Opinion

'My Shin Bet Interrogation Prepared Me for Israeli Prison'

Journalist Lama Khater after her release from prison, October 3, 2019.
Amira Hass

The Shin Bet security service did not answer my question as to whether the suspicions against Lama Khater of Hebron — of civil activity in Hamas — warranted such great use of its abuse skills: 10 interrogators, being tied to a low chair for 20 hours straight, sleep deprivation and a doctor who dispensed painkillers and then returned Khater to her torturers.

For lack of space, I omitted this question from my article published here Saturday. I left in another question, also unanswered: Don’t sleep denial and prolonged restraint in painful positions constitute illegal torture practices? It’s a rhetorical question: They are definitely considered torture. There isn’t even the excuse that the detainee is a “ticking bomb.” Not even close.

“The soldiers didn’t even search the house [in other words, without spilled rice and clothes in a pile, with broken chairs and a smashed television] as they do when weapons activity is suspected,” said Khater’s husband, Hazem al-Fakhouri, when his wife was still in prison.

In order to comply with my word limit I omitted other details. Shortening a text can improve it, but in some cases, such as this one, they pose a burden. Did the courage that is needed to endure 35 days of torture and isolation from the world come through? And what it’s like to be held in a filthy solitary confinement cell and to be in restraints for 10 or 20 hours a day, while the interrogators, sons of God that they are, attempt to extort from you confirmation that you organized a demonstration or a meeting of a women’s committee? And maybe even 5,000 words would be insufficient for a society content with a diet of statements issued by spokesmen for the security establishment.

“Being cut off from anyone who was not the enemy was particularly difficult,” said Khater. During her 35 days of interrogation she saw representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross twice. She met three times with a lawyer, who was allowed to see her immediately after her arrest.

Khater's three-year-old Yihya at the entrance of Ofer Military Court before her remand was extended.
Mahmoud Ateeq / Courtesy of the family

Had she been suspected of grave security offenses, she would have been prevented from meeting with him for a prolonged period of time. After all these meetings, she said, “It was hard to think that they were returning home, to the normal world, while I was returning to the interrogation.” That is, returning to be tied to a low elementary-school chair for another five or 15 hours, to the threats, insults and screams of another Shin Bet interrogator.

Another sentence that I was forced to delete: the threats (“We won’t let your children travel abroad to study”) and the legally permitted abuse that stiffened Khater’s resolve not to say what the Shin Bet demanded that she say. So you’re taking revenge? she asked, and the interrogator replied: “It’s all within the law.”

As part of the psychological pressure they showed her video of her husband crying after one of her custody extensions by a military judge. She told the interrogator: “My husband is not ashamed to show his feelings, and his crying only increases my love for him.”

Fakhouri is from a bereaved family. In 1994 Dr. Baruch Goldstein of Kiryat Arba murdered his brother Hatem and another 28 worshippers in the Ibrahim Mosque in Hebron.

When soldiers arrested Khater, her 2-year-old son Yihya saw her leave, dressed to go out, with what he thought were ordinary people. Since then, whenever she gets dressed to leave the house he fears she will disappear on him again. Two additional details that were omitted from the first article.

Where would you rather go, to a prison of the Palestinian Authority or of Israel, one of the interrogators asked her, and was surprised to hear that she preferred a Palestinian prison. “I have a political disagreement with the PA, but they’re my people. Of course a Palestinian prison is preferable to being imprisoned by the enemy,” she said.

Lama Khater, second from left, her husband Hazem al-Fakhouri and their daughters upon her release from prison on July 26, 2019.
Mahmoud Ateeq / Courtesy of the family

In her articles she criticizes the PA and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. When she was interrogated, she was careful not to be dragged into “saying bad things about Abu Mazen,” she said, referring to Abbas by his nickname. The interrogators tried to engage her in political or religious discussions about Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Jewish Temple that has been “proven historically” to have been there first, or about resistance to the occupation.

She reminded them: I’m not free here. But apparently she found it hard to avoid responding. “We don’t even have one percent in common, if in your eyes the place most sacred to us [Al-Aqsa] is not one of our rights,” she says she told the interrogator. She sensed that some of the interrogators were not observant Jews. One joked about the Day of Judgment. “I told him that the world here (on Earth) is not very important to me. What’s important to me is the world to come.”

Her sentence, 13 months in prison, is very light in the punishment market of the military court and indicates the minor nature of the offense. She ended up spending 12 months in prison. For over one-tenth of her time in prison, our excellent boys from the Shin Ben investigation division in the Ashkelon prison tortured her.

“The sights of my interrogation don’t leave me,” she told me. When she was transferred to Damon Prison, in northern Israel, she told the other female prisoners: “For a person who lives her life for freedom, it’s hard to be in prison. My husband doesn’t force me to do anything. There’s nobody who forces me to do things I don’t want to do. And suddenly I’m here. Had I not experienced the interrogation, I wouldn’t have been able to tolerate prison.”