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The Shin Bet told the judge it wasn't torturing Palestinians. The scene next door proved otherwise

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Article/book #: 377672
Title: The Shin Bet told the judge it wasn't torturing Palestinians. The scene next door proved otherwise
By: Avigdor Feldman  
Published in: Ha’aretz, volume TESTING
Date of issue: Wednesday, 03 January 2018
Topic(s) addressed: People/entities mentioned in this item:


»Many of my petitions to the High Court of Justice concerned torture, and elicited a uniform response from the state: The Shin Bet security service does not use torture. And what was the point of appealing? The interrogation in question, after all, had already concluded. From the day the interrogee’s family comes to a lawyer, and the lawyer prepares a petition worthy of being submitted – even in the case of a particularly speedy lawyer – and the petition is handed to the secretariat of the Supreme Court, and a date is set to hear the petition (if it’s not rejected outright), about six days go by. That’s enough time for the torturers to do their work and extract a true confession or a false one. My experience says that the interrogee usually cracks on the second or third day of torture, and generally because the interrogators keep saying that they won’t stop until he gives them the information he has in his possession, and because of the threats about what they will do to his wife – who is often taken into detention and made to walk past the interrogee’s cell, even if she herself is not suspected of anything.

In some cases, his elderly father is brought in, and the interrogator tells the detainee: Look how your father is suffering, you can put an end to that just by talking. It’s not the “banana” and “shabah” postures that break the interrogee’s will, it’s his anxiety for his father or his wife, coming on top of three nights of not sleeping. The interrogators are well aware that the battle against physical torture is often a misrepresentation, and that prisoners break because of lack of sleep and under psychological torture, which leaves no marks and so doesn’t appear in the clinic’s log.

Each of us, every lawyer, has heard a story like this from our Palestinian clients. The head was covered for hours with a sack reeking of urine and other excretions. They were forced to stand in the shabah posture – a term of uncertain etymology, but which definitely requires bending the back concavely. Etymologists of local Arabic are probably right to maintain that “shabah” is the way in which wild horses are tied down. Or they were forced to sit on a small chair, something like a kindergarten chair, with the seat tilted downward at an angle of about 30 degrees and the person constantly sliding down and having to pull himself up, because he’s tied to the chair, and the downward motion tightening the rope to the point of drawing blood.«

»It’s a big deal for a judge to leave the courtroom, but IDF Judge Izacksohn said, “Why not?,” and I’ll never forget him for it. The judges, the prosecutor and I – the defense counsel – along with the defendant, left the courtroom and knocked on the adjacent gray door. “Who’s there?” an irritated voice asked. “Judge Izacksohn,” the judge replied. Silence fell on the other side of the door. With a creaking sound the door opened, and we entered what appeared to me like a parallel universe, which until then I had only heard about from clients.

In the interrogation facility, the Shin Bet is king, and no one, not the Prison Service and not the Israel Police, is allowed in without permission from the Shin Bet person in charge. As the Shin Bet personnel gawked, the defendant led us through the building until he reached the interrogation room. In it was the chair in question, which was suitable for five-year-olds and whose seat was tilted forward, exactly as he’d described. We stood around the chair in a circle, as though it was a museum exhibit – which maybe it will be in a future Shin Bet museum. I think Judge Izacksohn sat on the chair, or maybe I just dreamed that. In any event, I sat on it and grasped the intensity of the suffering and pain a children’s chair can inflict on an interrogee who’s made to sit on it for an hour or a few hours. Sitting on a children’s chair is a more vicious method of torture than having one’s fingernails ripped out.

Back then, Shin Bet interrogations were not recorded in video or audio, so as to protect the confidentiality of investigations, but rather were documented in memoranda of a few lines that noted the interrogator’s alias, the interrogee’s name, the time the interrogation started and the time it concluded. Sometimes the type of sandwich that the interrogator gave the interrogee was also noted. In these records, the word “break” or “rest” occasionally showed up. Clients would relate that it was during these rests or breaks that they were subject to the most violent methods: shaking, slapping, blows to the head and being hurled into a wall. When the interrogation ended, after 30 hours, the interrogee was sent to his cell, often with a stinking bag on his head, where he would be deprived of sleep by way of blaring late-1990s disco music. It’s noteworthy that these days interrogations, which still are not recorded, are documented in somewhat more detail, sometimes four pages that sum up a 15-hour interrogation.«

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