By Amira Hass
The five daily prayers helped Nader E'bayat calculate how many days hadpassed during his first weeks of detention at the interrogation
division of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service in Bethlehem.
Toward the end, when he was transferred to the interrogation cells at
the Bituniya headquarters, he started to lose count. Altogether,
E'bayat spent 47 days in detention, from June 30 to August 15. He was
released on the order of the Bethlehem magistrate's court after no
evidence was presented to prove accusations that he had participated in Hamas' operative force in the West Bank.
E'bayat is one of some 650 Hamas members who have been arrested by the
Palestinian Authority's security forces in the West Bank since the
middle of June, Hamas says. Palestinian human rights organizations
estimate that 80 to 120 Hamas activists are currently detained in
various interrogation facilities throughout the West Bank. Many of
those who were released are afraid to give written testimony about
their ordeal, while the rumor mill has it that Hamas activists have
been instructed to spread orchestrated lies about torture in detention.
Majd al-Aruri, of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens'
Rights (PICCR), believes the detainees were threatened so they would
keep quiet. The commission is an official Palestinian institution
founded by Yasser Arafat in 1993, and its task is to supervise civil
rights in the PA. Its representatives regularly visit some of the
Palestinian detention centers and collect testimonies from those
detained there, including E'bayat.
E'bayat is 30 years old and a surveyor by profession. He is married
with two children, and lives in the village of Ta'amra, east of
Bethlehem. In a conversation in Bethlehem, in a small room in his
sister's beauty parlor, not far from the Church of the Nativity, he
described how he was arrested. On the evening of June 30, he was on the
way with his mother to the family's small workshop for designing signs
and nameplates, where his brother Nasser works. E'bayat's father was
killed on May 6, 2001, at the age of 47, during a clash with the Israel
Defense Forces. According to the family, he had joined the armed Fatah
gunmen who were shooting at Israel from Beit Jallah. His wife and their
11 children were left to fend for themselves.
At 6 P.M., on June 30, E'bayat's mother and her two sons locked up the
workshop and made their way toward their car when suddenly two white
Preventive Security forces jeeps drove up. At first, E'bayat refused
their demand that he climb into their vehicle "for 10 minutes." In the
end, however, he got in, at gunpoint. The security agents were not
masked and he recognized some of them, including several residents of
his village. His mother and his younger brother followed the two
vehicles to the Security Forces' Bethlehem headquarters to wait for
E'bayat, who was "due to be released after 10 minutes." Instead, the
security personnel arrested his brother Nasser as well (he was released
nine days later).
In the past 11 years, E'bayat has been in PA jails twice (for a month
in 1996 and for four months in 1998) and in Israeli jails twice (he
served four years starting in 1999 and two and a half years from 2003
onward) on charges of working for Hamas.
When he arrived for his fifth detention, he says, the interrogator
began "hurling unpleasant words at me." When he protested, E'bayat
says, the interrogator threw a chair at him. In the hallway leading to
the interrogation room, E'bayat saw five detainees whose heads were
covered with cloth sacks, bent forward with their hands tied behind
their backs. A few minutes later, he, too, was handcuffed in the same
position, known among prisoners as the dreaded "shabah." He was
blindfolded and his head was covered with a sack. A warden gave him
water when he asked for it. He was allowed to go to the bathroom, but
only after several requests.
Two days and two nights passed until he was given a break from the
cuffs, the sack and the standing, during prayers in the dark solitary
confinement cell. After two days, E'bayat was again taken to the
interrogation room. He was seated on a chair - another short chance for
a respite from the painful standing. "The interrogator told me they
wanted to finish with my case. I told him, 'There is nothing to finish
because I have nothing to say.' A soldier [warden] came and took me
back to the hallway." The warden then tied his already handcuffed hands
to an iron bar fixed to the wall, forcing E'bayat to bend over
uncomfortably. This is how he spent three days, with the regular short
breaks. He did not shower during the entire detention period, but was
allowed to wash his hands and feet before prayers. During that time,
E'bayat started to feel pain in his right shoulder. He could hear
shouts and groans around him.
On the fourth day of his detention, a radio-tape recorder was put in
the hallway, blaring loud, Western-style music ("so we would not be
able to fall asleep"). The unpleasant noise was interrupted during
prayer times only. For the most part, his interrogations were held
between midnight and 4 A.M. When his handcuffs were removed during one
of the interrogations, he realized he could not move his right hand.
After six days of "shabah," of standing and without any sleep ("Allah
gives us strength," he replies to a question of how this was possible),
a new period began. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays he was put in solitary
confinement (on the floor, without a mattress) in order to sleep, and
on the other days, he was taken back to the "shabah," to stand in the
hallway. And every night there was an interrogation.
The same questions
E'bayat's willingness to be interviewed and to have his case publicized
is unusual. In response to the reports about the difficult torture he
endured, one of the Preventive Security Force's senior officers told a
PICCR lawyer that E'bayat's accusations were fabricated and that he had
not been tortured. Haaretz was not able to get a response from a
Preventive Security Forces official about the case. E'bayat's account
resembles stories of torture described by other released detainees
whose testimonies have reached various legal organizations, members of
the Palestinian parliament and Haaretz.
PICCR members confirmed that the worst charges initially concerned the
detention facility of the Preventive Security Forces in Bethlehem
(which allowed a PICCR representative to visit only in mid-July, at the
conclusion of the state of emergency declared by PA Chairman Mahmoud
Abbas). In general, the PICCR's al-Aruri says that most complaints
about torture have come from people arrested by the Preventive
Security. He says that while some complaints could not be
substantiated, but in other cases, it transpired that contrary to first
impressions, those who were interrogated were indeed tortured.
E'bayat says a new team of interrogators was brought in every week,
"and every time they started asking questions from scratch." A typical
interrogation, in his words, went like this:
Interrogator: "Can't you see what is happening in Gaza? We don't want
this to be copied in the West Bank."
E'bayat: "I am not connected with Gaza. The way you are behaving and
torturing people, you are the ones who are bringing Gaza here."
Interrogator: "You are connected with the operative force of Hamas. You
Interrogator: "You have 26 Kalashnikovs. Give us some and we'll leave
you the rest."
E'bayat: "I can't say 'that's right' about something I didn't do and
about someone I'm not."
Interrogator: "You conscripted people to Hamas' operative force."
E'bayat: "Please bring in the people I've conscripted."
And indeed, at a certain stage during his detention, E'bayat says, two
detainees in neighboring cells told him that under duress, they had
signed a confession stating he had conscripted them to the operative
force. "And I have no idea who they are," he says.
On July 12, E'bayat went on a hunger strike, refusing even to drink
water. As soon as he began his strike, he was released from the
"shabah" position and sent to solitary confinement. He demanded to be
freed, to see a lawyer, and receive family visits. He ended the strike
after five days, when he was promised that he would be freed within two
days. During the hunger strike, he received an injection to give him
strength. He was given several more such injections during his
He had no idea that his mother and youngest sister came to the gate of
the headquarters and demanded to see him, every day. After 25 days in
detention, a warden said to him: "Wash your face. Someone is waiting to
see you." It was his wife Samira and his two sons, 3 years old and two
months old, respectively. An interrogator was present in the room, to
ensure they would merely say insignificant things. But his wild beard
and the pain on his face testified to what he could not say.
Once every 18 days, a general military prosecution representative met
with the detainees. He wanted to know whether they had admitted their
guilt. E'bayat says he told the representative about the torture.
During his fourth week in detention, "they allowed me to rest." They
left him in solitary confinement for eight days. Then, apparently on
July 30, he was taken to the Bethlehem magistrate's court, where he was
represented by a lawyer his family had hired. He told the magistrate
that he had been tortured, and the court ordered that the charges be
investigated. The magistrate also ordered E'bayat's detention be
extended for another 10 days; after this time, and unless proof was
presented of his activities on behalf of Hamas, he would have to be
The days become confused
After the first week of August (here, E'bayat says, the days become
confused), "they came in the night and told me to prepare my things.
'You are free,' they said. But they handcuffed me and blindfolded me
and then I realized that they were merely making fun of me." He was
taken in a car with his eyes covered. During the ride, he realized they
had passed through two IDF roadblocks because he heard his handlers
speaking with the soldiers. "They put me in a room with two doctors and
a group of interrogators. I told the doctors that my hand was paralyzed
and that I felt pain in my back and legs." He says that one of the
doctors told him: "Finish up the matter and you'll be released right
away and they won't take you downstairs [to the interrogation
division]. You have two children. It's a shame." In response, E'bayat
told them that he had nothing to say.
The security officials once again cuffed his hands behind his back,
with his aching right hand turned outward, "so it would hurt more," and
the other hand turned in. They led him "downstairs." Later on he found
out that he was being kept in the Preventive Security building in
Bituniya, near Ramallah. He was put in the hallway and his legs were
cuffed. "The interrogator came, lifted the sack a little from my head
and said to me: 'We have principles. It is forbidden to pray and it is
forbidden to go to the toilet. It is forbidden for you to ask anything
except to say that you want to finish with this affair.'" E'bayat
believes two days went by like this.
Then, after two days, a new interrogator asked him to answer five
questions: "If I was the head of Hamas' operative force in the West
Bank, if I had distributed weapons, if I had trained people to use
weapons, if I had received money and if I had a connection with Gaza."
He said no to all five. As a result, he was tied up in a different
position - standing on one leg, with his right leg and left hand in the
air, tied to an iron door. He was presented with the choice: eat or
pray, for five or ten minutes each time.
On Monday, July 13, a PICCR representative came and was surprised to
see him there - after all, a day before, a magistrate had ordered him
released. But E'bayat's is not the only case where a civilian
magistrate has ordered a release and the military prosecution overrules
it and orders the prisoner's remand extended. The commission protested
this type of practice in its official publication and to the PA. The
following day, Tuesday, E'bayat was twice taken out of the "shabah"
position and taken to the interrogation room. "You have a family," the
interrogators told him. In other words: Admit your guilt already, for
their sake. He responded, "Allah will extend their spirits."
On August 15 in the evening, E'bayat was released. His family members
came to get him. He got home at 2:30 A.M. and was hospitalized for two
days, where doctors discovered he was bleeding internally. He began a
series of treatments for infections in his ears and mouth, and receives
massages to ease the pain in his hand, back and leg. He limps, and
walks and sits down with great difficulty. During his first few days
back home, the signs of the handcuffs were still visible on his hands
and his joints still hurt.
A senior officer of one of the Palestinian security forces, speaking on
condition of anonymity, told Haaretz, "During the wave of arrests of
the past few months, we received important information about the
operative force Hamas set up in the West Bank. But we can't get exact
information through torture, and we didn't get the information we have
in that way. There may be one or two officers who make a mistake under
certain circumstances, but our general policy is that torture is
forbidden. Any officer who tortures a detainee is doing so on his own
accord and if information about such practice reaches his superior, he
will have to bear responsibility." He says that detainees have
exaggerated in their reports about torture.
According to the senior officer, only those suspected of having
connections with the operative force were arrested, not political
activists, as Hamas claimed. He says that the illegal operative force
has even begun conscripting people, training them and buying weapons.
In addition, he claims, they collected information about senior
security personnel and PA political figures, "with the aim of copying
what they did in Gaza, in the West Bank." He promised that these
arrests will continue, even if Gaza returns to its natural state, and
even if there are negotiations. "We will not allow any organization to
hold weapons, other than those that belong to the PA. This is true of
Hamas as well as other organizations, including Fatah."