The Eshtewi case raises serious questions about who’s in charge in Gaza, Hamas’s civilian authorities or its military,” said Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine director. “Hamas should conduct a genuine investigation into Eshtewi’s death, prosecute those responsible, and shut down any units operating outside the law.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed five relatives, whose names are withheld to protect them, and reviewed photographs of Eshtewi’s body and handwritten notes apparently smuggled out of a detention center. Human Rights Watch also contacted Hamas and hospital officials, but they declined to comment. The evidence supports allegations that Qassam operatives tortured Eshtewi, trampled upon his rights to due process, and may have extrajudicially executed him.
Eshtewi, 34, a father of three from the Zaitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, served in the Qassam Brigades since 2000, most recently responsible for training fighters, his family said. After the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza, they said, Eshtewi expressed criticism of his commander’s performance. On January 21, 2015, after a meeting with commanders, including his supervisor, that was supposed to address his criticism, Eshtewi vanished.
His family said they discovered that Qassam operatives held him in secret locations until February 7, when the group’s Military Information Department issued a statement saying it had executed Eshtewi after sentencing him to death “for behavioral and moral violations to which he confessed.”
Relatives said they were permitted to visit Eshtewi around nine times during his detention, once in a police facility in the Shati refugee camp, once in the family home, and about seven times in apartments belonging to the Qassam Brigades and undisclosed locations to which they were taken while blindfolded.According to all relatives, it was apparent that Qassam interrogators tortured Eshtewi. Two relatives first met with him in early February 2015, in the Shati police facility, about 18 days after he was detained. One present at the meeting reported that Eshtewi was unable to stand and could barely lift his hand for a handshake. His hands and wrists were swollen, the relative said, adding that three Qassam security officers were in the room during the visit, and that Eshtewi looked at the officers and waited for one to nod before answering any question.
During their third visit with Eshtewi, in March, a senior leader in Hamas’s political wing accompanied two relatives to an apartment in Gaza. A family member present said Eshtewi told them, in the presence of the official, that since the fourth day of his detention he had been tortured, including beatings and suspension from the ceiling. He said his commander had beaten him about 500 times with a hose, ordering him to confess. According to the relative, Eshtewi said he was as innocent as Kleenex tissue is white. The relative said that the senior Hamas official responded by saying that his interrogators should beat him in order to get to the truth.