For Abdel-Nasser Saeed, a whiz of bullets replaced the sound of cannon fire announcing “Iftar” (the time Muslims break their fast during the Holy month of Ramadan) on the 17th day of Ramadan in 2020. Whenever Abdel-Nasser sees Palestinian security forces, an image imprinted in his mind haunts him. He sees himself thrown on the ground, with blood flowing from his head.
On the morning of May 10, 2020, Abdel-Nasser went to his cow farm in Jamaeen, a town to the south of Nablus. He passed through two security checkpoints; the first was set up by the Palestinian National Authority when the state of emergency was declared to restrict the movement of citizens and limit the spread of the COVID-19; the second is the Israeli Huwwara checkpoint, which is about 100 metres further ahead.
When Abdel-Nasser returned home in the afternoon to bring his family to the farm for Ifatr, an Israeli officer stopped him and said, “The gates will be closing shortly. Tell them to open the gate,” in order to clear the traffic jam at the checkpoints before breakfast time. He continued on his way after transmitting the message to the Palestinian officers on the other side.
Later that day, Abdel-Nasser reached the same checkpoint again –– this time with his family. The roads were congested this time as the lockdown lifted, and most Palestinian families were out to spend some time in their farms and orchards. Abdel-Nasser was afraid that he would be late, so he decided to cruise past the stationary traffic. His 16-year-old son, Abdel-Jabbar, was next to him using his mobile phone to film the traffic jam.
A Palestinian soldier saw Abdel-Jabbar filming. He pulled him out of the car. “Why are you filming?” he yelled, shoving him aside and confiscating his phone. Abdel-Nasser got out of his car and told the soldier, “I am the one who instructed my son to film the traffic jam.” The soldier took his identity card and asked him to wait.
“We deleted the pictures in front of him (the soldier),” Abdel-Nasser says. “He told me that things were not as simple as that, and asked me to be quiet.” After waiting for a while, Abdel-Nasser told the soldier: “Excuse me... It is the end of the day, and I do not want to be late for work while fasting. I will come back to you after Iftar.” He began to drive away as soldiers shouted behind him, as he headed towards the Israeli checkpoint to cross it before they close it again.
The iron gate at the Israeli Huwwara checkpoint was closed, so he returned to the Palestinian checkpoint to reach his farm via an alternative route.
Soldiers there stopped Abdel-Nasser –– one even started punching him. “In this country, we have lost everything,” Abdel-Nasser says. “The only thing we have left is a little bit of dignity. When he hit me and insulted me, I hit him back in self defence.” The soldier then pulled him out of the car, and with the support of other soldiers, he was beaten up with sticks, rifle butts, all while kicking, punching, and humiliating him.
His wife and son Abdel-Jabbar stepped in to defend him, but they were beaten up too, and they were pepper sprayed in the eyes. Abdel-Nasser’s twelve-year-old daughter, Salsabil, his six-year-old son, Yaqoub, and his two-year-old daughter were sitting in Abdel-Jabbar's lap when they were all attacked with the pepper spray.
by the Palestinian National Authority security forces during the emergency state declared to limit the spread of COVID-19.
by civil society organizations about people who were subjected to violations, including 65 people in the West Bank.
Islam Al-Tamimi is the director of the Training, Awareness and Advocacy Department at the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR). He explains that there were restrictions on the freedom of expression, the right to express your opinion and peaceful assembly during the state of emergency period (in Palestine). Freedom of movement rights as well as the ability to travel were also curtailed.
He says that the scale of violations recorded during Covid-19 state of emergency must not be compared with those recorded in pre- corona times. Those violations must not be analysed and linked solely to Covid-19 breach of emergency laws.
When the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in the city of Bethlehem, a state of emergency was imposed in the West Bank on March 5 for a period of thirty days. It has been renewed since then. The Palestinian Basic Law amendment of 2003 grants authorities the right to declare a state of emergency for a period of 30 days by presidential decree. This may be extended for another thirty days with the approval of two-thirds of the members of the Legislative Council. But this did not happen as the legislative council has been inactive since 2007.
Abdel-Nasser fell to the ground and surrendered. One of the soldiers came over and stepped on his head. “I did not allow him to do that; I rose again and flipped him on his back and defended myself,” Abdel-Nasser says. He lost consciousness as a result of the beating, but the scene remained with him. “A person’s heart aches and hurts because his own countryman is treating him in this way,” he says. “The law does not give him the right to do this: as long as he is wearing the military uniform, he represents the law, and does not represent a gang or the law of the jungle.”
After 12 days, Abdel-Nasser was released on bail from the Palestinian Authority’s prison. His son was released three days after that. They were both charged with resisting security officials. He filed a complaint with the Intelligence Services, but he was advised to drop the complaint filed against the officers who attacked him and his son to close his case file.
‘Lawyers for Justice’ followed 38 cases of arrest during the state of emergency which were concentrated in the northern and central regions of the West Bank. According to the report that the organization provided to the investigative reporter, the Preventive Security and the General Intelligence agencies were the most frequent perpetrators of documented violence, in addition to the administrative detention carried out at the Governor’s discretion (which is another form of administrative detention law in the Palestinian territories inherited from old Jordanian laws that were in use when the west bank was under Jordanian control and give the Governor the power to detain people).
Diala Ayesh, a lawyer at ‘Lawyers for Justice’, says that the foundation recorded human rights violations during the pandemic period, including subpoenas for security interviews, arbitrary arrests, and detentions. She adds that courts were only open two days a week until 1 p.m. at the beginning of the state of emergency. This led to the extension of detention orders and to a delay in legal proceedings, including the activation of release or bail orders. Both of these require four (working) days before a court approval is secured.
Articles 111 and 112 of the Palestinian Basic Law amendment of 2003 state the following: “It is not permissible to impose restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms except to the extent necessary to achieve the declared goal in the decree announcing a state of emergency. Any arrest resulting from the declaration of the state of emergency must be subject to the following minimum requirements: any arrest conducted under the decree declaring a state of emergency must be reviewed by the Attorney General or the specialized court within a period not exceeding fifteen days from the date of arrest. The arrested person has the right to appoint a lawyer of his choice.”
The investigator obtained 60 statements from Al-Haq Organization (a human right monitoring institution) . Thirty of them are for cases documented in the West Bank and thirty related to cases in the Gaza Strip. The reporter classified the violations that took place during the past five months into 13 types:
On the afternoon of Friday, March 20, someone knocked on the door of Asaad Qubbaja’s house, saying, “We are health workers from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, and we want to see your father.” Asaad’s eldest son opened the door. Asaad went to the door and spoke to them, and they asked him to accompany them. He discovered that they were members of the Preventive Security Agency pretending to be health workers.
The soldiers entered Asaad’s house by force to take him to the Palestinian Preventive Security base in the village of Tarqumiyah in the Hebron governorate. Asaad asked if there was a court order, or any legal basis for his arrest. He refused to simply submit to the arrest, fearing that they might be a (criminal) gang. They started beating him, insulting him and dragged him to the car by force. Fearing for their father, Asaad’s children tried to resist and started screaming, crying and tried to pull Asaad from their hands. One of the soldiers took out his weapon and fired it to frighten them and keep them away from their father.
Article No. 202 of the Jordanian Penal Code No. 16 of 1960, which still apply in the Palestinian West Bank, calls for a punishment ranging from a month to a year
for “anyone who impersonates a public service employee, whether civilian or military. This also applies to occasions during which that employee is assigned to perform a role or to be present at a place within the capacity of his position. It also covers instances wherein a person unlawfully pretends to be a public service or government employee , whether civilian or military, claiming that he has the right to perform any of the roles or to be present at a place in order to take any action by virtue of his position. The punishment shall be imprisonment from three months to two years if the person commits any of the aforementioned acts while wearing his official uniform or badge.”
Ayesh clarifies that the punishment for a military employee impersonating a government employee is more severe than that imposed on a civilian employee of the state. This is because military ranks may be withdrawn from soldiers if they were caught abusing their position, and if that was proven in specialized military trials.
Asaad arrived at the Preventive Security base without knowing the reason for his arrest. Eventually, one of the investigators told him that he was charged with trying to spread the Corona virus, since he held Friday prayers (which necessitate the gathering of several people) in violation of health protocols as set by the (authority). However, during the investigation, it became clear that Assad had nothing to do with an order to hold prayers in one of the village’s mosques, as the charges claimed. Asaad had held the first Friday prayers with his children in his backyard after the state of emergency was declared (putting a ban on public gatherings).
The Public Prosecution is the only authority entitled to arrest people and investigate them, as per the Criminal Procedures Law No. 3 of 2001. This law is consistent with the Palestinian Basic Law amendment of 2003, of which Article 11 stipulates that “Freedom is a natural right that is guaranteed and untouchable. No one may be arrested, searched, imprisoned, or his freedom restricted in any way or prevented from movement except by a judicial order in accordance with the provisions of the law.” Article 12 of the Basic Law states, “Anyone who is arrested or detained shall be informed of the reasons for his arrest or detention. Further, he must be informed quickly in a language that makes him comprehend the accusation levelled against him. He should also be enabled to contact a lawyer and be brought to trial without delay.”
Asaad was not brought before the court, and was detained according to the ‘Governor’s orders’ for three days. Ayesh asserts that administrative detentions according to the ‘Governor’s orders’ violated the 2003 Amendment of the Palestinian Basic Law, especially Article 32 therein. The Public Prosecution is the only entity that has the authority to press charges and is responsible for sending files to the specialized court, which in turn follows the necessary procedures to conduct the arrest.
Practically, the administrative detentions according to the ‘Governor’s orders’ are a manifestation of the administrative powers granted to him to apply exceptional measures. In practice, this allows him to take away the personal freedom of individuals in order to maintain public security and order, based on the text of the Jordanian Crime Prevention Law No. 7 of 1954. This law was repealed from the Jordanian Court of Justice. It is also in violation of Article 119 of the (Palestinian) Basic Law stating that “it repeals everything that conflicts with the provisions of the amended Basic Law”. Moreover, it clashes with Article 11, which clearly states that “personal freedom is a natural right and can only be restricted by a judicial order”.
Asaad points out that the detention cells where he was detained were not adequate for limiting Coronavirus’ spread. No health measures were followed except for measuring inmates’ temperature. Prisoners unsafely mixed with each other, and soldiers addressed them usually without wearing masks.
The Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), Ombudsman Bureau, issued reports for the months of January to June. It classifies the violations into 10 types, arranged by months and type of violation for both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
On the same day that Asaad and his children confronted the security services, a farmer, Samir Assi, was facing a similar fate with his sons and nephews. They were spending the evening on their land in Beit Liqya in the district of Ramallah that Friday.
Samir, his children, and his first nephew were camping in a tent, while his second nephew was sitting in his car about 20 meters away. Samir and those in the tent with him saw approximately 20 men in military uniform approaching the car. Samir hurried to see who they were. “We did not know whether they were soldiers from the Israeli occupation army or from the Palestinian National Authority,” he says.
From afar, Samir saw that the soldiers had caught his nephew and were beating him. He tried to approach them, but another group of military men arrived and shot at him.
Samir ran between the olive trees with his sons and his other nephew, with bullets flying around them. Samir explains, “If I didn’t have precise knowledge of the area we were in, we would not have been able to flee.”
Sami, the eldest son of Samir and his nephew have been hit by bullets while fleeing with him. Samir hid them inside an old well and closed it while he hid in another well 20 meters away to figure out the identity of the uniformed people.
Samir was in the well while the men kept on moving and shooting above him. “They started looking for us while we were hiding in the wells, and I heard one of them say, ‘Kill anyone in civilian clothes’”, he says. From the well, Samir could see and recognize two of the men. “I was surprised that they were from my village, and from the same family,” he says. “Some of them worked in the Security service and the Preventive Security Agency.”
After this incident, a meeting was held at the municipality of Beit Liqya to discuss the incident. On April 3, 2020, the municipality published a statement denouncing what had happened to them. Samir and his son have also filed a complaint at the military prosecutor in Um Al-Sharayet in Ramallah. To this day, he has not received a response.
Samir had never imagined the horror that he experienced with his family. He explains, “Some individuals working in the Security Services took advantage of the lockdown period to limit the spread of Coronavirus to use force against citizens, to settle old accounts, and other personal matters. This resembles gangs and mafia work, not that of law enforcement agencies.”
On March 5, Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtay confirmed in a call with the Director General of the Independent Commission for Human Rights(ICHR) that the declaration of the state of emergency is part of the fight against Coronavirus. He assured him that full respect for human rights, freedoms and the law were maintained.
The International law stipulate that the Palestinian Authority and after becoming signatory to many agreements and charters must uphold the rule of law even during times of emergency. Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires that the state of emergency be exceptional and applied in the narrowest of scopes possible.
Measures of non-compliance with the provisions of human rights provided for in the Covenant are of an exceptional and temporary nature.
At 6 PM on Sunday July 19, 2020, the Palestinian Security Services arrested 19 young activists of the “Palestinian Movement Against Corruption” during a protest in Ramallah calling to “end corruption and the deteriorating general living conditions in the country amidst the pandemic”, raising the slogan of “Enough is Enough”. Those arrested were charged with “illegal gathering” and “violating the defence law”.
Engineer Fayez Sweiti is the head of the “Hand in Hand Towards a Country Free of Corruption Association” and is an activist in the movement. He was among the people arrested that day.
Ten days earlier, Fayez was in a Palestinian Intelligence Services prison in the Hebron governorate because of posts on social media sites accusing directors in the police department of stealing unlicensed vehicles. He went on a hunger strike for three days until an agreement was reached. He was released on the day of trial on a bail of 100 Jordanian dinars, five days after his arrest.
Human right activist Islam Al-Tamimi says that voicing an opinion led to those arrests especially the opinions expressed by bloggers on their Facebook pages. He says that holding them accountable for their words and their stances was an infringement on their freedoms. This issue is covered by the Palestinian Basic Law through Articles 19 and 26, meaning that the arrests violate Palestinian laws, Press laws, Publication Laws, and the Public Societies Laws. Al-Tamimi asserts that linking health, safety and freedoms to national security is misplaced. Such acts by the Palestinian authority restrict the freedom to work, the free press, freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly.
Every person has the right to express his opinion and to publish it verbally, in writing, or through any other means of expression or art as long as the law is upheld. Freedom of opinion should not be infringed upon as per Article 19 of the Palestinian Basic Law. Items 1 and 2 of Article 26 assert the right of Palestinians to participate in the political life as individuals and groups. In particular, they have the right to form political parties, unions, societies, federations, leagues, clubs, and popular institutions and to join these in accordance with the law. Item 5 provides for holding private meetings without the presence of the police in addition to holding public meetings, processions and gatherings within the limits of the law.
Before Fayez’s arrival at Al-Manara Roundabout in Ramallah, the police had arrested a number of youths involved in the movement. He was then taken to Ramallah’s intelligence services offices along with his peers. From the first day of their arrest, they went on hunger strike that lasted nine days, they were then released on bail for 500 Jordanian dinars.
Muhammad Ayesh, a member of the movement says. “During the pandemic, the Palestinian government decision making went through a period of blunder, and this has clearly damaged the country”. Ayesh confirms that members of the movement took seriously the quarantine and government guidelines, and that they have taken all preventive measures and adhered to the social distancing measures. The situation did not reach a level of dangerous overcrowding.
Diala Ayesh, a lawyer at ‘Lawyers for Justice’, describes the arrest of the activists as illegal, since the definition of “illegal gathering” does not align with the charge against them; it depends on a specific crime or riot outside the framework of the law. He explains that he was at the scene of the incident, and the activists abided by all emergency laws and necessary health procedures.
Fayez revealed his concern about the health situation in the detention cells. He explains, “The detainees were on top of each other. There were 10 of us in a room that could only accommodate four people.” He mentions an incident that happened during the arrest which revealed the weakness of Coronavirus examination procedures. “They brought to our cell in prison a new inmate, and he told us immediately that he had symptoms of Coronavirus”. He asked us not to approach him, so we protested for six hours until he was moved and isolated away from us.
On May 16, an interview with Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtay appeared on social media when he was briefing the press about the Coronavirus prevention protocols in place at the Council of Ministers. “The state of emergency is a measure taken to fight Coronavirus’ spread, and is not intended to infringe upon freedom of opinion or expression. But there is a difference between viewpoint and slander.” This interview was preceded by a statement on April 21 in a government briefing, in which he had declared: “When parliament is not available, the people must question (the authorities’ action), and we had to act to preserve the proper running of the state. And yes we have declared a state of emergency, but we can not infringe upon human rights or freedoms under any circumstances.”