Torture, Israelis know and accept it.


An Israeli soldier takes pictures of a soldier as he aims his rifle towards Palestinian teenagers during clashes at Qalandiya checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah, 9 February 2007. (Khaled Jarrar/MaanImages)

Thanks to the Israeli press, people in Israel are informed regularly about their government’s mistreatment of the 4.5 million Palestinians under their rule. Most of the information regarding the occupation of Palestine and the oppression of its people is well documented and accurately reported in the Israeli press. But even the most serious offenses are given a “kosher” stamp, so to speak, once the word “security” is attached to them.

There are ample examples of this, but few are as striking as the one provided in the March 23rd issue of the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot. In this issue, there is an interview with the retired Chief Interrogator of the Shabak, Israel’s internal secret security service, 79-year-old Arieh Hadar. Mr. Hadar admits to acts taken by the Israeli internal secret security service that have never before been revealed publicly.

Were Israel to be the democracy it claims to be, this man would be put on trial, or at least beg for amnesty in exchange for the damning testimony he provided. If Israel had the least amount of respect for human and civil rights, this interview would lead to an investigation and perhaps even arrests. But in the Jewish democracy men and women of this kind are above the law, and beyond incrimination. In Israel, the security apparatus is a sanctified system that no one dares to question, it is a world of shadowy heroes to whom Israelis are made to believe they owe their lives. Mr. Hadar is interviewed as a hero who served his country instead of a villain that brought it shame.

Most of the interview deals with violations of civil rights of Israelis, violations that took place in the early years of the state due mostly to the paranoia and McCarthyist tendencies of Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. Examples of blacklisting civil servants and military personnel who did not tow the line with Ben Gurion’s party Mapai; opening voting ballots to ensure that retribution followed dissent; and breaking and entering to dig up information on people deemed by Ben Gurion and others in the party as “enemies of the state.”

But as the interview continues, Mr. Hadar also touches on the issue of torture as part of the interrogation process. He mentions cases of interrogations where his agents lied in court about getting confessions through torture. “Since the suspects were Arabs the judges would always take our word over theirs” he says and continues to say that he found “Arabs were often glad to be slapped a few times” because it gave them an excuse to turn against their people and collaborate with the interrogators. He typically refrains from using the “P” word and refers to Palestinians only as Arabs or as terrorists.

This hero of the state who obviously takes pride in his work continues: As the work load increased around 1967 due to the increase of security threats involving “Arabs”, there was an increase in the use of physical force, which he says he regrets but claims that they had no other choice then, nor does any other choice exist today.

Mr. Hadar was not confessing his crimes in the interview, but rather priding himself in his good work. He describes an instance where a suspected terrorist was in the hospital after being shot. “He had one tube in his vein and a one going from his nose to his abdomen … the doctor on duty understood what we wanted, turned his back and said: ‘you do your work and I will do mine.’ At that moment I began tugging at the tubes. The suspect understood we meant business and immediately began to talk.”

According to this report, it is not only permissible to use torture even though it is illegal, it is also acceptable for a doctor, who has taken the Hippocratic oath (or is it an oath of hypocrisy) to turn a blind eye while these illegal acts are taking place. Clearly such a confession given by a high-ranking security official in Israel demonstrates one thing: that he knows he will never be brought to justice for his crimes.

Indeed Hadar was summoned in 1984 to appear before a commission that investigated the Shabak following summary executions of Palestinians who kidnapped a bus in Israel. He says he told the commission that: “applying physical pressure is clearly illegal, but regrettably there is no other option. I explained that these means, including hitting, sleep deprivation, mock executions, and exposure to extreme weather conditions for many hours were the only means at our disposal for getting to the truth … I told the commission that I do not feel good about it but someone had to do it.” In other words, it’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

Sadly, it seems that Israeli society has accepted the role of partner in crime with people like Mr. Hadar. What separates Israel from its neighbors is not democracy or respect for human and civil rights: it is the discriminatory fashion by which these rights are denied. The insistence that acts of torture are illegal but inevitable and excusable in the context of Israeli security, point to Palestinians as the only possible victims.

Is there a crack in the wall?

“Getting inside the official Israeli mind is a worthwhile, if lurid, experience,” the late Edward Said wrote in his article “Dignity, Solidarity and the Penal Colony.” This is what it feels like when one is trying to understand the Middle East peace process that never seems to lead to anything. Observing this never ending saga, one can hardly help reaching the realization that peace is not a priority for Israel, and indeed Israeli governments have made no secret of the fact that a peace that precludes Israel’s complete control over historic Palestine is of no interest to them.

There is not a shred of evidence that can support Israeli claims of wanting to achieve peace based on the division of historic Israel/Palestine into two independent states. Israel has skillfully used the last 40 years to strengthen its hold on the areas occupied in 1967 and create a de facto apartheid state in all of Israel/Palestine. Consecutive Israeli governments bluntly use the so-called peace process to cover up expansion into the West Bank and execution of what has been called the slow genocide of the Palestinian people.

The decision by the Israeli Supreme Court to move the separation barrier and return land back to the people of Bil’in brought a sense that justice was carried out. Indeed this decision may constitute the first crack in the separation wall, and even to an extent a crack in the armor of the almighty Israeli “defense” forces. The leaders of the struggle held fast and did not compromise their objectives or their integrity and they have much of which they can proud. However, it is unlikely that the barrier will be moved or the land returned. 

For the last 60 years Israel has been intent on “The obliteration of an entire people by slow systematic methods of suffocation, outright murder and the stifling of everyday life” to use the words Edward Said. No branch of the Israeli government will admit to the illegitimacy of the occupation of Palestine; they will never admit to crimes they committed like the theft of land or the murder of innocent civilians and consequently, the “Defense” Department will not be bound by a Supreme Court’s decision that goes against its intent. 

At the same time it is important to note that this behemoth of a system called the Israeli “Defense” Forces is showing signs of crumbling. The Israeli military of today is not unlike the Red Army during the final years of the Soviet Union, where all that was left was the appearance of a superpower. The Israeli military is plagued by a severe lack of motivation among young recruits and increased numbers of young people avoiding the otherwise mandatory draft; according to recent stories in the Israeli press drug abuse is rampant everywhere in the army and particularly among Israel’s combat “elite” units. While the drug problem is not new (drugs were rampant in the IDF even 20 years ago) its use among combat units involved in daily operations is reported to have dramatically increased. This is hardly surprising if we consider the fact that “combat” is another word for abuse, murder and displacement of unarmed civilians. 

To compound this, the IDF was severely defeated last summer during its assault on Lebanon. It was a military as well as a moral defeat, and Israel’s commanders were totally humiliated by Hizballah. In Gaza the military has also proven to be inept. Even with massive use of force the IDF cannot stop the rockets launched from Gaza into Israel. Only recently several dozen new army recruits were injured by a rocket that fell in a large army base near Zikkim, just north of Gaza. And finally, with all of their intelligence the IDF is incapable of finding the soldier Gilad Shalit who is being held captive in Gaza. In light of all this, can there be any wonder that Israeli officers find diversion in drugs?

Edward Said refers to the Israeli military as “brigades of willing executioners,” and frankly, one cannot blame him. In a recent story in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot a young tank commander describes a “battle” against three suspected “gunmen” near the wall that imprisons Gaza: “the first one was caught in the chains of my tank (and crushed to death), the second we nailed and the others escaped.” The young lieutenant is congratulated by his commanding officer for courage and resourcefulness but warned that a tank should shoot from 1.5 km and not at close range. “This was practically hand-to-hand combat,” says the commander. 

One has to wonder, if these “gunmen” were only suspects why they were executed. If indeed they were armed, how was it that the tank managed to get so close? But the larger question answered in this particular report is this: Why are Israeli tanks still in Gaza? According this report, Israel claims 300 meters inside Gaza as a security zone (on the Gaza side of the wall) and will not permit anyone to come near.

As we engage in this lurid experience of trying to understand Israel, we cannot escape the conclusion that Israel has no intention to end the occupation. There is no plan to release Palestinians from their bondage or allow the emergence of a democracy that includes Palestinian freedom. The joint, nonviolent struggle must therefore continue until full equal rights for both people are achieved in all of Israel/Palestine. It will be an uphill battle. Just they did in Bil’in, the savage beast that is the Israeli military will react to nonviolence with as much violence as it possibly can.