Palestine's Petty Fiefdoms: How the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are Destroying the Dream of a Free Palestine with Torture, Corruption and a Parallel Police State

PA and Hamas Destroying Palestine
Palestine's Petty Fiefdoms: How the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are Destroying the Dream of a Free Palestine with Torture, Corruption and a Parallel Police State
Published March 24th, 2019 - 10:52 GMT

At a glance: The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza have prioritized ruling their strips of Palestinian land over guaranteeing the rights of Palestinians. Al Bawaba spoke with Palestinian activists, analysts, and human rights defenders who count the PA and Hamas’ brutal tactics to maintain power, including torturing dissidents and rampant corruption. It is becoming clear that both have a significant role in disempowering Palestinians, taking away their rights and any semblance that their wills are being represented. They both have helped to trap the Palestinian people.


Who can free Palestine?

The concept of Palestine itself has evolved from one that demands recognition of land and the right of return for millions of Palestinians around the world, to one that has become a symbol of freedom for the marginalized everywhere.

The slogan ‘'Free Palestine’ is deeply connected to a web of other oppressions around the globe, including that against the Rohingya and the people of Darfur in Sudan, support for it is growing in places like Europe and India.

But the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas, who market themselves are the liberators of Palestine are anything but.

The PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza regularly torture dissidents, harass journalists and crush dissent. PA officials refuse to meet with government watchdog organizations or hear corruption allegations made against them. Business owners report that the PA acts as a gatekeeper to the economy, obstructing any potential business plans that may get in the way of its control of certain industries. All the while, Palestinians face an increasingly restricted economy, a deepening military occupation by Israel and less political rights than ever before.

Al Bawaba spoke with Palestinian analysts, journalists and activists, who all say that both Hamas and the PA have become more dedicated to maintaining holds on their ‘petty fiefdoms,’ as one interviewee put it, than actually seeking to guarantee the rights of Palestinians.

The future of Palestinians is being foreclosed on them, in part by those who are ruling over them.

Some inside the Palestinian territories are now saying that Free Palestine is as much about liberating Palestinians from the oppressive governance of Hamas and the PA as it is resisting Israel’s occupation.


“Parallel Police States” in Gaza and the West Bank

 Palestinian authorities have gained only limited power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but yet, where they have autonomy, they have developed parallel police states.

Omar Shakir, the current Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), is used to being targeted by oppressive states.

In 2013, he was kicked out of Egypt for his investigation on the Rabaa massacre by Egyptian security and military forces under the command of current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Israel has been trying to deport Shakir since he arrived in 2017.

Shakir told Al Bawaba, “25 years after Oslo,” where the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) negotiated a tentative pathway to a two-state solution with Israel, “Palestinian authorities have gained only limited power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but yet, where they have autonomy, they have developed parallel police states.”

In Oct 2018, HRW released the findings of its two-year investigation on police and security abuses in the Gaza and West Bank by Hamas and the PA. It found that both authorities were carrying out systematic and arbitrary arrests of dissidents “for no clear reason beyond writing a critical article or Facebook post or belonging to the wrong student group or political movement and torturing those in detention,” in Omar’s own words.

“Effective impunity for these serious abuses remain the norm.”


Crackdowns on Dissent in the West Bank

Palestinian security forces train in Jenin, Palestine (AFP/FILE)

The HRW report, released on Oct 22, collected hundreds of cases of wrongful arrests and detentions and found dozens of instances where both the PA and Hamas tortured its detainees without any repercussions. It indicts the PA’s Intelligence Services, Joint Security Committee and the Preventative Security forces as well as Hamas’ Internal Security forces.

The PA monitors the West Bank’s social media platforms as closely as it does the streets of Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron.

Preventative Security admitted to HRW that it had sought out and detained 220 people in 2016 and 2017 for posting views online that, according to them, “falls outside the bounds of criticism and expression of opinions” and that “could have truly endangered the lives of civilians.”

In June 2018, the PA temporarily outlawed public demonstrations to preemptively break up a planned protest against the PA’s economic sanctions imposed on Gaza. The new decree did not work to dissuade protesters, and hundreds descended on Al-Manara Square in Ramallah to voice their grievances against the PA’s measures against Gaza, which place even more economic pressure on one of the poorest regions in the Middle East.

“The (Israeli) occupation is the main culprit responsible for the blockade on Gaza, but President Abbas is making things worse by also imposing collective punishment on families there,” said Fadi Quran, a Palestinian activist and campaigner with Avaaz who helped organize the protests. The PA intelligence chief Majed Faraj had also reportedly threatened to sever the PA’s security relationship with Israel if the blockade of Gaza was lifted, drawing even more protesters out onto the streets.

At the time in Gaza, thousands were marching near the Gaza border fence with Israel to demand the right of return. Palestinians organized protests across the West Bank to stand in solidarity with them throughout much of the Spring and Summer.

The PA’s security response to the Ramallah protest was swift and unsparing: “The police handled the demonstrations with brute force, dozens were arrested, beaten and harassed,” Quran told Al Bawaba.

“They sent in huge numbers of police, some not wearing uniforms, and they used batons, teargas, and other means. They sought to completely shut down any attempts at dissent.”

The goal of the PA, Quran said, is to shut down these demonstrations: “Their tactics span the spectrum of what you would expect from a dictatorial regime. Violence, arrest, character assassination.”


‘Shabeh:’ How the PA Tortures


 They tied his hands to the ceiling of an interrogation room and slowly pulled the ropes up.

While in the custody of the PA, detainee treatment often qualifies as torture.

The PA security forces routinely use a tactic known as shabeh against its prisoners. Shabeh is an Arabic word that refers to pinning people in various stress positions that cause immense pain but leave little physical trace on the body in terms of cuts and bruises. It is used to break the will of the detainees and force compliance or confessions out of them. They regularly deploy this method against people suspected of providing support for even publicly sympathizing with Hamas.

Many documented cases of shabeh come from Jericho Prison and its neighboring detention facilities that are used by the PA’s Intelligence Services, Preventive Security, and the Joint Security Committee.

Palestinian journalist Sami As-Sai was charged with “inciting religious hatred” on Facebook and taken to a Jericho facility, where he held for weeks. There, PA forces told him, “we had people who entered here with muscles and left without any.” They tied his hands to the ceiling of an interrogation room and slowly pulled the ropes up. He told an investigator from HRW that he needed assistance going to the bathroom afterwards as he could not use his arms.

Sami’s mother, who was only able to visit him after 16 days, said “it was clear he had lost a lot of weight to the extent he could not walk properly.”

“He told me that he was subjected to torture from the first day he arrived, including beatings and being hung from door frames and windows. They would force him to remain standing up for very long periods and deprive him of sleep for days,” she added.

The Arab Organization for Human Rights in the UK found over 15 similar case of PA forces torturing detainees, mostly at the Jericho Prison. On Nov 11, 2018, reports surfaced that PA forces had tortured Suha Jebara at the same detention facility in Jericho. Jebara is an American-Panamanian whom the PA accused of “providing help for the families of Palestinian martyrs and prisoners.”


Protesters clash with Israeli forces in Nablus (AFP/FILE)

Another detainee told an investigator that he was electrocuted twice, and had a cord tied around his penis. He remembers watching on as PA officers dislocated the shoulder of detainee when he was struck with a chair while he was tied down.

These brutal methods have led to a systemic chilling effect on Palestinians inside the West Bank, who doubly fear the Israeli occupying forces and the PA’s own security forces, since they both enforce draconian laws and resort to torture to enforce their positions over the territory.

Omar Shakir of HRW further told Al Bawaba that not a single security officer in the West Bank and Gaza Strip had been convicted for a wrongful arrest or torture in 2016 and 2017.

“While the authorities regularly receive citizen complaints and have systems to investigate them, only a minority have resulted in a finding of wrongdoing, according to data provided by the security services themselves. Even fewer led to an administrative sanction or referral for criminal prosecution,” Shakir said.

Thanks to this type of rule, Palestinians’ support for the PA’s rule in the West Bank are at historic lows. More than 60 percent demand the resignation of Mahmoud Abbas, the current president of the PA, 43 percent blame Abbas and the PA for the worsening conditions in Gaza and 50 percent say the PA is a burden on the Palestinian people, according to Sep 2018 opinion polls.

“I did not see either the Hamas nor the PA in the West Bank trying to put out any kind of legislation protecting the human rights, freedom of speech and democracy,” Palestinian journalist Bassem Eid said to Al Bawaba. Eid, who lives in the West Bank, knows all too well how the PA views members of the press investigating its rule.

In 1996 he was arrested by Palestinian security forces. The main reason for the arrest, he explained, was a report he published with B’Tselem, a government watchdog agency. Entitled “Neither Law Nor Justice,”the report details severe violations of human rights by the Preventative Security Forces (PSF) operating in the West Bank. Eid documented numerous instances of torture and detainees being held indefinitely without a trial.

In the time since his arrest, he figures little has changed.

“Right now, free expression is not on the agenda of the PA. Neither in the West Bank, nor in the Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, committing severe violations right now under the two authorities has become almost like a competition today between the Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank,” he added.

“Free Palestine means for me, how to liberate the Palestinians from the current leadership; the PA in the West Bank and the Hamas in Gaza.”


Torture as a Tool in Gaza

Palestinians, unable to pay off their debts, sit in a jail cell in Gaza City, Feb 2018 (AFP/FILE)

In Hamas-controlled Gaza, security forces employ a wide range of strategies to silence dissent—some even more violent than the PA. 

Hamas has ruled Gaza since they won the region’s parliamentary elections in 2006. Neither the Fatah-controlled PA nor Israeli recognized the results of the election, and immediately blockaded Gaza. Fatah, with heavy Israeli help, tried to forcibly oust Hamas in a military conflict, but Hamas defended its gains and forced Fatah out of Gaza.

The conflict split the Palestinian territories into two distinct political entities. Gaza has emerged as an isolated, dense and poor urban area, controlled by the militaristic Hamas, who constantly monitor Palestinians and aid workers, harassing and detaining them arbitrarily.

A 2017 U.S. Department of State report details how Hamas regularly harass civil society groups and NGOs, ordering officers and employees to pay taxes and give them lists of beneficiaries and salary information. Some employees are interrogated by Hamas’ security forces.

Hamas also sometimes outright dissolves NGOs they find threatening.

In 2011, Hamas ordered Sharek Youth Forum, an NGO dedicated to educating thousands of Palestinian youth, to shut down, despite the fact that no formal charge or official complaint made against the NGO. One of Sharek Youth’s activities included encouraging Gazan youth to participate more in the political process of the region.

Life in Gaza is partially defined by the constraints put upon it. Electricity runs only a few hours a day in most homes, access to drinking water is severely limited and few have formal jobs. During a Jan 2017 demonstration held to protest the electricity ongoing problem, Hamas’ security forces forcibly rounded up and detained hundreds of Gazans.

Muhammad Lafi, a 25-year-old activist and musician, was among those arrested. A few days prior to the protest, Laifi published a music video calling on Gazans to rise up and demonstrate against the deteriorating conditions in the Gaza Strip.

Lafi was charged with “inciting against the government, damaging public property, and calling for riots,”and was only released after he was coerced into signing a pledge never to participate again in “unauthorized demonstrations.” During his detention, Lafi was forced into solitary confinement and beaten. Officers shaved his head and transferred to another cell. Hamas officials then poured water on the floor of the new cell before forcing Lafi to stay in the room barefoot for two days.

Hamas’ Internal Security has made a habit out of putting detainees in a room called ‘the bus,’ which is a small space furnished only by a small chair meant for children. Officers force detainees to stand in the room or sit in the chair for hours or even entire days with little respite. One anonymous civil servant was forced into the bus after he was tagged in a Facebook post calling for demonstrations against the lack of electricity.

He recounted his time in the bus, saying he felt severe pain in his kidneys and spine that his neck would “break.” He also said his “body is tearing up inside.”

After Palestinian journalist Muhammad Othman found and published leaked government documents proving that Gaza’s former prime minister was involved in making government decisions, Hamas officials detained him without charge. After refusing to reveal his sources to Internal Security forces, they forced him into the bus for and hour and a half. After being pressed again to reveal his sources and again refusing, he was beaten, hooded and had his hands handcuffed behind his back.

Then, the officers tied a cable to the handcuffs and began raising his arms slowly until his entire body was two feet in the air. He was held in the air for five minutes as he screamed in agony. Two months later, Othman escaped from Gaza and says he has no plans to return.

When it comes to the ongoing Hamas-Fatah rivalry, Hamas is more brutal than the Fatah-controlled PA in cracking down on sympathizers of the other party.

Member of Hamas’ military wing (AFP/FILE)

During the 2014 Gaza War, Amnesty International found that Hamas had executed 23 Palestinians and tortured dozens of others, many of whom were members of Fatah. Atta Najjar, a mentally disabled former police officer, was among those executed. While he was serving a 15-year sentence given to him by a military court, he was convicted of “collaborating” with Israel. He was taken out of the prison and shot 30 times before his body was mutilated.

“There was no brain. Empty… It was difficult for us to carry him… He was heavy, like when you put meat in a bag; no bones,” said his brother, who carried his body from al-Shifa hospital’s morgue. “His bones were smashed. They broke him in the prison.”

Hamas is particularly harsh on those held on drug-related charges.

Emad al-Shaer, a Gazan farmer was arrested on charges of drug possession and said he was hung by his hands to the ceiling and whipped repeatedly. Officers beating him told him, “you will die here if you do not speak.” He was then transferred to a hospital for five days where he was unable to remain conscious. Medical reports obtained by HRW from the hospital show al-Shaer was coughing up blood, suffered from kidney failure, and had a major blood vessel blocked.

Many analysts and activists point to the Oslo Accords as the major reason the PA and Hamas have devolved into regimes that resort to torture to assert control over Palestinians.


The Tragedy of the Oslo Accords

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israel's Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin share the nobel peace prize in 1994 (AFP/FILE)

Following years of fighting, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel began secret negotiations in Norway to pave a way to peace and mutual recognition in the summer of 1993. Their resultant agreements, nicknamed the Oslo Accords, were heralded as a breakthrough in one of the modern era’s most intractable conflicts.

Its most tangible creation was the Palestinian Authority, a provisional government meant to temporarily administer the West Bank and Gaza until a Palestinian state could be created. For this, the negotiators of the deal shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

“Chased from Jordan and then Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s, the PLO saw the Oslo Accords as a way of re-establishing itself on solid ground with, finally, a home base on Palestinian soil,” said Nadia Hijab, co-Founder of Al Shabaka, to Al Bawaba in an interview.

That home base came with the ability to exercise limited government over the West Bank and Gaza until a final agreement could be reached on the ever-elusive two-state solution: one state for Israel and one for Palestine.

Twenty-five years on from the initial agreement, the PA is still governing in the West Bank, but has since since morphed into an unaccountable, unelected regime rampant with corruption and abuses of power.

“Oslo substituted Palestinian economic development and governance for a political resolution that would lead to self-determination, while at the same putting conditions on the ground that made meaningful development and governance impossible,” Mouin Rabbani, a Senior Fellow with the Institute for Palestine Studies, told Al Bawaba. The deal allowed Israel control over much of the West Bank, and Israeli settlers have steadily fractured the West Bank into an archipelago of fragmented control.

As Gaza came under the control of Hamas in 2006, a bitter rivalry between them and the PA formed, furthering dooming any united Palestinian front to negotiate the rights of Palestinians.

“On a related track, the pluralism that had been practiced so successfully by the PLO over decades was reduced and all but eliminated during the Oslo era, and dissent which was previously standard fare became increasingly endangered,” he adds.

As the years dragged on and the PA’s rule became increasingly tenuous and more concentrated on governance and its rivalry with Hamas, it began to accept the help of Israel’s security apparatus to help maintain its power over the West Bank.

In the name of mutual assistance, PA and Israeli security forces have tracked down Palestinians militants and activists both claim to be a threat to order and public security. Some are alleged to have links with Hamas; others seem to be guilty of daring to criticize the PA’s rule and acquiescence to Israel.

One famous example of this collaborative approach is the 2017 killing of Basel al-Araj, a well-known Palestinian activist who was jailed with a trial and tortured by the PA only to be released and hunted down by Israeli security forces shortly thereafter. Al-Araj, who went into hiding after his jailing, constantly spoke out against the security relationship between the PA and Israel. Some have suggested the PA knew of the Israeli army’s plans to find al-Araj and let them do it.

When news of his death broke and the PA tried to posthumously charge him for crimes, protests broke out in Bethlehem with youths throwing rocks and molotov cocktails. The PA put them down with live fire, tear gas and stun grenades.

Palestinians in a funeral procession to protest the death of Basel al-Araj (AFP/FILE)

During a demonstration held to memorialize Basel al-Araj in London, one protester told the crowd, “the PA is just a subcontractor for the Israeli occupation,” and continued on, saying the PA is doing the ‘dirty work’ of the Israeli security forces by arresting and torturing dissidents.

“We don’t know what happens to them afterwards because there’s this fear of their family members talking to the media,” she said.

Rabbani noted that Hamas and the PA have, each in their own way, “become enmeshed in the Oslo framework and its web or sordid relations with Israel and its international sponsors.”

Thanks to this, they are “trapped in a situation where practicing stateless governance, achieving a modicum of power and the perks and privileges that accompany this, has taken precedence over pursuing self-determination and statehood.”


The separation wall (AFP/FILE)


Unelectable Rulers


Nadia Hijab is more blunt in her assessment: “Basically what Israel has tragically succeeded in doing is turning the PA from what it was supposed to be, which is the nucleus of Palestinian state, into a collaborator. So the Palestinians pretty much occupy themselves so that Israel pays as minimum cost in terms of direct confrontation with Palestinians.”

“The PA is doing it for them.”

Mahmoud Abbas himself defended the PA’s security relationship with the Israeli army and its secret police to be ‘sacred,’ and has continuously sought to strengthen it.

For their part, Hamas in Gaza has also steadily acquiesced to Israel’s rule and has shifted its energy from seeking to capture the entirety of Palestine to ruling over its tiny strip of land.

The last parliamentary elections in Palestine were held in 2006; the last presidential election was in 2005, and there appears no signs that elections will be held in future. Abbas, the current president of the PA, rules by decree.

One of his most recent decrees, entitled the Law on Electronic Crimes, was issued in July 2018 and was immediately used to arrest six journalists the next month, and summon ten more for interrogations based on their criticism of the law.

Article 20 of that decree punishes “anyone who creates or manages a website or an information technology platform that aims to publish news that would endanger the integrity of the Palestinian state, the public order or the internal or external security of the State,” with a one-year minimum sentence to prison.

“Power has corrupted Abbas,” Khalil Shikaki, an influential Palestinian pollster and policy analyst said of the law. “He’s destroyed the judiciary, and he’s destroying the plurality of civil society. The cybercrime law is worthy of Saddam Hussein.”

Besides using police and security forces to coerce and violently put down dissidents, the PA has used its elevated and unaccountable power to engage in corrupt practices that fill the pockets of senior officials while leaving everyday Palestinians struggling to stay out of poverty.


Rampant Corruption in the West Bank and Gaza

The Palestinian Authority’s Presidential Palace, which was turned into a public library (AFP/FILE)

The PA not only hovers over Palestinians in the West Bank with an oppressive police presence, it also regularly engages in cronyism that stifles the economy.

Public sector jobs in the West Bank are some of the most sought-after, due to their stability and relatively high wages compared to other industries in the occupied territory. They are also virtually inaccessible to someone without enough elite political connections.

The Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN), an independent government watchdog assigned to monitor corruption in the West Bank, found that many jobs in the PA are given on the basis of political connections and not on merit.

“No job announcements were published in the newspapers, nor were there any competitions over appointments,” the 2017 annual AMAN report reads.

“Appointments at higher posts continued without transparency or fair competition, in disregard for the principle of equal opportunity.”

On top of that, the ranks of Palestinian security services are bloated, with officers paid disproportionately high wages. The total salaries of Major Generals, Brigadier Generals, Colonels and Lieutenant colonels associated with security forces added up to nearly $64 million, or the average salaries for 13,000 soldiers. There is an officer for every two soldiers in the West Bank, a ratio that stands as an international outlier. In Israel, by contrast, there is nine soldiers per officer, while the U.S. maintains five soldiers per officer.

The ratio in the West Bank tells a simple story: money flows to the top.

The PA also refuses to publicly share criteria to determine job scales, salaries and bonuses, which contribute to an ever-widening gap in incomes that never have to be reported. Thanks to this opaque system, some directors of ministries are reportedly paid more than President of the PA, Mahmoud Abbas.

Sam Bahour, a prominent American-Palestinian businessman spoke to Al Bawaba and described a bloated bureaucracy bent on controlling sectors of the economy. Bahour is a managing partner with Applied Information Management (AIM). He lives and works in Ramallah.

“If your business is involved in strategic sectors or ones that require lots of interface with the authorities, the PA can be a burden,” Bahour said, “either because they are incompetent in the nuances of specific sectors, [such as] knowledge-based sectors, and/or may act to disrupt business due to conflict of interests [such as] transportation and energy.”

Officials in the PA apparently do not want to hear any allegations of corruption, and are refusing to attend meetings regarding them.

An official from the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN), the independent government watchdog assigned to monitor corruption in the West Bank, told Al Bawaba that PA officials have been boycotting its meetings held to discuss the organization’s findings on corruption in the West Bank.

“Some officials do indeed boycott our meetings, mostly because they refuse to be held accountable by a civil organization like AMAN,” a representative from AMAN, told Al Bawaba.

The representative also said that someone in the PA who wields significant influence, ordered everyone inside the administration to never attend an AMAN meeting.

“Recently we were informed that an official in a high position had issued a verbal order to all government facilities to boycott all of our activities or there will be dire consequences to those public servants,” she said.

Some of the meetings PA officials have been told to boycott revolve around specific allegations of corruption made against them, AMAN's representative says, recounting a lengthy investigative process AMAN engages in that includes notifying an anti-corruption committee and the supervisors of the accused before presenting their allegations.

The PA has continues to stymie other anti-corruption efforts aimed at ensuring basic transparency.

The Prime Minister’s office refuses to sign the U.N.-compliant “Transparency Pledge Document” prepared by Civil Society Coalition that mandates a periodic review of the progress made against corruption.  


Children in Gaza (AFP/FILE)

The currently existing system of handling corruption allegations in the West Bank is broken.

For the few corruption cases that are put through the PA’s bureaucracy, most never result in any disciplinary action or even a review. The head of the Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), the body designated to review such cases, singlehandedly has the authority to decide which cases the PACC hears for prosecution and which ones it does not. There is no publicly listed criteria holding the head to a transparent standard for his decisions, nor is there any reasoning given as to why he refers some but not others.

As a result, of the 430 complaints presented to the PACC, only 38 cases were followed up on by the commission in 2017 and referred 21 cases to the anti-corruption court. In other words, only 4% of official corruption allegations ever made it to a court hearing.

“In general,” AMAN's representative said, “the accountability system has entered a period of stagnation and collapse after the political division in Palestine and the failure of parliament to carry out its duties, in addition to the dominance of the executive authority over the judiciary. Thus, the Palestinian Authority's response to accountability could be considered very weak under these circumstances.”

Though corruption in the Gaza Strip appear less wide-reaching, local businesses report that Gaza authorities regularly engage in nepotism to give businesses closer to Ministry of Civil Affairs better terms for importing goods.


Palestinians sell their fish in a market in Gaza (AFP/FILE)

All this, while Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza suffer from increasingly limited economic opportunities. The unemployment rate in besieged Gaza rests between 44 and 47 percent, one of the highest in the world, while unemployment stands at almost 20 percent in the West Bank. The World Bank projects the GDP of Palestinian territories will decline 2.5 percent in 2018.

As the West Bank’s economic prospects dwindled in 2015, the PA approved a $13 million project to build a presidential palace for Abbas and his family on top a hill that overlooks Ramallah. Over the voices of Palestinian protesters, the PA insisted the money came from international donors and not taxes. At the time construction commenced, the PA’s budget deficit stood at $2 billion.

Public pressure eventually forced the PA to convert its palace into a public library.

But in the quiet backrooms of business offices, high above the reach of Palestinian demonstrators, the Abbas family makes out with millions.

Leaked documents from the notorious Panama Papers exposed Abbas and his two sons, Tareq and Yasser, to have vacuumed millions of dollars from a beleaguered West Bank economy and used their powerful positions to engage in shady overseas business practices.

Tareq Abbas was found to have almost a million in shares of the Arab Palestinian Investment Company (APIC), which is incorporated at a British Virgin Island. The papers also revealed that the PA’s official investment fund, which is controlled by Abbas himself, owns 18 percent of APIC.

Records from the British Land Registry also show that Tareq had purchased a $1.5 million flat in London.

Yasser Abbas, the elder of the two sons, holds a total monopoly over all cigarette sales in the West Bank via Falcon Tobacco. Another of Yasser’s companies received $1.89 million from USAID to build a sewage system in Hebron.

For an economy marred by artificial constraints imposed upon it by Israel, the Abbas family is one of the richest and most globally connected in the region. Their fortunes have only swelled in the years since the Oslo Accords.


Manipulating the Fantasy of Free Palestine

Women sit near the separation wall (AFP/FILE)

Hamas and the PA continue to market themselves as the liberators of Palestine and heroes of Palestinians, effectively manipulating these ideals for cheap political gain.

Hamas in its own words describes itself as a “national Palestinian movement that works with the rest of the Palestinian people,” that is dedicated to “liberating the Palestinian land, Jerusalem, and Islamic and Christian holy places, securing the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and establishing a sovereign Palestinian State.” Meanwhile, Hamas’ Internal Security shows no sign of stopping its torture programs or harassment of Gazan dissidents.

Mahmoud Abbas decries the Israeli blockade on Gaza without acknowledging the PA’s role in enforcing it, and speaks of championing the “right of our people to self-determination, freedom and independence,” without mentioning working with Israeli security forces to deny each of these rights, or overseeing a bloated bureaucracy that is designed to heave millions at the well-connected without any transparency.

“Calls by Palestinian officials to safeguard Palestinian rights ring hollow as they crush dissent,” Omar Shakir of HRW said to Al Bawaba.

“Detention and torture of rivals and critics also undermine their best argument for Palestinian independence: the promise of greater freedom. The struggle for freedom and human rights for Palestinians should not be equated with the efforts of some leaders and their security apparatuses to preserve power and privilege,” he added.

“It would need a lot of courage and self-respect and decency [for the PA] to say ‘okay we failed, we’re going to step back from this [and] let Israel rule us directly as an occupying power. Enough of this farce.’ But they’re not going to do that,” Nadia Hijab said.

Palestinians face the increasingly uphill task of mobilizing to secure their rights and representation, one made all the more daunting thanks to many who have weaponized the corruption and iron-fisted security tactics of the PA and Hamas to justify less Palestinian governance and more Israeli creep into the territories.


Israeli security forces in the West Bank (AFP/FILE)

Emerging from all this is an image coming into clear view, of a people trapped and a vision of liberation squandered by those sanctified to protect it.

Palestinians are stuck: between an Israeli military occupation backed by the U.S., thousands of Israeli settlers streaming in to colonize Palestinian land in violation of international law, the slow abandonment by Arab states who are touting their security partnerships with Israel more publicly than ever, and the PA and Hamas, who have each become jailers of the Palestinian people in their own ways, and focus much of their dwindling resources on trying to dominate the other in a rivalry that never ends, there is little space left for Palestinians to claim their future.

“The situation today seems bleak,” Fadi Quran, a prominent activist in the West Bank, said to Al Bawaba, “but I have deep faith, and my understanding of history proves, that if we manage to organize strategically, inspire people to action, make the truth visible, and build power—we will not only free Palestine but transform the whole region.”

“But doing that will take all of use who believe in freedom and basic human dignity. And we have to be ready for the hard work, and avoid sitting in despair.”



Is the Palestinian Authority Enforcing Israel’s Occupation of the West Bank? A Conversation with Nadia Hijab

Does Palestine Need Elections? A Debate with Mouin Rabbani 

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