Palestinian Detainee Abuse during Operation Cast Lead – by Stephen Lendman
On July 6, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PACTI) and Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel released a report titled, “Exposed: The Treatment of Palestinian Detainees During Operation Cast Lead,” detailing their horrific treatment.
Transferred to Israel for interrogation, detainees related grim details of their ordeal – grave human rights violations, showing Israel’s “contempt for the rule of law.”
Their “fundamental due process rights were trampled on and the rule of law brutally disregarded during and after the fighting,” providing compelling evidence of collective punishment since Israel’s 2005 “disengagement,” followed by an embargo, a medieval siege, regular incursions, Cast Lead, and continued oppression of 1.5 million people – isolated, surrounded, attacked, brutalized, and slowly suffocated into submission, what hasn’t happened and won’t, but it doesn’t deter Israel from trying, or America from providing weapons and funding its lawlessness.
Seizure and Detention in Gaza
Under Article 92 of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners relating to family notification about an individual’s seizure, the ICRC says it must be “as soon as (someone is) interned, or at the latest not more than one week after….arriv(ing) in a place of internment” or a temporary camp.
Israeli law also obligates authorities to comply with international law, its High Court recognizing notification as a basic detainee right, ruling that relatives must be informed within 24 hours:
“of his arrest and his place of detention so that they will be apprised of what befell their detained relative, and how they are able to offer him the assistance he requires to safeguard his liberty. This is a natural right derived from human dignity and general principles of justice, and accrues both to the detainee himself and to his relatives.”
Israeli human rights organizations tried to locate detainees, several complaining to Israel’s Chief Military Advocate General (CMAG) demanding full information.
CMAG stonewalled, saying only that the ICRC was informed of detentions, including required information of their names, where held and why.
The IDF’s Supervision and Control Center (SCC), responsible for collecting and maintaining detainee information, declined to provide HaMoked, the Center for the Defense of the Individual, with the information it requested.
In response to its habeas petition for 15 detainees, SCC said that “As long as the fighting continues…..the IDF may detain more Palestinian residents,” their names given to the SCC within 48 hours of their transfer to Israel – an interpretation violating international law requiring prompt notification. Failure to do so may subject detainees to human rights abuses, including torture, use as human shields and other forms of abuse and humiliation, precisely what the evidence below shows.
Using Protected Persons as “Human Shields”
Under detention in Gaza, they were exploited for military purposes, including as human shields, for 10 days or longer – a grave violation of international and Israeli law.
Fourth Geneva explicitly prohibits using protected persons for any military purpose, including as human shields or hostages. It also bans threats to harm family members to extract information about their relatives.
The Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is also explicit, its Article 8 defining war crimes as grave Fourth Geneva breaches, including taking protected persons hostage and/or compelling they help their captor militarily.
In addition, Israel’s High Court banned using protected persons as hostages or human shields, ruling unequivocally that it’s forbidden to exploit civilians for any military purpose, citing international humanitarian law. The Court emphasized that noncombatants mustn’t be taken to military conflict areas, even if willing, understanding that “consent” would be forced and untrue.
Yet detainee testimonies confirmed the opposite – that they were compelled to serve militarily as the example below shows:
On January 4, 2009, Jabalia resident Abed Elkarim Mustafa Abu Salah said 20 soldiers burst into his home, damaged contents searching it, handcuffed him and his son, arrested them, then used them as human shields for 10 days in a combat area.
“During this whole period, my son and I were transported with the soldiers and in the night they would take us back to sleep in the house of Ismail Nabhan. Over this period, (we were) sent….into countless homes” to search and open doors and windows.
Declared an “unlawful combatant,” Abu Salah was detained in Israel for four months, then released. Adalah complained to the CMAG on his behalf, demanding a investigation. On August 27, 2009, Israel’s Military Police Criminal Investigations Division (CID) began one, Abu Salah and his son testifying on November 24. No decision was announced. If one comes, it will whitewash IDF responsibility.
Numerous other accounts reported similar mistreatment, one saying “IDF soldiers cuffed me and three of my brothers, and for three days had us walk ahead of them, and made sure we did so at gunpoint. They used us as human shields by ordering us to go into houses ahead of them.”
At the time, an IDF spokesman denied it, saying:
“Regrettably, PACTI keeps rehashing allegations which have been heard – and dismissed by the High Court,” even though true. Breaking the Silence Israeli soldiers confirmed it, one saying:
“The method used has a new name now – no longer ‘neighbor procedure.’ Now people are called ‘Johnnie.’ They’re Palestinian civilians, and they’re called Johnnies….To every house we close in on, we send the neighbor in, ‘the Johnnie,’ and if there are armed men inside, we start, like working the ‘pressure cooker’ in the West Bank.”
He explained that “pressure cooker” meant using civilians to check if armed men were inside houses, “Johnnies” to smash walls for Israeli troops to storm through.
Amnesty International, other human rights groups, and the Goldstone Commission also found evidence of human shield use, confirming PACTI and Adalah, discrediting Israel’s denial, its inexcusable cover-up.
One account, similar to others, was as follows:
“I was held inside the crater together with some 70 other civilians, most of whom I know from the neighborhood. During this period, I was not interrogated and to the best of my knowledge no one else was….either. On Wednesday (January 7, 2009), they put everyone on a truck, covered our eyes and we drove, with a tank in front of us, to an army post near the sea which was built after the Disengagement. The post was five kilometers from the place in which I was held. My son Hussein was left in the crater and I do not know what happened to him.”
As protected persons, international and Israeli law demand humane treatment at all times. Fourth Geneva’s Article 27 says: “They shall at all times be humanely treated.”
Article 10(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states: “All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”
Israel’s High Court ruled that the nation’s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty obligates authorities to abide by ICCPR’s Article 10. It’s principles are also affirmed in Article 16(1) of the UN’s Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), and in Article 1 of the General Assembly’s Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment.”
Fourth Geneva requires that detention conditions must ensure detainee hygiene and health, including protection from weather conditions; that detention space must be adequately heated and lit; that sleeping quarters be spacious and well-ventilated, with suitable bedding and blankets; and that sufficient food and water be provided. These are universally accepted standards, ones Israeli systematically spurns, despite its own law stipulating that:
“Detainee(s) must be held under appropriate conditions that do not harm his Health and dignity.” Article 9 of the Detentions Law and related regulations guarantees their bodily integrity, spirit and dignity, affording them sanitary conditions, a mattress, bed, food, light, ventilation, a daily walk, the right to communicate with visitors, to send letters, and other basic considerations.”
Detention Regulation 22 differentiates between “regular” and “security” prisoners, latter ones denied or only partially afforded the above rights, in violation of international law making no distinction, without exception, obliging Israel to comply. Even detainees suspected of serious crimes are entitled to the same treatment as others with regard to their basic needs – an inviolable minimum threshold.
Prisoner accounts, however, related otherwise – that “from the moment of their arrest and detention, the detainees were held in disgraceful and inhuman conditions – from their detention in (Gaza) to their time in temporary military facilities for the purpose of absorption, and continuing in their cells in IPS detention centers in Israel.”
Detainees, including children, were taken from their homes, held in large pits (two – three meters deep), unsheltered from the bitter cold for days, each pit holding 60 – 70 prisoners, their hands shackled and eyes covered. They couldn’t even leave their pits to relieve themselves. The sanitary conditions were appalling, the amount of food, water, and blankets negligible.
Detainees complained of hunger, thirst and cold, adjacent to combat areas, endangering their lives. A PACTI/Adalah complaint to CMAG was unanswered.
Sameer Ali Muhammad Attar described his experience after being arrested on January 5, 2009 with his young son, saying:
“We arrived at the place where the tanks were posted, and at that moment (they) were firing shells on Beit Lahiya. (Israelis) dug out a crater with a dirt wall of some two meters. (We were) ordered to climb down the dirt walls and into the crater while shackled, and we were held there under the bare sky for two days (exposed) to the bitter cold, and only (on the second day given one blanket for two people). During the whole period we were shackled and we slept on the dirt.”
Once or twice a day, they got food….”as for water, we would ask for it and sometimes they would bring us some, in delay. There were no toilets and they did not provide us with hygienic products like toilet paper. I was (with) 70 other civilians, most of whom I know from the neighborhood.”
Other testimonies provided similar accounts, detailing horrific, abusive treatment.
Military Detention in Israel
Detainees were then taken to army facilities “Zikim” and “Sde Teiman,” the latter for “unlawful combatants.” In all cases, their human rights were denied. After being photographed and medically checked, they were held in cramped quarters, given inadequate food, thin mattresses and blankets, too little to protect against the bitter cold. They were shackled when given access to toilets. Some were placed in dark trailers with no showers, toilets, mattresses or blankets. Detainees related stories of violence and illegal interrogations.
Held as an “unlawful combatant,” Muhammad Kisab was taken to Sde Teiman, put on a gravel floor with his father and two brothers, then moved to a trailer made of canvas with no mattresses or blankets. “The room was closed. It had one ventilation hole on the roof and it was completely dark. There was no toilet.” Other detainees related similar accounts.
“The conditions (at) military facilities were far from meeting the minimum standards for the protection of the health and dignity of the detainees.” Yet former High Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak ruled that even in emergencies, detention facilities must meet minimum international law criteria, Israeli authorities even defying their own Supreme Court.
Detainee Conditions in Interrogation and Detention Facilities
Detainees also endured abusive and humiliating conditions in Israel Prison Service (IPS) detention centers for interrogations. During breaks and when concluded, they were transferred to narrow, dark, foul smelling cells used for solitary confinement, given thin mattresses, little hygiene, and kept under 24-hour lighting that interrupted or prevented sleep.
Wa’el Atamneh had only a metal bed with no mattress or blanket for protection, nor a toilet, a privilege given once a day, and a shower after 10 days.
Imad Hamad said he was held in solitary confinement, interrogated 18 hours a day during his first three days, then transferred to Ketziot Prison under better conditions.
All detainees complained of abusive treatment in solitary confinement, cut off from attorneys and families, in cold, small, smelly cells, thin mattresses or none, deprived of sleep, showers and washing, and subjected to 24-hour lighting and grueling interrogations, at times including torture.
The psychological pressure was intense. Their bodies became weak. Sensory deprivation took its toll, caused by the inability to keep track of time and disconnect from normal human contact and social stimuli.
Torture and Ill-Treatment
Under customary humanitarian law, torture is prohibited at all times under all circumstances with no allowed exceptions. In all its forms, it’s a war crime, according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Israel’s High Court banned it in its HCJ 5100/94 Public Committee against Torture in Israel v. Government of Israel, leaving a giant loophole in “ticking bombs” situations, giving authorities wide latitude to use it, PACTI and Adalah confirming various detainees affected.
“PACTI’s experience over the years shows that from the moment detainees are deprived of their liberty until the end of their interrogation, they are exposed to acts which constitute torture and ill-treatment,” including “punches, blows, kicks and slaps; shackling in painful positions….; verbal ill-treatment which includes threats to life, health and welfare of the interrogee and threats of injuring his or her family members; and curses and swearing towards the detainee, his family and his religion,” and more.
Other abuses include physical and psychological torment, sleep deprivation for long periods, loud yelling in the ear, spitting in the face, withholding enough food and water, preventing access to toilets, and various other cruel and inhuman treatments.
IDF Violence against Detainees in Gaza
One detainee (anonymous for his safety) explains what happened after Israeli forces stormed his house, destroying everything in it:
“The next day, after having slept shackled on the second floor of our home, I heard the voices of my father and brothers….screaming from the blows they were taking from the soldiers. I started to yell that I want to (see) my mother. Then one of the soldiers took off his helmet and hit me on the head with it. I lost consciousness. I woke up later in the bathroom with three soldiers. One….took out his sexual organ and began to urinate on me while I was lying on the floor; meanwhile the two (others) laughed. I was completely soaked and there was a repulsive smell of urine. When the soldier who had urinated on me realized that I had woken up, he began to kick my upper body on the left side.”
Other detainees described similar experiences, including some taken to border areas and “harshly physically assaulted,” one saying “I prayed to god to arrive anywhere, even to die….just to stop this terrible suffering.”
PACTI, Adalah, ACRI and HaMoked demanded these and other incidents be investigated. “To date, more than one and a half years (later), no answer has been received from the CMAG.”
During grueling interrogations, detainees said they were shackled, blindfolded, humiliated, deprived of sleep, and beaten, some threatened by dogs, with death, or harm to family, one interrogator saying “we want your mother to suffer because of you.”
Testimonies provided clear evidence of torture, soldiers and interrogators having immunity to commit it, PACTI saying:
“Israel’s indifference to its moral and legal obligations to detainees is particularly objectionable in view of the fact (soldiers and interrogators ignored) the basic rights of the detainees and captives” under international law, violations committed against everyone seized.
Unlawful Combatants under Israel’s Incarceration of Unlawful Combatants Law (UCL)
Forty Cast Lead detainees were designated either “security” ones or “unlawful combatants (UCs)” a bogus category under international law. Yet all were indicted, 23 security prisoners sentenced to 12 – 84 months, the 17 UCs held as bargaining chips for future prisoner exchanges.
Israel defines UCs as “person(s) who (have) participated either directly or indirectly in hostilities against the State of Israel or is a member of a force perpetrating hostilities against the State of Israel, where the conditions prescribed in (Third Geneva’s) Article 4 (regarding POW status) do not apply to him.”
As a result, they’re denied all rights, and “may be attacked in time of war or military operation because of their being ‘combatants,’ but who if captured are not entitled to the rights and protections to which combatants are entitled.”
Although Israel’s High Court rejected UC designation, it ruled imprisoning UCs constitutional, Israel’s UCL permitting indefinite detentions, designees denied all rights, including to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.
At Ketziot Prison, they’ve been harshly treated in small windowless cells with no toilet or electricity, spending most of the day and night in total darkness.
According to the UN Committee Against Torture:
“All of the persons held were civilians and protected under (Fourth Geneva’s) Article 4….The Mission does not accept the proposition that the (detained) men (are) unlawful combatants” to be denied international law protections. Doing so constitutes a crime of war and against humanity, Israeli specialties.
The Duty to Investigate Complaints
Under international humanitarian and human rights laws, Israel is required to conduct comprehensive, thorough, independent investigations, and prosecute persons guilty of detainee mistreatment and other types of abuse, including torture.
This obligation is anchored in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Under Fourth Geneva’s Article 46:
“The High Contracting Parties undertake to enact any legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing, or ordering to be committed, any of the grave breaches of the present Convention,” including willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, inflicting suffering or injuries, denying the right to a fair trial, unlawfully transferring a protected person to the occupier’s territory, or committing any act not justified by military necessity.
The scale and severity of Cast Lead violations demand a full investigation, including “a re-evaluation of the laws and rulings which allow for and authorize (such extreme) violation(s) of human rights and international humanitarian law.” Yet Israel willfully and egregiously “violated its duty,” defying its sworn obligation, another Israeli specialty along with obstruction, cover-up, and denial.
Over many years, PACTI and other human rights organizations have filed complaints of mistreatment and other forms of abuse, including torture, mainly to Israel’s Attorney General. Yet accusations against General Security Service (GSS) employees “are systematically rejected,” suggesting that “Israel’s law enforcement system supports and permits….violent interrogation methods,” including torture.
See this writer’s August 2008 article, accessed through the following link:
A Final Comment
Every violation above “is grave enough on its own, (but combined) constitute a complete debasement of the detainees’ rights and of Israel’s moral and legal obligations.”
No wonder an earlier European Commission poll designated Israel the top threat to world peace, and an April 22, 2010 BBC one gave it a 19% approval rating, only Pakistan, North Korea and Iran scoring lower.
No wonder also that growing millions reject Israel’s lawlessness, demanding full accountability, boycotts, divestment, sanctions, criminal prosecutions, and expulsion from the UN until it complies with international law, recognizes Palestinian self-determination, ends its illegal occupation, returns confiscated land, dismantles its Separation Wall, grants Israeli Arabs the same rights as Jews, and lets Palestinian refugees return home to their land or be paid just compensation if they choose. Committed grassroots pressure is crucial to achieving these goals – for justice, genuine peace, and an end to decades of Israeli hellishness.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.