In a landmark ruling, the Israeli Supreme Court yesterday ordered the Palestinian Authority (PA) to pay 14 million shekels ($3.8 million) to 51 Palestinians it falsely imprisoned.

The ruling upheld previous verdicts made by Israel’s lower courts and formed part of an ongoing legal case against the PA in which it was accused of falsely imprisoning 51 Palestinians on charges of cooperation with Israel and subsequently torturing them.

In June 2017, the Jerusalem District Court issued a judgment of approximately 13.1 million shekels ($3.5 million) against the PA for false imprisonment. A month later, a separate Israeli court ruled that the 51 Palestinians who were tortured by the PA could sue the Authority for damages. According to the Jerusalem Post, the case was based on testimony from dozens of witnesses collected over several years and represented a “bizarre” example of the PA effectively being tried in an Israeli court by Palestinian accusers.

In December 2017, the Jerusalem District Court issued a further judgment of 900,000 shekels ($245,000) in attorneys’ fees for the plaintiffs who brought the case.

The PA subsequently appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court to overturn these rulings, claiming that paying the compensation would present “disastrous economic challenges” that could cause the Authority to collapse. However, yesterday’s judgement upheld all previous court rulings, meaning the PA is obligated under Israeli law to pay all 14 million shekels worth of damages to the 51 Palestinians in question.

Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, as yet it is unclear how the Palestinians will collect the money owed to them, the Jerusalem Post added. Furthermore, the 14 million shekel figure could represent only a fraction of the total sum the PA could be required to pay, since this relates only to allegations of false imprisonment. If the 51 Palestinians choose to sue the PA for subjecting them to torture – as allowed by July’s District Court ruling – the PA could be required to pay millions more in damages.

In July’s ruling, the District Court said that PA authorities had tortured the Palestinians by “beating them on all parts of the body, hitting them with lead pipes, extinguishing cigarettes on their bodies, hanging them in torture positions for hours and starving them”. Others were “exposed to extreme heat and cold, or extremely hot or cold water was dumped on them.”

This is not the first time that PA authorities have been accused of torturing Palestinian prisoners. In October Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report accusing both the PA and Hamas of creating “parallel police states” in which they routinely arrest and torture opponents and critics. The 149-page report found that “Palestinian forces often threatened, beat, and forced detainees into painful stress positions for prolonged periods, including using cables or ropes to hoist up arms behind the back”.

HRW stressed that the PA’s use of torture is systematic and “appear[s] aimed at punishing dissidents and deterring them and others from further activism”. This could constitute “a crime against humanity prosecutable at the International Criminal Court (ICC),” the report added. – Middle East Monitor