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.