Many of the accusations are not new. Human Rights Watch drew attention to what it called the “perilous state of human rights in the Palestinian self-rule areas” in a report on both Israeli and Palestinian violations in 1995. Journalists and rights organizations have documented many cases since.
But the 149-page report published on Tuesday, which was two years in the making, drew on testimony from more than 140 witnesses, including former detainees, their relatives and lawyers, and it also reviewed medical records and court documents. Human Rights Watch detailed more than two dozen cases of people who it said were “detained for no clear reason beyond writing a critical article or Facebook post or belonging to the wrong student group or political movement.” The detentions often lasted for days or weeks, and the purpose of the authorities’ actions, the advocacy group said, was to punish critics and deter further activism.
Human Rights Watch also pointed to systematic abuse including beatings, foot-whipping and, in particular, a form of torture known as “shabeh” in Arabic, in which detainees are contorted for long periods into stress positions that cause pain but rarely leave marks.
Human Rights Watch called on countries that provide assistance to the various security agencies accused of such abuse to suspend that part of their aid.
Palestinian analysts have long noted the increasing autocracy of the octogenarian Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in his struggle to suppress real and perceived rivals, and the competition between his Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and Hamas has led to waves of tit-for-tat arrests.
In Ramallah, some Palestinians asked about the authority said that they did not dare speak publicly, making a snatching motion with their fingers to suggest that expressing criticism could lead them to be whisked off the street. Unauthorized protests have been brutally broken up. In Hamas-run Gaza, the authorities have long been accused of intimidating journalists and critics.
In response to questions posed by Human Rights Watch, one of the West Bank security agencies, the Preventive Security Service, said that 220 Palestinians had been detained following posts on social media because they “fell outside the bounds of criticism and expression of opinion,” and could have “endangered the lives of citizens.”