June 24, 2006

Torture in Israel

Besides the fact that it is illegally occupying Palestinian land, oppressing millions of Palestinians, treating non-Jewish citizens as second-class citizens, and continuously violating international law, the "only democracy in the Middle East" has one more policy to be proud of: the systematic use of torture against Palestinian prisoners.

The detention and long term imprisonment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons is a common daily ritual for the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF). Every Palestinian family has experienced the arrest of a father, brother, husband, or cousin. With or without evidence, "administrative detention" is a common occurrence. Once the individual has been detained, the chances that they won't be tortured are very slim.

Although Israel has signed & ratified the UN Convention Against Torture in 1991, it is considered one of the states "which have made a declaration, under Article 28, that they do not recognize the competence of the Committee against Torture to investigate allegations of widespread torture within their boundaries." In fact, being a signatory of this convention did not stop Israel from continuing its policy of torture throughout its prison system. Israel's General Security Service, or Shin Bet as it is commonly known, argued that its practices were permissible under some circumstances, and "did not amount to torture." The UN Convention, however, makes it clear that torture cannot be justified under any circumstances:
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. (Article 2b).
B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, notes this on torture in Israel:
For years, torture was commonly used in General Security Service interrogations. After the Landau Commission made its recommendations, in 1987, the GSS interrogated at least 850 Palestinians a year by means of torture. The methods included violent shaking, binding the detainees in painful positions, and covering their head with a foul-smelling sack. All governmental authorities, from the IDF to the Supreme Court, took part in approving torture, in developing new methods, and in supervising them.
A 1994 report by Human Rights Watch noted the following about torture policies in Israel:
Israel's two main interrogation agencies in the occupied territories engage in a systematic pattern of ill-treatment and torture - according to internationally recognized definitions of the terms - when trying to extract from Palestinian security suspects confessions or information about third parties.

The overriding strategy of Israel's interrogation agencies in getting uncooperative detainees to talk is to subject them to a coordinated, rigid and increasingly painful regime of physical constraints and psychological pressures over days and very often for three or four weeks, during which time the detainees are, almost without exception, denied visits by their lawyers and families. These measures seriously taint the voluntariness of the confessions that they help to bring about, and therefore, compromise the fundamental fairness of the military courts that try Palestinians in the occupied territories.

The methods used in nearly all interrogations are prolonged sleep deprivation; prolonged sight deprivation using blindfolds or tight-fitting hoods; forced, prolonged maintenance of body positions that grow increasingly painful; and verbal threats and insults.

These methods are almost always combined with some of the following abuses: confinement in tiny, closet-like spaces; exposure to temperature extremes, such as in deliberately overcooled rooms; prolonged toilet and hygiene deprivation; and degrading treatment, such as forcing detainees to eat and use the toilet at the same time. In a large number of cases, detainees are also moderately or severely beaten by their interrogators.

In a report to the UN Committee on Torture in 1998, HRW again noted the lack of progress in Israeli prisons:
Despite the Committee's repeated recommendations of concrete steps Israel should take to bring its law and practice into compliance, Israel has consistently disregarded these recommendations and continues to use torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during interrogations of Palestinian detainees. The magnitude of Israel's violations of the Convention Against Torture is well known to the Committee, having been extensively documented by U.N. bodies and international, Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations.
The Al-Khiam detention facility located in southern Lebanon is a horrifying example of Israel's use of torture against Palestinian prisoners. When the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon ended in 2000, the facility was abandoned and the prisoners made their way out, revealing horrific accounts of abuse and torture at the hands of Israeli interrogators. Not even women, children, and elderly men were spared. Electronic Intifada has a great photostory on the Al-Khiam prison. These are excerpts from the captions:

Prisoners have been routinely tortured, three times a day. Torture included beatings, being prodded with electrical cables in sensitive parts of the body and being hung from painful positions.

Some of the detainees were children, like 15-year-old Ali Tawbeh, who with his parents was dragged from his home by the Israeli occupation forces in 1997. Other hostages, like Abdeh Malkani, were over seventy years old. Hussein Awada, 65 years old, had been detained since June 1999. He had serious heart problems and could only move with the help of a stick.

Israel ran the prison using the militia they had created, the South Lebanese Army. The Khiam detention centre was set up by the Israelis in 1985. They were directly in charge of it until 1987, when they handed control over to their allies, the SLA, while still pulling the strings. They provided the training for the torturers and lead the torture sessions. They paid the salaries and provided all the equipment.
The BBC also produced a great documentary titled "Israel Accused" about the Al-Khiam prison, which included many interviews with prisoners who suffered in that facility. The accounts of abuse are heart wrenching, revealing gruesome details of the torture tactics used by prison officials. The documentary won the 2001 Amnesty International Award, and it is definitely worth watching. HRW also reported on Al-Khiam in this release.

It was not until September of 1999 when the Israeli High Court ruled against six interrogation methods used against prisoners that the use of torture was somewhat curtailed. B'Tselem notes that while the ruling has helped, it has by no means ended state sanctioned ill treatment of prisoners:

In September 1999, the High Court of Justice ruled that some of the interrogation methods used by the GSS against Palestinian detainees were illegal and unacceptable. The judgment caused a significant change in the scope of the use of torture.

However, there have been signs indicating that the GSS did not cease using torture. For example, in July 2002, Ha’aretz quoted a senior GSS official who said that, since the High Court’s decision, ninety Palestinians had been defined as “ticking bombs” and “extraordinary interrogation methods,” i.e., torture, was used against them. In an interview with three GSS interrogators, published in Ma’ariv in July 2004, one of the interrogators admitted that the GSS “uses every manipulation possible, up to shaking and beating.” The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel has collected dozens of affidavits from Palestinians who were interrogated by the GSS and claimed that their interrogators used violent interrogation methods on them.

Since the High Courts decision of 1999, attempts have been made to enact a statute that would permit the GSS to use torture. So far, these attempts have failed. Any law that grants the GSS permission to use physical force in interrogations or to intentionally cause mental suffering – even if limited to cases intended to save lives and even if “the use of torture” is expressly prohibited – would clash with one of the most firmly-rooted principles of international law: the absolute prohibition on torture and on cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

After the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, it was revealed that some American interrogators received training from their Israeli counterparts. Clearly, Israel likes to share its expertise in this area.

There is no reason to believe that Shin Bet does not continue to use other tactics not yet prohibited by Israeli courts, but which nonetheless amount to torture. Hiding behind its claims of "democracy" and "self defense" against an occupied Palestinian population, Israel does not hesitate to violate international law because it is confident that the US will fervently defend its actions in the international arena, most prominently through its veto power in the UN Security Council. No need to worry about silly international conventions when you have a great defense team, free of charge. Nothing will guarantee Israeli security except an end to its occupation and systematic oppression of millions of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.


Public Committee Against Torture in Israel

Electronic Intifada: Detention and Torture in Israel

Torture Awareness Month

Bloggers Against Torture

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At 7:11 AM, Anonymous Andy said...

Poor Israeli Arabs! So over-tortured by merciless Zionists, that many their relatives from the whole Middle East are trying hard to get into Israel. Dozens of Arabs are cought trying to cross into Israel daily. Apparently,they could survive the brutal boot of an Israeli aggressor for a few hundred shekels.

At 3:41 PM, Blogger moi said...

Andy-- Does that mean you justify torture because some Palestinians are attempting to find a living in Israel? Or is it that torture is ok as long as those being tortured are not Israeli? What would you say if the Palestinians that captured the Israeli soldier yesterday began torturing him?

At 1:32 AM, Anonymous Andy said...

I am not justify tortures. I just want to sometimes, what attracts Arabs to Israel so much. Or some other positive news. I, FOR MY PART ACCEPT THAT ARABS PLAY EXCELLENT OUDH MUSIC:), for example. Too much slogans and emotions, please.

At 1:37 AM, Anonymous Andy said...

Correction: I just want that sometimes you write, what attracts Arabs to Israel so much. Or some other positive news. I, FOR MY PART ACCEPT THAT ARABS PLAY EXCELLENT OUDH MUSIC:), for example. You have too much slogans and emotions in here.


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