SAEER, West Bank (AP) — A Palestinian man who died under disputed circumstances in Israeli custody was given a hero’s funeral Monday, as thousands thronged his gravesite and Palestinian police fired a 21-gun salute.
Palestinian officials, citing an autopsy, said Arafat Jaradat was tortured during Israeli interrogation. Israeli officials said more tests are needed to determine the cause of death, and Israel’s public security minister said he would allow an international expert to review the autopsy results.
The weekend death of the 30-year-old gas station attendant and father of two comes amid rising West Bank tensions that have prompted talk in Israel about the possibility of a new Palestinian uprising.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Monday he was consulting with security officials, while U.N. envoy Robert Serry warned that “mounting tensions present a real risk of destabilization.”
In recent days, there have been frequent Palestinian protests in support of some 4,600 Palestinians held by Israel, particularly four inmates who’ve staged extended hunger strikes.
In a clash Monday, Palestinian medical officials said two Palestinian youths, one 13 years old and one 16, were seriously wounded by live fire. An Israeli military spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with military policy, said the military was looking into the claim. He said protesters hurled “improvised hand grenades” towards a holy site in the Bethlehem area, endangering the worshippers inside, at which point soldiers fired at the legs of one Palestinian, lightly injuring him.
Israel’s military has said it typically uses non-lethal means to disperse violent protests, but occasionally uses live fire when soldiers feel they are in a life-threatening situation. In recent weeks, Palestinians have increasingly complained of the military’s use of live fire at protests.
The fate of the prisoners is sensitive in Palestinian society, where virtually every family has had a member imprisoned by Israel. Detainees are held on a range of charges, from stone-throwing to deadly attacks, and are seen as heroes resisting occupation. Israelis tend to view them as terrorists.
Palestinian and Israeli officials traded accusations Monday, each saying the other was trying to exploit the latest unrest for political gains.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel is trying to provoke the Palestinians with what he said are increasingly lethal methods by Israeli security forces clamping down on Palestinian protests.
“However they try to drag us to that place, we won’t be dragged,” said Abbas. “We won’t be dragged, but they (Israelis) have to bear the responsibility.”
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev alleged that Abbas’ self-rule government in the West Bank is inciting violence against Israel. Palestinian officials have called for more solidarity rallies for the prisoners.
Abbas, a critic of violence, has said he would not allow an armed uprising on his watch.
But tensions have been rising in recent days with a number of protests in solidarity with prisoners held by Israel, and then the death of Jaradat over the weekend.
At Monday’s funeral, thousands marched behind Jaradat’s body, draped in a Palestinian flag, as the procession snaked through his home town of Saeer, near the West Bank city of Hebron.
Palestinian police maintained order, and seven officers fired a 21-gun salute near the gravesite.
Abbas Zaki, a senior member of Abbas’ Fatah movement, called Jaradat’s death an Israeli crime.
“I am telling Fatah members that our enemy only understands the language of force,” he told the crowd in what appeared to be a call to violence.
Jaradat was arrested on Feb. 18 on suspicion that he had thrown stones at Israelis. He died Saturday at Israel’s Megiddo prison after several days of interrogation by the Shin Bet security service.
Israel’s forensics institute performed an autopsy Sunday, in the presence of a physician from the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs, Issa Karake, said after being briefed by the Palestinian doctor that Jaradat was tortured. He said Jaradat was bruised over his body and suffered two broken ribs.
Jaradat’s brother, Mohammed, said he saw the body Sunday and believed his brother was severely beaten.
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. It said more testing was needed.
Amos Gilad, an Israeli defense official, alleged that Palestinian officials were jumping to conclusions. “It’s intended to incite,” Gilad told Israel Army Radio on Monday. “There is a clear political purpose to stir things up.”
The Shin Bet initially said Jaradat apparently died of a heart attack, though the Palestinian physician attending the autopsy was quoted as saying he did not find any evidence of that.
An agency official has denied Jaradat was beaten.
Detainees have filed some 700 complaints about mistreatment by Shin Bet agents in the past decade, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
Reports of physical mistreatment have dropped sharply in recent years but have not disappeared, said B’Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli.
Serry said Israel must respect its obligations toward all Palestinians in custody, adding that the U.N. is concerned about the deteriorating health of Palestinian detainees on hunger strike.