Tension continues to flare all over the occupied Palestinian territories following the untimely death in an Israeli jail of Arafat Jaradat earlier this week.
Jaradat, 30, died ostensibly as a result of intensive physical torture and was laid to rest in his native town of Saeer east of Hebron amid angry and impassioned scenes as the Palestinian Authority (PA) sought to prevent the tension over from evolving into an all-out uprising.
Meanwhile, the death could abort efforts by the Obama administration to restart stalled talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Palestinian officials and forensic experts said there were sure — one hundred per cent — that Jaradat was tortured to death at the hands of Israeli Shin Bet interrogators.
“We know, and the Israelis know, that he was tortured to death. This matter can’t and will not pass quietly. We are talking about a healthy young man who was taken away from his family and children and then returned within a few days a dead corpse,” said Issa Qaraqaa, minister of prisoners’ affairs in the PA government.
Qaraqaa described Israeli claims that Jaradat, a father of two children, died a natural death as “a blatant lie”.
“The six broken limbs, the severe muscle tearing, the many lacerations and internal bleeding show beyond doubt that the martyr was tortured to death at the hands of these animals.”
Further corroboration suggesting foul play on the part of the Israelis is the assertion by the victim’s family that the Israeli Shin Bet agents who came to arrest Jaradat last week told him to bid his family and children a “final goodbye” because “you are not going to see them again.”
Jaradat’s body underwent an autopsy at the Israeli forensic institute of Abu Kabeer in the presence of his family and Palestinian doctors.
Israeli officials seeking to calm down the situation claimed Jaradat died of cardiac arrest during interrogation. Israeli spokespersons, however, said it was premature to establish the real causes of Jaradat’s death. The indecisive tone of the Israeli statements suggests that the Israelis are not telling the whole truth about the Jaradat affair.
A possible sign of an Israeli admission of guilt is the hasty Israeli decision to transfer to the PA more than $120 million dollars of tax and customs revenues, an uncharacteristic Israeli step observers say is intended to desensitise the latest tension with the Palestinians.
As many as 250 Palestinians are believed to have died under torture in Israeli jails. The Israeli justice system allows for “moderate physical pressure” to be performed on non-Jewish inmates. The term, jurists and human rights activists say, is only a euphemism for torture.
Moreover, the Israeli government, which put its occupation forces all over the West Bank on high alert, urged the PA leadership to pacify and control protests.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas duly accused Israel of deliberately seeking to stoke unrest in the West Bank, adding that the Palestinians would not be provoked.
“The Israelis want chaos and we know it but we won’t let them. We want peace and freedom for our prisoners and no matter how hard they [the Israelis] try to drag us into their schemes, we will not be dragged.”
Abbas added: “We lost Arafat Jaradat who was arrested and came back in a coffin and this can not pass lightly.”
The death of Jaradat came amidst a prolonged showdown between Israel and the Palestinians over the exacerbating plight of thousands of Palestinian political and resistance activists languishing in Israeli jails and detention camps.
There have been several highlighted cases of prisoners “on the verge of death” following prolonged hunger strikes protesting unlawful open-ended incarceration by Israel.
One prisoner, Samer Issawi, staged an intermittent hunger strike lasting 212 days, protesting “sadistic Israeli treatment”.
Israel has consistently refused to free Palestinian inmates, justifying its callous approach by invoking the usual mantra of Palestinian terror.
Palestinians argue that Israel, which dispossessed the Palestinians of their homeland, destroyed their homes, murdered tens of thousands of them, banishing millions all over the world, is in no position to accuse them of terror.
This week, an Israeli court sentenced Issawi to eight months in detention. The Israeli judge didn’t spell out charges against Issawi who was rearrested several months ago based on recently-passed secret laws allowing Shin Bet to re-arrest Palestinian inmates freed by Israel a year and a half ago in the so-called Shalit deal.
Palestinians and human rights organisation view the draconian Israeli feat as a stark violation of commitments reached under Egyptian mediation that allowed for the conclusion of the prisoner swap deal.
Palestinian officials urged Egypt to pressure Israel to abide by the terms of the Shalit deal. However, Israel seems too arrogant and probably too indifferent to heed any Egyptian rebuke, especially in light of Egypt’s internal problems.
NO GUARANTEE QUIET WILL PREVAIL: Despite the PA leadership’s apparent commitment to prevent the current wave of tension evolving into a full-fledged Intifada (uprising), there are mixed signs indicating that even the best efforts by the PA may not be sufficient to pacify a restive people reeling under a sharp economic crisis in addition to perpetual Israel repression and humiliation.
One PA official, Abbas Zaki, said the death of Jaradat might well be proven to be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back”. “We can’t continue forever to urge our people to exercise patience and self-restraint, especially at a time when Israel is enjoying open season on us.”
On Sunday, Fatah prisoners, in a statement smuggled out of Israeli jails, urged all activists to escalate “this uprising until Israel is forced to free Palestinian prisoners”. “The death of martyr Jaradat must not go in vain.”
In addition, a number of strikes by labour unions are paralysing the occupied West Bank, with the current school year facing the danger of “annulment” as a result of prolonged teacher strikes protesting deepening poverty, shrinking salaries, and high costs of living.
For its part, the PA acknowledges the legitimacy of the strikers’ demands and grievances. However, PA officials, including Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Minister of Finance Nabil Qessis, say that there is no way the PA can meet the strikers’ demands.
“We simply don’t have the funds to meet their demands,” said Fayyad this week.
Political pundits argue that the PA’s financial problems stem mainly from “pretending and acting as a state when it lacks the most fundamental requirements of statehood such as sovereignty, independence, freedom of movement and control of borders and border crossings.”