Essam al-Sa'afeen, a 39-year-old Palestinian from al-Bureij refugee camp in the center of the Gaza Strip, was pronounced dead on February 23, one month after he was arrested by Hamas security forces. His family and friends are demanding answers from Hamas regarding the circumstances of the death al-Sa'afeen, a father of six. Hamas says it has formed a commission of inquiry to investigate the circumstances surrounding his death.
According to the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Interior, which is in charge of the Palestinian security forces in the Gaza Strip, al-Sa'afeen died shortly after he was transferred from prison to a hospital. The ministry said al-Sa'afeen was rushed to the hospital after a "sudden deterioration in his health condition."
The Palestinian Fatah faction, headed by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, has accused Hamas of brutally torturing al-Sa'afeen during his incarceration.
Al-Sa'afeen was a member of Fatah who previously served as a police officer in the PA security forces before Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007. On January 27, 2020, masked gunmen arrested al-Sa'afeen on the streets of al-Bureij refugee camp, apparently for his membership in Fatah.
Hamas often arrests Fatah members in the Gaza Strip for their political activities and criticisms of Hamas's leaders and policies. Similarly, the Fatah-dominated PA in the West Bank regularly arrests Palestinians in the West Bank because of their affiliation with Hamas. Palestinians call the security crackdown by both parties "politically-motivated arrests."
The death of al-Sa'afeen did not surprise Palestinians who are familiar with various methods of torture in Hamas and PA prisons. The Gaza-based Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights said that an autopsy conducted by the forensic medicine department on the body of al-Sa'afeen showed "bruises and a change in the color of the skin" -- implying he had been physically abused.
Al-Sa'afeen's mother emphasized that the Israelis treat Palestinians much better than Hamas does. "When the Jews arrest someone, they contact his family to say they are holding him," she stated.
"But Hamas refused to provide us with any information about the detention of my son or his health condition. We didn't receive any phone call from my son and [Hamas] wouldn't allow us to send him clothes or food or medicine."
She added that Hamas did not even inform her family that al-Sa'afeen had been transferred to a hospital. "May God punish all those who assaulted him," she said.
"The Jews allow detainees to phone their families. We didn't receive even one phone call. We told [Hamas] that he's sick and needs medicine, but they refused to give him any treatment. Until today, we don't know why my son was arrested."
The Palestinian news website Amad pointed out that on the same day that al-Sa'afeen was pronounced dead, the Israeli authorities installed phones for the use of Hamas prisoners held in Israeli prisons.
Palestinian detainees do not die of dubious causes in Israeli prisons; perhaps that is why no one in the international community seems to care. When Palestinians die in Palestinian prisons, the murders are presumably regarded as the handiwork of supposedly savage Arabs, who are -- with racist contempt -- held to a to lower standard of conduct than Westerners, and therefore regarded as unworthy of human rights, accountable governance, due process or equal justice under the law.
They are evidently considered "just" Palestinian families complaining about brutal torture in Palestinian prisons -- so international human rights organizations do not even notice them.