Over at Pierre Tristam’s lair, Pierre posted an article by Robert Fisk about the Lebanon War and Winograd. As always, he excoriates Israel and blesses its enemies. I decided to, um, critique the article and as part of this exercise ended up in a debate about whether Israel should be supported by the United States. My point, simply, was that Israel shares many values with the United States and deserves our support, particularly when compared to many, many other countries that receive support from or trade with us.

To make it clear to me that Israel is indeed evil and does not warrant our support, Linda, who was having the discussion with me, brought up a stump of an article from The Guardian that tells us that two Israeli human rights organizations had accused Israel of engaging in torture, in violation of international law and in violation of Israel’s own laws as defined in a 1999 decision by the High Court of Justice. I had seen some articles with these accusations because hundreds of newspapers worldwide had picked up the press release from B’Tselem. Almost none of the articles I had seen, however, listed more than a couple of sentences from the Justice Ministry’s response. I knew it was a detailed response because a news report on NPR had mentioned this detail. So I decided to look around and found B’Tselem’s report as well as the attacked response by the Justice Ministry, which is indeed detailed. I am enclosing my response to Linda here because I think it’s important that this issue is discussed: torture is unacceptable and must be avoided…just as false or unfair accusations of torture are unacceptable.

Here’s my response to Linda:

Linda, sorry it took so long to get back to you but I was busy reading a couple of news reports from sources that at least bothered to look a little deeper into this torture accusation. I was also busy reading the actual report and the Israel Justice Ministry’s detailed response denying most of the accusations.

1. Full report (the Ministry’s response is included in the final several pages).

2. Article with some highlights of the story including a few news sources other than the Guardian:

What I learned was interesting. The most important fact to my mind is that B’Tselem and HaMoked, the two Israeli human rights organizations that successfully spread this press release around the globe, opted not to sue the state, the Israel Security Agency, any interrogators or bring the matter up before the Israeli High Court. These are groups that don’t hesitate to file suits when they wish and the foundation of this report is that Israel is violating the HCG ruling of 1999 disallowing any form of torture except in the extreme circumstances of a “ticking bomb.”

The report also acknowledges that it isn’t a representative sample of interrogations and that their methodology involved pro-actively approaching Palestinian prisoners to inquire about how they were treated. Crucially, these organizations purposely chose prisoners who were arrested immediately following a suicide murder bombing in an Israeli town where some Israelis were killed and injured. In other words, immediately following an attack on Israelis civilians, the ISA went into action with the army to detain suspects and interrogate them to learn who was involved and whether another attack was being planned. According to the Justice Ministry, these interrogations were successful in foiling new attacks and arresting the perpetrators.

Despite the prisoner selection process undertaken by these organizations to show that Israel tortures prisoners, and despite the fact that there is no corroborating evidence and no names have been provided to Israel so that it can actually check the allegations, and despite the fact that the Justice Ministry point blank denies many of the allegations, what I found incredible was the description of the “torture.”

Did you envision some heavy set man standing above a prisoner beating him? Do you envision a rack? Perhaps you see them sitting there with bags over their heads or lying in piles of naked bodies? Nope, none of these things happened. Perhaps you picture electrodes attached to genitals or bodies mutilated by devices or beatings? Nope, that’s not the “torture” described. Maybe you think of Chinese water torture types of torture or rape? Nope.

No. They claim that the food was shitty, that prisoners were strip-searched, that handcuffs were too tight, that prisoners were forced into solitary confinement for the first month or so after being apprehended, that sleep was hard to come by sometimes because during sleep guards would awaken the prisoners to take them to the showers (that’s right, taking them to the showers!!!!!!!!!!!), and being placed in the relatively nicer quarters of the so-called “informants” bloc. And the hard stuff? On rare occasions (in this sample about 5 or 6 times out of 73 prisoners interviewed) single slaps to the face, chest or back of the neck on the first day of interrogation never to be repeated again. In two or three cases, they placed the prisoner on their tippy toes in a crouching position and then pushed them over. And the worst? They tied the prisoners tightly to chairs during the interrogation hourse and on rare occasions would pull them forward so their arms and shoulders hurt.

In all these descriptions, the two organizations’ report acknowledges that these methods differ from the methods used prior to 1999. In other words, the ISA absorbed the Court’s decision and implemented it. It’s just that, as these organizations point out, THEY disagree with parts of the court’s ruling and consider the ISA to be corrupt because it won’t accept that it has accepted what they call wrong-doing.

Don’t take my word for it. Do what I did and read the report and then the Justice Ministry’s response. The link is provided above.

If these organizations believe what they wrote, why not go to the High Court? They’d get a fair hearing. Or is it easier to go to the media where the other side won’t even be heard.

The Justice Ministry’s response takes pains to outline the independence of their chief investigator in these matters and the number of committees which stand above the ISA and control such incidents.

By the way, my personal opinion is that if the ISA is violating any part of the HCJ ruling on torture and is actually torturing people, then those parties responsible should be tried in court and subjected to internal demotion and punishment. I am having trouble understanding what B’Tselem and HaMoked are driving at, however. If someone blows themselves up, it means that there is a cell operating successfully and they’ve been able to penetrate Israeli security. If anything, the methods used as described in the report seemed mild and time-consuming to me considering the urgency of identifying the perpertrators.

Not to worry though, Linda, this report is accepted as gospel around the world now and Israel is made to look evil yet again. You and a couple of Pierre’s readers who bother to read this are – along with me – the only parties who have heard an argument dissembling, in a rough and brief manner, the report’s main claims. I’m sure you’re pleased to be better informed, however.

I guess it’s on Jewlicious now as well, so maybe another 14 people will hear about my viewpoint.

About the author



  • Just to clarify my friend’s introduction above, “As always, he excoriates Israel and blesses its enemies.” It’s Fisk who excoriates Israel and blesses its enemies, not me; I usually excoriate Israel in most regards involving its regional relations, but I’m very far from blessing its enemies. Always good to read you TM (and the larger community here), whatever the circumstances.

  • Interesting post, Middle, though I wonder about your criticisms of the human rights groups– they’re advocacy organizations, are they not? The sort of balancing test you invoke in your penultimate paragraph– terror threat versus interrogation technique– is the sort of thing policymakers and courts do. Meanwhile, let the advocacy groups raise issues and ask questions. It’s their function. They can hardly be blamed for resorting to the media. And are they somehow bound by Israeli court rulings to remain silent?

    B’Tselem, Amnesty International and others may at times overreact, and even flat out get it wrong. But your tone here is something I’d expect from Rumsfeld about Gitmo.

  • Tom, I wish I could get the press attention Rumsfeld got. Sadly, it’s B’Tselem getting the attention. When I googled this report, it appeared in over 200 newspapers across the globe. Most of them carried reports like the Guardian stump that didn’t give any color to the report whatsoever and none that I saw actually questioned any part of it. It was as if this report was writ in stone and blessed by a higher power.

    I understand what these groups are after and I understand why they want it. I don’t advocate torture and I don’t justify it. If the ISA is breaking the law, it and its members should be punished. However, after reading the report, it seems to me that the ISA has absorbed the High Court’s ruling and is doing their best to apply it. From the report, it seems to me that despite all of the accusations made by these groups, there may have been two or three instances – if true!!! We don’t know because no names are given and it’s not as if the prisoners couldn’t talk to each other since the questionnaire took many days to apply – where the Banana position was applied. That is torture and inexcusable. How can we check whether the claims are true or not? The reason 200+ papers picked up the story is that it plays into preconceived ideas about Israel and its supposed brutality. That still doesn’t make it true and all these groups had to do is take it to the supreme court. Why haven’t they?

    It seems to me that these groups are causing grave harm to Israel by sending out these torture accusations to the global community. They know it and so at the very least isn’t it time that they were challenged? They describe a scene where soldiers beat up a Palestinian suspect before getting him to prison. They claim this is pre-softening (by the way, the Justice Ministry vehemently denies this accusation). Anyway, as part of the story, the groups tells us that his arrest was due to his walking around with an AK-47 and ammo. Did they expect the soldiers to treat him gently?

    What is worse is that in order to manipulate the reader, they describe prisoners as “father of one” or “father of two.” This has nothing to do with their claims about torture but it makes for excellent propaganda.

  • You make a convincing case that B’Tselem’s claims are exaggerated. But I can’t agree this causes “grave harm” to Israel.

    I suspect Israel’s enemies will believe what they wish about the Zionist Entity, and don’t need to take their cue from B’Tselem. Airing these things out, debating them, only reflects credit upon Israel. How do you think Arab neighbors of Israel react when they tune in Israeli TV and see MKs eviscerating one another, and Olmert criticized in the strongest terms? I’ll bet with no small amount of envy.

    And we should have enough respect for Western audiences, even lefty ones, to assume they recognize the workings of a free society when they see it.

  • Uh, I have to tell you that the lefty ones often don’t get it. They are in reflexive anti-Israel mode in the way one used to see the far-Right. It is very disheartening…and reports such as these have played a significant role in this development.

    Between reports such as this and the Winograd Report, one has to be proud of Israel’s democracy and press. Now if we could just get rid of the politicians.

Leave a Comment