8 Harrowing Details from HRW Report on the Torture of Palestinians

Torture of Palestinians

Human Rights Watch released a report on the ways Palestinian politicians crush dissent. The report implicates leaders both from Fatah and Hamas. From arrests on faux charges to clamping down on students holding a book drive, security forces in Palestine torture civilians with impunity.

Security officials in Gaza and the West Bank monitor Facebook posts and let criminal inquiries on faux charges go on for ages just so they have a reason to arrest and rearrest suspects.

Since Hamas and Fatah are political opponents and worry about very little beyond staying in power, they see the Palestinian rabble as disruptors. To deter the civilians’ ambitions to take power, they harass, threat, detain and torture them.

The oppressed Palestinians on paper can file complaints but HRW could not find one case in which a security officer was convicted for torture.

I will post more from the HRW report soon. In this blog, I will focus on the harrowing details of torture that Palestinians are subject to, not by Israeli forces but by their own leaders.

Stress Position or Shabeh

Stress positioning is a torture technique that includes putting detainees in stress positions for hours on end. It is used for interrogation and unlike physical blows, leaves no clear marks on the victim’s body.

University Student Alaa Zaqeq

HRW report cites a case of a university student, Alaa Zaqeq. He told HRW that officials from the Intelligence Services made him stand with his legs far apart in half-squat position. Later, they forced him to stand on his tiptoes with a rope tugging on his arms so that there was constant stress on his toes. Such a stress position could even lead to a discomfort similar to having shin splints.

Physical torture wasn’t the only thing Alaa Zaqeq was subject to, interrogators also threatened him saying that he would leave in a wheelchair. He was accused of leading a coup in Gaza.

Journalist Sami As-Sai

Following Alaa Zaqeq’s case, HRW mentions the threats that Sami As-Sai received as he entered the detention center. An intelligence officer told him that there had been people who left the detention center without any muscle on their bodies. The officer was referring to the muscle failures that stress positions eventually lead to.

He then had his hands roped to the ceiling that the officers tugged and pulled, which distressed his arms. Sami As-Sai said that after the incident his arms were so stressed that he couldn’t pull his trousers up.

The Bus

Security officers in Gaza arrested a civil servant belonging to the Palestinian Authority. His only crime was being tagged in a Facebook post that called on Palestinians to protest against the electricity crisis. The officers sent him to a special torture room that they call ‘the bus’. In the bus, the officers force detainees to sit or stand in a toddler’s chair for hours and days.

The civil servant described the pain to the HRW reporter saying that he felt discomfort in his kidneys and spine leading to a breaking pain in his neck and felt as if his body was tearing up on the inside.

The HRW mentions two reporters named Ashraf and Fouad Jarada, who spent a better part of a month in ‘the bus’.

Torturing Minors

The HRW cites a case of a 17-year-old detained on criminal charges. The police accused him of stealing some farm equipment. To get a confession from him, they tied his hands behind his back with a rope and tugged it. All the while, they struck his legs and feet with a baton so that if he jumped or moved to escape a blow, his arms and shoulders were put in an unnatural position, which caused him severe pain.

Under this torture, he finally confessed.

Threats to Non-Muslim Detainees

Sarie Samandar was a Christian from Jerusalem. In 2017, he got into a street fight. The police arrested him. After his arrest, the police officers verbally abused him, at one point even calling him a ‘Christian Pig’. During another instance, the officers said to Sarie that Daesh (the Arabic word for ISIS) needed to come for him, obviously referring to their brutal campaign of beheading Christians who refused to convert to Islam.

As traumatizing as this verbal abuse was, he was subject to physical torture as well. The police officers slapped, kicked, and punched him.

Torturing Accused Drug Offenders

The HRW report cites the case of Emad al-Shaer, a farmer in Gaza. The police accused him of some drug offense and arrested him. Once under arrest, they tied his arms to the ceiling thus suspending his body in midair while they tied his feet to a nearby window to keep him still. After they put him in that position, they began whipping the underside of his feet and body with a piece of cable.

They threatened him with death if he did not confess. He succumbed to their threats and tortures within a day and confessed to the charges brought against him.

The HRW report says that even though Emad al-Shaer was detained just for a day, he needed five days of hospital treatment during which he had sporadic consciousness.

Electric Shocks and Genital Mutilation

The HRW cites a case of an unnamed man from the city of Balata. They say that security officers tortured him twice with electric shocks. What exactly the officers accused him of is unknown. At one point, they tied a cord around his penis probably to denigrate him and stem the flow of blood to the most sensitive part of his body.

The same guy from Balata also saw the officers torture other detainees. In one case, he saw a detainee whose arms were tied around his back being smashed with a chair, which dislocated his shoulder.


Palestinian people live a hard life but it is not all because of Israel. Average Palestinians suffer as much from the corruption and debasement of their government as they do under the Israelis, both of whom benefit from the perpetual state of limbo of the Palestinians.

As much as Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas butt heads, their interests are the same. Neither of them wants a Palestinian state. Both of them benefit politically if Palestinians born and die in refugee camps.

Those who do want a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must condemn violence from both sides. We shouldn’t just focus on the repression by the Israelis and give Palestinian leaders a free pass and vice versa.

The journey to seek a pragmatic solution to the struggles of Palestinians starts from recognizing the challenges they face regardless of at whose hands they suffer.


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