From Khalid Amayreh in the West Bank
Palestinian Authority (PA) officials have been quite reticent over the death of Haitham Amr, a 28-year-old nurse, in PA custody in Hebron earlier this week.
Amr, a father of two children, was arrested on Thursday, 11 June at his home, at the village of Beit al-Rush el-Fouga, 20 km south-west of al-Khalil, by a combined force of the Preventive Security (PSF) and General Intelligence (GI) or (Mukhabarat).
The village is classified as part of “Area-C,” which means that PA security personnel can’t enter it without prior coordination with the Israeli occupation army.
“On Thursday, some 30 armed men from the Palestinian Authority arrived at my home. They told me they wanted to take my son, Haitham, with them for a few hours.
“It never occurred to me, even in my wildest nightmares, that they would murder him in cold blood a few hours later,” said his father, Abdullah, himself a retired nurse.
Amr, the victim, was driven straight to the General Intelligence (GI) headquarters in downtown Hebron where he reportedly underwent an unusually harsh interrogation over his relation with Hamas.
According to a doctor who examined the body, Amr was subjected to extraordinarily harsh forms of torture, including severe beating using clubs and other objects, possibly plastic hoses.
Moreover, the victim seemed to have been forced to sit down on a broken glass bottle which badly mutilated his rectum, causing intensive bleeding.
This particular torture technique had been widely used by the PA security agencies against the opponents of the Oslo Accords in the Gaza Strip during the PA rule from 1995-2000.
Undergoing unrelenting torture for more than 48 hours, Amr eventually had massive internal hemorrhage Sunday, 15 June.
A few hours later, shortly after midnight he was pronounced dead at the government hospital in Hebron .
Initially, a PA security spokesman said Amr killed himself by jumping from the third floor of the Mukhabarat headquarters.
However, it was clear that this story had no credibility and was mainly intended to cover up the real story, namely that the man was actually tortured to death at the hands of the Mukhabrat interrogator.
Amr’s family initially demanded that an autopsy be performed on his body in the Israeli forensic institute known as Abu Kabir to rule out possible “foul play” by PA security elements, e.g. bribing or coercing doctors to falsify the autopsy report.
Eventually, however, Fatah leaders and PA officials convinced the victim’s father to perform the autopsy at al Quds University medical college in Abu Dis near Jerusalem, assuring him that no foul play would be allowed.
However, as of this time (Thursday afternoon, 18 June), no autopsy report has been released, which might suggest that the PA has some thing to hide from the public.
This also explains PA efforts to prevent the media from covering the story and especially filming the body, which bore clear scars of torture especially in its lower parts.
On Monday, 15 June, members of the Preventive Security Force (PSF) detained an Al-Jazeera TV crew after filming the body shortly before the burial rites at Amr’s home village.
The PSF men confiscated the crew’s cameras and recording equipments, and also detained correspondent Wael al Shoyoukhi for several hours. The equipments were returned to the crew hours later after the videotaped materials showing the scars of torture had been erased.
Shoyoukhi said the following:
“As we were returning to Ramallah, having filmed the body of the victim and interviewed his family, a roadblock manned by the PSF outside Hebron stopped us. They insisted that we hand over our equipments, telling us that we could reclaim them later at the PSF headquarters in Hebron .
“When we went to the PSF headquarters in Hebron , we were told that the materials we had videotaped were sensitive and that if allowed to be disseminated, they could stir up problems for the PA.
“An hour later, we were given our equipments but only after the videotaped materials were completely erased.”
Amr’s father, Abdullah, whom this reporter met on 15 June, said he was not holding the PA regime responsible for the murder of his son.
“I am not accusing the Palestinian Authority of killing my son. The one who killed my son is an Israeli agent. I will reach him even on the last day of my life.”
On Tuesday, hundreds of PA figures, including members of the General Intelligence, arrived at the village of Beit al Rush al Fuga to offer condolences for the death of Haitham Amr.
The large delegation included inter alia, the Governor of Hebron , Hussein Al Araj and former Preventive Security Chief Jibril Rajoub.
There have been certain rumors that the Fatah movement was seeking to strike a deal with the bereaved family whereby the family would cede its right to pursue the killer in return for an undisclosed amount of money.
However, the family vehemently denied these rumors, saying “the blood of our son was not for sale.”
The PA has been clearly embarrassed by the murder for several reasons. First, the victim’s father and many of his immediate relatives are veteran Fatah activists and many of them are actually members of the PA security agencies. Indeed, the head of the interrogation department at the General Intelligence in Hebron is a distant cousin of the victim.
Second, the PA, a fragile entity depending on international aid, is too insecure to openly admit the murder, apparently for fear of alienating international human rights organizations and also for fear that the victims’ family would pursue the killer.
This prospect would complicate the operations of the PA security apparatus, especially interrogators involved in torturing Hamas’s detainees. The rational is that interrogators would start feeling that the PA would protect them if the harsh interrogation tactics they employ led to the death of the person being interrogated, as was the case with Haitham Amr and several others victims.
Similarly, the PA can’t just fabricate a denial of any wrong doing since this would convince nobody, including the victim’s family, which is generally affiliated with Fatah.
Hence, it is highly likely that the PA security agencies will let the case die down.
It is not clear if the suspected killer has been detained or questioned over the death of Amr. PA security officials refuse to answer questions in this regard, citing the “sensitivity of the matter.”
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his Prime Minister Salam Fayyadh repeatedly assured local and international human rights groups that torture was outlawed in PA jails and interrogation centers.
However, it is amply clear that torture, even harsh torture, is still widely practiced by some PA security agencies.
According to observers in Occupied Palestine, a key reason contributing to PA flaccidity and ostensible indifference concerning the ostensible rampancy of torture and other human rights violations in the West Bank is that western powers, upon which the PA depends for its financial survival, have shown little or no concern over this matter.