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Palestinian Government Probed for Torture, War Crimes

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas / Getty Images
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas / Getty Images

The Palestinian government is complicit in "rampant, wide-spread, and systematic torture of Palestinian nationals" and Israelis, according to a landmark legal complaint filed this week with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The International Legal Forum (ILF), an advocacy group representing more than 3,500 lawyers and civil society activists across the globe, is pressing the ICC to investigate the Palestinian Authority for war crimes in the first ever case of this nature presented to the court, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The organization is demanding that the ICC launch "an immediate investigation and prosecution of Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership for allegations of torture." The documents outline instances of the Palestinian government engaging in "violent beatings, arbitrary detention, solitary confinement, cruel and inhumane prison conditions, harassment, forced confessions, and summary executions."

The case comes just a week after President Joe Biden made his first trip to the Middle East and announced another $316 million in U.S. taxpayer funding for the PA and organizations that work with it, bringing the total amount of American aid to around $1 billion. The Trump administration froze this money over concerns that the Palestinian government spends international aid dollars on terror groups and imprisoned terrorists.

"It is noteworthy that President Biden has just returned from the Middle East, where he touted millions of dollars in increased funding to the Palestinians," Arsen Ostrovsky, the ILF's chairman and CEO, told the Free Beacon. "One has to ask the question, then, are U.S. tax payer dollars also going toward underwriting torture practices carried out by the Palestinian Authority?"

While the Palestinian government has long pressed the ICC and other U.N. organizations to investigate alleged Israeli human rights abuses, the ILF's complaint marks one of the first times a pro-Israel organization has attempted to force international legal authorities to investigate the PA.

The complaint exposes how the Palestinian Authority and its security apparatus "systematically and intentionally" engage in wide-spread "violence and torture against Palestinian nationals in the West Bank, including against human rights activists, journalists, political opponents, dissidents, women, minors, members of LGBTQ community, social media critics, and purported ‘collaborators' with Israel."

These acts of torture, the group says in its legal filing, "routinely occur with the full knowledge of and under the express authority and/or directions of the PA."

This includes targeting Palestinian human rights activists and those critical of the PA government.

Nizar Banat, a 43-year-old Palestinian reformist, in June 2021 was attacked in his home by the PA's security services—one of several similar attacks on critics that the ILF says amount to a breach of international norms.

"Over 25 PA security services officers entered Banat's home, subdued him with pepper spray, and then viciously assaulted him before his wife and children, including by beating him with iron bars and wooden batons," according to the complaint. "The PA security services then dragged Mr. Banat from his home, stripped him of his clothes, and dragged him away into a waiting vehicle, where he subsequently died in their custody."

The legal filing also accuses Hamas, the terrorist group that runs the Gaza Strip, of torture. This includes war crimes charges for Hamas's repeated rocket attacks on Israeli civilians and cities.

Hamas is holding on to the bodies of murdered Israeli soldiers, which also constitutes a war crime, according to the ILF's complaint.

"It is our contention that the above criteria [are] sufficiently met, so as to commence an immediate investigation against [PA president Mahmoud] Abbas and [PA prime minister Mohammed] Shtayyeh, for the crime of torture, pursuant to the Rome Statute," the group writes in the filing.

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