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RAMALLAH, West Bank — Nearly two weeks after he was severely beaten by Palestinian security forces, Akil Awawdeh is still short of breath, still shielding his bruised chest with his hand and still haunted by the screams inside the police station.“Never in my life have I seen such brutality,” said Awawdeh, a local radio reporter who has been covering Mideast unrest for more than a decade. “The sound of people screaming inside the police station, to this day I still hear it. It echoes in my head … I can’t forget.”He was among several people who were beaten and detained at a police station on July 5, in one of the most violent incidents in weeks of protests against the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.The demonstrations were sparked by the death of Nizar Banat, an outspoken critic of the PA who died shortly after being violently arrested by Palestinian security forces last month. The PA is widely seen as corrupt and increasingly authoritarian, and it has faced mounting dissent since calling off the first elections in 15 years in April.Palestinian security forces, including what appeared to be plainclothes officers, violently dispersed the protesters, drawing expressions of concern from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the State Department.Despite the crackdown, the U.S. and European countries still view the PA as a crucial partner in managing the conflict, especially after the Gaza war in May. Western countries have trained and equipped PA security forces, who work with Israel to suppress Hamas and other armed groups — a policy that is extremely unpopular among Palestinians.The security forces arrested at least six activists when they gathered in central Ramallah, where the PA is headquartered, on the evening of July 5. Family members, fearful that the detainees would meet the same fate as Banat, went to the police station to check on them.Ubai Aboudi, a Palestinian-American civil society activist who was among those arrested, said his wife came with their three children, his 77-year-old father, who is a retired professor, and his brother. He said he and the original detainees were not physically abused, but that security officers turned their family members away.“It wasn’t actually a political demonstration, the families were simply requesting to see us,” he said. His wife chanted “State of freedom, no political arrests!”Awawdeh said he and a colleague arrived at the sit-in and began filming. When a security officer told them to stop filming they identified themselves as journalists but complied with the request, he said. Then riot police gathered in front of the station and an officer ordered everyone to leave within 10 minutes.About three minutes later, the attack began.Multiple witnesses said the police attacked everyone on the street — activists, journalists and observers — firing pepper spray, beating them with batons and pulling women by their hair.Diala Ayesh, a human rights lawyer who was there as an observer, said she was handcuffed and dragged into the police station, and that some of the policemen harassed her and struck her on “sensitive places” on her body. She was among at least 15 people who were detained.Once inside, Awawdeh and another man were dragged into a small room and severely beaten with batons. “I just kept telling them I’m a journalist,” Awawdeh said. “I told them from the moment I arrived that I was a journalist.”He was left on the floor of the cell until a physician who was among those detained alerted the police, telling them his pulse was weak. He and the other man were hospitalized, and Awawdeh was treated for severe bruising on his chest. All the detainees were released over the next 24 hours.More than a week later, Awawdeh was visibly shaken and seemed to struggle for air while recounting his experience to The Associated Press. He paused several times and held his hand to his chest throughout the interview.Aboudi says his wife and children, a seven-year-old and five-year-old twins, were left on the street when their mother, grandfather and uncle were detained. He said they are “deeply traumatized.”Palestinian officials have not commented publicly on the events of July 5. A police spokesman referred questions to a government spokesman, who did not respond to requests for comment.Aboudi says Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called his father, who had once been his professor at Birzeit University, to apologize. “His apology is not accepted, because he promised accountability and we did not see any accountability,” Aboudi said.Saleh Hijazi, the deputy regional director of Amnesty International, said the Palestinian Authority has attacked peaceful protesters in the past, going back at least to 2011. Israel also heavily restricts political activity in the occupied territories, and its security forces often clash with Palestinian protesters and detain prominent activists.“Palestinians are getting it from both sides,” Hijazi said. “The message from both authorities, Israel being the one with ultimate power, is that there is no freedom of expression or assembly for Palestinians.”If the PA’s crackdown is aimed at halting the protests, it hasn’t worked.Demonstrators gathered in Ramallah again last Sunday, days after the attack on the sit-in. Awawdeh was back at his radio station this week and says he will continue to work as a reporter. Aboudi has been summoned to appear in court in September and could be taken into custody again, but he too says he is determined to continue his work.”People are still shouting that we demand our freedom,” he said. “We want basic human rights, we want freedom, we want emancipation. We don’t care who has violated our rights, but these kinds of violations we will not tolerate.”
JERUSALEM — Israel’s parliament is set to vote Monday on whether to renew a temporary law first enacted in 2003 that bars Arab citizens of Israel from extending citizenship or even residency to spouses from the occupied West Bank and Gaza.Critics, including many left-wing and Arab lawmakers, say it’s a racist measure aimed at restricting the growth of Israel’s Arab minority, while supporters say it’s needed for security purposes and to preserve Israel’s Jewish character.The law creates an array of difficulties for Palestinian families that span the war-drawn and largely invisible frontiers separating Israel from east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, territories it seized in the 1967 war that the Palestinians want for a future state.Israel’s dominant right-wing parties strongly support the law, and it has been renewed every year since being enacted. But Israel’s new government includes opponents of the measure, and the right-wing opposition led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — aiming to embarrass the government — has warned it won’t provide the votes needed to renew the law.The vote is expected late Monday.The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law was enacted as a temporary measure in 2003, at the height of the second intifada, or uprising, when Palestinians launched scores of deadly attacks inside Israel. Proponents said Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza were susceptible to recruitment by armed groups and that security vetting alone was insufficient.The law has been renewed even after the uprising wound down in 2005 and the number of attacks plummeted. Today, Israel allows more than 100,000 Palestinian workers from the West Bank to enter on a regular basis.“It was passed in the middle of the intifada, and now we are in a very different period in time,” said Yuval Shany, a legal expert at the Israel Democracy Institute. Not only are attacks far rarer, but Israel has vastly improved its technological abilities to monitor Palestinians who enter, he said. “I don’t think the security argument is very strong at this point in time.”Because of the law, Arab citizens have few if any avenues for bringing spouses from the West Bank and Gaza into Israel. The policy affects thousands of families.Male spouses over the age of 35 and female spouses over the age of 25, as well as some humanitarian cases, can apply for the equivalent of a tourist permit, which must be regularly renewed. The holders of such permits are ineligible for driver’s licenses, public health insurance and most forms of employment. Palestinian spouses from Gaza have been completely banned since the militant Hamas group seized power there in 2007.The law does not apply to the nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers who live in the West Bank, who have full Israeli citizenship. Under Israel’s Law of Return, Jews who come to Israel from anywhere in the world are eligible for citizenship.Israel’s Arab minority, which makes up 20% of the population, has close familial ties to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and largely identifies with their cause. Arab citizens view the law as one of several forms of discrimination they face in a country that legally defines itself as a Jewish nation-state.“This law sees every Palestinian as an enemy and as a threat, just because of his ethnic and national affiliation,” said Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer with Adalah, an Arab rights group that has challenged the law in court. “The political message is very racist and very dangerous.”Palestinians who are unable to get permits but try to live with their spouses inside Israel are at risk of deportation. Couples that move to the West Bank live under Israeli military occupation. If their children are born in the West Bank, they would be subject to the same law preventing spouses from entering Israel, though there is an exception for minors.The citizenship law also applies to Jewish Israelis who marry Palestinians from the territories, but such unions are extremely rare.Human Rights Watch pointed to the law as an example of the widespread discrimination faced by Palestinians — both inside Israel and in the territories it controls — in a report earlier this year that said such practices amount to apartheid.Israel rejects such allegations and says Jewish and Arab citizens have equal rights. It says a controversial 2018 law, which defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, merely recognizes the country’s character and does not infringe on individual rights.Arab citizens have the right to vote, and the new government for the first time includes an Arab faction, which is opposed to the citizenship law.But even as Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a political centrist, recently urged the opposition to support the law on security grounds, he also evoked demographic concerns.“This law is essential for safeguarding the country’s security and Jewish and democratic character, and security considerations need to be put before all political considerations,” Gantz said in a statement. “Even in difficult times politically, we put Israel before everything.”
Hundreds of Palestinians have gathered in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah to demonstrate against President Mahmoud AbbasBy JOSEPH KRAUSS Associated PressJuly 4, 2021, 4:28 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleRAMALLAH, West Bank — Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on Saturday to demonstrate against President Mahmoud Abbas, hoping to inject new momentum into a protest movement sparked by the death of an outspoken critic in the custody of security forces.Palestinian security forces and groups of men in plainclothes violently dispersed a similar protest a week ago, drawing expressions of concern from the United States and the U.N. human rights chief. There were no immediate reports of violence on Saturday.The Palestinian Authority was established as part of the peace process in the 1990s and governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. It has grown increasingly autocratic and unpopular, and Abbas cancelled the first elections in 15 years in April when it looked like his fractured Fatah party would lose badly. He was largely sidelined during the Gaza war in May amid an outpouring of support for his rivals, the territory’s militant Hamas rulers.Saturday’s demonstration began with a few hundred protesters gathering in al-Manara Square in central Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority is headquartered. The mother of Nizar Banat, the activist whose death last month sparked the protests, and other family members were welcomed with applause and gave brief speeches.The crowd then made a loop through downtown, gathering force as it marched until thousands could be heard chanting “The people want the fall of the regime,” and “Abbas, leave,” slogans used during the so-called Arab Spring protests that swept the Middle East in 2011.There was initially no visible security presence, but when the protesters marched down a main street leading to the headquarters of the PA they approached a line of riot police manning barricades. The protesters halted and sat in the street several meters (yards) away.Fatah meanwhile held a rally in the southern West Bank city of Hebron in which supporters waved the party’s trademark yellow flags. The PA’s official Palestine TV covered the Hebron rally and ignored the demonstration in Ramallah.State Department spokesman Ned Price said this week that the U.S. was “deeply disturbed by reports that non-uniformed members of the Palestinian Authority security forces harassed and used force against protesters and journalists” during last weekend’s demonstrations.U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Thursday that Palestinian security forces had beaten protesters with batons and attacked them with tear gas and stun grenades. She said they appeared to have singled out female demonstrators, reporters and bystanders, many of whom said they were sexually harassed.She called on the PA “to ensure freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly.———Associated Press writers Imad Isseid and Nasser Nasser contributed to this report.
JERUSALEM — Thousands of Palestinians have taken to the streets in recent days to protest against President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, whose security forces and supporters have violently dispersed them.The demonstrations were sparked by the death of an outspoken critic of the PA in security forces’ custody last week, but the grievances run much deeper. Abbas’ popularity plunged after he called off the first elections in 15 years in April and was sidelined by the Gaza war in May. The PA has long been seen as rife with corruption and intolerant of dissent.The Palestinian Authority is one of the last manifestations of the peace process, which has been dormant for more than a decade, and is seen by Israel, the United States and the European Union as a key partner in promoting stability.Here’s a look at the PA and the protests against it.———A STATE IN WAITINGThe PA was established in the 1990s through interim peace agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which still represents the cause internationally. It was seen as a state-in-waiting and was granted limited autonomy in parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.Israel and the PLO held several rounds of peace talks throughout the 1990s and 2000s. The Palestinians, negotiating from a position of weakness, sought an independent state in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, territories Israel seized in the 1967 war. They were never able to reach an agreement, and there have been no substantive talks since 2009.The Islamic militant group Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007, a year after winning an landslide victory in Palestinian elections. That confined Abbas’ authority to parts of the West Bank. Several attempts at Palestinian reconciliation over the years have failed.While the PA has ministries, security forces and the trappings of a state, its authority is limited to major population centers that amount to around 40% of the West Bank. Israel has overarching authority and controls access to the PA-run territories, which Palestinians routinely compare to the Black-ruled Bantustans established by apartheid South Africa.———GROWING AUTHORITARIANISMThe increasingly authoritarian PA is dominated by Abbas’ secular Fatah party, which is led by a small circle of men in their 60s and 70s. The 85-year-old Abbas, whose four-year presidential term expired in 2009, leads the PA, the PLO and Fatah.The PA leadership, which enjoys special privileges for cooperating with Israel, is widely seen by the Palestinians as corrupt and self-serving. Its policy of coordinating security with Israel to go after Hamas and other mutual foes is extremely unpopular. Protesters at the Al-Aqsa mosque on Friday accused the PA of being collaborators, a charge that amounts to treason.Last week, security forces raided a home in the occupied West Bank to arrest Nizar Banat, who had repeatedly criticized the PA in online posts. His family says they beat him with batons before dragging him away. The PA says it has launched an investigation into his death, which ignited the latest protests.Banat was a candidate in the parliamentary elections that Abbas called off in April when it looked like his fractured Fatah would suffer an embarrassing defeat to Hamas. During the Gaza war that erupted shortly thereafter, Hamas was widely seen as fighting for Palestinian rights and defending Jerusalem while the PA did nothing.A poll taken after the war found a dramatic rise in support for Hamas, with more than half of respondents saying it should lead the Palestinian movement.———STAYING POWERDespite his unpopularity, Abbas can count on the support of powerful friends, with Israel, the U.S. and Western donors deeply invested in the PA’s survival. The PA also pays the salaries of tens of thousands of Palestinian civil servants who would otherwise struggle to find work.By administering major population centers, the PA reduces the financial and security burden of Israel’s 54-year military occupation of the West Bank. It also helps preserve the idea of an eventual two-state solution, even as Israel expands Jewish settlements and consolidates its control over the West Bank and east Jerusalem.The EU has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the PA over the years, and the U.S. and other nations have trained and equipped its security forces. The Biden administration has said it hopes to strengthen the PA and work with it to rebuild Gaza — where it has no power.Israel, the U.S. and the EU all prefer the unelected PA to Hamas — which they consider a terrorist group — or to the chaos that could ensue from the PA’s collapse. They are committed to working with the PA to manage the conflict and reduce tensions until some future time when the peace process can be revived.But after weeks of unrest in Jerusalem, a war in Gaza and now street violence in the West Bank, that approach seems increasingly fraught.
An outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority has died during his arrest by PA forcesBy JOSEPH KRAUSS Associated PressJune 24, 2021, 9:57 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleJERUSALEM — An outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority who had intended to run in parliamentary elections before they were cancelled earlier this year died during his arrest by PA forces early Thursday, officials said.Nizar Banat was a harsh critic of the PA, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and had called on Western nations to cut off aid to it because of its growing authoritarianism and human rights violations.In a brief statement, the Hebron governorate said his “health deteriorated” when Palestinian forces went to arrest him early Thursday. It said he was taken to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead.His cousin, Ammar Banat, said around 25 Palestinian security forces stormed the home where Nizar was staying, blowing out doors and windows. They beat Nizar with an iron bar and sprayed pepper spray in his eyes before undressing him and dragging him away to a vehicle, Ammar told a local radio station, citing two other cousins who were present during the arrest.In early May, gunmen fired bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at his home near the West Bank city of Hebron, where his wife was inside with their children. He blamed the attack on President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, which dominates the security forces, saying only they would have access to tear gas and stun grenades.“The Europeans need to know that they are indirectly funding this organization,” he told The Associated Press in May in an interview at a home where he was hiding out. “They fire their guns into the air at Fatah celebrations, they fire their guns in the air when Fatah leaders fight each other and they fire their guns at people who oppose Fatah.”He also accused prominent Fatah supporters of waging an incitement campaign against him on social media in which they accused him of collaborating with Israel, a serious allegation that in the Palestinian territories amounts to treason. He denied the accusation.More recently, he had criticized the Palestinian leadership over an agreement in which Israel sent the PA a shipment of coronavirus vaccines that were soon to expire in exchange for fresh doses the Palestinians expect to receive later this year. The PA called off the agreement after it faced a wave of criticism on social media. Israel said the doses it sent were safe and effective.The European Union’s delegation to the Palestinians wrote on Twitter that it was “shocked and saddened” by Banat’s death and called for a “full, independent, and transparent investigation.” The United Nation’s Mideast envoy, Tor Wennesland, also called for an investigation into the incident, saying that the “perpetrators must be brought to justice.”Earlier this week, Palestinian security forces detained a prominent activist and held him overnight after he unleashed a wave of criticism at the PA on Facebook. Issa Amro is an outspoken critic of both Israel and the PA, and has been detained by both in the past.A recent poll showed plummeting support for Abbas, who cancelled the first elections in 15 years in April when it looked like his fractured Fatah party would suffer another humiliating defeat to Hamas, the Islamic militant group ruling Gaza.Hamas drove out forces loyal to Abbas when it seized power in Gaza in 2007, and he was mostly sidelined during last month’s 11-day Gaza war.Western nations continue to view Abbas as a key partner in the long-moribund peace process, and the European Union has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in direct aid to the PA over the years. Earlier this week, the EU signed an agreement to provide $425 million in loans to the PA and Palestinian banks to help them cope with an economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Israel’s new foreign minister will head to the United Arab Emirates next week for the first known visit by a top Israeli diplomat to the Gulf Arab countryBy JOSEPH KRAUSS Associated PressJune 21, 2021, 10:08 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleJERUSALEM — Israel’s new foreign minister will head to the United Arab Emirates next week for the first known visit by a top Israeli diplomat to the Gulf Arab country, the ministry said Monday.Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s trip comes after the two countries normalized relations last year in an agreement brokered by the Trump administration, the first of four similar deals with Arab states that had long shunned Israel over its conflict with the Palestinians.Both Israel’s new government and the Biden administration have said they hope to reach similar accords with other Arab states. Israel and the UAE have meanwhile continued working to deepen ties despite last month’s Gaza war.The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Lapid will visit the UAE June 29-30, and will inaugurate an Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi and a consulate in Dubai.“Ties between Israel and the UAE are an important relationship, the fruits of which will be enjoyed not only by the citizens of the two countries, but by the entire Middle East,” it said in a statement.Lapid was the driving force behind a new Israeli government sworn in just over a week ago that ended Benjamin Netanyahu’s record 12-year run as prime minister. Netanyahu and Trump had held up the agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco as among their biggest achievements.Israelis have flocked to the UAE since the agreement was reached to enjoy futuristic Dubai. The UAE is a major global travel hub, and normalization has made it much easier for Israelis to travel further afield. The two countries have also signed a raft of agreements to cooperate in commerce, technology and other fields.Israel’s i24NEWS announced Monday that it has secured a broadcast license to operate in the UAE and will open its own bureau in Dubai Media City. The 24-hour channel, which aims to cover international news from an Israeli perspective, is already carried by the UAE’s Etisalat and du cable providers.Shortly after the Israel-UAE accord was reached, the Trump administration authorized the sale of 50 advanced F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, which would make it only the second country in the Middle East, after Israel, to acquire them.The Biden administration put that agreement on hold in January after it drew fierce criticism from Democrats in Congress, who argued that the sale had unfolded too quickly and without sufficient transparency. But in April, the administration decided to proceed with the $23 billion arms sale, saying it would work with the UAE to ensure adherence to human rights standards and the laws of war.The Palestinians strongly criticized the normalization agreements because they broke down a longstanding Arab consensus that recognition of Israel should only be granted in return for concessions in the peace process, which has been moribund for more than a decade.Even before the normalization agreements, Gulf Arab countries had been quietly cultivating closer ties with Israel over their shared concerns about Iran. Senior Israeli officials reportedly paid secret visits to the UAE and other Arab countries in the years before ties were normalized.
Israel says it will transfer around 1 million doses of soon-to-expire coronavirus vaccines to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for a similar number of doses the Palestinians expect to receive later this yearBy JOSEPH KRAUSS Associated PressJune 18, 2021, 10:35 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleJERUSALEM — Israel said Friday it will transfer around 1 million doses of soon-to-expire coronavirus vaccines to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for a similar number of doses the Palestinians expect to receive later this year.Israel, which has fully reopened after vaccinating some 85% of its adult population, has faced criticism for not sharing its vaccines with the 4.5 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.The disparity played out across the globe as the bulk of vaccines went to wealthy countries. As those countries have made progress containing their own outbreaks, they have recently begun pledging supplies for poorer countries that were left behind for months.The new Israeli government, which was sworn in on Sunday, said it would transfer Pfizer vaccines that will expire soon, and that the PA would reimburse it with a similar number of vaccines when it receives them from the pharmaceutical company in September or October. Up to 1.4 million doses could be exchanged, the government said in a statement.“We will continue to find effective ways to cooperate for the benefit of people in the region,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted after the deal was announced.There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian Authority, and it was not immediately clear whether it has the capacity to distribute the vaccines before they expire.Israel has carried out one of the most successful vaccination programs in the world, allowing it to fully reopen businesses and schools. This week, authorities lifted the requirement to wear masks in public, one of the last remaining restrictions.Rights groups have said that Israel, as an occupying power, is obliged to provide vaccines to the Palestinians. Israel denies having such an obligation, pointing to interim peace agreements reached with the Palestinians in the 1990s.Those agreements say the PA, which has limited autonomy in parts of the occupied West Bank, is responsible for health care but that the two sides should cooperate to combat pandemics. Israel has offered vaccines to the more than 100,000 Palestinians from the occupied West Bank who work inside Israel, as well as Palestinians in east Jerusalem.Gaza is ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and Western countries. Israeli officials have suggested linking any supply of vaccines to Gaza to the return of two Israeli captives and the remains of two soldiers held by Hamas.The PA has said it is acquiring its own supplies through agreements with private companies and a World Health Organization program designed to aid needy countries. It was not immediately clear whether the expected Pfizer doses are being supplied through that program, known as COVAX, or a private arrangement.To date, around 380,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and around 50,000 in Gaza have been vaccinated. More than 300,000 infections have been recorded in the two territories, including 3,545 deaths.Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians want a state in all three territories. There have been no substantive peace talks in more than a decade.———Associated Press writer Areej Hazboun contributed.