Israel and the Palestinian Authority Know How to Scratch Each Other's Back

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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A Palestinian police officer stands in front of protestors in Ramallah, on Saturday.
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Ever since activist Nizar Banat was beaten to death in Palestinian Authority custody, attorney Farid al-Atrash has voiced scathing criticism of the PA and its security agencies. He does so in media interviews, in dozens of Facebook posts, while participating in demonstrations. The sentence “What was before [the murder of] Nizar Banat is not what will be after” ends almost every post he has written since June 24, a few hours after the death of the staunch PA critic, who was his close friend. The most recent protest against the PA that Al-Atrash took part in was on Saturday in Ramallah. A few hours later, he was arrested as he was on his way home to Bethlehem.

And no – he was not arrested by members of the Palestinian security agencies, but by Border Police troops stationed at the so-called Container checkpoint south of Abu Dis, on the winding road that is the only route along which Israel permits Palestinians to drive from the northern to the southern West Bank. Apparently, when Al-Atrash’s ID was checked, the “wanted” signal flashed on the checkpoint's computer screen. It turns out he had committed the serious offense on June 15 of participating in a protest in Bethlehem against the killing of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip by Israeli bombings. His interrogation on Sunday focused on "participating in a disturbance, organizing a march without a license, obstructing a soldier and disturbing public order."

How Israel, Fatah and the PA join forces to silence Palestinian protest: LISTEN to Amira Hass

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After his arrest, Al-Atrash felt unwell and was rushed to Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, according to a report by the Independent Palestinian Commission for Human Rights. Al-Atrash is the director of the southern West Bank branch of the commission – an official Palestinian institution whose job is to monitor the human rights situation under the PA and Hamas governments, to receive and investigate complaints about violations, and to represent civilians in Palestinian courts.

After Hadassah, Al-Atrash, 44, was taken to Border Police headquarters at Atarot for interrogation, and from there to Ofer Prison for detention. “It’s a relief that he’s in Ofer,” his friends say. According to the usual military protocol, directly after being arrested he should have been sent to the Israeli detention facility in Gush Etzion, where the conditions are unbearable even for people who are younger and healthier than he is.

As a private individual, as a Palestinian under occupation and as a lawyer, Al-Atrash frequently expresses criticism of the all authorities. The Israeli security services arrested him in the past, and he was tried in a military court for participating in a 2016 protest march without a license in Hebron, demanding that the city’s Shuhada Street be opened to Palestinians. (The Israeli occupation prohibits Palestinians from demonstrating.) He was also charged with obstructing a soldier on that day, because he refused to leave the demonstration site when ordered to. This trial, so vital to Israel’s security, went on for four years. Eventually, the two sides reached a deal in early June: Al-Atrash admitted to the charges and was sentenced to probation.

And what a surprise: Shortly afterward, the Israeli occupying authorities hastened to pluck Al-Atrash out of the hundreds of other protesters in Bethlehem, claiming he committed the same terrible crimes again and therefor due to be arrested ASAP. A real serial offender.

Some of his friends are convinced that the Israeli security forces arrested him at the request of the Palestinian security agencies. It’s possible to understand this paranoid conclusion – about the brotherhood of security services that collaborate with each other and share an interest in suppressing protests. On Sunday, the PA itself arrested Mohannad Karajah, another lawyer who spoke out against Banat’s killing and the suppression of protests, and held him for several hours.

But let us not belittle the autonomy of the decisions and actions taken by the occupation authorities here. Harassing people by means of interrogations, arrests, trials, detention and fines for the crime of realizing their civil right to demonstrate and criticize are the usual tactics of the Israeli oppression regime that calls itself a Jewish and democratic state.

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