BY TAMARA NASSAR From Electronic Intifada
ISRAEL is committing crimes against humanity by torturing Palestinian detainees, prisoners’ rights group Addameer says in a recent report.
And Israel’s denial of fair trials to prisoners may also constitute war crimes, the group states.
Addameer has been collecting evidence on Israel’s use of torture and ill-treatment against Palestinian detainees since late August 2019.
Prison officers were found to have ill-treated some 50 detainees studied by the prisoners rights group, of whom about half were subjected to torture.
Detainees included women, university students, union workers, human rights defenders and Palestinian lawmakers.
An Israeli court in Jerusalem issued a gagging order on 10 September that barred Addameer and the general public from publishing information on cases of Palestinians being held at the Russian Compound, a notorious Israeli detention centre in Jerusalem.
The court renewed the order twice after that, until it expired on 7th December.
‘Since its creation, the occupying state (Israel) developed and enforced laws and practices that led to both the systematic use of torture and to absolute impunity for the perpetrator of this crime,’ Addameer writes in the report which goes into some detail about the forms of torture Israeli prison officers employ.
These include beatings, sleep deprivation, stress positions, sexual harassment and others.
More than 70 Palestinians have died under and following torture in Israeli custody since 1967, according to Addameer’s research.
This number includes 23 prisoners who died after Israel ratified the United Nations convention against torture in October 1991.
Still, not a single individual or entity was ever held accountable.
Overall, some 220 Palestinians have died in Israeli custody since 1967.
Israeli officers ‘hit, slapped, punched, poked (using their fingers), and kicked the detainees,’ in some cases causing them life-threatening injuries.
To make matters worse, officers sometimes blindfolded detainees ‘so they would not expect the beating or know where it was coming from,’ according to the report.
Beatings would sometimes last dozens of hours and be done by more than five different officers at once.
The complicity of Israeli doctors in crimes of torture is not to be ignored, Addameer stressed.
In some cases, Israeli doctors faked medical assessments of detainees, qualifying them for further interrogation despite there being clear signs of torture on their bodies.
To maximise pain and pressure, Israeli officers would sometimes force detainees into stress positions before beating them.
Stress positions not only impose physical pain on detainees, but are a means of applying psychological pressure as well.
In almost all stress positions, Addameer says, detainees are forced to maintain a position designed to make them lose balance, giving cause to Israeli officers to beat them.
One such position has the detainee’s legs cuffed to the legs of the chair and the hands to the other side, forcing their back to arch over the seat of the chair.
Interrogators can then either sit on or beat the detainee’s abdomen.
A sketch of this so-called ‘banana position’ was published by Addameer on Twitter, along with other such positions.
The Palestinian chair
Israeli officers went on to teach one method of torture to American occupation forces in Iraq for torturing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison.
Dubbed ‘the Palestinian chair,’ according to Eric Fair, a former American interrogator at the prison, the stress position has detainees crouch their bodies on the chair, with their weight centered on their thighs.
‘They (referring to two American Army sergeants) call it the Palestinian chair,’ Fair wrote in his memoir ‘Consequence’.
‘They say the Israelis taught them how to build it during a joint training exercise. I assume it’s called the Palestinian chair because that’s who was forced to sit in it,’ he wrote.
‘They say everyone breaks in the chair.’
In his memoir, Fair describes the self-disgust he went on to live with having witnessed a detainee tortured in this way.
‘Witnessing a man being tortured in the Palestinian chair requires the witness to either seek justice or cover his face … I’ll spend the rest of my life covering my face,’ he wrote.
‘Having seen the Palestinian chair, it’s impossible to deny that it has all been wrong.’
Other shared tactics between Israeli and American interrogators and occupiers include sleep deprivation and a variety of psychological tortures including threats of rape.
Cooperation between the United States and Israel also extends to joint police trainings.
Israel’s domestic spy agency, the Shin Bet, practices torture ‘as standard operating procedure in a systematic and widescale approach against Palestinian detainees,’ which Addameer affirms could amount to a crime against humanity.
While Israel’s high court supposedly outlawed torture in 1999, it ruled that the Shin Bet can use torture in supposedly ‘ticking time-bomb’ circumstances to investigate Palestinian prisoners.
Israel’s ‘ticking time-bomb’ loophole was cited by US foreign spy agency the CIA to justify its torture regime – a US Senate inquiry revealed in 2014 – another example of sinister cooperation between the two states on matters of torture.
Another shared consequence of American and Israeli crimes is impunity.
Since 2001, some 1,200 complaints against Israeli interrogators were filed, according to the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel.
Every single case was closed with zero indictments.
‘This Israeli illegal occupation has violated all the legal elements of an occupation under international law,’ the Addameer report concludes.
‘There are no domestic legal means to seek justice, it adds, as those complicit are part-and-parcel of Israel’s legal system and government.
‘In fact, the agencies complicit in those crimes include the intelligence agency, military court, military prosecution, High Court, and even the medical staff that were involved in providing medical care and assessment for those detainees subjected to torture and ill-treatment.’
As evidence of Israeli war crimes continues to mount, so should investigations and indictments by the International Criminal Court, Addameer insists.