The case of the West Bank’s ‘kidnapped six’
Ramallah - The Ramallah Magistrate Court has ordered the release of six Palestinian young men who were held without charge for more than five months.
The men’s case, referred to by activists and local media as the Kidnapped Six, highlighted a number of issues, such as alleged political arrests and the cosy security coordination between the Israeli Army and the Palestinian Authority’s security services.
Adnan Dameri, spokesman for the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces, justified that the men’s detainment without charge was based on “the public prosecutor’s decision to complete the investigation duly”. He added that the “security establishment does not have a say after the files are converted to the public prosecution”.
Dameri did not return requests for comment.
The Palestinian Authority in March informed the parents of Bassel al-Araj, 33, that his identity card, along with those of Mohammed Harb, 23, and Haitham al- Sayyaj, 19, were found on a road in the village of Aroura, north of Ramallah. The security forces told the families that their sons were classified as “missing” and assured them that they would do their best to find them.
About a week later, the security services announced that the men were in custody.
It was later learned the men had been arrested on the day their identity cards were said to be found. The men claimed they were tortured to extract confessions from them. The torture, according to the Addameer prisoner rights organisation, was so harsh that the men had to be taken to a medical clinic to recover.
Anas Barghouti, a lawyer working on the case, said media coverage has largely ignored the Palestinian Authority’s coordination with Israel on the case.
“When the men were arrested, there was an immediate Israeli news bulletin within the hour talking about three Palestinian men detained with possession of weapons,” Barghouti said. “This doesn’t need much analysis or brains to figure out how the Israeli media automatically knew about this, thanks to the strong security coordination between the army and the PA.”
Three other men — Seif al-Idreesi, Mohammed Salameen and Ali Dar Sheikh, between the ages of 19-26 — were arrested shortly after. They also claim to have been tortured.
The men are known as political activists. In July, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman released a statement boasting that the intelligence agency, Shabak, had in April arrested members of a cell in the Ramallah that was planning an armed attack on Israel. The statement listed the names of the members of the cell, which matched the names of the men arrested by the Palestinian Authority.
“Despite this, there has been no investigation into the weapons and the explosives that the men allegedly had,” Barghouti said.
A week after the men’s arrest, PA President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted by the German newspaper Der Spiegel applauding the strong security coordination relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
“Our security forces are working very efficiently to prevent terror,” Abbas said. “Just a couple of days ago, three young men were tracked down and arrested. They were planning an attack. In this context, our security cooperation with Israel is functioning well.”
The six men had their detention renewed several times and were shunted for several months between PA intelligence centres in Ramallah, Jericho and Beitunia.
Barghouti said he and another lawyer on the case were not permitted access to the investigative files of the six men under the guise of security. He said, however, the Israelis “had immediate access to the investigations carried out by the PA from the onset, in addition to the interrogations carried out by the PA intelligence and the conversations between the court and prosecution”.
The six men went on a hunger strike in August, demanding their freedom as they had not been officially charged. They were subsequently placed in solitary confinement and denied communication with the outside world. The strike lasted ten days, after the prosecution ended its investigation and transferred the case to court.
“The PA considers the men’s political activities as a crime. At the same time, the PA does not admit that they have any political prisoners; they are all classified as criminals,” said Muhannad Karajeh, a lawyer working for Addameer.
It is estimated that there are hundreds of political prisoners in the West Bank but it is difficult to document them all because the number fluctuates. Many Palestinian detainees are subjected to a “revolving door policy” of the Israeli and PA prison system, in which upon release from PA prison, they are promptly arrested again by Israel, and vice versa.
Before 2011, the detainees would be tried in a military court.
Hanadi Sayyaj, the mother of Haitham Sayyaj, said her son had been sentenced to one year and three months by the Israeli army for throwing rocks when he was 16.
“Both of Haitham’s arrests have been difficult for us but, to be honest with you his second arrest at the hands of the PA has been harder on us,” Hanadi admitted. “At least he wasn’t tortured by the Israelis.”
The six men, who have been released from detention, are waiting for their next court session, scheduled for October 6th. They are not speaking to media.