Palestinians decry Israeli move to freeze funds for prisoners’ families

Protesters flee from incoming tear gas canisters fired by Israeli forces during a demonstration by Palestinian women along the border east of Gaza City on Tuesday. AFP
Updated 04 July 2018
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Palestinians decry Israeli move to freeze funds for prisoners’ families

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly demanded that the Palestinians, who view prisoners as national heroes, stop paying stipends to them and their families
  • Israel is stealing the land and money of the Palestinian people and that is a result of the decisions of President (Donald) Trump, who supports Israel

RAMALLAH: A top Palestinian official on Tuesday strongly denounced a new Israeli law that will freeze money transfers to the Palestinian Authority for paying stipends to Palestinians jailed by Israel, their families, and the families of those killed by Israeli forces.
Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the move threatened the existence of the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority (PA).
Israel enacted the law on Monday, which gives it the powers to withhold an amount of money based on what is paid to the prisoners and their families by the PA.
The 120-seat Parliament voted 87-15 in favor of the legislation that orders holding back part of the roughly $130 million in tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians each month under interim peace agreements.
A sponsor of the legislation says the PA pays around $330 million a year to prisoners and their families, amounting to 7 percent of its budget.
“This is a very dangerous decision that amounts to the cancelation of the Palestinian Authority and is piracy and theft,” Erekat told AFP.
“Israel is stealing the land and money of the Palestinian people and that is a result of the decisions of President (Donald) Trump, who supports Israel.”
The PA headed by President Mahmoud Abbas has limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank where Israel retains overall security control. Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital. Hamas, bitter rival of Abbas’ more secular Fatah faction, controls the Gaza Strip
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly demanded that the Palestinians, who view prisoners as national heroes, stop paying stipends to them and their families.
Earlier this year, US lawmakers enacted legislation to sharply reduce the annual $300 million in US aid to the PA unless it took steps to stop making what lawmakers described as payments that reward violent crime.
The measure, known as the Taylor Force Act, was named after a 29-year-old American military veteran fatally stabbed by a Palestinian while visiting Israel in 2016.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman wrote on Twitter after the vote: “We promised to halt the stipend free-for-all for terrorists and we have made good on our promise. It’s over. Every shekel that Abu Mazen (Abbas) will pay to terrorists and murderers will be automatically deducted from the Palestinian Authority’s budget.” According to Palestinian officials, the payments to inmates serving longer sentences for more serious offenses are larger than to others serving shorter sentences for lighter offenses.
Palestinian officials say that some 6,500 Palestinians are currently being held in Israeli jails.
Youssef Al-Mahmoud, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah, condemned Israel’s move saying the money belonged to the Palestinians and Israel had no right to hold it back and was violating signed agreements.
“This money belongs to the Palestinian people and this is legislation to steal the money of the prisoners and the martyrs who are symbols of freedom for us and they must not be harmed,” Al-Mahmoud was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Israel has withheld payments in the past, notably in response to the Palestinians’ 2011 admission to the UN cultural agency UNESCO as a full member.


Tunisia’s ‘truth commission’ winds up four-year mission

Updated 26 min 40 sec ago
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Tunisia’s ‘truth commission’ winds up four-year mission

  • The commission, whose mandate was extended in the spring until the end of 2018
  • At the end of November, the commission drew up criteria for compensation that exclude those with post-2011 government

TUNIS: After four years working “under fire” and interviewing almost 50,000 witnesses, Tunisia’s commission tasked with serving justice to victims of half a century of dictatorship is poised to submit its recommendations.

Set up in 2014 following the 2011 revolution and in the wake of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s fall, the Truth and Dignity Institute has a mission to “reveal the truth about the human rights violations” in Tunisia between 1955 and 2013.

In its final act, the commission will submit its recommendations to Tunisia’s leadership.

The first version is to be delivered at a public event on Friday and Saturday, before the full report is submitted by Dec. 31.

The government, with the assistance of a parliamentary follow-up committee, will have one year to draw up an action plan based on the recommendations.

The commission’s task was to collect and disseminate testimonies, send some of those suspected of rape, murder, torture or corruption to specialised courts, and recommend measures to prevent any recurrence.

Operating in the only Arab Spring country which has kept to a democratic path since the 2011 revolt, its mandate has also been to seek national reconciliation through a revival of the North African state’s collective memory.

The commission, whose mandate was extended in the spring until the end of 2018, has been studying more than 60,000 complaints and has this year sent dozens of cases to the courts.

Over the past four years, the panel has heard harrowing testimony from victims of torture in jail, some of which has been aired to large television audiences.

“From the very start we’ve worked under fire and come up against difficulties, due to the absence of political will,” commission official Khaled Krichi told AFP.

He said demands for the handover of judicial cases involving corruption had been rejected, as well as for archive materials from the Interior Ministry on prisoners who had suffered torture.

A contested amnesty law passed in 2017 cleared some officials suspected of administrative corruption.

The commission also faced political resistance with the return of former regime leaders to power, internal disputes as well as the lack of cooperation by state institutions.

Thirteen specialized courts have been set up and started work at the end of May on dozens of cases submitted by the commission.

Twenty trials are underway, mostly of victims of the 2011 revolution and of radical and leftist opposition figures tortured under the rule of Ben Ali or his predecessor Habib Bourguiba.

Krichi said settlements have been reached in 10 cases of financial corruption involving former regime figures, including that of Slim Chiboub, a son-in-law of Ben Ali, who has agreed to pay back 307 million dinars ($113 million).

The state, however, faced with accusations of torture and sexual violence, has rejected 1,000 demands for “reconciliation” with the victims. A row has also broken out over compensation cases, with members of Parliament claiming the costs would bankrupt the state and that many claims were designed to benefit supporters of extremist movement Ennahdha.

At the end of November, the commission drew up criteria for compensation that exclude those with post-2011 government or parliamentary posts.

Around 25,000 people are eligible to compensation from the Al-Karama (Dignity) Fund established in 2014, according to Krichi.

It is being financed by donations, a percentage of the funds recovered through settlements and a one-time government grant of 10 million dinars ($3.7 million).