Inmates Describe Beatings, Torture in Palestinian Jails
JNEID, West Bank (AP) _ One by one, the inmates were taken to a dark interrogation room to see the bodies of two fellow prisoners, battered and near death.
Nasser Joma, stripped to his underwear, lay unconscious on the floor, his body blue from beatings and covered with cigarette burns, inmates said.
Mahmoud Jemayel, his hands tied with chains above his head, dangled unconscious from the ceiling, his feet barely touching the ground. His body, too, was blue and covered with burns.
``This is what you’re going to look like if you don’t talk,″ an interrogator told the inmates. ``Now, would you like to confess or not?″
An Associated Press reporter who entered Jneid Prison in the northern West Bank as a visitor over the weekend got a rare glimpse inside the Palestinian prison system.
Several inmates told of being beaten, and of how Joma and Jemayel had been displayed to them after the two men had been tortured. Conditions were filthy, with streams of dirty water running from the prison bathrooms. Security was non-existent; guards and prisoners mingled freely.
Persistent reports of human rights abuses are testing Palestinians’ faith in their government _ and slowly forcing Yasser Arafat to pay attention.
Thousands of Palestinians turned out Thursday to protest Jemayel’s death in an Israeli hospital from severe internal bleeding and a broken skull. Joma is in critical condition, still confined to his ground floor cell.
On Friday, hundreds demonstrated outside a prison in nearby Tulkarem to protest the detention of suspects without charge. One demonstrator was killed when Palestinian police opened fire.
The militant Islamic group Hamas warned the next day the protests were the beginning of a new popular uprising _ this time against Arafat’s Palestinian Authority.
Arafat released 20 Hamas prisoners Sunday, most of them elderly. He acted on the recommendation of a committee set up to investigate Friday’s riots, Tulkarem governor Izzedin Sharif said.
Arafat also declared the man shot to death in the rioting a martyr, making his family eligible for financial help from the government.
The Palestinian leader has ordered an investigation into Jemayel’s death. Three interrogators _ Col. Abdulhakim Hoja, Col. Omar Kadoumi and Khaled Bido _ were found guilty Saturday of torturing him to death. Hoja and Kadoumi were sentenced to 15 years in jail and Bido to 10 years.
On Sunday, the chief of Palestinian intelligence, Amin Hindi, called Jemayel’s killing an isolated act. ``Individuals acted on their own and they were punished,″ he said.
But Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights groups have complained of mistreatment of detainees in Palestinian jails. Including Jemayel, seven Palestinians have died in custody since the start of Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in May 1994.
Three inmates _ Jamal Nabulsi and brothers Abdulhalim and Moammar Mabroukeh _ told the AP they too were severely beaten and threatened with death by Palestinian police interrogators.
The three, like Jemayel, were arrested for their involvement in the underground Fatah Hawks vigilante group.
After hearing of Jemayel’s death, Nabulsi and Moammar Mabroukeh tried to take their own lives. Nabulsi, 34, swallowed a razor blade and broken glass and tried to cut a vein in his left arm.
Moammar, 23, drank shampoo, took pills and cut his wrist and stomach with a razor blade. The two men were taken to a Nablus hospital but returned to the prison the same day.
``If I don’t get out of here, I’m going to do it again,″ a pale and fragile-looking Moammar told his mother on a family visit Saturday to the garbage-strewn cell _ No. 1009 _ he shares with Nabulsi.
Taking off his blood-stained T-shirt and handing it to her he said, ``They’re killing us.″
In an almost inaudible voice, his head lowered and hands shaking, Moammar explained why he had tried to take his life: ``Why wait and let them do it for me?″
``Our mental state was so low after Mahmoud died that we could not bear to go on,″ Nabulsi interjected, a bandage wrapped around his left arm.
The yellow and white walls of cell No. 1009 were covered with graffiti scribbled by former inmates, perhaps from the days when Israelis were the jailers. ``Patience is man’s strength,″ read one scrawled message.
Pieces of dried pita bread were strewn on a table encrusted with sugar and tea leaves. A guard sat on the next bunk, an M-16 resting on his lap.
Unshaven prisoners in slippers strolled down filthy corridors.
Inmates lay bored on bunk-beds reading newspapers in their fly-infested cells, the doors wide open. Others slept. One man prayed on a prayer rug.
Guards, some in civilian clothes and others in shabby uniforms, mingled with prisoners, exchanging cigarettes and stories.
Five bearded faces peered through a small window hole in a locked yellow metal door. They said they were members of Hamas. ``We are the forgotten prisoners,″ one whispered.
In an adjoining wing, Abdulhalim Mabroukeh, 35, languished alone in his cell.
With a mixture of bitterness and pride, he showed off his left hand _ all its fingers missing. A bomb he had intended to throw at the Israeli army during the 1987-93 Palestinian uprising had gone off in his hand.
``And now our own government is punishing us,″ he said, shaking his head. ``We didn’t fight to get this kind of justice.″