In order to more correctly assess the impact of the Palestinian authority on human rights it is necessary to go back only one year to July 1997. During this period between Har Homa (the alleged reason for discontinuing contact between the Israeli Government and the PA) and until the Wye Agreement, a massive effort was taken by the PA to silence the liberal and progressive elements within it’s own society, instead of the Hamas and other Terrorist groups.
On 2 July, the Palestinian Preventative Security Service (PSS) arrested Dr. Fathi Ahmed Subuh, professor at the Department of Education at al Azhar University in Gaza, for asking several critical questions on a final exam.
Dr. Subuh was tortured and interrogated. During the three days that he was submitted to torture he was asked questions about his ties to Israeli and International Peace Groups.
Dr. Subuh has never been charged with any crime.
That same week Doctor Sabuh was taken from his cell in the Police detention center and rushed to Shifa Hospital in Gaza. He remained delirious with a high fever for over 20 hours. Hebcom’s human rights investigator, who managed to visit Doctor Sabuh in the recovery ward, reported that the doctor had lost over 10 kilograms of weight.
On 10th November, 1997, due to massive international pressure, Dr. Sabuh’s jailers offered him a deal; his freedom in return for his silence about what had been done to him in detention. His reply was that he would not give up his right to free speech, even in return for his freedom.
On 2nd November 1997 the lawyer of the Human Rights Action Project of Birzeit University submitted a petition to the Palestinian High Court in Ramallah on behalf of three Birzeit University students who had been detained by the Palestinian Authority without charge to trial for seven consecutive weeks at the Ramallah Central Prison.
The petition called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to declare the legal basis of the detentions or to release the students immediately.
Basic standards of law guarantee to each prisoner the right to be informed of the reason for arrest, the right to be brought before a person authorized to exercise judicial power within three or four days of arrest, and the right to meet regularly and without supervision with his or her lawyer.
The students were:
Ayman Muhammad Abu Zeid, from the town of Bitunya, a second year science student at Birzeit University. Ayman was arrested from his home on 10th September 1997 and is being held in the General Security section of the Ramallah Central Prison. He has not been informed of the reason for his arrest, nor the length of his detention.
Jamal Sa’dat Jarboua’h, from the town of Bitunya, a graduate student of Arabic language and is currently working on his teaching certificate at Birzeit University. Jamal was arrested from his home on 8th September 1997 and is being held in the General Security section of the Ramallah Central Prison. He has not been informed of the reason for his arrest, nor the length of his detention. Jamal’s health during his detention is a serious concern, as he suffers from severe allergies which result in debilitating headaches and ear infections which require regular injections and prescription medicine. Although Jamal has been taken to the hospital three times while in detention, his health continues to deteriorate. Musa Muhammad Al-Khaldi, from the town of Bitunya, is a masters student in Education at Birzeit University. Musa was arrested on 8th September 1997 after complying with a request to present himself to the PNA headquarters in Ramallah. He is being held in the General Security section of the Ramallah Central Prison and has not been informed of the reason for his arrest or the length of his detention. Musa recently received a scholarship to continue his studies in Germany, which is now at risk if he is not able to complete his masters thesis.
On 11th December 1997, Mahmoud Musleh was arrested without charge or arrest warrant along with 76 other suspected Islamic activists. LAW took his case as a test case against illegal arrest for the other 76 detainees. LAW filed a suit against his detention without charge at the Palestinian High Court. An order for his release was issued by the High Court on 30th November 1997.
However, 11 days later, the PNA executive still refuses to set him free. Musleh had been detained since 4th September 1997.
The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRM), headed by Mr. Bassam Eid, is probably the most respected Palestinian Human Rights group in the Middle East today. Its’ unflinching dedication to human rights has many times brought this group into conflict with members of the Palestinian Authority who use questionable methods during the detention and interrogation of suspects.
Members of this monitoring group, including Mr. Eid himself, have been detained without warrant as a result of their activities.
Hebcom remembers Mr. Eid as a field worker for B’Tselem, the Israeli Human Rights Monitoring Group, who fought tirelessly for both Palestinian and Jewish Administrative detainees during the last several years. Mr. Eid left B’Tselem in order to form the PHRM, a Palestinian group that strives to make positive changes in the PNA by working within the Authorties’ borders.
PHRM held a press conference last Wednesday, 17 December, in which charges were leveled against the PNA for neglecting to report any deaths which occurred in their detention facilities in Gaza during the last three years.
According to PHRM, there were 18 deaths in the Gaza detention centers since July 1994, when Gaza came under the jurisdiction of the PNA. Although the PNA had agreed to investigate these allegations, to date no report has been filed.
In Nablus, a city completely under PA control, Mr. Muhammad Jumayal was tortured to death sometime during July 1996. PHRM notes that although murder charges were made against three low ranking security guards, the identity of the superior officers who ordered the interrogation remains unknown.
Bassam Eid called on President Arafat to launch a “clean up” of the PA security forces, prison system, and prosecuting attorney’s offices.
During January 1998, Hebcom received preliminary notification of a Palestinian American citizen who is being held in administrative detention by the PA Police and Security apparatus in Ramalla detention center.
Mr. Abu Hakim was reportedly arrested about six months before on suspicion of attempting to handle land and property transactions between Jews and Palestinians, an offense for which many members of the PA are proposing the death penalty.
Abu Hakim is the father of two, and holds U.S. Citizenship. Although the Jerusalem American Consulate has been informed of the matter, according to the best information available, Mr. Hakim is still incarcerated.
He has not been charged and no trial date has been set. Mr. Hakim’s full name is: Abdel Mugnik Abu Hakim.
He was the former Muktar or Beit Batillo, Ramalla,
His wife and children are American Citizens living in the USA.
He has family in Ramalla.
On 13th April 1998, the Palestinian police refused yesterday, to allow the Palestine Center for Human Rights’ (PCHR) lawyer to visit his client, Dr. Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, who had been detained in Gaza since 9th April, 1998.
Dr. Abdel Aziz Ali al-Rantissi, 51 years old, from Khan Younis, is a medical doctor, a lecturer at the Islamic University in Gaza, and one of the most prominent Islamic figures in Palestine. He was released from Israeli jails in 1997 after more than four years of detention. Prior to that detention, he was one of more than 400 Palestinians deported to Southern Lebanon by Israel in December 1992. Dr. Ibrahim al-Maqadma, 46 years old, from el-Bureij, is a medical doctor at al-Nassr hospital in Gaza and a prominent figure in the Islamic movement in Palestine. The detentions of Dr. al-Rantissi and Dr. al-Maqadma come as part of a campaign of arrests carried out by Palestinian security forces against tens of citizens in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
These arrests specifically targeted prominent Islamic figures, among them Abdullah al-Shammi who was released yesterday, April 12, after five days of detention. This arrest campaign coincides with other measures taken by Palestinian security forces following the March 29 assassination in Ramallah of Muhyideen al-Sharif, a leading member of Kata’ib al-Qassam (the military arm of the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas).
Palestinian security officials announced that their investigation revealed that al-Sharif was assassinated by other members of Kata’ib al-Qassam as part of an internal power struggle.
Hamas and its leaders rejected the results of the investigation by the; Palestinian Authority and announced that they would carry out their own investigation to unveil the facts surrounding the assassination of al-Sharif. It seems that Dr. al-Rantissi had been arrested in connection with his statements rejecting the Palestinian Authority’s account of the assassination.
Among the other measures carried out in the wake of al-Sharif’s assassination, Palestinian police closed the Gaza office of Reuters News Agency on 9th April, 1998.
This illegal closure took place after the Jerusalem office of Reuters distributed a videotape in which Adel Awadallah, another leading member of Kata’ib al-Qassam, rejected accusations by the Palestinian Authority that he assassinated his colleague, al-Sharif. The Palestinian police also forced the senior correspondent of Reuters, Taher Shrateh, and four colleagues, to sign a pledge that they will not deal with the news agency for three months.
The United States Department of State has documented P.A. human rights violations in their report which was released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. In this report they state that the PA does not have a uniform law on administrative detention, and security officials do not always adhere to the existing laws in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Laws applicable in Gaza, which are not observed in the West Bank, stipulate that detainees held without charge be released within 48 hours. These laws allow the Attorney General to extend the detention period to a maximum of 90 days during investigations.
Human rights organizations and the PA Ministry of Justice assert that PA security officials do not always adhere to this regulation. Prevailing law in the West Bank allows a suspect to be detained for 24 hours before being charged. The Attorney General can extend the detention period.
PA authorities generally permit prisoners to receive visits from family members, attorneys, and human rights monitors, except for prisoners held for alleged security offenses. PA security officials are not always aware that lawyers have a right to see their clients. In principle detainees may notify their families of their arrest, but this is not always permitted.
PA security services have overlapping or unclear mandates that often complicate the protection of human rights. Under existing law in the West Bank, only the PA’s civil police force is authorized to make arrests. In practice, all security forces are known to detain people at various times. The operating procedures and regulations for conduct of PA security personnel in the various services are not well developed and have not yet been made fully available to the public.
There are many detention facilities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip administered by the overlapping PA security services, a situation that complicates the ability of families, lawyers, and even the Ministry of Justice to track detainees’ whereabouts. Security services including Preventive Security, General Intelligence, military intelligence, and the coast guard have their own interrogation and detention facilities.
In general these services do not, or only sporadically, inform families of a relative’s arrest. Most PA security officers remain ignorant of proper arrest, detention, and interrogation procedures, as well as basic human rights standards. Human rights groups continue to provide basic human rights training to PA security services. During 1997, human rights groups provided training to representatives of all the PA security services, including the PA military intelligence service. In 1997 more than 60 PA security officials participated in human rights courses, bringing the total number of security officials who have graduated from human rights courses to almost 700, according to human rights groups.
PA security forces continued to arrest arbitrarily and detain journalists, professors, political activists, and human rights advocates, who criticized the PA, including journalist Daoud Kuttab and university professor Fathi Ahmed Subuh.
PA security services in Gaza and the West Bank arrested dozens of Palestinians in the wake of the three 1997 suicide bombing attacks, a more targeted campaign than in past years. The majority of arrests were conducted without warrants; most of those arrested in these campaigns remain in detention without being charged.
Human rights organizations estimate that the PA has held approximately 120 people for more than a year without charge, and the total number of Palestinians in PA jails reached 725 by November.
The PA inherited a court system based on structures and legal codes predating the 1967 Israeli occupation. The Gaza legal code derives from British Mandate law, Egyptian law, and PA directives and laws. Pre-1967 Jordanian law applies in PA-controlled areas of the West Bank. Bodies of law in the Gaza Strip and West Bank have been substantially modified by Israeli military orders.
According to the DOP and the Interim Agreement, Israeli military decrees issued during the occupation theoretically remain valid in both areas and are subject to review pursuant to specific procedure. The PA states that it is undertaking efforts to unify the Gaza and West Bank legal codes, but in 3 years little progress has been made.
The court system in general is recovering from years of neglect; many of the problems predate PA jurisdiction. Judges and staff are underpaid and overworked and suffer from lack of skills and training; court procedures and record-keeping are archaic and chaotic; and the delivery of justice is often slow and uneven. The ability of the courts to enforce decisions is extremely weak, and there is administrative confusion in the appeals process.
The PA Ministry of Justice appoints all civil judges for 10-year terms. The Attorney General, an appointed official, reports to the Minister of Justice and supervises judicial operations in both the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
In 1995 the PA established state security courts in Gaza and the West Bank to try cases involving security issues. Three military judges preside over each court. A senior police official heads the state Security court in Jericho and three judges preside over it. There is no right of appeal, but verdicts may be either ratified or repealed by the PA Chairman, Yasir Arafat. The PA Ministry of Justice has no jurisdiction over the state security courts, which appear to be subordinate only to the Chairman of the PA.
In 1997, PA security courts sentenced 14 defendants: 3 received death sentences, bringing the total number of Palestinians sentenced to death to 13.
The PA usually ignores the legal limits on the length of pre-arraignment detention of detainees suspected of security offenses.
Defendants are often brought to court without knowledge of the charges against them or sufficient time to prepare a defense.
Defendants are typically represented by court-appointed lawyers. Court sessions often take place on short notice in the middle of the night and without lawyers present; all violations of defendants’ right to due process. In some instances, security courts try cases, issue verdicts, and impose sentences in a single session lasting several hours.
Palestinian Attorney General Fayez Abu Rahme acknowledged that at least 100 political prisoners are being held by the PA.
PA authorities arrested approximately 200 people on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity.
PA security forces subjected some of the detainees to torture and repeated beatings.
Although the PA claims to respect its citizens’ right to express themselves freely, the PA limited freedom of speech and the press. The PA continued to harass, detain, and abuse journalists.
PA harassment has lead many Palestinian commentators, reporters, and critics to practice self-censorship.
Fathi Ahmed Subuh, a prominent university professor, and Daoud Kuttab, a well-known journalist who criticized the PA, were both imprisoned without charge during the year and Sobah was tortured. PA prison conditions are very poor. PA security forces arbitrarily arrest and detain persons. Prolonged detention and lack of due process are problems. The courts are inefficient, lack staff and resources, and do not ensure fair and expeditious trials. PA security forces infringed on the right to privacy, and there were reports that the PA placed some limits on the freedom of association.
Discrimination against women and the disabled is a problem.
During 1997, two Palestinians died in PA custody, after being tortured.
In 1996 two Palestinians who died in PA custody also were tortured. In the most egregious case, Yusif Baba, who was being held without charge in Nablus, died on January 31 after being tortured by PA Military Intelligence officials. Baba’s autopsy showed contusions from repeated blows to the head, rope burns around his head and feet, cigarette burns on the right shoulder, and burns caused by an electrical instrument on many parts of his body. The PA admitted that Baba had been tortured to death, but never charged any of the security officials involved with a crime.
On June 30, 28-year-old Nasser Abed Radwan from the Gaza Strip was killed in detention while being held without charge by PA Presidential Security (Force 17). Force 17 authorities told Radwan’s family that he banged his head on the wall, but a PA autopsy concluded that Radwan had been tortured to death. A PA military court sentenced three of the Force 17 bodyguards involved to death and three others to prison terms ranging from 6 months to 5 years.
The wife of Hakim Qamhawi, who died in PA custody in June, told the press that his body showed signs of torture
In April five undercover members of the Palestinian Intelligence Service shot and killed a Palestinian woman outside of Ramallah when the vehicle she was riding in failed to heed the agents’ signal to stop. In a subsequent trial, a PA court convicted the five security officials involved of causing a death through negligence.
The intelligence official who fired the shot that killed the women was sentenced to 5 years in prison, the commander of the unit was sentenced to a 1-year prison term for failing to maintain discipline among his unit, the three other men in the unit were sentenced to 2 months each for failing to prevent a crime.
On May 5, PA Justice Minister Freih Abu Middein announced that the death penalty would be imposed on anyone convicted of ceding “one inch” to Israel.
Later that month, two Arab land dealers were killed. Farih Bashiti, a real estate dealer from Jerusalem who was accused of selling land to Jews, was found dead in Ramallah. Two persons were arrested in the case.
In another incident, Harbi Abu Sara was shot and killed in Ramallah 8 days after Bashiti’s body was found. PA officials deny any involvement in the killings. The PA has arrested and continues to hold several suspected land dealers for violating the Jordanian law (in force in the West Bank), which prohibits the sale of land to foreigners. (Jews)
On November 20, an unidentified gunman shot two Jewish religious students in Jerusalem, killing one, and seriously wounding the other. The Israeli investigation into the case is ongoing, but no suspects have been arrested at year’s end.
A security court sentenced the principal killers of two Israeli settlers, Etta Tsur and her 12-year-old son Ephraim, (killed on 11th December, 1996) to 25 years’ imprisonment and an accomplice to 15 years’ imprisonment.
The court convicted Palestinian Preventive Security officer Moussa Mustafa of abducting a suspected Arab informer for Israel from Jerusalem, torturing him, and holding him for 5 months.
PA security officials abuse prisoners by hooding, beating, tying in painful positions, sleep and food deprivation, threats, and burning detainees with cigarettes and hot instruments. International human rights monitoring groups have documented widespread arbitrary and abusive conduct by the PA.
Gaza University professor Fathi Ahmed Subuh reported that he was subjected to torture by sleep deprivation, being forced to stand for long periods, and being shackled.
During the year, seven Palestinians died in PA custody, two after being tortured.
In 1996 two of the four Palestinians who died in PA custody also were tortured. In December the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG) reported that the PA has not sufficiently investigated deaths in custody. The PHRMG added that the PA has tried to cover up incidents by claiming that several deaths were the result of heart attacks or suicides. In mid-June Hakam Qamhawi died while in PA General Intelligence custody in Jericho. PA officials said that Qamhawi committed suicide and died on the way to the hospital, but his wife told the press that his body showed signs of torture. A PA forensic expert stated that Qamhawi died of a heart attack. No official autopsy was conducted.
In January Fayez Qamsieh died while in the custody of PA Military Intelligence in Bethlehem. The PA claimed that Qamsieh, who had a history of heart trouble, died of a heart attack. Doctors observing the autopsy on behalf of Qamsieh’s relatives agreed that he died of a heart attack, but bruises on his body suggest that mistreatment may have triggered his death. There were complaints that Qamsieh had not received prompt medical attention. The PA said that it would investigate this charge, but has never published the results of its investigation.
Sami Abed Rabbo, held in Saraya prison in Gaza without charge, died on July 4, also under the custody of PA General Intelligence. Family members were told he died of a heart attack. Despite demands from human rights groups for an official autopsy, there has been no official response. The PHRMG stated that his death does not appear to be the result of torture or denial of medical treatment, his lengthy illegal detention may have contributed to his illness (liver disease and mental illness).
On October 14, Ibrahim Al-Sheikh died of a heart attack while serving a prison sentence in Nablus for involvement in a murder.
On November 9, Nafea Mardawi died in a Nablus prison also of an apparent heart attack. He was serving a sentence for selling land illegally to Israelis. Human rights groups concur that both men had preexisting medical conditions that support the PA’s assertion that they died of heart attacks. However, concerns linger that the prisoners were not provided the most prompt or thorough preventive medical care.
At around 12:00 p.m. on 28th April 1998, a student from Al-Azhar University was playing with his gun in a cafeteria near the university when suddenly a bullet was fired, resulting in the injury of Kamilia Al-Mughayar, a student who was walking on the opposite side of the street.
Al-Mughayar was shot in the right side of her body and immediately transferred to Al-Shifa Hospital, where she received treatment. In addition to being a student in the Law School at al-Azhar, the perpetrator works with the Palestinian General Intelligence. He is currently being detained by the Palestinian police.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights expressed its deep concern about this bloody incident as well as the general lack of caution in the handling of weapons and lack of concern for the safety of civilians. Despite declarations by the Palestinian police that they have initiated a campaign to collect weapons from civilians and that they promote the protection of civilian lives, weapons remain widespread in Gaza.
Several times this dangerous situation has raised the concern and drawn the attention of the PCHR. Now it has reached the point that university students carry weapons, endangering the lives of other students and violating respect for the campus and its surroundings.
Journalists Under Attack by Palestinian General Intelligence
On 5 May, two armed agents of the Palestinian General Intelligence raided the Jerusalem Media Office and arrested its owner, photographer and reporter Abbas al Moumani. He was taken to the detention center in Ramallah. It is not known why he was arrested.
Eyewitnesses reported that the two officials had arrived to the office at 8:00 in the morning, and on the arrival of Mr. Moumani, asked him to go for a five-minute talk. Mr. Moumani has been detained since that time, and has not been allowed visits from his family and has been denied legal representation.
Mr. Moumani works for Reuters news agency, and was interrogated previously in relation to a video of LAW’s client Imad Awadalla, the man accused of killing the Hamas military leader Muhiyyadin Sharif. The Palestinian General Intelligence has raided this office on more than one occasion, examining telephone records and questioning staff.
This incident, along with the closure of the Reuters office in Gaza in April and other attempts to control the reporting of this assassination, seriously undermines the independence of the media and curtails the freedom of expression. The fact that Mr. Moumani has been denied family visits and legal representation is a cause for alarm. LAW called on the General Intelligence to release Mr. Moumani immediately, and to desist from interfering in his work.
The PA’s Treatment of Christians
In several editions this year, the Middle East Digest has highlighted the plight of Christian Arabs living under Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority. In mid-October, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office released the findings of its investigation into claims that PA police were systematically harassing and persecuting Christians.
The Takeover of Bethlehem
On taking control over Bethlehem in December 1995, the Palestinian Authority changed the rules for Christians. The Church of the Nativity and other sites of central importance to Christianity came under Palestinian Authority control, giving Yasser Arafat leverage over the heads of the Christian communities.
Since then, the local Christian leadership has toed the line of the Palestinian Authority.
The Latin patriarch, Greek archbishop, Anglican bishop and Lutheran bishop are all Palestinian Arabs. They have become effective propaganda mouthpieces throughout the Christian world.
An example of Arafat’s attitude toward the Christians was his decision to unilaterally turn the Greek Orthodox monastery near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem into his domicile during his periodic visits to the city. This was done without prior consent of the church.
Treatment of Christians by the PA
On the social and religious level, the Christians remaining in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas are subjected to relentless persecution.
Christian cemeteries have been destroyed, monasteries have had their telephone lines cut, and there have been break-ins at convents. Nuns are afraid to report such incidents.
In August 1997, Palestinian policemen in Beit Sahour [near Bethlehem] opened fire on a crowd of Christian Arabs, wounding six.
The Palestinian Authority is attempting to cover up the incident and has warned against publicizing the story.
The local commander of the Palestinian police instructed journalists not to report on the incident.
Palestinian security forces have targeted and intimidated Christian leaders and Palestinian converts to Christianity.
Recent incidents of persecution include the following:
In late June 1997, a Palestinian convert to Christianity in the northern West Bank was arrested by agents of the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Service.
He had been regularly attending church and prayer meetings and was distributing Bibles. The Palestinian Authority ordered his arrest. He is still being held in a Palestinian prison and has been subjected to physical torture and interrogations.
The pastor of a church in Ram’Allah was recently warned by Palestinian Authority security agents that they were monitoring his evangelistic activities in the area and wanted him to come in for questioning for spreading Christianity. A Palestinian convert to Christianity living in a village near Nablus was recently arrested by Palestinian police. A Muslim preacher was brought in by the police, and he attempted to convince the convert to return to Islam.
When the convert refused, he was brought before a Palestinian court and sentenced to prison for insulting the religious leader. He is now sharing a prison cell with more than 30 people, most serving life sentences for murder. A Palestinian convert to Christianity in Ram’Allah was recently visited by Palestinian policemen at his home and warned that if he continued to preach Christianity, he would be arrested and charged with being an Israeli spy.
As a result of unceasing persecution, the Christians are forced to behave like any oppressed minority which aims to survive. Christians in PA-controlled areas have taken to praying in secret. The wisdom of survival compels them to assess the “balance of fear”, according to which they have nothing to fear from Israel but face an existential threat from the Palestinian Authority and their Muslim neighbors.
They act accordingly: they seek to “find favor” through unending praise and adulation for the Muslim ruler together with public denunciations of the “Zionist entity.”
Emigration of Christians from PA territory
In the last census conducted by the British mandatory authorities in 1947, there were 28,000 Christians in Jerusalem. The census conducted by Israel in 1967 [after the Six-Day War ended a 19-year Jordanian occupation of the eastern part of the city, uniting Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty] showed just 11,000 Christians remaining in the city.
This means that some 17,000 Christians (or 61 per cent) left during the days of King Hussein’s rule over Jerusalem. Their place was filled by Muslim Arabs from Hebron.
During the British mandate period, Bethlehem had a Christian majority of 80 per cent. Today, under Palestinian rule, it has a Muslim majority of 80 per cent.
Few Christians remain in the Palestinian-controlled parts of the West Bank. Those who can emigrate, do so, and there will soon be virtually no Christians in the PA-controlled areas. The PA is trying to conceal the fact of massive Christian emigration from areas under its control.
Christians Under Threat
“‘Palestine’ is an Islamic state”, top Arafat advisor tells pastors concerned about Christian persecution under PA.
In recent issues, the Digest has reported on the Palestinian Authority’s oppression of Arab Christians in the self-rule areas.
Despite noteworthy efforts to end this official campaign of persecution, the PA is unrelenting, particularly in its targeting of Christian converts from Islamic backgrounds.
Arab Christian Mohammed Bak’r is entering his sixth month in a PA prison for openly proclaiming his faith. Numerous inquiries have been made to PA officials concerning his case, but no trial date has been set or evidence produced against him.
The Foreign Minister of Norway, Knut Vollebaek, reportedly raised the issue of Bak’r directly with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat in a private meeting, but to no avail. Afterwards, Arafat abruptly ended their joint press conference when a Norwegian journalist asked him a question about Bak’r.
Threats against another Muslim convert to Christianity proved all too real in November as a radical Islamist drove into his village near Nablus and, according to several eyewitness accounts, intentionally swerved onto the sidewalk to hit his eight-year-old daughter.
Although she suffered a fractured hip and a severe head injury, she has had a miraculously quick recovery. Her father first learned of her fate through an anonymous caller claiming that the “down payment” for his conversion had been made–with more “payments” to follow. Although numerous villagers confirmed the driver’s identity to Palestinian police, they have refused to take action.
These and other cases were highlighted in a special broadcast on a Dutch Christian television station in early December, which included a live interview with PA Minister for Education Hanan Ashrawi, a Greek Orthodox Christian. After denying such reports as Israeli propaganda early in the show, Ashrawi had to retract after viewing footage of disguised Christians from Bethlehem and Nablus tell of the persecution they have suffered since they came under PA rule.
The show’s host, Joppe Meijers, told the Digest he also had located eyewitnesses to the PA’s shooting of six Christian Arabs near Bethlehem in August, but none were willing to discuss the incident on his program, even in disguise.
A leading PA advisor to Arafat and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council recently told area pastors their evangelical activities among Muslims were considered subversive and a threat to the PA. He is familiar with the Bak’r case and maintained that the PA is an Islamic state which has adopted Islamic sha’ria law, making democratic considerations secondary.
“Our religion comes first,” he insisted, adding that the PA doubts any donor nation would cut off funds based on religious grounds. In an opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post concerning the unexplained deaths of at least 18 prisoners in PA custody, Palestinian human rights activist Bassam Eid lamented that “the PA is not serious about solving its human rights problem” and often uses “blackmail” against aggrieved families (Dec 17).
Charles Kopp, who has pastored in Israel for several decades, expressed the sentiments of many local Christian organizations when he said he was saddened to see the PA’s lack of respect for democracy, human rights and religious liberties. Even veteran ministers who went through the intifada are wondering how long they can continue their outreach in PA areas under the current oppressive conditions. And one source suggested we may have uncovered only the tip of the iceberg, as rumors abound of slain and missing Christian Arabs in and near Nablus in recent months. Respected British paper reports on converts’ plight: “Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority is waging a campaign of intimidation and harassment to push Muslims who have converted to Christianity to renounce their new faith,” the London Sunday Telegraph reported on December 21.
According to reporter Aliza Marcus, a number of Arab converts told her they had been threatened, beaten, and some jailed by PA officials. One recounted how Palestinian police had warned him he had “better become a Muslim again”. When he refused, he said, he was accused of spying for Israel and eventually had to flee for his life. Another, who became a Christian six years ago, alleged he had been detained twice this year, had his shop burnt down and Islamic slogans painted on his car.
Since taking control of areas in Judea, Samaria and Gaza under the Oslo Accords, said the Sunday Telegraph, the Arafat authority had been accused of “torturing detainees, jailing people for years without charge and holding midnight trials in which defendants are sentenced in a matter of hours”. The situation had been described as “deplorable” by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
The newspaper incorrectly stated that the PA “does not have any laws making it illegal to convert”. In fact, as reported in the Digest (Oct 1997), PA Justice Minister Fayez Abu Rahmeh confirmed to the Jerusalem Report (Sept 4) that, based on a law from the British Mandate period, missionising aimed at Muslims “will be considered a crime”.
Around 106 converts are living largely secretive lives among the 1,5 million Muslim Palestinians in Judea-Samaria, Marcus estimated. “Palestinians suggest that converts are being harassed because Islam demands death for ex-Muslims who do not renounce their new faith. Converts may also face problems because generally they are members of evangelical churches which opposed an independent Palestinian state.
Evangelical Christians read the Bible literally and say that God gave this stretch of land to the Jews: “It appears that Palestinian officials are both accusing converts of disloyalty and using laws–such as accusing converts of stealing or selling land to Jews–as a way to put a legal face on the harassment,” Marcus wrote. “One convert, a 34-year-old father of six, has been in prison four times this year because police say they suspect him of stealing. He has never been charged. Another has been held for five months, allegedly for selling land to Jews. But his seven children and wife live in two cramped rooms in a poverty-stricken village in the West Bank. His relatives say he never had any land.”
Christian Embassy Assails PA Torture of Arab Christians
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (“Embassy”) today expressed urgent concern over the Palestinian Authority’s brutal torture and persecution of Palestinian Arab Christians, and urged government and church leaders worldwide to condemn and sanction the PA for such behavior.
Embassy officials stated: “We understand that Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian police have been holding on false charges Muhammed Bak’r since June 30 in deplorable conditions, first at the Qalqilya interrogation center and now at the Nablus prison. Bak’r has been repeatedly tortured, including beatings on his back and being hung from the ceiling by his hands, in an attempt to force a totally unwarranted confession from him of either “collaboration” with Israel or selling land to Jews.
Bak’r, who comes from the village of Kiri (which is still within Israel’s security jurisdiction under the Oslo agreements), is an ex-Muslim who converted to Christianity six years ago. The consensus among those in his village is that Bak’r is actually being tortured for proclaiming his faith, and that he is a victim of Arafat and the PA’s religious campaign against non-Muslims.
“Bak’r is the latest victim in the PA’s officially-sanctioned campaign to persecute ex-Muslims who have converted to the Christian faith in hopes of deterring other such conversions. According to Islamic law, converting to another religion is a crime punishable by death. The PA has been utilizing brutal and repressive means to impose such cruel, antiquated pronouncements upon all of the Palestinian Arab population, even those not within its jurisdiction.
“Other ex-Muslim converts to Christianity have been routinely subjected to detentions, beatings, interrogations and threats, including Shak’r Saleh, who was held and tortured in a Jericho prison by Palestinian Security Services two years ago, before being released after the intervention of former US President Jimmy Carter, and others, on his behalf.
“We demand the immediate release of Muhammad Bak’r and guarantees of safety for him and his family. Further, we urge government and church leaders worldwide to condemn Arafat and his Palestinian Authority for this deplorable campaign of abuse against religious freedom and human rights. To avoid their own complicity with the PA’s actions, the Western donor nations should sanction the PA by withholding funding, and conduct an immediate investigation into this and other violations of human rights in the PA.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are sending out this urgent communique on behalf of our brother Muhammad Bak’r who is an ex-Moslem who accepted Jesus as Lord approximately six years ago. He was arrested by the Palestinian Secret Police on Monday, June 30th.
His detention is illegal as his village, Kiri, is under Israeli jurisdiction. Since his conversion, Muhammed has been faithfully giving out Bibles and boldly declaring the Gospel. He has befriended many brothers and sisters from around the world who come to Israel to visit, and has shared with them how God has saved him, and given him love for all mankind.
He faithfully attends church, Bible study and prayer meetings. According to Islam, converting to another religion is a crime punishable by death. Because of this, he has been accused by the Palestinian Authority on trumped up charges of being a spy for Israel and selling land to Jews.
(This has been declared a crime punishable by death by the Palestinian Minister of Justice) The charges are totally false, as he lives with his wife and 9 children in 2 small rooms. He lives from hand to mouth as a construction laborer. We’ve heard from reliable sources that he is being tortured, and starved.
The Palestinians have a new saying now, which goes something like this, “If you want to know what hell is like, visit a Palestinian prison when prisoners are being tortured. Only God can help you once you’re in there”.
We are asking primarily for prayer for Muhammed for his immediate release (as per Acts 12:5).
During the days immediately preceding the Wye agreement, an almost total silence fell on the few human rights activists still maintaining some sort of presence in the PA.
The silence regarding the issues of human rights does not mean that the abuses have stopped on the contrary, it only means that the Palestinian Authority Police State has finally succeeded in muzzling it’s opposition.
Most of the “wanted criminals” which are to be jailed under the agreement are equally dangerous to the PA as to the Israelis. The few PLO loyalists on the lists will not spend any significant time behind bars. The revolving door policy is still in force for these men. The PA believes it can barter information on Iraq and other terrorist states to the CIA in return for a “closed eye” policy regarding the incarceration and release of their loyal soldiers.
Summary executions are still taking place on the streets. Last month Hebcom received a report of an execution in Bethlehem in which a PA policeman shot and killed a man during an argument. There were no arrests and his family is to frightened to go public.
The Christians in Bethlehem are afraid to place crosses on their houses, which they had wished to display in honor of the second millenium. They have had their houses stoned, and their children beaten as another “first installment” for not showing proper respect for the Prophet and his Koran. Their tormentors continue to work unmolested by the PA police.
This silence is the silence of fear mixed with apathy. The Palestinian human rights activists have received no aid from the U.S. and Israel. The world community has abandoned them, and as they approach the creation of their “state”, many view this change with outright fear. The Palestinians continue to be the major looser in the Middle East.
The Palestinians are creating their own inferno and on their borders is emblazoned the warning: “abandon all hope ye whom enter here.”