Sanctioning Terror: Israeli Death Squads and Torture Chambers

by Anthony Harris

	Another prisoner has failed to survive his interrogation in an
Israeli detention facility.  Abd al-Samed Hreizat, a 30 year-old
computer expert from Hebron, was arrested at his home on April 22.(1)
Three days later, after examination by the Shin Bet, the Israeli
security service, he was dead.  His death was described by Scottish
pathologist Derrick Pounder as "unnatural and...a result of torture."(2)
The particular means of torture was identified as a Shin Bet
trademark.(3)
	According to the Israeli government, a campaign of suicide
bombings by the radical Muslim group Hamas had prompted them to
officially relax restrictions on interrogation procedures last
November.(4) Prior to the bombings, only the use of "moderate physical
pressure' was officially sanctioned.
	Even under these old rules, several other detainees are known
to have died.(5) According to an investigation by Amnesty International,
"moderate physical pressure" includes "beatings all over the body,
often severe and sometimes concentrated on sensitive areas such as the
genitals....sleep and food deprivation....Other methods include
burning with cigarettes, prolonged denial of access to toilets,...and
forms of sexual harassment, particularly with regard to women
detainees."(6) There is also prolonged bondage in painful positions,                   
forcing interogees to wear filthy (and sometimes wet) sacks over the
head which restrict breathing.  This is not an exhaustive listing.
Nevertheless, these methods seen as ultimately viewed as too weak and
limited yielded to the methods experienced by Mr. Hreizat.
	Only half of Shin Bet interrogations lead to trials (7), implying
that a large number of people who undergo interrogation are not
considered by the Shin Bet to be criminals.  Of those who do go to
court, the overwhelming majority are convicted on the basis of
confessions.(8) In 1982, interrogators were given guidelines by upper
echelons of the security service on how to falsify testimony regarding
the circumstances of the confessions.(9) In June 1987, perjury became
forbidden.(10)
	One year later, the Shin Bet began exploring other avenues of
opportunity: While assassinations were never beyond the purview of the
agency, they were now carried out with a distinct psychological
flavor: Four months after the start of the Intifada, death squads
began operating in the Occupied Territories.  On April 2, 1988, seven
agents in civilian dress, wearing kuffiyehs as masks, arrived at the
Kurdi family butcher shop in the Gaza strip.  They jumped out of the
back of a van and began beating members of the family.  They finally
killed three family members using automatic pistols and wounded four
others.(11)
	Similar scenes were repeated in subsequent years.  This has
proven to be an effective means of terrorizing the Palestinian
population because activists and their supporters understand that any
activity drawing the attention of the security service could have
sudden and terminal consequences.
	In 1993, the Israeli military adopted the practice of
bombarding neighborhoods in the pursuit of suspected militants.(12) The
residents are evacuated from the area where the fugitive is believed
to be hiding.  He is given the opportunity to surrender, and failing
to do so, witnesses the surrounding buildings collapse on him.  This
has served the army well.  For a populace potentially sympathetic to
the struggle of the militants, not knowing the time or circumstance of
having one's home destroyed has smartly contributed to the atmosphere
of terror cultivated by Israeli security forces.
	Despite protests by human rights organizations, Israeli
reliance on death-squads, terrorism, and torture has been actively
ignored both by the popular press and by the U.S. government.  This
situation seems rather farcical in light of the confession by Israeli
General Ilan Biran to the newspaper Haaretz last month, that the
army's objective in dealing with suspected militants is to kill them
rather than to arrest them.(13) General Biran's temerity certainly
reveals a truth about the level of commitment American politicians
have toward human rights issues.
	The U.S. currently provides the Israeli government with 3
billion dollars a year in foreign aid, with no conditions linked to
human rights.(14)


Footnotes

1. "Israel Begins Inquiry on Death of Palestinian Held for 3 Days" New
York Times, April 26 1995.  

2. "Israeli General Says Soldiers Must Kill Wanted Militants," New
York Times, April 29, 1995.

3. "Doctor Says Snapping of Head Killed Palestinian Held in Israel"
New York Times, May 1 1995.

4. "Israel Begins Inquiry on Death of Palestinian Held for 3 Days" New
York Times, April 26 1995.

5. Ibid.  

6. "Israel and the Occupied Territories," Amnesty International, July
1991, p. 58.  

7. Finding of the Landau Commission, the report of the Israeli
government "Commission of Inquiry into the Methods of Investigation of
the General Security Service Regarding Hostile Terrorist Activity," as
reported in "Israel and the Occupied Territories," p. 51

8. Ibid, paragraph 2.20 of the Commission report.

9. Ibid, paragraph 2.21 of the Commission report.  

10. Ibid, p.52.

11. "Targeting to Kill: Israel"s Undercover Units," Palestine Human
Rights Information Center, May, 1992, p.1.  

12. "Israeli General Says Soldiers Must Kill Wanted Militants," New
York Times, April 29, 1995.

13. "Lethal House Calls," Time (International Edition), July 19, 1993.

14. "Israeli General Says Soldiers Must Kill Wanted Militants," New York
Times, April 29, 1995.  15Congressional Quarterly Almanac (1994),
Vol. XLIX (Congressional Quarterly, Inc: Washington, DC), p. 518.




[thistle homepage] [Volume 9] [9.6 - contents]