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Enforced disappearances are a stain on the Palestinian Authority

March 17, 2012 2:35 P.M. (Updated: March 23, 2012 6:50 P.M.)
By: Philip Luther
“Life is hard without him,” says Shereen Ayash, who has lived without knowing the fate of her husband Ismail Ayash since he disappeared from Palestinian Authority custody in 2002.

Their daughter Jihan was three months old at the time; she is 10 now. She has no recollection of visiting him in prison as a baby.

Shereen and Jihan are not alone: the families of five other men await with growing desperation any news of their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands who all disappeared on that day 10 years ago from Salfit Detention Center in the northern West Bank.

“Each one of them is dear to his family,” said the wife of another disappeared.

Before they disappeared, these men had been detained on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations that they had collaborated with the Israeli intelligence services, at a time when the Israeli army was conducting devastating military operations to suppress the second intifada.

They were never tried.

During visits to the detention center, the families noticed marks of beatings and burns on the men’s bodies. When they were contacted by the Palestinian intelligence services to be told that the men had somehow “escaped” on March 12, 2002, they feared the worst.

Their fears have grown with every passing month of silence.

The families have asked the PA many times: Where are the men? If they are alive, why are they not in touch with their loved ones? How could they have escaped? What really has been their fate? Why are there persistent rumors that they were killed or died in detention?

Why has there been no independent investigation to get to the bottom of the matter, to establish precisely what occurred on that fateful day a decade ago?

Ali al-Khdair, who disappeared along with Ismail Ayash, left behind a sister who is not prepared to mourn her loss: “Until now we have no news and we are ready to do anything to know whether he is alive or dead, God forbid,” said Inaam al-Khdair.

The PA has been dismissive of the families’ efforts to find their relatives over the years. They have told the families that the six are now in Israel and they have advised the families informally to cease trying to find out about them and to drop the case.

Neither their disappearance nor their alleged torture and other ill-treatment in detention has been investigated by the PA. Such an investigation is long overdue.

Recently, the PA’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs replied to an appeal from Amnesty International members claiming that the six were “set free” for their own safety at a time when the Israeli air force was bombing PA buildings, adding, “Their residency is unknown.”

But the families are not convinced. Like many other families around the world, from Argentina to Timor Leste, who have suffered the pain of not knowing the fate of disappeared relatives, they fear these official words may conceal a terrible, secret truth.

Amnesty International is calling for a thorough, independent and transparent investigation to be held to establish the truth of these six men’s cases and whether anyone should be brought to justice for perpetrating torture, enforced disappearances or other serious abuses.

The families have a right to know the truth and to reparation. The PA has affirmed its commitment to enforcing the rule of law and accountability. It must now resolve these cases as evidence of that commitment.

Inaam al-Khdair has striven tirelessly to find the truth, as have the other families of the six men. She has told Amnesty: “I cannot give up this quest until I know for sure what happened.”

Philip Luther is Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.
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