Human Rights Watch calls for western governments to suspend aid to Palestinian security forces ‘until human rights abuses stop’

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Canada began providing financial (and military) help to the security forces of the Palestinian Authority (PA) under the Harper government. Human Rights Watch claims that those PA security forces are implicated in widespread arbitrary arrest and torture. Many human rights activists in the West Bank say the PA is more active in defending Israel than the rights of Palestinians. Read more.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed a shockingly widespread use of arbitrary arrest and torture by the police forces in both the West Bank and Gaza, including those of the Palestinian Authority which get considerable aid and training from Canada.

On Tuesday, October 23, CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonte interviewed Omar Shakir, Israel-Palestine director for HRW about his shocking findings. (A podcast of the 7 minute CBC interview can be heard here starting at 28:30 min mark. )

The report is the result of a two-year investigation by Human Rights Watch into patterns of arrest and detention conditions. It draws on 86 cases in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which show that Palestinian authorities routinely arrest and torture people including those whose peaceful speech displeases them.

Canada has been involved in training Palestinian security forces in the West Bank since the early 2000’s, along with US and British troops and police at the US-built International Police Training Center in Jordan.

Canada’s involvement includes Canadian Military and Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers as well as officials from the foreign ministry, Justice Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency, according to Canadian journalist Yves Engler.

Operating under an official military name, (“Operation Proteus”,) Canadian Forces, under US military leadership, provide training and logistical support to the Palestinian Authority Security Forces.

In a September 2010 interview with The Jerusalem Post, Peter Kent, then minister of state for foreign affairs in the Harper government, said Operation Proteus was Canada’s second largest deployment after Afghanistan and it received “most of the money” from a five-year, $300 million Canadian aid program to the PA.


PA security forces prevent protesters from approaching Palestinian President Abbas’ headquarters in Ramallah. (photo credit +972 Magazine)

It is no secret that Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are deeply unpopular in the West Bank. Many Palestinian human rights advocates say that the PA forces routinely suppress any form of protest against the PA or against Israeli actions, often claiming the protesters are inspired by Hamas.

Earlier this year, for example, PA forces were photographed violently attacking Palestinian demonstrators in the West Bank city of Ramallah who were demanding that the PA show support for protesters in Gaza who were being shot and tear gassed by Israeli troops.

The Human Rights Watch report concluded that The Palestinian Authority engages in close security coordination with Israel. We found a number of cases of Palestinians detained by both the Palestinian Authority and Israel, often based on similar sets of allegations.”

Mr. Netanyahu recently told a major Jewish gathering, “if it weren’t for Israeli troops stationed (in the West Bank) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would be “overrun in two minutes“. Netanyahu’s comments seem to confirm the allegations by HRW and by human rights activists in the West Bank.

How much do Canadian officials know? 

Canadian military officers serving in Afghanistan were sharply criticized in 2009 when it came to light that they were complicit in the torture of Afghan prisoners. At first, they denied any knowledge of the abuses, but eventually admitted their complicity.

If the abuses in the West Bank are as widespread as the Human Rights Watch report seems to imply, it is hard to believe that Canadians involved in training the security services of the Palestinian Authority do not know about it.

Canada can do better

According to the Global Affairs website: “Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967 (the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip).” However,  based on where our money goes, Canada’s priority on the ground seems to be  to reinforce a security apparatus which frequently acts to suppress political resistance – even peaceful resistance – to the Israeli occupation which our official website says Canada opposes.

“We want the Palestinian authorities to stop arresting and torturing critics. We also urge the United States and European countries (…) to suspend assistance for forces implicated in widespread arbitrary arrest and torture until these abuses stop and those responsible are held to account,” said Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine director.

Given the revelations of HRW, Canadian authorities should take a closer look at the impact of our own “aid” to Palestinians in the West Bank. (Canada does not give any aid to Hamas, of course, for security or anything else.)

Instead of directing our funds overwhelmingly to support what appears to be a repressive security apparatus in the West Bank, Canada should perhaps consider giving aid and training to some of the many small and struggling Palestinian human rights organizations operating in the West Bank and Gaza.


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  1. Peter,
    From where I sit (safe and far away), it looks to me as if the PA has been put in an impossible situation. Although some of its leaders avoid saying so, Israel behaves as if it is entitled to rule all of historical Palestine. Its soldiers travel freely in the West Bank, invading homes, arresting protesters and leaders, destroying property, and “protecting” Settlers who violate the rights of Palestinians. The PA knows that if it does not act when something that Israel does not approve happens, the IDF is likely to do something worse. Either way, the PA will have done something wrong.

    The Abbas regime’s dealings with Hamas are similarly restricted. When the political wing of Hamas won the 2006 Parliamentary elections, Israel (and its foreign supporters) made it clear that they would not deal with the PA if the law was followed and Hamas had control of the government, This eventually led to the Gaza/West Bank political divide that we see today. Israel has made it clear that it opposes any reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas if it would lead to joint control of the PA. If Israel stops dealing with the PA, it won’t even get the tax funds that Israel collects for it.

    Withdrawing the Canadian support that you describe would only make the situation worse. This is the time to provide more support for the PA and help them to do the best they can in this difficult situation. I personally, would be happy to see my tax dollars used to provide similar support for Hamas’s political wing (not the military).

  2. Great article!

    Reality check: Canada provides this kind of fake “aid” not out of the least bit of interest in Palestinian well-being. Rather it is because Israel and their Lobby here want it to support entrenching the occupation.

    Fake “aid” started under Harper and continues under JT. The first glaring example was the much touted security “aid to Palestinians” for the Israeli side (sic) of the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza in 2006. Within months, the blockade of Gaza began, relying on that “security” funding essentially to Israel. That crossing is the where most goods enter Gaza, or used to.

  3. I tend to agree with David.

    The first sentence of the Human Rights Watch report says, “The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas authorities in Gaza routinely arrest and torture peaceful critics and opponents, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. As the Palestinian Authority-Hamas feud has deepened, each has targeted the other’s supporters.”

    In other words, the PA and Hamas are both and perhaps equally guilty of human rights abuses.

    Peter writes: “Instead of directing our funds overwhelmingly to support what appears to be a repressive security apparatus in the West Bank, Canada should perhaps consider giving aid and training to some of the many small and struggling Palestinian human rights organizations operating in the West Bank and Gaza.”

    It would be morally comforting to do as Peter suggests. But what would be the practical consequence? A Hamas takeover of the West Bank? A civil war? A failed “state”?

    Israel, also a major human rights abuser according to HRW, gets US$3.8 billion a year from the U.S. Perhaps Canada should stop funding the PA if the U.S. agrees to stop funding Israel — and if whoever funds Hamas agrees to stop funding Hamas. In the meantime, maybe Canada should, with others, do more to encourage internationally supervised elections in the OPT.

    But the priority should be for the international community to use its economic pressure to force Israel to, for a start, end its blockade of Gaza and withdraw its settlers from the West Bank.

    1. Only one party, the Greens considered BDS and it almost cost them their leader. That would have been antisemitic just like a huge population of peasenick Jews in Israel and abroad who press for such as well. I’m sure that many Jews are horrified that a word used to describe the horrors of the holocaust has been corrupted to the point of confusion by an aberrant faction of its victims.

    2. “In other words, the PA and Hamas are both and perhaps equally guilty of human rights abuses.”

      Hey Arthur, thanks for your comment.

      You are right that HRW report gave equal blame to PA and Hamas.
      However, I focused attention in my article on the PA for two reasons:
      1. Because Canadian money and technical expertise goes to training and helping ONLY the PA security forces (and not to Hamas), and
      2. Because (and I am on less sure grounds here) my discussion with different people in the WB and in Gaza don’t support the idea that the two are “equally” at fault. My impression is that the PA repression is much more systematic and more widespread than that in Gaza. But I cannot prove this. Its based on a limited number of discussions with people in both places.

      1. I think the terminology is confusing. The PA is the “temporary” governing authority created in 1994. It was supposed to exist for a few years and then be replaced by a permanent structure. That never happened; the PA exists today. Within the PA, there were a number of political parties; the two major ones were the political branches of Fatah and Hamas. PA law has separate elections for Parliament and Presidency (much like France). Fatah won the presidency in 2005 and there was never another election for President. Hamas won the Parliamentary election in 2006 (a clear but not overwhelming majority) and should have been in the government. Israel and supporting governments said that they would not work with a Hamas government. That led Fatah to try to form a government without them and that led to violence.

        As I see the result, the PA is the name that should be given to the government of both “governments” . Fatah controls the Presidency (although the President’s term should have expired); government employees in Gaza are PA employees and were supposed to be paid by the PA. Other than the Presidential office, there are two governments. PA/Hamas, the winner of the most recent Parliamentary election) has control in Gaza while PA/Fatah members have effective control in the WB.

        Publicly, Israel deals with PA/Fatah but will not deal with the PA/Hamas. Privately, they seem to negotiate with PA/Hamas through other channels, particularly through Egypt. In theory, Mr. Abbas is President of both parts and can speak for both. In fact, he does not. He seems to have lost public support and I am not sure who he can speak for.

        Bottom Line: Although it is not always done, we should recognize that both governments have a claim to be a PA government and the conflict is between the two political parties Hamas and Fatah not between the PA and Hamas.

      2. Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation “originates from the Oslo Accords. A Palestinian Civil Police Force was established pursuant to Oslo II, Article XII, a “Joint Coordination and Cooperation Committee for Mutual Security Purposes”, “to guarantee public order and internal security for the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” (Wikipedia)

        So it’s a bigger and older and more complicated question than the funds Canada supplies. Of course we should protest the PA’s suppression of free speech and non-violent protest. But what about the PA’s information sharing with Israel about possible terrorist attacks or other violent attacks against Israelis? Is that legitimate? How much of the money Canada contributes goes to suppression of legitimate opposition vs. suppression of terrorism?

        We know that Israel will brutally retaliate for any Palestinian violence. Look at Israel’s response to the rockets from Gaza: (off the top of my head) 5000 Palestinian dead vs. 20 Israeli dead. Look at the second intifada: 900 Israeli civilian fatalities vs. over 2000 Palestinian non-combatant fatalities (according to B’tselem; some dispute these numbers).

        Some might argue that there are ethical and tactical reasons to prevent all attacks on civilians (terrorism), as would I. But even so, is there anyone who thinks Palestinian terrorism or violence will drive Israel out of existence or out of the OPT? (Admittedly, it slows down the rate of settlement expansion.) Isn’t the PA justified in doing what it can to prevent numerous deaths among its own population?

        If eliminating Canadian funding for security cooperation results in more terrorism and more retaliatory violence against Palestinians (can we call that terrorism, too?), will we be comforted the Canadians can say: “We cut funding for security cooperation, so our hands are clean”?

        Finally, we shouldn’t be overly concerned with the internal operations of the Palestinians. Oppressive or not, they should have their own country (or, if they and the Israelis prefer, a single country).

      3. And, from Amnesty, 2017/2018,

        “The death penalty was applied in Gaza. Six people were executed after civil and military courts sentenced them to death after convicting them of “collaboration with Israel” or other offences.

        “In May, Hamas executed three men in Gaza for allegedly assassinating a senior Hamas commander. They were sentenced to death in a trial that lasted one week and consisted of four brief sessions only. The sentences were carried out in a public square in Gaza City; two men were hanged and one executed by firing squad. The executions were shown live on social media.

        “No one was sentenced to death or executed in the West Bank.”

        What does say about Human rights in Gaza and the West Bank?

  4. JT and Global Affairs are guilty of ignorance or cynicism, most likely the later. They attribute criticism of Israel to antisemitism, which of course is promoted by trolls such as Honest Reporting. As well they engorge at the trough of Zionist Hawks in Canada. Then add in the fact that Canadian Parliamentarians are permitted (against the advice of Democracy Watch) to accept free junkets to Israel by Canadian outfits acting for Israel”s territorial cleptocratic agenda. The whole system is rotten to the core including the opposition.

  5. We need to listen to Palestinians themselves who live under the PA control as they express their needs and views. I hope we can hear some of their voices on this blog site.

    As a Palestinian-Canadian, I believe that Canadian and US aid is designed to serve Israeli demands in the first place. Money goes to PA under very strict conditions. It is mainly used to finance security services and not to build schools or hospitals or community centers. Here is what the Palestinian researcher Alaa Tartir says:

    “Aid has been used as a tool to cripple the Palestinians (..) As the big-ticket item in the PA budget continues to be its security sector, eating up around 30 percent of the budget and delivering very little security and protection to the Palestinian people”

    We need our government, and the rest of the world, to support Palestinians so that they can build schools, hospitals and create a sustainable economy. We do not want them to use aid as a tool to cripple and oppress.

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