Imprisonment and Torture


“It would be better to drown these prisoners, in the Dead

Sea if possible, since that’s the lowest point in the world.”

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman,

speaking on the release of Palestinian prisoners.


April 17th is the annual Palestinan political prisoners’ day.  A man who was imprisoned for four years told me what imprisonment is like, and showed me round the Prisoner’s Museum in Abu Dis at Al Quds university. Israel is holding 7300 Palestinians prisoner. These include 33 women, nearly 300 children under 18, 17 legislators and many political leaders. There are 296 ‘administrative detainees,’ imprisoned though never tried nor charged with any offence. [1] Palestinians are holding one Israeli prisoner.


Arrest, interrogation and imprisonment have been experienced by about 40% of the male population of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, as Israel has imprisoned more than 700,000 Palestinians since 1967. 111 have been held for more than 20 years. A number have been incarcerated 32 years, and one for 35 years. Medical care in the prisons is generally very poor and 49 prisoners have died as a result of medical negligence. 71 prisoners have died from torture, and the same number of detainees have been killed by the army after arrest.


My guide described a typical arrest and subsequent treatment. In the early hours of the morning, 60 soldiers come to a house and 20 enter. One or more members of the household are taken to a military camp for some hours and then moved to a detention centre, usually in an Israeli settlement, for 1 or 2 days. After that, the prisoner is transferred to a prison for initial interrogation. I will say ‘he’ as most are men and youths, but women and children are treated similarly.  If he does not confess, genuinely or spuriously, to an alleged crime, or give information demanded, he is likely to be questioned in a special interrogation centre for up to 18 days, sometimes longer. During this time the prisoner has no access to family, lawyer or the Red Cross. Particularly harsh interrogation is carried out in secret centres employing methods like those used at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad.


A number of measures which have been used during interrogation are listed in the museum. They include: covering head with a sack soaked in urine, sleep deprivation, violent shaking, pressure on and hitting testicles, hitting wounds, hyper-extending the spine in the ‘banana position,’ suspending the prisoner by the arms, dislocating shoulders, breaking limb bones, and beating to death. My guide also mentioned the use of electric shocks and confinement of prisoners in painful positions for up to two days.


Banana chair


The UN Convention Against Torture states: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever . . . may be invoked as a justification of torture.” Israel is not the only country to use torture, but it is the only country whose law legitimises it.[2] In Western countries, loss of prisoners’ liberty is the punishment, not to be augmented by subjection to brutality.


After sentencing, prisoners are taken to one of about 20 prisons in Israel. This is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention which says detention and imprisonment are to be in the occupied territory. Prisoners are liable to be beaten up and subjected to periods of solitary confinement, lasting from days to years, during which they are prevented from communicating with anyone. The prisoners’ leaders are particularly liable to these abuses. A woman prisoner I have been writing to for nine years   she has managed to send only one short note in reply    has been held in isolation for various periods of up to many months. According to a lawyer working for women prisoners, my correspondent has been subjected to severe physical violence by prison staff, at risk to her life on one occasion. I have asked to visit her, but the requests have been refused.


My guide says that the prisoners’ only weapons are hunger strikes. These have been followed by a number of moderations in the harsh conditions which the prisoners endure. He showed me photos of four hunger strikers who were later killed by having feeding tubes forced through the stomach wall.


The guide pointed to the photo of one prisoner he knew who was arrested in 1969 and remained imprisoned until he died of cancer 23 yrs later. He was offered release in a prisoner exchange near the end of this time, but refused it, saying that a younger man should be released instead. 


In the museum there are photos of Palestinian fighters who were strangled or shot by the British for killing soldiers during the mandate period. In a brochure, Jesus was referred to as an early Palestinian prisoner and martyr.



The most dreadful thing is that an increasing number of children, some aged 13 or less, are now being arrested, tortured, and imprisoned. For me, the most damning indictment of today’s Israeli state is the widespread systematized abuse of Palestinian children by the Israeli army and penal service. The horror of this abuse is exposed in publications by the Palestine Section of Defence for Children International. [3,4]



Each year some 700 children under 18 living in the West Bank are arrested, interrogated, and prosecuted in Israeli military courts. A sentence of 20 years is permitted for the commonest alleged offence: throwing stones. Palestinian children of 16 or older are considered adults and treated as such. Different rules apply to Israelis who, for example, are considered children if under the age of 18.


The Israeli military courts in which Palestinians are tried deny fair judicial process. Confessions are regularly extracted by intimidation, trickery and torture, as these children testify:

 "I went from having a normal life at home to handcuffs, deprivation of sleep, shouting, threats, rounds of interrogation and serious accusations. In these circumstances, life becomes dark, filled with fear and pessimism    tough days that words cannot describe."


“Inside [a] clinic, they beat me on the back and neck with their hands. One of the soldiers took a rope that was on the table and placed it around my neck and pressed tightly to suffocate me."

"I was interrogated for three days. My hands and feet were tied to the wall in the shape of a cross. I spent one full day in this position. I felt extreme pain and swelling in my hands.”

"After two hours, the interrogator produced another paper written in Hebrew and asked me to sign it, saying it was an approval [for medical treatment], so I signed it. It turned out later that I had signed a full confession."


Children, and adults, are subjected to such measures to try to get them to become collaborators with the Israeli security service   the object being to undermine and create discord in Palestinian society. Denial of medical treatment is also used to coerce children to become collaborators. Israel is engaged in a completely illegal, immoral attempt to destroy Palestinian society.[3]

This egregious lawlessness must no longer be ignored by the world community, which international law obliges to act against such terrible abuses.




3.  "Stolen Youth," Catherine Cook, Adam Hanieh, Adah Kay. Pluto Press, London, 2004.

4.  Defence for Children International, 2009  [Source of the second picture]

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