In 1987 the Landau Commission, which was set up as a result of the Bus 300 Affair, when two Palestinian prisoners were murdered by senior officers (one General Yitzhak Mordechai was later promoted to Command of the Southern Region), found that the use of violence, or ‘moderate physical pressure’ as they termed it, against prisoners was an acceptable method of interrogation. They argued, in the light of what they called “the concept of the lesser evil”, tha
“actual torture . . . would be perhaps be justified in order to uncover a bomb about to explode in a building full of people . . . whether the charge is certain to be detonated in five minutes or in five days.”
“To put it bluntly, the alternative is: are we to accept the offence of assault entailed in slapping a suspect’s face, or threatening him, in order to induce him to talk and reveal a cache of explosive materials meant for use in carrying an act of mass terror against a civilian population, and there by prevent the greater evil which is about to occur? The answer is self evident.”
This was the justification that the Nazis used for torture. Defence of the State against its enemies. Chaired by Supreme Court Judge Moshe Landua, the Commission’s Report stated
“The effective interrogation of terrorist suspects is impossible without the use of means of pressure, in order to overcome an obdurate will not to disclose information and to overcome the fear of the person under interrogation that harm will befall him from his own organization, if he does reveal information.”
“The means of pressure should principally take the form of non-violent psychological pressure through a vigorous and extensive interrogation, with the use of stratagems, including acts of deception. However, when these do not attain their purpose, the exertion of a moderate measure of physical pressure cannot be avoided.”
In 1999 the Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court, ruled in Public Committee Against Torture in Israel v the Government of Israel, PD 73(4) 817 (1999) that the law does not permit the use of torture. However they also ruled that in a ‘ticking bomb’ case the use of such methods might not cause the torturers to be legally culpable.
The result is, as Btselem documents, that Shin Bet have continued to use torture as a routine method of interrogation with the connivance of the Israel’s Supreme Court. Since 1967 73 prisoners have been tortured to death.
Last December a Report from Addameer, the Palestinian Prisoner Support Unit and Legal Aid Group stated that
The occupation authorities, in particular, the Israeli intelligence agency “Shabak” resorts to torture and ill-treatment as standard operating procedure in a systematic and wide-scale approach against Palestinian detainees. Over the past three months, the intelligence agency subjected a number of detainees at Israeli interrogation centers to severe physical and psychological torture without any form of monitoring and protection.
The reaction of the Israeli state to Addameer’s Report was to impose a ‘gag order’ preventing them from printing details of the case of torture. This too, as Emily will explain is another example of Israeli democracy at its best!
Other examples include 21-year-old Palestinian student Mays Abu Ghosh who is currently in an Israeli jail cell and a victim of torture. Mays, who was arrested for her activism, has been interrogated so violently that her parents could barely recognize her – yet this horrific story is being met with no huge outcry and very little media attention.
On August 29, Mays was arrested in her home during a sweep of Palestinian student activists and detained under trumped-up charges.
As a student journalist, Mays has been a vocal advocate of Palestinian rights. Now she’s being tortured for her lifelong resistance to displacement, and being labeled a “major terrorist” for her work organizing with fellow students against Israeli oppression of Palestinians. Her “crimes” include participating in a conference about the Palestinian right of return in Lebanon, and speaking about her late brother on a radio program.
When her parents were finally allowed to visit, Mays was so bruised and visibly wounded she was almost unrecognizable. Her mother couldn’t hug her because her body was in too much pain.
Israeli intelligence officers forced the detainees into a number of stress positions such as the banana position, the frog position, sitting on an imaginary chair, squatting and many other different positions. Almost in all of these stress positions, the detainees would lose their balance and fall on the ground, which would lead to a harsh beating by the officers and then forcing the detainee back into the stress position. Other used stress positions included standing on their toes while their hands were shackled above their heads to a wall. Another position included sitting on a chair while handcuffed to the back, where the hands were positioned on a table behind the detainee’s chair. A third position involved the detainee laying on the ground with his/her hands chained to each other with iron cuffs and positioned behind his/her back. This position also includes officers sitting on the detainee to place pressure on his/her body while beat him/her ferociously.
Israeli occupation intelligence officers used extreme methods of beatings against the detainees using their hands, legs, knees and even their fingers. The officers hit, slapped, punched, poked (using their fingers), and kicked the detainees. These methods resulted in severe and life-threatening injuries that included broken ribs, inability to walk, brutal bruises, swelling marks on the skin, ulcer wounds…etc. The officers, who exceeded five in number in some cases used to blindfold the detainees’ eyes so they would not expect the beating or know where it is coming from. Several of those detainees appeared in their court sessions with marks on their bodies, expressing severe pain, or in some cases arrived on wheelchairs. In one of the cases, the harsh beating was committed with the intention to kill the detainee, who was in fact transferred to the hospital in serious condition after around 30 hours of severe and extreme methods of beatings. In another case, the harsh beating aimed at injuries caused by a police dog during the arrest, the interrogators intended to target those previously obtained injuries, which were mainly on the detainee’s genital area causing the wounds to re-open twice. Also, in many other cases, the method of pulling the facial hair from its roots causing injuries and swelling marks was used
· Sleep deprivation:
this technique was implemented through different methods, in some cases the detainees spent around twenty days sleeping from one to three hours a day. Even when those detainees were sent to their cells to sleep, they would be disturbed with loud and eerie sounds made by the prison guards, the voices of other detainees being harshly beaten or the sound of knocking on their cell doors. In some cases, sleep deprivation ranged from 30 to 60 continuous hours, where the detainee would not be sent to sleep at all during these hours and would be woken up if he/she falls asleep during the interrogation. Some detainees were harshly slapped on their faces to wake up, others were also splashed with water. Detainees described the slaps as extremely severe causing them to feel dizzy.·
The use of family members (emotional blackmailing):
psychological torture and ill-treatment were used on the majority of these detainees, focusing on threats against their family members, and loved ones. Israeli occupation forces used the policy of collective punishment through arresting and bringing in some of the family members mostly to al-Mascobiyya interrogations center and Ofer prison. Eight family members for seven different detainees were arrested, and another ten family members were brought in for questioning. Some of these relatives were kept for a number of days while others were kept for hours. In all the cases, family members and loved ones were mainly brought in to pressure the detainees themselves. The interrogators made the detainees assume that their relatives got arrested and will be tortured as well. Relatives included fathers, mothers, brothers, daughters, wives, etc
Interrogation at Israeli secret prisons:
at least one of the detainees Addameer has documented their cases have stated that they were taken to unknown centers. The detainee said that the interrogators at this center were all face-covered and wearing a different uniform than the known usual uniforms. It has been revealed in the past that Israel has secret prisons that are removed from maps and airbrushed aerial photographs.
What is particularly reprehensible is the involvement of Israeli doctors and physicians in the use of torture. Doctors who monitor prisoners in order that they can help the torturers decide how far to go, who declare when a prisoner is fit enough for further torture and who deliberately lie in medical reports in order to cover for the torturers. Comparisons with American doctors who collaborated with the CIA in water boarding and SS doctors spring to mind. See the article below How Israeli doctors enable the Shin Bet’s torture industry.
And far from the Israeli Medical Association opposing this they give the green light for such doctors to continue what they are doing. See for example the article by John Yudkin, Emeritus Professor at University College, London.
In 2009 more than 700 doctors from around the world called for the Israeli President of the World Medical Association, Yoram Blachar, to step down, calling him “unfit for office” and claiming that he had turned a blind eye to the “institutionalised involvement of doctors” in torture in Israel.
In a letter they said that the appointment of Blachar, who was President of the Israeli Medical Association as president of the WMA was “a matter of grave concern.” The signatories, who included professors and doctors from 43 countries, said that the appointment
“makes a mockery of the principles on which the WMA was founded in 1947, which was a response to egregious abuses by Germany and Japan in World War Two.”
Other prominent doctors who
support Israel’s use of torture include Sir Michael Marmot, former President of the WMA and a Professor at UCL.
From approving brutal interrogation techniques to writing false medical reports, doctors in Israel have taken an active role in the torture of Palestinian prisoners.
By Ruchama Marton
If the Shin Bet runs a school for its agents and interrogators, the curriculum most certainly includes a class on how to tell a lie. The texts taught, it seems, do not change with the years. In 1993, responding to accusations that the Shin Bet brutally tortured Palestinian detainee Hassan Zubeidi, then Commander of the IDF Northern Command Yossi Peled told Israeli journalist Gabi Nitzan that “there is no torture in Israel. I served for 30 years in the IDF and I know what I am talking about.”
Twenty-six years later, Deputy Chief of the Shin Bet and former Shin Bet interrogator, Yitzhak Ilan repeated the same line to news presenter Ya’akov Eilon on national television while speaking about Samer Arbeed, a 44-year-old Palestinian who was hospitalized in critical condition after he had been reportedly tortured by the Shin Bet. Arbeed is suspected of organizing a deadly bombing that killed a teenage Israeli girl and wounded her father and brother at a spring in the West Bank in August. Ilan bristled at the notion that the Shin Bet was somehow responsible for Arbeed’s condition.
Putting aside these absurd forms of denial, as a doctor and founder of Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, I have always been troubled by how Israeli doctors cooperate with and enable Israel’s torture industry.
In June 1993, I organized an international conference in Tel Aviv on behalf of PHR against torture in Israel. At the conference, I presented a Shin Bet medical document that had been discovered by chance by Israeli journalist Michal Sela. In the document, the Shin Bet doctor was asked whether the prisoner in question had any medical restrictions when it came to keeping them in isolation, whether they could be tied, whether their face could be covered, or whether they could be made to stand for prolonged periods of time.
The Shin Bet denied such a document ever existed. “There is no document. It was simply an experimental paper that is not in use,” the agency claimed. Four years later, a second document, suspiciously similar to the first, came to light. That document asked doctors to sign off on torture in accordance with several previously agreed-upon clauses.
The first document, along with other findings, were published in the book titled “Torture: Human Rights, Medical Ethics and the Case of Israel.” The book cannot be found in Israel; Steimatzky, Israel’s oldest and largest bookstore chain, has banned its sale. Perhaps this is further proof that there is no torture in Israel.
After the document was uncovered, PHR turned to the Israel Medical Association and asked it to join the struggle against torture. The IMA requested that PHR hand over the names of the Shin Bet doctors who signed off on the document so that they could be dealt with internally.
I refused to hand over the names and told the IMA attorney that I was not interested in going after rank-and-file doctors — I wanted to change the entire system. That meant doing away with legitimacy granted to confessions exacted under torture, educating IMA members about non-cooperation with torturers, and particularly providing active help to those doctors who do report on suspicion of torture or brutal interrogations.
Back then, the IMA was satisfied with putting our statements while doing nothing to prevent the Shin Bet’s doctors from cooperating with torture. Furthermore, the organization failed to fulfill its obligation to establish a forum for doctors to report on suspected torture.
An ethical, moral, and practical failure
But it is not only doctors in the Shin Bet and the Israel Prison Service that collaborate with torture. Doctors in emergency rooms across Israel write false medical opinions in accordance with the demands of the Shin Bet. Take, for example, the case of Nader Qumsieh from the West Bank city of Beit Sahour. He was arrested in his home on May 4, 1993 and was brought to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva five days later. There a urologist diagnosed him a hemorrhage and a torn scrotum.
Qumsieh testified that he was beaten during his interrogation and kicked in his testicles.
Ten days later, Qumsieh was brought before the same urologist for a medical examination, after the latter had received a phone call from the Israeli military. The urologist wrote a retroactive letter (as if it had been written two days earlier), without actually conducting an additional examination of the patient, in which he said that “according to the patient, he fell down the stairs two days before he arrived in the emergency room.” This time, the diagnosis was “superficial hematoma in the scrotal area, which corresponds to local bruises sustained between two and five days prior to the examination.” The urologist’s original letter, written after the first examination, disappeared from Qumsieh’s medical file.
History teaches us that doctors everywhere easily and effectively internalize the regime’s values, and many of them become loyal servants of the regime. That was the case in Nazi Germany, in the United States, and in various countries in Latin America. The same goes for Israel. Qumsieh’s case, along with countless others, reflects the ethical, moral, and practical failure of the medical establishment in Israel vis-à-vis torture.
Already back in the 18th century, jurists — rather than doctors — published legal opinions accompanied by proof that there is no connection between causing pain and getting to the truth. Thus, both torture and confessions exacted through pain were legally disqualified. One can only assume that the heads of the Shin Bet, the army, and the police know this bit of history.
And yet, torture — which includes both mental and physical cruelty — continues to take place on a large scale. Why? Because the real goal of torture and humiliation is to break the spirit and body of the prisoner. To eliminate his or her personality.
The legal understanding for forbidding torture is based on the utilitarian idea that one cannot arrive at the truth through inflicting pain . But doctors are committed — first and foremost — to the idea that anything that causes physical or mental harm to a patient is prohibited.
The Shin Bet medical eligibility document allows for sleep prevention, it allows interrogators to expose prisoners to extreme temperatures, to beat them, to tie them for long hours in painful positions, to force them to stand for hours until the vessels in their feet burst, to cover their heads for prolonged periods of time, to sexually humiliate them, to break their spirits by severing their ties to family and lawyers, to keep them in isolation until they lose their sanity.
The Shin Bet’s medical eligibility form is not the same as the one used to check eligibility to join the air force or even to drive a car. This kind of “eligibility” leads the prisoner directly into the torture chamber — and the doctor knows this. The doctor knows to what kind of systematic process of pain and humiliation he or she is lending their consent and approval. It is doctors who oversee the torture, examine the tortured prisoner, and write the medical opinion or the pathology report.
The white robe passes through the torture chamber like a lurking shadow during interrogations. A doctor who cooperates with Israel’s torture industry is complicit in that very industry. If a prisoner dies during interrogation, the doctor is an accomplice to his or her murder. Doctors, nurses, medics, and judges who know what is taking place and prefer to remain silent are all accomplices.
We must unconditionally oppose all forms of torture — without exceptions. We, citizens of a democratic state, must refuse to cooperate with the crime of torture, and all the more so when it comes to doctors.
We must also not hide behind the idea that torture is a symptom of the occupation while telling ourselves that the practice will disappear when the occupation ends. Torture is a worldview according to which human rights have no place or value. It existed well before the occupation and it will continue to exist if we do not change that worldview.
Violent and cruel investigative practices do not benefit national security even if they are committed on its behalf. Torture causes a spiraling destruction of our very social fabric. Not only do those who carry out this terrible kind of “work” lose the values of morality, human dignity, and democracy, but also all those who remain silent, unwilling to know. In fact, all of us.
Dr. Ruchama Marton is the founder of Physicians for Human Rights – Israel. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.
The legally-sanctioned torture of a Palestinian detainee during interrogation by officers from Shin Bet, Israel’s Security Agency, further exposes the complicity of Israel’s authorities, including its judiciary, in the systematic violation of the human right to be free from torture, said Amnesty International today.
Samir Arbeed was arrested on 25 September on suspicion of being involved in the killing of a 17-year-old Israeli girl Rina Shnerb.According to Israeli media reports and Samir’s lawyer, a “judicial body” granted Shin Bet special permission to “use exceptional ways to investigate” in his case, effectively sanctioning the use of methods amounting to torture during his interrogation.
“It is utterly outrageous that the use of torture during interrogations continues to be sanctioned by the Israeli authorities, from the Shin Bet, through the executive branch and all the way to the Supreme Court,”
said Saleh Higazi, Amnesty International’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director.
“Under international treaties, which legally bind Israel, the use of torture cannot be justified under any circumstances. This case exposes Israel’s claims that its judiciary upholds human rights as a complete sham.”
The use of torture cannot be justified under any circumstances. This case exposes Israel’s claims that its judiciary upholds human rights as a complete sham