[News] Torture of Palestinian Prisoners in Israeli Prisons

News at freedomarchives.org News at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jul 20 08:46:33 EDT 2004

NRC, 3.7.2004

Translated into English

By Chana Arnon


Torture of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons

Oscar Garschagen

Earsplitting music, sleep deprivation, spoiled food, beatings, endless 
interrogations, solitary confinement, extreme heat and cold, detention 
without trial for months on end, no visiting rights. These are forms of 
“physical and psychological pressure” applied by the Israeli army and 
security services in their hunt after “ticking bombs.” How far can a 
democracy go in the battle against real and imaginary terrorists? And at 
what price?


Sighing and shedding a tear here and there, Madalla, frail, traditional, 
but tastefully dressed in a head scarf of expensive silk, rings on both 
hands, tells us of her experiences with the Shabak (General Security 
Services – GSS). For sixty days Madalla didn’t see anyone. Sick with worry 
and spoiled food, suffering from a permanent headache from exhaustion, 
unwashed and soiled from top to toe, Madalla was not allowed to see a 
lawyer, or friends and family, only her interrogators. One exception to 
this was the day she was shown her husband sitting behind a glass wall: “He 
was slumped in a chair, bound and beaten. They wanted to put him under 
pressure, to break him. He was only half conscious.”

Shortly afterwards she was transferred to the women's prison of 
<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = 
"urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Israel, Neve Tirtza. There 
she spent another 120 days in an overcrowded room with Palestinian and 
Israeli women, some of them with babies. Then, suddenly, she was released. 
That was two months ago. She just heard that her husband was sentenced to 
seven years in prison in a closed chamber trial. Details concerning the 
charge, except for membership in Hamas, are not available. The only thing 
she knows is that she will see him again in their luxurious apartment in 
Ramallah in 2011 at the earliest. Visiting is impossible since she will not 
be able to pass the Israeli checkpoint and road blocks and won’t be able to 
get a permit to visit her husband in the Negev desert prison facilities 
under the auspices of the Red Cross. Her daughter in Chicago wants her to 
come to the US, “but  I can’t leave my husband and children and my country 
just like that.”

Mosquitoes and rats

Madalla is one of 31,000 Palestinians who have been interrogated by the 
army and the GSS since the year 2000. Her husband is one of 8,362 detainees 
(according to numbers published this week) in the military prisons (3,962) 
or the Israeli Prison Authority (4,400). A new record and a spectacular 
increase, since at the end of 1999 there were only 802 Palestinians in 
Israeli prisons.

Israeli prisons are the same for all: Israeli murderers, drug dealers etc. 
and Palestinians. Barely adequate, bordering on cruel is the description 
given by an Israeli authority, the Office of Public Defense, to portray the 
situation in the political as well as the ordinary prisons. Prisons are 
full to overflowing, hygienic conditions are deplorable, kitchens are 
filthy, mosquitoes and rats are rampant, there are not enough beds, not 
enough mattresses, lighting is insufficient as is ventilation, etc. Twelve 
to sixteen prisoners in a cell of 4x4 meter (Russian Compound), no 
recreation or airing facilities, no visitor facilities and always problems 
with lawyer access is the norm. Most Palestinians have not had visitors for 
years since their families are considered to pose a security risk, or are 
of the “wrong” age (men and women between the ages of 15-50 can never get a 
permit), or simply can not face the long wait at the checkpoints.

Since the Six-day War of 1967, 650,000 Palestinians, some 20% of the total 
population and 40% of the Palestinian males have spent time in prison. Of 
the 8,329 prisoners now in prison, 1941 have “blood on their hands” 
according to the army; 477 of those have been sentenced to more than one 
consecutive life sentence. The number of “administrative detainees” – 
prisoners who are incarcerated for months and sometimes years without 
charge – is 1150. With the rise in numbers, the complaints of cruelty 
during arrest by the army and the border police as well as torture during 
interrogation by the GSS also increase.

“Since 2000, with the start of the second intifada, we are witnessing a 
spectacular rise in the number of arrests as well as the use of 
interrogation methods which we consider to be torture. Madalla’s story fits 
in a pattern which we also record” says Hannah Friedman of the Public 
Committee Against Torture in Israel. Friedman, originally from the 
Netherlands, and her colleague at the time, Professor Stanley Cohen, won a 
protracted lawsuit at the Supreme Court of Israel in September 1999 in 
which practically all forms of torture in interrogations of terrorists and 
pseudo-terrorists was prohibited. Before 1999, the army and the security 
services had to keep to secret instruction from 1987 which prescribed that 
detainees could be subjected to “moderate physical and psychological 
pressure”. The word torture was not used, but in practice that’s what it 
was and it was supported by successive prime ministers.

“When interrogators of the Shabak deal with a Palestinian they consider a 
“ticking bomb”, they can use physical pressure and ask for authorization 
afterwards. This has to come from the highest office of justice in the 
country and they defend the right to use these torture techniques,” says 
Friedman. Physical pressure includes prolonged interrogation in the 
interest of national security, sleep deprivation justified by the acute 
threat to the country, and tying down of the prisoner in order to guarantee 
the safety of the interrogators. In reality these measures are used for 
harsh interrogations.

Friedman: “after the specific illegalization of torture in 1999, the 
security services largely kept to the new rules, but after the massive 
suicide attacks of 2000, 2001, 2002, the torture techniques were again 
employed. For instance, physical shaking up, slapping with a flat hand in a 
very painful manner, tying backwards on a chair or bench or in a cage were 
used again.”

The Shabak, which answers directly to the prime minister, is not willing to 
react to Friedman’s allegations. However, the director of the security 
services, Avi Dichter, has affirmed in the media that every year some 90 
Palestinians are considered “ticking bombs” and are therefore allowed to be 
interrogated under “physical pressure”.

Friedman’s organization thinks this number is higher. They base their 
assessment on affidavits given under oath and on official declarations 
checked by lawyers and physicians. “We think the real figure is in the 
hundreds per year. We think that torture has become the norm again, a norm 
carried out in an orderly and institutional fashion,” says Friedman.

“The Israeli public is of the opinion that there are fewer attacks and that 
everything is allowed in order to prevent them. In addition, most Israelis 
think that the Palestinians lie when they say they are tortured. But we 
control the declarations very carefully. When someone alleges that his arm 
was broken during interrogation, but cannot show an X-ray, we don’t go into 
it” says Friedman, who does understand the “ticking bomb” argument but does 
not accept it as valid. “After all is said and done, that is of no 
importance. Israel signed the 1991 UN-Convention against torture but does 
not comply with it. The Israeli High Court prohibited all forms of torture 
in 1999, except, alas, for a few. A democratic country, a Jewish state, 
Israel, with a history of Holocaust, should condemn all forms of torture 
and respect all international treaties. We should not discredit our society 
by trampling on internationally recognized human rights.” And: “We should 
end the super-expensive and bloody occupation, with its liquidations and 
the construction of the terribly expensive, mad great wall, while there is 
no money for schools, hospitals and prisons. Israel, 56 years after its 
establishment, still lives with the fear of being annihilated. That is 
absurd, we have the largest army in the Middle-East.”

Al-Awda Website: <http://www.al-awda.org/>http://www.al-awda.org/

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