Rights groups back Palestinians
By Sophie Claudet in Tel Aviv
AFP - June 27, 2004
HOODED and with his hands bound behind his back and his feet shackled, the "Palestinian security prisoner" tottered on a miniature stool in a square outside a cinema in downtown Tel Aviv.
After being released from the so-called shabah position, Israeli human rights activist Shabtai Gold said that he had already developed "breathing difficulties and a stiff neck".
Mr Gold's organisation, the Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, was among a number of rights groups trying to raise awareness last night in Tel Aviv of what they say is an increasing and systematic use of torture on Palestinian prisoners.
But an angry member of the crowd shouted: "If we didn't do that, we wouldn't catch the terrorists."
"Most torture techniques have come back with the intifada", said Hanna Friedman of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, referring to the Palestinian uprising that broke out in September 2000.
"One can talk of the systematic torture of Palestinian prisoners."
She said torture had momentarily disappeared after a 1999 Supreme Court ruling against the internationally-banned interrogation techniques, except in cases when security forces deal with so-called "ticking bombs," or suicide bombers.
"People don't want to see, understand or speak about it," said Doctor Ruchama Marton as she explained the physical damages caused by torture to a sparse audience at a Tel Aviv teach-in outside an arts cinema on yesterday - the UN-sponsored International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
"This position damages kidneys, the spine and shoulders," she said in reference to the "punishment" meted out to Mr Gold.
"It also distorts the tendons in the arms and legs," said Dr Marton, founder of the Physicians for Human Rights group and a psychiatrist by training. "Most of the damage is irreversible but the trick is that you can't see it. There is no blood, cuts or bruises.
"There are psychological effects as well, which can also be irreversible."
Other torture techniques demonstrated included forcing the handcuffed detainee to squat in the "frog position" or "kambaz" or tying his hands and feet together behind his back, lying face down on the ground - the banana position.
"People look shocked but go on their way as if it were all a bunch of lies," said Rivka, one of the few members of the audience that made a point of turning up to the event.
The organisers made no secret that they had chosen the time and venue to coincide with the end of a movie "so that we would get a crowd," said Mr Gold.
Other routine forms of torture include severe beating and kicking, sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme heat, cold and loud music, as well as continuous exposure to artificial light, organisers said.
George Abu Zulof from Defence for Children International-Palestine highlighted the torture of teenagers, who can be arrested as young as 12 and are treated as adults after 16. "Unlike Israelis who are legally considered children until they are 18," he said.
"According to our statistics, more than 90 per cent of children sign a confession within the first 48 hours of their arrest. We have a big question mark about this," he said, also blasting "cases of sexual abuse."
Palestinians are usually first arrested by the army and, depending on the severity of the case, later interrogated by Israel's internal secret services, the Shin Beth.
"The IDF (army) operates in accordance with international law regarding the treatment of prisoners and we completely refute any claim of abuse," an army spokesman told AFP.
"The IDF is not the only organisation which may investigate prisoners or detainees suspected of involvement in terrorist activities."
The Shin Beth was not immediately available for comment.
Around 6000 Palestinians, mostly males, are currently detained in Israeli jails - among them 380 teenagers.
Israel is a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture, with some reservations, and to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Cases of torture were also reported in Palestinian-run jails, mostly before the intifada.