. You can't do an op-ed in a local Gazan newspaper and complain about Hamas, or for that matter, complain about [Palestinian Authority Leader] Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank…The others, you don't get a chance to voice your opinion. You don't get a chance to say enough is enough. You cannot be a moderate. You either follow what's being handed to you or things happen to you.

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Reporters Without Borders explained that the Gaza Strip is a “particularly inhospitable territory for press freedom. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad harass and obstruct journalists suspected of collaborating with Israel.” While in the West Bank, “critical websites are shut down by the Palestinian Authority, while journalists are arrested and interrogated in order to put pressure on the political opposition.”

These five abuses only scratch the surface when it comes to what Palestinian leaders are doing to the people they claim to protect. I will go deeper into this issue in future pieces exposing the cruelty Hamas and the PA have inflicted on their own people.

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