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Torture: The Israeli Denial

By Ghali Hassan

03 January, 2006

“After the soldiers instruct you to return home, suddenly a frightening dog, in the Oketz trained dogs unit of the IDF [Israeli Occupation Force] enters your apartment, grabs your child, who is sitting on his bed in shock, bites him hard in his leg and drags him down the 20 steps that lead from the second-floor apartment to the street”,

Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz, 15 December 2005.

As the U.S. methods of torture are exposed around the world, Israeli methods of systematic torture on the Palestinians remain unbroken taboo. Western countries – led by the U.S. – have not only failed to condemn Israel’s brutal methods of torturing Palestinians, they are complicit in Israel’s denial. The fact is that, Israel has been routinely torturing Palestinians for decades with tacit support of Western powers and without comment.

Israel’s policy of denying torture fits into the three common forms of denial of torture identifies in Stanley Cohen’s State of Denial. [1] First, the “Literal denial” is when Israel denies that there is torture and that those who made the allegations against Israel are “anti-Smite” and “enemies of the state”. Second, the “Interpretive denial”, in which Israel denies practicing torture, but something else, such as ‘lite torture’ and ‘moderate physical pressure’ to “extract” information from prisoners. Third, the “Implicatory denial”, this form of denial is Abu Ghraib model of acknowledging torture, but blaming it on a few “bad apples”; it is the Bush-Rumsfeld model.

In 1999 the Israeli High Court “banned” the practice of torture, but despite the “ban”, torture practice continues unabated. Systematic torture, including a policy of hooding and stressing all Palestinian detainees has been routinely used in Israeli prisons for decades. The practices follow a “well-defined set of steps and guidelines … selected to inflict extreme physical pain and mental anguish without causing … traceable physical injury”. Torture and ill-treatment of Palestinians continued to be systematic and state sanctioned. The Israeli Court continued to sanction the use of physical force, including electric shocks and beating, amounting to torture in interrogations of Palestinians, by rejecting court injunctions forbidding the use of physical force.

As Alexander Cockburn wrote at the time: “’Moderate physical pressure’ sounds almost sedate. So does ‘shaking’, until one discovers that more than once Israel's torturers have shaken their victims to death. One such victim was Abdel Samad Hraizat, brought to hospital unconscious less than twenty-four hours after his arrest on April 22, 1995, and pronounced dead on April 25. Thousands of Palestinians – never Jews – have experienced this ‘moderate pressure’ since [Supreme Court judge] Landau made it legal”. [2] In 1987, the Landau Commission sanctioned the use of the so-called “lite torture”, where many Palestinian tortured to death. It is simply a smokescreen for injustice, violence and ongoing occupation of Palestinian land.

A joint report by the Public Committee against Torture in Israel, the Palestinian rights group Law and the Swiss-based World Organisation against Torture contends that the September 1999 High Court ruling has been regularly flouted, particularly since the Intifada (Uprising) began in September 2000. According to B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights NGO, torture of Palestinians at the Gush Etzion police station continued from October 2000 through January 2001. ”Testimonies given to B'Tselem indicate that these are not isolated cases or uncommon conduct by certain police officers, and information received by B'Tselem raises the serious likelihood that torture during interrogations at the Gush Etzion police station continues”[3]. “[T]hey torture almost all the Palestinians they could. It was in the System. The moment you start, you can’t stop”, said one researcher working with B’Tselem.

Since its creation, Israel has used the media very efficiently to construct an Israeli image completely removed from reality. “While [Israel] patently and grossly violates international humanitarian and human rights laws in its treatment of the Palestinian prisoners, it certainly recognises the importance of these standards and indeed generally acts to uphold them in dealing with its own [Jewish] citizens”. In addition, Israel publicly denies these standards to the Palestinians living under its military occupation in the Occupied Territories, and pretends that upholding international humanitarian and human rights laws there is against “Israel’s security”. Through the manipulation of the mass media, and powerful allies like the U.S., Israel is immune from any guilt or condemnation, and virtually free to commit crimes.

Israel’s model of torture is praised by the Bush Administration. Indeed U.S. forces in Iraq are following Israel’s textbook of illegal torture. The blatantly brutal, sadistic, cruel and inhumane treatments of Iraqi prisoners of war (POW) by U.S. soldiers and mercenaries at Abu Ghraib in Iraq resemble to great extent the interrogation methods used by Israel's GSS on Palestinian prisoners. Sleep deprivation, electric shocks, shackling a prisoner to a chair in painful positions for prolonged periods, use of smelly hoods, the playing of deafening sounds and beating, slapping and kicking are common practices.

According to Robert Fisk of The Independent; “The head of an American company whose personnel are implicated in the Iraqi tortures, it now turns out, attended an ‘anti-terror’ training camp in Israel and, earlier this year, was presented with an award by Shaul Mofaz, the right-wing Israeli defence minister.” Israeli mercenaries were seen at Abu Ghraib where brutal and sadistic practices of torture on Iraqi prisoners and detainees are taking place. An Israeli Knesset member told Al-Jazeera; “there are many Israeli experts on torture in Iraq who are transferring to the Americans their accumulative experience of thirty-seven years of torturing and mistreating Palestinians” [4]. Similar reports of Israeli involvement in torture of Iraqi prisoners have been reported in the Daily Star of Lebanon.

Prisons in Israel and Israel-run prison in Palestine are modelled on the prisons of the old Gulag. They includes, the “secret” Facility 1391, Jerusalem’s notorious Moskobiyya, Gush Etzion and Ashkelon are just a few, where Palestinian youth and members of the Palestinian Resistance continue to be tortured by Israeli General Security Service (GSS) and Shin Bet or Shabak. Many of these prisons and torture centres are well known to the West, and have been visited by the Red Cross, and other “humanitarian” NGOs.

Tens of thousands of thousands of Palestinians have been imprisoned in Israeli prisons and torture centres since 1967. According to MIFTAH, a Palestinian peace and justice group; “Since the 1967 war, Israel has detained up to 650,000 Palestinians, and since the outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada in September 2000, 35,000 Palestinians have been arrested, including a stunning 3,000 Palestinian children”. Most, if not all of the Palestinians held without charges in Israeli-run prisons on the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In addition, thousands of Palestinians are imprisoned inside Israel.

Based on official data, GSS agents interrogated thousands of Palestinians per year during the Intifada, and over 200 at any given moment. In July 2002, the GSS related to the press that 90 Palestinians were defined as 'ticking bombs' and were tortured. According to the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) the number tortured is actually much greater; and those GSS agents who interrogate Palestinian detainees torture them, degrade them, and otherwise ill-treat them routinely, in blatant violation of the provisions of International Laws.

The majority of Palestinians are imprisoned under the so-called “Administrative Detention” described by Amnesty International (AI) as: “a procedure under which detainees are held without charge or trial. No charges are filed, and there is no intention of bringing a detainee to trial. By the detention order, a detainee is given a specific term of detention. On or before the expiry of the term, the detention order is frequently renewed. This process can be continued indefinitely”. Israel has used this method since its creation by Western powers in the Middle East in 1948. Since 1967 the entire population of 3.7 Palestinians are virtually imprisoned by Israeli system of military control and humiliation.

A report by the Palestinian Prisoner Society in June 2002, revealed that 95% of the Palestinian prisoners where exposed to inhumane treatment, physical and psychological torture during their detention and interrogation. Since the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1967 some 180 Palestinian prisoners have been murdered in the Israeli prisons, said a report by the Palestinian Information Centre in Britain.

In its brutal treatments of Palestinians, Israel doesn’t discriminate between men, women and children. However, most of the victims are innocent Palestinian children – the most vulnerable sector of society – arrested randomly. Children are arrested “at checkpoints, on the street, or at their homes by heavily armed Israeli soldiers in the middle of the night. The soldiers take them to detention centres in Israeli settlements or military camps … the children are interrogated. This almost always involves some form of torture or abuse, including sleep and food deprivation, threatening language, beatings with heavy batons, being punched and kicked, as well as being tied in painful and contorted positions for long periods of time” [5]. The point was to extract confessions about other minors. According to B'Tselem; “Testimonies given to B'Tselem indicate that these are not isolated cases or uncommon conduct by certain police officers, and information received by B'Tselem raises the serious likelihood that torture during interrogations at the Gush Etzion police station continues”.

In October and November 2000, “Rami Zaul, 16, was interrogated, and freezing water was poured on to him”, reported Steve Weizman of the London Independent. He was “forced, while handcuffed, to drag a wooden beam with one of his interrogators standing on it. ‘When I got tired and dropped it I was beaten hard’”, added Weizman. Crucifixion is and ancient for of Israeli torture.

A 15-years old Palestinian boy, Riad Faraj recounted his ordeal with the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) as follow: “They handcuffed and beat me during the journey to Fara'a [Israel prison in Nablus]. Once we arrived, they took me to a 'doctor' for a 'check-up.' I found out later that this 'check-up' is to locate any physical weakness to concentrate on during torture. They paid particular attention to my leg, which was once injured and was still sensitive. Before they began interrogation, they asked me if I was ready to confess. They then hanged me by my wrists, naked, outside in the cold, and gave me hot and cold showers alternatively. A hood covered in manure was put over my head” [3].

The line is increasingly blurred between life in Israeli-run prisons and outside, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Outside Israel-run prisons, the general Palestinian population are living under Israel’s brutal Occupation. The situation on the ground is accurately described by Israeli reporter Amira Hass of Ha’aretz, as, an “assault on the chances of the Palestinian people to lead normal lives is evident in millions of different ways. Here, a family is hurt, there, a village. Here it's from ammunition, there from settlers, here it's a new military order”. Here is a pregnant woman and her unborn baby died at an Israeli checkpoint – military stations within the Palestinian territory. Here a young schoolgirl’ body shredded with Israeli bullets. Here a newborn baby, from Gaza, in need of an incubator dies in an ambulance after the IOF delays his transport. “The assault is intensified gradually. But the overall totality of the damage is not felt, because of the way it is gradually applied, dispersed over large areas”, added Hass.

On Christmas Eve, the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz shed new light on the increasing and grotesque crimes of Israeli Border Police against Palestinian workers. “The face of the dead man is smashed. Shawara`s body lies on the floor in his house, covered by a Palestine flag and a sheet from Shaare Zedek Medical Centre in Jerusalem (even though he died in Hadassah)”. Shawara was tortured and murdered by the Israeli “Border Police”.

These torturous crimes – together with the illegal Apartheid Wall – are parts of a racist system of collective punishment and control. It is a policy aimed at terrorising Palestinians, and controlling and restricting the movement of Palestinians as a population. The policy is designed to humiliate, intimidate and make life unbearable for Palestinians and force them out of their land. All is in contravention of International Human Rights Laws and the Geneva Convention.

The global system of injustice and torture, purposely mounted in the moral and legal darkness, beyond reach or oversight of anyone but those in the highest levels within the Israeli, U.S. and British governments. The recent exposure of the horror of abuse, torture and disappearance of prisoners is just the tip of an iceberg of a wide spread systemic torture and violation of human rights of citizens, including women and children, not only in Palestine, Iraq, but also around the world in Western-friendly countries.

Torture is denied, because it is abhorrent and illegal. There is no such thing as “never before”. The U.S. and Britain practiced the use of torture for many decades. Britain practiced torture during the occupation of Germany after World War II. The town of Bad Nenndorf, a German resort for the elderly, was converted to an Abu Ghraib prison in 1945, where British interrogators tortured and murdered German prisoners with impunity. The U.S. is notoriously famous in Viet Nam and Central America, where the practices of torture were wide-spread and contracted on behalf of the U.S. to U.S.-trained local death squads trained by U.S. forces and personnel.

The new U.S. law – the John McCain’s amendment – passed by Congress banning the use of ‘some form’ of torture by U.S. personnel anywhere in the world may be like the Landau Commission; just a smokescreen for torture. Can we trust the Bush Administration? No, the Bush Administration is not to be trusted. Since the 9/11 attack, the U.S. authorities have violated International Laws, the UN Charted and the Geneva Convention. The illegal war of aggression against Iraqi is a case in point.

Furthermore, the U.S. has consistently hindered the application of International Laws and cover up crimes perpetuated by Israel against the Palestinian people. In addition to over $3 billion (U.S. taxpayers’ money) a year given by the U.S. to Israel to finance the occupation and the theft of Palestinian land, Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. and British-made weapons. Israel is armed to the teeth with nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

U.S. support for Israel’s brutal policy against the Palestinians will continue to produce blowbacks, not only against Americans but also against Jews. Like the criminal war against the Iraqi people allegedly committed in the name of “Western civilisation”, Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people are committed in the name of all Jews, “because what Israel does, it does it openly in the name of the Jewish people” said In fact many Zionist Jews have argued that “Israel represents Jews of the world”. If condemning Israeli crimes against the Palestinians is seen as “anti-Semitism”, why attacking Arabs is not considered “anti-Semitism”? It is legitimate to criticise Israel’s brutal policy without being anti-Jews

Western mainstream media, led by the U.S. media have constructed a fearful myth which implies that criticism of Israel amount to being “anti-Semites”. They use the myth to turn blind eyes to Israel’s brutal and militaristic policies against defenceless people. Israel is not “defending’ itself; it is torturing people and stealing their land. It is one thing to continue supply Israel with weapons, including nuclear weapons, and another thing of instilling fear in the public about the danger of Iran peaceful nuclear program.

It's hard to see how U.S. interests are served by supporting Israel’s criminal policy against the Palestinian people. Recent world-wide polls show that, Israel is a great danger to world peace. U.S. unconditional support for Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people inflames anti-America and anti-Jews sentiment. U.S. support for Israel is destroying the Palestinian society and is leading to “the breaking of Palestine organic links to Jerusalem [the capital of Palestine] and the disintegration of the remnants of Palestinian society”. This policy exposes the U.S. hypocrisy of an “honest broker” for peace. It is time to call a criminal a criminal, not “a man of peace”.

Torture doesn’t work, and the evidence is overwhelming. “Aside from its immorality and its illegality, torture is ‘not a good way to get information’. Worse, you'll have the other side effects of torture. It ‘endangers our soldiers on the battlefield by encouraging reciprocity’. It does ‘damage’ to our country's image’ and undermines our credibility in Iraq”, reported Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post, quoting Army Col. Stuart Herrington, a military intelligence specialist in interrogations.

Israelis have long acknowledged that “torture, abusive tactics, made things overall worse for them politically”. The ‘ticking bomb’ theory has also been discredited, because it was base on unfounded assumption and had to be abandoned. The release – without charges – of many prisoners and detainees, including Palestinians and other nationals, who alleged to have been tortured in Israeli and U.S.-run prisons provides ample evidence of flawed policy that torture innocent people. People would say virtually anything to end their torture.

Any form of torture is inhumane and illegal. The ongoing torture of Palestinians by Israeli authorities demonstrates that the mainstream media are deliberately ignoring Palestinian sufferings, and in the process betraying their own principles of impartiality. Western governments can not pretend to be fighting the scourge of Fascism while they are nurturing a clone of Fascism on Palestinian land.

As Western governments have failed to act against Israel’s methods of torture, the taboo must be broken by the citizens and grassroots movements dedicated to peace and justice. Israel’s brutal treatments of Palestinians and the use of sadistic methods of torture on the Palestinian people must be exposed and condemned. It is the duty of every citizen with concern to democracy, International Laws, and human decency. Unless the ‘International Community’ condemns all forms of torture, including Israel’s practices of torturing Palestinians, it remains complicit in an illegal and inhumane policy of torture.

Ghali Hassan lives in Perth, Western Australia.


[1] Stanley Cohen, ‘State of Denial: Knowing about atrocities and Suffering’. Cambridge: Polity, 2001.

[2] Alexander Cockburn, ‘Israel's Torture Ban’, The Nation, 27 September 1999.

[3] B’Tselem, Routine Torture, 19 May 1998, and other B’Tselem reports.

[4] Khalid Amayreh, ‘Israeli Lessons for the U.S. in Iraq’,, 6 May 2004.

[5] Catherine Cook, et al., ‘Stolen Youth: The Politics of Israel's Detention of Palestinian Children’. London: Pluto, 2004.

[6] The English version of Ha’aretz can be accessed on www.Ha’









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