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Wednesday, June 9, 1999

State-sanctioned sadism

By Amira Hass, Ha'aretz

Border policeman Eran Nakash is charged with abusing Palestinians, some of them minors, on three different occasions. The accusations include sexual abuse. His arrest and indictment last week were covered extensively by the media.The scope of the coverage, which was unique in the number of items published and the number of reporters involved, could lead to three conclusions: One, that the authorities meticulously enforce legal and moral norms on the security forces in the occupied territories; two, that the behavior the defendant is charged with is extraordinarily severe; or three, that the authorities view the suspicions against the defendant very seriously.

But a closer examination of the Nakash file refutes the first two conclusions. Nakash, 22, was arrested on May 27 on suspicion of abusing three minor detainees (aged 14, 15 and 16) on April 19. Two other police officers allegedly watched him during the incident.

The abuse was brought to the attention of the minors' lawyer, Khaled Kuzmar, on April 27, only a week after it occured, when the three youths were brought before a military judge in Beit El for arraignment.

They told the court that they were unable to move for two days, while in detention and under supervision, because of the beating they had suffered.

The president of the Military Court, Lieutenant Colonel Yoram Haniel, accepted the prosecution's request and ordered the minors remanded, but he also instructed the Binyamin district commander to investigate the abuse claim and relay his findings to the president of the appeals court and to the Judea and Samaria military attorney general .

But either the military court did not bother to pass this decision on, or none of the involved officials took it seriously.

At any rate, Kuzmar learned that an investigation was never launched. On May 24, Ha'aretz informed the IDF spokesman of the details of the complaint. The spokesman responded with admirable speed: Within two days the border policemen on duty at the time were identified; the matter was handed over to the Justice Ministry department responsible for investigating allegations against police officers; and an order was issued for the suspect's arrest.

Only then was it revealed that Nakash was already suspected of abusing another Palestinian one month earlier at an IDF roadblock, and of abusing another Palestinian detainee on the same day that the three minors were allegedly beaten.

On May 22, at a roadblock south of Jerusalem, three other border policemen allegedly beat two Palestinians caught trying to enter Jerusalem without a permit. At least one policeman watched from the side and did not stop them. The Palestinian complained, and the three policemen were suspended. The suspension was reported in a few short lines in the newspapers.

In mid-March an IDF soldier beat a Palestinian detainee held at a detention facility at the Erez crossing and broke his arm. The doctor at the facility signed a document stating that the detainee had injured himself in a fall. Another soldier, appalled by what he saw, reported the incident to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. The soldier suspected of the abuse was suspended from his post. Apparently, this was not an isolated case. Sources told Ha'aretz military correspondent Amos Harel that they saw signs of "violence, improper norms of detention and ignoring of military orders and detainees' rights" at the facility.

Each of the cases of abuse detailed above was witnessed by many people who did not bother to report, let alone stop, the attackers.

How many other similar cases go by with no horrified witness present, one who understands his duty as a human being? How many cases are there in which the victims prefer to remain silent?

Experience shows that in many cases, Palestinian victims do not rush to complain. They cite past incidents, telling of investigations that were whitewashed or the guilty were given ridiculously light sentences.

"Lighter" cases of abuse by members of the security forces - such as slaps, kicks, verbal abuse or detaining Palestinian residents at roadblocks for hours under the hot sun - are an everyday occurence in the territories.

It is easy to downplay the problem, attributing it to this or that soldier or policeman's uniquely violent personality. It is easy to forget that we are dealing with an occupation mechanism seeped in violence, which transmits to its soldiers and policemen a sense of supposed superiority and a disregard for the life and dignity of the Palestinians.

Israel's security forces in the territories are required to implement a policy and follow orders which at their very core differentiate between Jews and Palestinians: Members of this group are allowed to live throughout the country and the state gives them more and more of "its land" in the West Bank to meet their "natural growth needs," while members of this group are forbidden from planting olive trees on their land in "area C" or adding another story to their house for their children. These people are allowed to drive across the country freely, while these are forbidden to do so. Palestinians suspected of throwing stones or caught working in Israel without permits are held for months in detention facilities.

The military courts impose much heavier sentences on them than those imposed - if any - on soldiers and policemen who have used the hierarchical order to justify their outbursts of sadism


(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

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