15 May 07

The eleven thousand and the one 

This poster is on a wall in Nablus Old City , where the feared and loathed Israeli Occupying Forces make nightly incursions. It shows a photo of the one prisoner held by Palestinians, Corporal Shalit, and points out that there are 11,000 imprisoned Palestinians, of whom 330 are children, 118 are women, 800 are ill, and that 187 Palestinians have died in captivity in the past year.

Students who had been imprisoned told me about their treatment. One does not have to look far for ex-prisoners because between 500,000 and 600,000 Palestinians, out of the population of 3.5 million in the occupied territories, have been imprisoned. Consequently nearly every Palestinian family has one or more members who are or have been prisoners. Arrest and imprisonment are one of the many ways in which Israel exerts rigid control over and brutally oppresses the Palestinian people.

In particular, young men and boys are taken from their homes, violently, by a number of heavily armed soldiers, in the middle of the night. They also risk arrest in the street or when passing through one of the many checkpoints which impede and prevent Palestinians from travelling in their own country or abroad. Arrest is followed by interrogation, ostensibly to obtain a confession of some action that can be construed as being against the occupation or against Jewish Israelis or Israel . I was told that the first question most of those arrested are asked is if they will, in exchange for favourable treatment, collaborate with the Israeli security services and become informers. Denial of medical treatment to wounded or ill prisoners in detention centres and prisons is also used to try to get children, as well as adults, to become informers. In creating a network of informers, the aim is not just to obtain intelligence, but to sow tension and division between Palestinian and Palestinian.

Interrogation is carried out in detention centres or military camps, can last days or weeks, and usually involves physical and mental abuse and torture. The use of torture by the Israeli forces is widespread although it is illegal according to international conventions signed by Israel . Since 1999 it has also been banned by the Israeli Supreme Court. A number of Palestinians have been tortured to death. Students I spoke to and their friends had experienced the following:

*   Threats to arrest, beat up or even kill relatives, particularly female relatives.

*   Sleep deprivation.

*   Alternating two-hour periods of very high and very low temperature.

*   Nine hours tied to a chair, feet underneath the chair, hands cuffed behind back.

*   Standing hooded against the wall for eight hours.

*   Standing against a wall on tiptoe, hit each time heels were lowered, continuing until the victim fell down unconscious.

*   The ‘banana chair.’ This has a seat about nine inches from the floor. The prisoner’s feet and calves are forced under the seat, and his hands are secured behind the back of the device. The back is forced towards the horizontal, hyperextending the spine. A student who was tortured in this way said that a number of victims suffer permanent back damage as a result.

After interrogation, Palestinian prisoners are ‘tried’ by a military court. The proceedings are a charade of justice. It is difficult or impossible for the accused to obtain legal representation. Palestinian prisoners are assumed to be guilty rather than innocent. They are often convicted as the result of confessions extracted under torture, or of uncorroborated ‘evidence’ from other Palestinians, sometimes also obtained under torture, or provided by the Israeli security services. The undisclosed opinion of the latter is crucial in the case of the ‘administrative detainees’ who account for 1000 to 1500 of the current 11,000 prisoners. These accused have no idea what they are charged with, and are therefore helpless in court. Although not convicted of any offence, detainees can be held for repeated periods. Students told me of someone they knew who was kept in administrative detention for seven years.

In contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention, nearly all convicted prisoners and detainees are transferred to prisons in Israel . Conditions in the prisons are generally miserable, as one student put it. His cell was only 1.5 m by 2 m by 2 m high. There was a bucket in one corner. Lighting was minimal and there were rodents and cockroaches for company. He said that there was little food and what there was tasted horrible.

I was asked to help prepare a statement about the treatment of a 16-year-old boy who lived near where I was staying. He was arrested just after midnight on 8th May. Ten soldiers entered the family home. Blindfolded and with hands tied together, he was taken away in a jeep. Local boys threw stones at the vehicle and for each stone that hit it, Mohammed Mohsen was kicked or stamped on or beaten. He was taken to a police station where soldiers taunted him with remarks about his mother and himself, before he was pushed roughly into an office. Here he was told by an intelligence officer that if he did not own up to what he had done he would be punished. When he refused to talk, the officer knelt painfully on one of his thighs.

The officer then called in a masked a masked man. In poor Arabic, the man said that he had witnessed Mohammed throwing stones and attending an anti-occupation demonstration at school. The officer typed these details as a confession in Hebrew which Mohammed was asked to sign. Though he could not understand it and knew the evidence to be false, he signed because the officer told him that if he did so he would be allowed to go home. Once he had signed, the officer said: “Now we can send you to jail.” Although he had been beaten in the jeep, he was also coerced to sign a document in Hebrew which, he was told, stated that he had not been beaten.

Then the officer told two soldiers to take Mohammed away. The soldiers taunted him again, insulting his mother, at which Mohammed pushed them with his cuffed hands. They then beat him hard in the stomach and between his legs. After five minutes or so of this second beating, they put him in the jeep. They tied his hands to the back door which was open. He was extremely frightened because he believed that if he fell out he would be killed.

They drove to a military camp where Mohammed asked to go to the toilet. When taken there, he found he could not urinate. His abdomen was swollen and very tense. A soldier guarding him saw this. He took him to an army doctor who sent him to a hospital in Israel . After 12 hours there, he was driven home. His father had to pay 1000 shekels (£128) bail and was told that Mohammed would have to go to court because of his confession. A week later Mohammed is still too ill to go to school.

Every week many Palestinian children are subjected to physical and psychological trauma. Whereas Israeli children are tried in courts for children, Palestinian children are tried in the military courts set up to deal with Palestinian adults. In accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed by Israel , Israelis under 18 are regarded legally as children. However only Palestinians under 16 are so regarded. The abominable way the Israeli military treat large numbers of Palestinian children is but part of an illegal and immoral programme of repression designed to destroy Palestinian society.

Three people working for the Palestinian section of Defence for Children International have written a carefully researched book about the human rights abuses of Palestinian children perpetrated by Israel.* How can Israel can get away with the detention and torture of large numbers of Palestinian children? Not only do the majority of Jewish Israelis acquiesce in these crimes, but so do many people in the countries which support Israel . The authors conclude that the systematic violation of the rights of Palestinians does not threaten international political and economic interests sufficiently to compel other states to intervene. On the contrary, a number of countries –  the foremost being the US of course – support Israel militarily, economically and politically. “This sends a very strong message to Palestinian civilians: international law does not apply to you; it does not protect you.” The evidence in this book is a fearful indictment of political Zionism, characterised as it is by racism, lawlessness, moral degradation and inhumanity.

* “Stolen Youth” by Catherine Cook, Adam Hanieh and Adah Kay. Pluto Press, 2004

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