Tarqi al-Khudeiri returns home with his family to the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, but the 22-year-old activist, whose face and presence is well known at the city’s protests, remains baffled by his arrest at the hands of Palestinian security forces last week.
“The preventive security forces called my father’s mobile phone last Saturday and informed him that he and I must be present to give a ‘friendly’ 10-minute talk at his headquarters,” al-Khudeiri said. and Al Jazeera. “They promised my dad and I would go home together.”
Officials then showed a video of a protest, claiming that Al-Khudeiri had chanted insults against the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, which he categorically denied.
“Everyone knows I have a good relationship with members and activists from different political parties,” he said. “These protests supported the resistance and in solidarity with our people in Gaza during the Israeli offensive. It makes no sense to use these protests to insult political leaders.”
Security forces changed their spot and informed Al-Khudeiri that his life was threatened by unknown people who faced the alleged crime and were looking for him.
“Security forces told me to spend 24 hours at their headquarters as a form of protection,” he said.
Al-Khudeiri, who has diabetes and suffers from other chronic illnesses, told his father to return home and take his medicines to the security headquarters.
“Suddenly, without telling me anything, they packed me in a car and took me to the security complex. [prison] in Jericho, ”he said.
That night, the young activist was violently interrogated for long hours and treated with “visceral anger and depravity” that impacted him.
“They threatened to hang my hands (a form of torture known as shabah) and assaulted me physically and verbally,” he recounted. “They handcuffed my hands behind my back and covered my eyes and made me sit for long hours in a low chair with no backrest.”
During the first 24 hours of his detention, Al-Khudeiri’s family had no idea of his whereabouts. Eventually, he was transferred to a solitary cell that was crawling with insects and “unfit for a human being.” As blood sugar levels dropped dangerously, his requests for a diabetes kit fell on deaf ears until he had a hypoglycemic attack.
His detention lasted another 24 hours and he was banned from seeing a lawyer.
We demand the Prime Minister # Palestine @DrShtayyeh Release immediately #Active Tariq Al-Khudairi, who was arbitrarily arrested on May 22 solely for exercising his right to #Freedom of expression. Palestinian authorities must stop the suppression of peaceful dissent! pic.twitter.com/d1e2b1i2Tg
– Amnesty International (@AmnestyAR) May 24, 2021
Translation: We call on Prime Minister @DrShtayyeh to immediately release Tariq al-Khudeiri, who was arbitrarily arrested on May 22 for exercising his right to freedom of expression
The interrogation began again the next day.
“It became clear to me that this issue of allegedly insulting a political leader was just an excuse to arrest me and talk to me about other issues,” al-Khudeiri said. He was questioned about his student activism, his previous arrest by Israel in 2019 and about other activists and former prisoners.
“They didn’t like me being outspoken against the Palestinian Authority and they accused me of being a member of Hamas,” he said. “I replied no, but even if it was, it shouldn’t be a problem, as they represent resistance against the Israeli occupation.”
Finally, interrogators told him that the prosecution accused him of “provoking conflicts”, “incitement” and “insulting symbolic leaders”.
On Tuesday, al-Khudeiri was brought before the prosecution who, in contrast to what interrogators had told him, said he was innocent and repeated the claim that he was being held in the security complex for his own protection. They wanted to extend his detention for 15 days, but eventually released him on “his responsibility.”
Violates freedom of expression
The case of Al-Khudeiri is one of dozens of recent arrests of Palestinian activists and university students by Palestinian Authority security forces in the occupied West Bank.
Other detainees include Mahdi Abu Awwad, Mustafa Al-Khawaja, Akram Salamah, Anas Qazzaz and Hussam Amareen, a medical student at al-Quds University.
Lawyers for justice: Jericho investigating court rejects request for release of political detainee Hussam Amarin, which translates into deprivation of a major examination scheduled for next Saturday at the University of Medicine #Jerusalem. pic.twitter.com/Zl69lZ55eA
– Xuds de Xuds (@qudsn) May 27, 2021
Translation: Lawyers in Jericho: Jericho Court Rejects Request for Release of Political Detainee Hussam Amareen, Denying Him Important Signature Expected for Next Saturday at al-Quds University School of Medicine
According to Shaker Tameiza, the group’s advocate for the rights of Addameer prisoners, the arrest campaign began after the end of the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip and after the West Bank witnessed popular protests expressing its support and solidarity with his brothers in Gaza.
“The percentage of these arrests is worrisome,” Tameiza told Al Jazeera. “If this continues, we could be looking at hundreds of political arrests in a few months.”
In violation of the law, detainees are transferred from their hometowns or villages to the Jericho security complex, colloquially referred to by activists as the “Jericho Slaughterhouse.”
“According to the witnesses we have heard, the detainees were subjected to torture in the form of shaba, verbal abuse and physical beatings,” he said.
“The law states that all defendants should be tried in their city,” he continued. “His transfer to Jericho means lawyers do not have immediate access to it.”
All the arrests are based on the violation of freedom of expression, such as posts on social media and chants during the protests.
“Most of the alleged charges of the activists are more or less the same, such as‘ provoking sectarian and racial conflicts ’, which is considered insulting to the AP,” Tameiza said.
According to Justice Network Lawyers, the political arrests, which have intensified since last week, “explicitly and clearly contradict the recent decree of liberties of the President of the Palestinian Authority.”
Protests considered a threat by PA
The crackdown on activists is not new and has its roots in what political analyst Khalil Shaheen described as the AP’s “survival policy”.
The PA clung to its legitimacy of the international community by adopting only the two-state solution discourse and the so-called peace process negotiations, he explained.
“That means he sees any other policy, even if it has roots in popular protests, as a threat to it. Any deviation from this PA strategy causes the government to repress activists, as it is not of the interest of the AP to see that the protests become an Intifada ”.
In the past, the PA had dealt with popular protests by co-opting them or maintaining control over them as a means of pressuring Israel to return to the negotiating table.
However, recent events and developments on the ground – since the protests of Sheikh Jarrah and Israeli incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in Jerusalem, attacks on Palestinians in the 1948 territories, and rockets fired from Gaza have served to fuel the situation.
“The PA is concerned that the armed confrontation with Israel will spread to the occupied West Bank,” Shaheen said. “In addition, a new generation of activists is emerging who are not politicized according to party membership and therefore cannot be co-opted. These young people have been at the forefront of clashes with Israeli forces, either in Jerusalem or Haifa, and are traditionally not known to the AP. “
The arrest campaign as a tactic of fear, which is taking place at the same time as Israel’s “law and order” operation in the 1948 territories where hundreds of Palestinian Israeli citizens have been rounded up, is in full swing. line with the behavior of authoritarian governments, Shaheen said.
“The AP rules with fear because it is desperate to maintain its authority,” he said. “That’s why they postponed the election because they knew it would be a shameful defeat for the ruling Fatah party.”
For activist al-Khudeiri, this is not the time for factions to gain individual political points.
“The Palestinians must maintain this unity that we have seen being forged in recent events in Sheikh Jarrah and the rest of Jerusalem, in Gaza and Palestine in 1948,” he said.
“We must remain united under a single flag to fight Israeli normalization, occupation and security coordination as a way to bury the so-called peace process, which is as dead as it is. After all, what we are doing on the street is that our people can prosper and live with honor and freedom ”.