Otherwise Occupied: The Shin Bet Provides Coffee as Well as Torture

The trial of Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar also touched on what the Shin Bet offers its ‘guests’ while they’re sleep-deprived and cuffed.

Palestinian Legislative Council member Khalida Jarrar in Ofer military court, May 2015.
Alex Levac

There are several reasons not to write about the trial of Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar that began last Monday, nearly five months after her arrest. The prosecution only managed to produce its first witnesses last week.

Lt. Col. Ronen Atzmon, the judge in the military court of appeal in Judea (“Ofer”), had already decided that Jarrar – a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council on behalf of the Abu Ali Mustafa list – should remain in custody until the end of proceedings against her, due to the severity of the charges: she visited a book fair; she attended a solidarity tent for Palestinian prisoners; she’s a member of a banned organization (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine); and she called for the abduction of soldiers (even though the witness whose words served as the basis for this charge said he wasn’t sure if she actually said it, or that’s what was said at the rally she attended). Like every other Palestinian, Jarrar should know that she’s convicted even before the trial began.

The main reason for not covering the trial is that writing about the event unfolding in the trailers at the Ofer camp is a form of collaboration with the deception at the root of this mechanism. New words are required to replace misleading terms such as “trial,” “charges,” “examination of witnesses” and “my learned friend.”

A second reason is that it’s impossible to interview Jarrar and ask her: What’s it like to sit there, in that trailer, and not understand most of the discussions about your case (since the translation from Hebrew into Arabic is so poor)? And how did you stay awake (and smile to your family) until 4 P.M., even though you were dragged out of your cell at 3 A.M. and rattled around in a bus collecting handcuffed prisoners until nearly 8 A.M.? The people attending the “trial” returned home in a state of exhaustion.

The third reason is that Jarrar isn’t the only one forced to stand trial like this, and focusing on her alone – out of the hundreds who arrive at this factory of predetermined convictions on Route 443 every week – is a form of discrimination. Maybe it would be fairer to write about the anonymous ones, those whose trials aren’t attended by representatives of the European Union, the ones who don’t interest the media?

Two of these many anonymous souls, who three years ago were sentenced to 18 months in prison for activities connected to the Popular Front, were brought in last Monday as the first prosecution witnesses. To this end, they were arrested at home 30 hours before the trial. Why arrested? Because they hadn’t received an official summons, in writing, to appear at the trial. A. denied saying during his interrogation that Jarrar had called for the abduction of soldiers. Sh. explained that the solidarity tent Jarrar had attended was not organized by the Popular Front, but by all Palestinian organizations. The military prosecutor, Netanel Yaakov-Chai, requested that they be declared hostile witnesses. The judge, Lt. Col. Zvi Heilbron, agreed.

The prosecutor wondered about the disparity between what they were saying in the trailer and what Shin Bet security service and police investigators had written they had said. The two witnesses said they had been subjected to physical and emotional pressure during their interrogations.

A. discovered that the signatures on his police statements weren’t his. The second witness told the prosecutor, “If you were ever at a Shin Bet interrogation, you’d understand.”

At the request of defense lawyers (Mohammed Hassan and Sahar Francis), Sh. provided some details: His interrogation at the Russian Compound in Jerusalem lasted about a month. He was placed on a low chair, his feet tied to a rigid plastic chair, his hands cuffed behind his back. He was prevented from sleeping for many hours, all while being kept in the cuffed position. The longest he recalled being kept like that was for four days – 20 hours in a row, with a break of one hour. He received no food while he was tied up. He did receive water to drink. When he dozed off, Shin Bet investigators took him to a shower to wake him up. When he needed to use the bathroom, he wasn’t taken straight away. He was in isolation during the entire period. The interrogators shouted at him and cursed his sisters, his dignity, his family’s honor. They threatened to prolong the interrogation and his detention if he retracted any part of his testimony (as indeed he did).

The prosecutor quoted from the (selective) memoranda written by Shin Bet interrogators, stating he was provided with food (including coffee and nuts) in the interrogation room. Witness Sh. replied that he remembered eating a piece of burekas once in the interrogation room.

The defense lawyers argued that the partial memoranda didn’t indicate what had transpired or what the witness had said, only what the interrogators had written down. There was no mention of the torture (use of a low chair, prolonged handcuffing and sleep deprivation are all considered forms of torture). His interrogation, as stated, led to 18 months in prison, as well as yielding names of more anonymous people who could be detained and interrogated without sleep, for participating in marches against the occupation, attending solidarity tents or possessing a gun. On the basis of their statements, other anonymous people could be arrested and interrogated on low chairs, while deprived of sleep and cuffed behind their backs, with written reports claiming that they received lunch and nuts.