From Khalid Amayreh in Hebron
A Palestinian lawmaker recently released from Israeli captivity has accused Israel of “adopting Nazi tactics” and applying them to Palestinian prisoners.
Bassem al, Za’arir, 45, who lives in the town of Sammou, south west of Hebron, won a seat in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in the January, 2006.
However, a few months later , Za’arir and dozens of other Islamic-oriented lawmakers, cabinet ministers, mayors and other elected officials, were violently abducted by undercover Israeli soldiers as part of a sweeping crackdown on Hamas supporters and sympathizers.
Israel said the abductions were in response to the capture by Palestinian freedom fighters of an Israeli occupation army soldier. However, Hamas maintains that Jewish enmity to Islam was the main motive behind the widespread crackdown which also witnessed the arrest of thousands of suspected Islamic activists as well as the closure and confiscation of numerous Islamic charitable and educational institutions.
Farcical justice system
Al-Za’arir described his 24-month detention as “an extended ordeal.”
“If my case had been handled by any other court in this wide world, I wouldn’t have stayed in jail for a single day. But Israel and Justice are a scandalous oxymoron, and I think the Israelis themselves are aware of this disgrace.”
The Palestinian lawmaker said the Israeli military attorney at one point mistook him for another person and wanted to punish for violations carried out by someone else.
“I don’t know how to describe the Israeli court system. Imagine they wanted to indict me for statements made on al-Jazeera TV by (Hamas’ Gaza leader) Mahmoud al Zahhar, as if I were responsible for every word uttered by people and leaders Israel doesn’t like.”
Al-Za’arir said he thought the main reason behind the collective incarceration of dozens of lawmakers, mayors and cabinet ministers was “to punish the Palestinian people for electing these people.”
“Their message was very clear, that we are above you and above your national will, and that Israel and Israel alone has the final say and that it is Israel, not the Palestinian people, who decides who represents the Palestinians.”
Al-Za’arir said the charges filed against nearly all the abductees were strikingly similar.
“I was charged with membership in an anti-Israeli organization and with acting against the interests of Israel and posing a threat to the safety and security of the region where we live.”
He described the charges as “concocted, vague and disingenuous.”
“When I told the judge that I participated in an election which the Israeli government had approved and that if participation in the election was indeed against the law, Israel should have made it clear beforehand that anyone participating in the elections would be arrested.
“However, the attorney-general of the Israeli army argued that the Israeli government had the right to change its mind retrospectively. Then they told us that we were being arrested as a reprisal for the capture of (Gilad) Shalit.”
Al-Za’arir called the treatment meted out to Palestinian prisoners as “essentially barbaric.”
“They treat us very much like the Nazis treated Jews during WWII. Yes, there are no gas chambers, but the mentality, the vindictiveness and the virulent hostility is the same.
“The way they treat Palestinian prisoners is designed to humiliate, to insult, to torment, to inflict as much emotional and psychological pain as possible.”
He cited, as an example, the naked searches the prisoners are subjected to from time to time.
He pointed out that even Aziz Duweik, Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was put in fetters as if he were a dangerous criminal.
Duweik, an American-educated professor of Urbane Planning, was violently abducted from his home in Ramallah nearly 20 months ago.
His home was also vandalized and ransacked by Israeli troops.
“There is no justice or decency or civility in the Israeli justice system as far as non-Jews in general and Palestinians in particular are concerned.
“Yes, they do treat their own people (Jews) according to the law, but the rule of law ends when Palestinian rights begin. We are outside the protection of the law, our lives and rights depend almost completely on the whims and moods of the Shin Beth (Israel’s chief domestic intelligence agency)”
The Palestinian MP castigated the “death ride” torture technique whereby prisoners are made to travel hundreds of kilometers throughout Israel while confined in an oven-like metal chamber fixed on a car.
“Imagine languishing in such a filthy chamber in high temperature and with very little oxygen for up to 24 hours. It is a real ordeal.”
Israel currently holds as many as 12000 Palestinian political and resistance prisoners, many of whom without charge or trial.
Many of the detainees are professionals such as college professors, doctors, school teachers, and journalists who were arrested for their non-violent opposition to the Israeli occupation.
In recent years, Israel stepped up the so-called administrative detention whereby a given Palestinian political activist or critic of the Israeli occupation is imprisoned for up to 9 years without charge or trial.