Israel’s very own Guantanamos

The “death ride” — welcome to 21st century torture, says
Khaled Amayreh in occupied East Jerusalem

Israeli maltreatment of Palestinian captives and political
prisoners has reached unprecedented levels of brutality,
according to lawyers, human rights groups and
newly-released prisoners.

There are currently as many as 12,000 Palestinian detainees
languishing in Israeli detention camps, many of them
without charge or trial. They include hundreds of
university professors, engineers, school teachers as well
as religious and civic leaders, students, resistance
fighters and women activists.

Two years ago, the Israeli occupation authorities abducted
hundreds of democratically- elected officials, including
mayors, members of local city councils, law-makers, and
cabinet ministers, many associate with Hamas’s political
wing.

Israel employs a set of draconian laws, some dating back to
the British mandate era, to torment Palestinian prisoners.
The same laws are also used to lend a façade of legality to
other harsh treatment of Palestinians, such as house
demolitions, land confiscation and deportation.

Normally, the harsh treatment meted out to Palestinian
detainees starts in earnest with crack Israeli soldiers
raiding a given Palestinian home in the quiet hours before
dawn. There, the undisciplined soldiers normally ransack
the house, vandalise property and furniture, smash house
appliances and terrorise the entire family, before
blindfolding and handcuffing their victim and dragging him
away to a military truck that takes him to one of the
dozens of interrogation centres all over Israel and the
occupied Palestinian territories.

Upon arrival at the interrogation centre, the detainee is
instantly subjected to an array of harsh treatment
techniques designed to shock him and destroy his
psychological immunity. These include sleep deprivation and
solitary confinement as well as sporadic beating.

Then the victim is made to go through the routine technique
called shabh whereby he is forced to sit on a 25cm high
stool, with his hands tied to his back. He can be kept in
this extremely uncomfortable position for weeks or even
months except for short periods to go to the toilet and
eat.

The main purpose behind the harsh treatment is ostensibly
to extract confessions from the victim. On many occasions,
the victims confess to having committed fictitious
violations only to escape the harsh and intolerable
torture. Eventually, however, if no confessions are
extracted, the detainee is sentenced to administrative
detention, or open-ended captivity without being charged or
tried.

Torture, which the Israeli judicial authorities
euphemistically refer to as “moderate physical and
psychological pressure”, is officially sanctioned by
Israel’s law. Indeed, several Palestinian detainees have
recently died in Israeli jails either due to torture or
medical negligence. According to the Palestinian Prisoner
Club, which monitors Israeli treatment of Palestinian
prisoners in Israeli jails, 167 Palestinians have died in
Israeli custody since 1967.

However, while torture was normally performed on detainees
mainly in order to extract confessions, the Israeli prison
authorities have been using torture for the purpose of
simply tormenting and humiliating Palestinian detainees.

“Their goal is to make us suffer, to torment us, to
humiliate us. They want to punish us further for our
survival, for refusing to die and disappear as a people,
for refusing to collapse. Perhaps they think that by
tormenting us, they get the feeling that they are avenging
the holocaust, at least vicariously,” said Mohamed Abu
Zneid, from Dura, who was released recently from an Israeli
detention camp near the Egyptian borders. “But I can say
that such behaviour can only come from a sick people, a
sadistic people. Otherwise, why would normal people behave
this way?”

“Administrative detention” which is a mere euphemism for
prolonged and mostly unlawful captivity as punishment for
one’s political thoughts and attitudes has become of late
the modus operandi of Israeli treatment of Palestinian
prisoners. Today, Israel is detaining hundreds of mostly
innocent Palestinians in detention camps all over Israel,
such as the notorious Kitziot concentration camp in the
Negev desert.

A few years ago, Mustafa Shawar, a detainee at Kitziot,
informed this writer that on several occasions he had
appealed to the Jewish military “judge” at the
Treblinka-like facility to tell him why he was being
incarcerated so that he wouldn’t commit the same violation
again once he was released. Shawar, a senior lecturer at
the University of Hebron, said the judge paid no attention
to his just request. “He told me that he wouldn’t grant me
the privilege of knowing why I was in jail because, as he
said, the Jews are the masters and non-Jews are the slaves
and the chosen people are under no moral or legal
obligation to explain to the inferiors why they are being
mistreated.”

Today, Shawar is still languishing at Kitziot for the
fourth successive year, not knowing why he is being
tormented by a state that claims to be a “light unto
nations” and the “only democracy in the Middle East”.

Shawar is not an exceptional case. He epitomises the fate
of thousands of Palestinian detainees and hostages
languishing in Israeli detention camps, mostly for
harbouring ideas and thoughts that the Ashkenazi
establishment deems too dangerous.

Similarly, Azzam Salhab, professor of comparative religion
at Hebron University, has been languishing in the same
desert concentration camp for eight years on vague charges
such as “constituting a danger to the safety and security
of Israel and the Jewish people.”

According to the Nafha Society, a human rights group
defending Palestinian prisoners’ rights, the Israeli
occupation authorities issue dozens of administrative
detention orders per month.

Earlier, this week, the Israeli army renewed the
“administrative detention” for Radi Sami Al-Asi for
additional six months. Al-Asi, a journalist from the
northern West Bank town of Nablus, was arrested on
unspecified charges. However, when it became clear that
there was no evidence indicting him, the Israeli military
judge decided to sentence him to six months in jail,
renewable for as long as the occupation authorities deem
fit. So far, Al-Asi has spent more than 38 months in
administrative detention without knowing why.

Farhat Asad, a 40-year-old father of three children from
Ramallah, was sentenced to a sixth term of administrative
detention on 16 June. All in all, Asad has spent more than
100 months in administrative detention.

According to Tawhid Shaaban, a prominent lawyer from East
Jerusalem, some detainees have spent nine years in Israeli
captivity without charge or trial. “Yes, this happens in a
state that claims to be the only democracy in the Middle
East.”

The so-called “death ride” is one of the most agonising and
nightmarish experiences a detainee undergoes. It starts
with a sudden raid of a given ward by the notorious Nahshon
squad, which is specialised in repressing Palestinian
prisoners in Israeli jails. Then a prisoner or several
prisoners are ordered to board an extremely filthy, hot and
nearly hermetically sealed white vehicle, allegedly in
order to appear before a judge several hundred kilometres
away. The hateful vehicle would move very slowly from one
prison to the other to carry additional prisoners,
including dangerous Jewish criminals. The car would stop
every hour for refreshment, while the inmates are sweating
in the back chamber.

The nightmarish journey, which could last for 24 hours, is
first and foremost meant to make the prisoners suffer as
much as possible in the oven-like metal chamber where there
is very little oxygen. The prisoners are barred from using
toilets for close to 16 hours, and some are forced to
urinate and defecate inside the lock-up car.

Saed Yassin, a human rights activist describes the “death
ride” as “an intolerable and unbearable form of torture.
They don’t treat you as a human being but as cattle or a
piece of luggage. People are left to rot and suffer in
these oven- like chambers for up to 24 hours without food,
without water, and with very little oxygen. And if they
want to torment a given person, he is forced to undergo
this nightmare every few days.”

In addition to the death ride, the Israeli Prison Authority
has been introducing additional forms of punishments, aimed
at breaking the prisoner’s will. These include barring
family visits for an extended period of times for the
slightest and pettiest violation of outstanding
instructions.

Moreover, the Israeli occupation authorities have been
barring family visits for more than 900 Gazan prisoners in
Israeli jails under the pretext of the 18-month harsh
blockade which Israel has been imposing in Gaza. The Red
Cross asked Israel on several occasions to allow Gazans to
visit their beloved ones, but to no avail.

Israel recently resorted to “unorthodox tactics” to harass
Palestinian prisoners, including raiding and vandalising
their homes and mistreating their wives and children,
imposing hefty financial fines on them, and carrying out
surprise searches usually after midnight.

Last week, lawyers and newly-released prisoners reported
that the Israeli Prison Authorities have naked Jewish
women, probably prostitutes, harass prisoners, especially
religious inmates, through sexually suggestive behaviour. A
spokesman for the prison authorities refused to confirm or
deny the revelation.

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