February 25, 2013

Prison death fuels Mideast unrest

The death of a Palestinian gas station attendant in Israeli custody leads to new West Bank clashes.

The Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank - The mysterious death of a 30-year-old Palestinian gas station attendant in Israeli custody stoked new West Bank clashes Sunday, along with Israeli fears of a third Palestinian uprising.

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Palestinians take cover during clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Hebron on Sunday, following the death of Arafat Jaradat, a Palestinian prisoner held in an Israeli prison.

The Associated Press

A senior Palestinian official alleged that Arafat Jaradat was tortured by Israel's Shin Bet security service, citing an autopsy he said revealed bruising and two broken ribs.

Israel's Health Ministry said the autopsy did not conclusively determine the cause of death, but that the bruising and broken ribs were likely the result of attempts to revive the detainee.

THE OPENING SHOT?

Jaradat's death came at a time of rising West Bank tensions, including several days of Palestinian marches in support of four hunger-striking prisoners in Israeli lockups. In all, Israel holds nearly 4,600 Palestinians, including dozens who have never been formally charged.

Frozen Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the recent re-election of Israeli hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a Palestinian cash crisis and the Palestinians' sense of being abandoned by the Arab world seem to have created fertile ground for a third Palestinian revolt.

Over the weekend, Israel's army chief convened senior commanders to discuss the growing unrest.

Jaradat's death "is liable to become the opening shot" in a third uprising, Israeli military commentator Alex Fishman wrote in the Yediot Ahronot daily Sunday, arguing that the "Palestinian street has been boiling with anger for a number of weeks now."

However, Israeli officials have previously expressed concern about a new uprising, only to see bursts of Palestinian protests fizzle.

The first uprising, marked by stone-throwing protests and commercial strikes, erupted in the late 1980s and led to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The second uprising broke out in 2000, after failed talks on a final peace deal, and it was far deadlier, with Israel reoccupying the West Bank after bombings and shootings.

In recent years, the West Bank has been relatively calm. Despite recent tensions, the Palestinian self-rule government has not broken off security coordination with Israel in their joint campaign against Islamic militants.

DEATH IN PRISON

Palestinian activists also say they learned from the mistakes of the armed revolt a decade ago and are turning to more creative protests against Israel's 45-year rule over lands they want for a future state.

Former Palestinian security chief Jibril Rajoub, speaking in Hebrew on Israel Radio, tried to reassure Israelis, declaring Sunday "on behalf of the entire Palestinian leadership that there is no plan to lead to bloodshed."

Jaradat, a father of two from the West Bank village of Saeer, died in Megiddo Prison in northern Israel on Saturday, six days after his arrest on suspicion of stone throwing.

Jaradat's attorney, Kamil Sabbagh, said his client told an Israeli military judge Thursday during a hearing that he was being forced to sit for long periods during interrogation. The detainee also complained of back pain and seemed terrified to return to the Shin Bet lockup, although he did not have any apparent signs of physical abuse, Sabbagh said.

After the court hearing, the judge ordered Jaradat to be examined by a prison doctor.

The Shin Bet said that during interrogation, Jaradat was examined several times by a doctor who detected no health problems. On Saturday, he was in his cell and felt unwell after lunch, the agency said.

"Rescue services and a doctor were alerted and treated him," the statement said. But "they didn't succeed in saving his life."

(Continued on page 2)

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