Since the beginning of July 2016, there have been daily power outages in the city of Tulkarem and its surrounding villages, including the Noor Shams and Tulkarem refugee camps.
The northern West Bank has previously suffered from power cuts, especially during summer time. However, never have the cuts been so frequent, the hours spent without electricity so long, and the damages caused to electrical devices due to the sudden power loss so considerable. This continuous unbearable situation pushed the unsatisfied residents to protest at the beginning of August.
On 1 August, some residents of Tulkarem launched a Facebook page where they accused the Palestinian government of being the source of the problem, and held them responsible for any further deterioration of the situation. That same night, Palestinian security forces began arresting people who were allegedly responsible for the Facebook page. All were from Tulkarem district, and members of Fatah. Initially, seven individuals were arrested: Muhammad Jayoussi, Daniel Amar, Hamza Srouji, Muhammad Salameh, Malek Al-Jallad, Bassel Al-Jallad, and Hussam Al-'Aref. The Palestinian forces had no arrest warrants at the time of the arrest.
Individuals interviewed by Al-Haq claimed that the security forces had also allegedly prepared a list of 30 names of individuals that either launched the Facebook page, “liked” a post, or “left a comment” on the page, and that many members of the security forces were informed that they would be detained at their work places until the crisis ended. This decision was reportedly taken after these members expressed disagreement and objection to the way the security forces dealt with members of Fatah.
The situation in Tulkarem became even more critical when 120 members of Fatah handed in their resignations in protest of these practices, and as an attempt to pressure the leadership of Fatah to interfere and stop the tension in Tulkarem. On 3 August, following orders by President Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian intelligence, Majed Faraj, met with several members from Fatah and the security forces in Tulkarem. Later that night the police arrested four other men, without following legal procedures. The detainees were then transferred to a prison in Jericho. The next day, 4 August, Abbas met the secretary of Fatah in the district of Tulkarem. As a result of the meeting, Abbas ordered the immediate release of all individuals detained following the electricity crisis and stated that no additional detentions would occur. In exchange, the members of Fatah withdrew their resignations.
Accordingly, on Friday 5 August, all the detention orders previously issued against the security forces were declared null. However only three of the detainees were released under the condition that they attend a court hearing on 7 August; the 8 others remained in the security forces headquarter in Jericho. Later that day, at around 12:00 pm, and despite the orders of the President not to pursue the detentions, members of the security forces attempted to arrest Muhammad Al-'Araj (whose name was included in the aforementioned list) from his house. Ibrahim Khreisheh, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and Muhammad’s neighbor, stood in front of the police and asked them to stop. In response, the police pushed him and sprayed him with pepper spray. Ibrahim suffered severe shortness of breath and was taken to a hospital, where he stayed for a few days. Following this incident, the head of the Palestinian Intelligence returned to Tulkarem and ordered that an investigation be opened in the events of Tulkarem. It is unclear if any steps have been taken.
On 7 August, the detainees appeared in front of the Magistrate Court. The three who had already been released paid 200 JD bail, while the court extended the detention of the others for investigation for another 15 days. All individuals have since been released.
These incidents amount to violations of both Palestinian domestic law and international law. Arrest without a warrant is a violation of Article 11(2) of the Palestinian Basic Law which affirms that no person should be arrested, inspected, detained, or prevented from movement without a judicial order. Article 29 of the Palestinian Criminal Procedure Code also prohibits the arrest or the confinement of a person without an order from the competent authority. In this context it is important to recall that an arrest can be considered arbitrary even though all legal procedures were fully respected. As General Comment No. 35 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) notes the notion of “arbitrary” does not only reflect the notion of “unlawful,” but should be understood in a broader context “to include elements of inappropriateness, injustice, lack of predictability and due process of law, as well as elements of reasonableness, necessity and proportionality.”
Notably, the above incidents were sparked by individuals peacefully voicing their frustration with the power outages. Article 19 of the Palestinian Basic Law ensures the right of every person to express and impart his/ her opinion and ideas, either orally or in writing or through other ways of expression including art. This is similarly upheld under Article 19 of the ICCPR. General Comment No. 34 Article 19 clarifies “an attack on a person, because of the exercise of his or her freedom of opinion or expression, including such forms of attack as arbitrary arrest, torture…” cannot “be compatible with article 19.”
General comment No. 35 16 December 2014. Para. 12
General Comment 34, para. 23