Charges that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are running a corrupt, brutal police state are no longer being voiced only by the Israeli right wing; they are now coming from Palestinian nationalists who, before the Oslo Accord, fought the Israeli occupation.
Bassem Eid, who, in the past, exposed Israeli torture and human rights abuses as lead investigator for the B'tselem organization, recently held a news conference in which he accused Palestinian security forces of torturing dozens of Palestinian businessmen accused of tax offenses, and extorting nearly $2 million from them. In the last couple of years, Eid has exposed Palestinian torture in jails and Arafat's commandeering of the PA's official television station for his election campaign. That last charge got Eid kidnapped and imprisoned for a day before pressure from international human rights organizations won his release.
Using the term nakba -- Arabic for catastrophe -- which is how Palestinians refer to the 1948 war with Israel in which they lost their country and saw some 700,000 of their people dispersed, Eid said: "The PA has inflicted a third nakba on the Palestinian people. The first was in 1948, the second was in 1967 [when Israel conquered the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War], and the third was in 1994 [when the PA first came to power in Gaza and Jericho]."
Professor Fathi Sobh, who teaches education at Gaza's Al Azhar University, tells how he was imprisoned and tortured for more than six months by the PA's feared Preventive Security Service after he included a question about PA corruption on an exam. He said that, during the days of Israeli rule in the 1980s, he was arrested "15 or 20 times" by Israeli authorities, and that the torture techniques used by the Shin Bet -- such as hanging prisoners from the ceiling in excruciating positions, and sleep deprivation for days on end -- were also employed against him by the PSS.
Noting that most PSS officers also spent time in Israeli jails, Sobh said dryly, "They were very good students of the Israelis." Comparing Palestinian and Israeli abuse, he said that there was little physical difference, but the Palestinian brand was far more demoralizing.
"When the Israelis tortured us, we knew they were the enemy and that we were fighting against them. But when the Palestinians torture you, then it's being done by your own people," he said.
Brutality is one major theme of Arafat's tyranny; lawlessness is another. The two elements came together last Sunday, when two former Palestinian policemen were shot to death by a firing squad on Arafat's orders -- three days after they were arrested. The "trial" before a PA military "court" reportedly took a half-hour. The convicted men had no counsel or right to appeal. They had killed two brothers of a rival clan, and the firing squad was said to be a message from Arafat that Wild West tactics would not be tolerated in the Palestinian Police.
Nevertheless, Eid said that he hadn't lost hope. He pointed out that the PA has only been around for a little more than four years, and that the whole fight against Israeli occupation has only been going on for a little more than 30 years. "Even 30 years," he noted, "is a short time."