[Ppnews] How Many Secret Prisons Does Israel Have?

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon May 18 10:57:00 EDT 2009


May 18, 2009

UN Watchdog Demands Answers

How Many Secret Prisons Does Israel Have?


The United Nation’s watchdog on torture has 
criticised Israel for refusing to allow 
inspections at a secret prison, dubbed by critics 
as “Israel’s Guantanamo Bay”, and demanded to 
know if more such clandestine detention camps are operating.

In a report published on Friday, the Committee 
Against Torture requested that Israel identify 
the location of the camp, officially referred to 
as “Facility 1391”, and allow access to the 
International Committee of the Red Cross.

Findings from Israeli human rights groups show 
that the prison has in the past been used to hold 
Arab and Muslim prisoners, including 
Palestinians, and that routine torture and 
physical abuse were carried out by interrogators.

The UN committee’s panel of 10 independent 
experts also found credible the submissions from 
Israeli groups that Palestinian detainees are 
systematically tortured despite the banning of 
such practices by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1999.

The existence of Facility 1391 came to light in 
2002, when Palestinians were detained there for 
the first time during Israel’s reinvasion of the West Bank.

In a submission to the UN committee, Israel 
denied that any prisoners are currently being 
held at the site, although it admits that several 
Lebanese were detained there during the attack on Lebanon in 2006.

The committee expressed concern about an Israeli 
Supreme Court ruling in 2005 that found it 
“reasonable” for the state not to investigate 
suspicions of torture at the prison. The panel is 
believed to be concerned that without inspections 
the prison might still be in use or could be revived at short notice.

The Israeli court, the committee wrote, “should 
ensure that all 
allegations of torture and ill-treatment by 
detainees in Facility 1391 be impartially 
investigated [and] the results made public”.

Hamoked, an Israeli human rights organisation, 
first identified the prison after two Palestinian 
cousins seized in Nablus in 2002 could not be 
traced by their families. Israeli officials 
eventually admitted that the pair were being held at a secret site.

Israel still refuses to identify the precise 
location of the prison, which is inside Israel 
and about 100km north of Jerusalem. A few 
buildings are visible, but most of the prison is built underground.

“We only learnt about the prison because the army 
made the mistake of putting Palestinians there 
when they ran out of room in Israel’s main 
prisons,” said Dalia Kerstein, the director of Hamoked.

“The real purpose of the camp is to interrogate 
prisoners from the Arab and Muslim world, who 
would be difficult to trace because their 
families are unlikely to contact Israeli organisations for help.”

Ms Kerstein said the prison site was an even 
grosser violation of international law than 
Guantanamo Bay because it had never been 
inspected and no one knew what took place there.

According to the testimonies of the Palestinian 
cousins, Mohammed and Bashar Jadallah, they were 
held in isolation cells measuring two metres 
square, with black walls, no windows and a light 
bulb on 24 hours a day. On the rare occasions 
they were escorted outside, they had to wear blacked-out goggles.

When Bashar Jadallah, 50, asked where he was, he was told he was “on the moon”.

According to the testimony of Mohammed Jadallah, 
23, he was repeatedly beaten, his shackles 
tightened, he was tied in painful positions to a 
chair, he was not allowed to go to the toilet and 
he was prevented from sleeping, with water thrown 
on him if he nodded off. Interrogators are also 
reported to have shown him pictures of family 
members and threatened to harm them.

Although Palestinians passing through the prison 
were interrogated by the domestic secret police, 
the Shin Bet, foreign nationals at the prison 
fall under the responsibility of a special wing 
of military intelligence known as Unit 504, whose 
interrogation methods are believed to be much harsher.

Shortly after the prison came to light, a former 
inmate – Mustafa Dirani, a leader of the Lebanese 
Shia group Amal – launched a court case in Israel 
claiming he had been raped by a guard.

Mr Dirani, seized from Lebanon in 1994, was held 
in Facility 1391 for eight years along with a 
Hizbollah leader, Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid. 
Israel hoped to extract information from the pair 
in its search for a missing airman, Ron Arad, downed over Lebanon in 1986.

Mr Dirani alleged in court that he had been 
physically abused by a senior army interrogator 
known as “Major George”, including an incident 
when he was sodomised with a baton.

The case was dropped in early 2004 when Mr Dirani 
was released in a prisoner exchange.

Ms Kerstein said there was no proof that more 
prisons existed in Israel like Facility 1391, but 
some of the testimonies collected from former 
inmates suggested that they had been held at different secret locations.

She said the concern was that Israel might have 
been one of the countries that received 
“extraordinary rendition” flights, in which 
prisoners captured by the United States were 
smuggled to other countries for torture.

“If a democracy allows one of these prisons, who 
is to say that there are not more?” she said.

The committee examined other suspicions of 
torture involving Israel. It expressed particular 
concern about Israel’s failure to investigate 
more than 600 complaints made by detainees 
against the Shin Bet since the panel’s last hearings, in 2001.

It also highlighted the pressure put on Gazans 
who needed to enter Israel for medical treatment to turn informer.

Ishai Menuchin, executive director of Israel’s 
Public Committee against Torture, said his group 
had sent several submissions to the committee 
showing that torture was systematically used against detainees.

“After the court decision in 1999, interrogators 
simply learnt to be more creative in their techniques,” he said.

He added that, since Israel’s redefinition of 
Gaza as an “enemy state”, some Palestinians 
seized there were being held as “illegal 
combatants” rather than “security detainees”.

“In those circumstances, they might qualify for 
incarceration in secret prisons like Facility 1391.”

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in 
Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are 
and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and 
the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) 
Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair” 
(Zed Books). His website is <http://www.jkcook.net>www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in 
The National 
(<http://www.thenational.ae>www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

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