It has been known world wide in these last days that Human Rights Watch has accused both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas of routinely engaging in “systematic” unwarranted arrests and torture of critics, suspected dissidents and political opponents, and of developing “parallel police states” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In a 149-page report based on interviews with 147 witnesses, Human Rights Watch detailed a common method of abuse and torture known as shabeh — used both by the PA and Hamas — which causes distress and trauma to detainees.
The widespread occurrence of such brutality indicates that “torture is governmental policy for both the PA and Hamas,” Human Rights Watch stated.
According to the report, “Palestinian forces in both the West Bank and Gaza regularly use threats of violence, taunts, solitary confinement, and beatings, including lashing and whipping of the feet of detainees, to elicit confessions, punish, and intimidate activists.”
Saying the systematic use of torture could amount to a crime against humanity under the United Nations’ Convention against Torture, Human Rights Watch called on the United States, the European Union and other international powers to halt all aid to the Palestinian agencies responsible for persecution and “until the authorities curb those practices and hold those responsible for abuse accountable.”
As everybody could imagine, both Hamas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority denied the accusations. For more than a decade, Hamas has maintained an iron grip on power and suppressed any signs of public dissent, including street protests and on social media.
On the other side, despite having Western backing, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has also silenced dissent in the areas of the West Bank he administers under past agreements with Israel. Last year, he clamped down on social media and news websites with a vaguely worded decree that critics say allows his government to jail anyone on charges of harming “national unity” or the “social fabric.”
In this regard, this news is not new. In spite of shameful silence, complicity and indifference, no U.N. agency, political leaders and media can say they do not know the reality of brutality and violation of human rights from Hamas and from the PA.
However, last June, when the United States gave the possibility to all U.N. General Assembly members to vote loud and clear that Hamas is a terrorist organization, the result was very modest.
And from Latin America, the result of the voting was disgraceful.
It was not surprise then, and it would not be today, that Venezuela and Cuba supported Hamas. Venezuela is a haven for Hezbollah, and its activities in drug trafficking, arms sales and money laundering.
But most Latin American countries abstained. How is it possible to “abstain” before terror? How is it possible to show such indifference before a clear and present danger? It is possible because Latin American countries do not see with clarity that their votes are harming the Jewish communities which are living in those countries and are always at danger together with the whole population if terrorist movements are free to move around.
Uruguay is an example of the mixture of wrong steps and unconsciousness. Uruguay voted “no” at the U.N. The meaning of such a vote is that Uruguay showed last June before the General Assembly that it does not consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization. Uruguay always declares in international forums that it is in favor of two-state solution and insists in peace accords and understanding. Where is the gap for such contradiction? That Uruguay is including Hamas as part of the Palestinian side who should be sitting at the table discussing with Israel.
All those Latin American countries which “abstained” in the voting of Hamas as a terrorist group and Uruguay going beyond and voting “no” are far from helpful to get some step forward in a road for peace. It is hard to believe that they do not know that Hamas is a terrorist organization because Hamas has claimed openly since its beginning that its goal is the complete destruction of the State of Israel. So, it is very dangerous and useless to believe that Hamas could be sitting at any table to deal with peace issues.
If there is going to be a slim possibility in the near future to restart conversations between Israelis and Palestinians, pushed by the U.S. administration, Hamas will not be at the table and Latin America will watch from far away what may happen because its behavior is also far away from reality and seriousness.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International Director of Latin American Affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.
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