Arafat Jaradat, 30, died while under interrogation by the Shin Bet security service. Every week dozens if not hundreds of Palestinians start down the road he began on February 18.
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Dozens of Israelis whose names are unknown are on a parallel track: the soldiers who make the arrest in the dead of night, the military doctor who examines the new detainee, Shin Bet interrogators in their changing shifts; Israel Prison Service guards, workers at the prison clinic, and the judge who extends the remand.
True, thousands of others take this road or sometimes a longer and harder one – and stay alive. This is probably what the Shin Bet and the prison service will say in their defense. But from the Palestinian perspective, every stop on the road of detention and interrogation involves enormous physical and psychological pain that the army, the police, the Shin Bet and the prison service inflict intentionally.
This goes well beyond the suffering that should be caused by taking away a person’s liberty and issuing an indictment. For years, Palestinian detainees and prisoners have complained about sleep deprivation, painful and prolonged handcuffing, humiliation, beatings and medical neglect. By international standards, this is torture.
Jaradat was not a ticking bomb. He was arrested on suspicion of throwing stones and an incendiary device at Israeli targets. After three days of interrogation the police asked the court (in the name of the Shin Bet) to extend his remand for another 15 days for questioning. The remand hearing took place on Thursday, February 21, at the Shin Bet’s Kishon interrogation facility, in front of a military judge, Maj. David Kadosh. The judge ordered the remand for 12 days.
Kamil Sabbagh, an attorney for the Palestinian Authority’s Prisoner Affairs Ministry, asked the police investigator at the hearing whether there were other suspicions against his client; he was told there were not. He asked whether Jaradat had confessed, and the police investigator answered: “partially.” Sabbagh concluded that Jaradat had confessed to throwing stones.
Experience shows that the additional days of interrogation – many, considering the minor nature of the offenses – were not intended merely to extract more confessions, but to get Jaradat to implicate others or to gather personal information, even of an embarrassing nature, to use in the future. From reports by detainees to their attorneys, it's clear that sleep deprivation combined with painful and prolonged handcuffing is very common. As we learn at military court and elsewhere, people confess to things they haven't done or implicate others falsely, only to be allowed to sleep.
In the short time Jaradat and his attorney had before the remand hearing, Jaradat, who was suffering from a herniated disc, was able to tell Sabbagh that he was in pain from prolonged sitting. Judge Kadosh knew about the pain from a secret report he had been shown.While the judge was writing his decision, Jaradat told Sabbagh that conditions were difficult for him in isolation and he wanted to be moved to another cell. Sabbagh had the impression that Jaradat was under severe psychological stress, and told the judge this.
The judge then added to his decision: “The defense attorney requests the court’s permission to present the matter of the suspect’s mental health while in a cell alone, and his concerns about psychological damage. He requests that the suspect be examined and properly attended to.”
The role of informants
The remand hearing took place at 10 A.M. Thursday. As of Sunday, Sabbagh did not know when Jaradat had been moved to Megiddo Prison, where he died. Palestinian organizations representing prisoners say one possibility is that he was placed in a cell with informants at Megiddo.
Unlike Shin Bet interrogations, which are documented in memos, the existence of informants is not officially acknowledged by the authorities. Informants use various means to extract information, whether true or false. They boast about their exploits as members of Palestinian organizations, they suggest that the detainee is a collaborator because he does not discuss his actions with them, and they threaten him.
The investigation of Jaradat’s death must go through all phases of his detention and interrogation – and those of thousands of others. But any interrogation will be flawed from the outset because, by authorization of the High Court of Justice, Shin Bet interrogations are not filmed.
Only two weeks ago, on February 6, justices Asher Grunis, Hanan Melcer and Noam Sohlberg turned down a petition by four human rights groups demanding the annulment of a 2003 law letting the police forgo the filming or audiotaping of security suspects' interrogations. The organizations also asked the court to require the Shin Bet to visually document the questioning of suspects. The justices said that because the law was now under scrutiny, “the time has not yet come to examine the petitioners’ arguments themselves.”
The Palestinians do not need an Israeli investigation. For them, Jaradat’s death is much bigger than the tragedy he and his family have suffered. From their experience, Jaradat’s death isn't proof that others haven't died, it's proof that the Israeli system routinely uses torture. From their experience, the goal of torture is not only to convict someone, but mainly to deter and subjugate an entire people.