Double standard on torture
We hear about IDF troops, Border Police officers and Israel Police officers who have been prosecuted and punished for abusing Palestinians. Only the Shin Bet is innocent.
About two weeks ago, we learned that for the first time in more than 20 years, justice was done for a victim of torture in Israel.
In a disciplinary hearing, a senior official of the Shin Bet security service who used certain “interrogation methods” (read: moderate physical pressure – or, in other words, torture) was convicted of unbecoming conduct and dismissed.
But before the bleeding hearts start applauding and elements of the right wing start planning a “price-tag” attack, let me hasten to add that the victim was not a Palestinian. The victim was a woman soldier, a reservist (as reported by Gili Cohen in Haaretz, “Shin Bet officer quits after admitting sexual harassment of female officer,” August 23). Her superior selected her as a model for demonstrating “methods for putting pressure on suspects under interrogation” that are customary in the Shin Bet.
Phew, we can relax. Shin Bet interrogators can keep on torturing – at least as long as Palestinians are in the picture. Recently, the High Court of Justice also made a contribution that helps perpetuate torture among the Shin Bet: It approved a mechanism that was apparently created to ensure that no complaint of torture by a Palestinian would ever lead to a criminal investigation – to say nothing of prosecution. This "mechanism" is the appointment of an ombudsman for interrogees' complaints. This person would investigate each complaint and submit conclusions to the State Attorney’s Office, which would decide what to do about the case. Invariably, it closes them.
True, there are some facts that no one disagrees with. Being forced to bend backwards until you feel like your back is breaking, being deprived of sleep for days on end, sustaining slaps and blows, having handcuffs fastened so tightly that they draw blood, enduring humiliations and threats – international law describes all these using one simple word: torture. Yet the High Court of Justice asks: What is wrong with filtering out false complaints? Nothing, except that this "mechanism" sees nothing wrong with any act of cruelty as long the perpetrator is a member of the Shin Bet and the victim is a Palestinian. Neither the ombudsman nor his supervisors (first and foremost the attorney general) has ever ordered a criminal investigation into any one of the 800 complaints that have been filed.
We hear about IDF troops, Border Police officers and Israel Police officers who have been prosecuted and punished for abusing Palestinians. Only Shin Bet interrogators, without exception, are as innocent as angels and pure as the driven snow.
Although the judges of the High Court are aware of the statistical absurdity, they still choose to treat the cancer of torture with nothing but painkillers. If the ombudsman were to move from the Shin Bet and to the Justice Ministry, the problem would be solved. I believe that they know, that everybody knows, that nothing will change. The interrogators will keep on torturing, the State Attorney’s Office will keep on whitewashing complaints and maintaining the interrogators’ innocence, and the High Court of Justice will keep on providing legal legitimacy to systematic torture.
The biblical verse “The more they [the Egyptians] tormented them [the Israelites], the more they multiplied and spread out” (Exodus 1:12) may not refer to the Palestinians, but I understand it as having universal meaning. Torture does not prevent terrorism. Torture damages the morality of the torturer and the body and soul of the victim. Torture reflects and perpetuates the view of the "other" as unworthy of being treated as a human being; it also decreases the chances of breaking the cycle of fear, hatred and moral decay.
The various officials – from the ombudsman, the State Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General to Knesset members and judges of the High Court of Justice – who turn a blind eye should look in the mirror every once in a while. They should tell themselves: Thanks to us, torture exists in the State of Israel. We have become like Pharaoh.
Dr. Yuval Ginbar serves as a senior adviser to the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel.