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Ha'aretz, Tuesday, September 7, 1999

Contorted bodies and twisted minds

By Gideon Levy


Omar Ranimat has trouble sitting down. He also finds it difficult to stand, walk or climb stairs. When I met him just a few weeks ago, two and a half years after his interrogation by the Shin Bet, which lasted 45 days and nights, he was a wreck. A friend, Abed Al-Ahmed, vomited almost daily for two years after his interrogation. When I met him recently, he seemed have finally mended.

Ranimat and Ahmed, like thousands of other Palestinians, underwent routine Shin Bet treatment - the "shabah", the "gift," the "frog," sleep deprivation, ear-splitting non-stop music, a stinking sack over the head, a foot on the testicles and abrasive handcuffs on the wrists and ankles. Most had no connection whatever with ticking bombs.

It is difficult to believe that many Israelis would be able to withstand what they suffered. It is difficult to believe that many Israelis have even tried to imagine what would happen if they were tied for dozens of days and nights in contorted positions that only twisted minds could come up with, shaken, deprived of sleep, humiliated, frozen, beaten and harassed. But thousands of Palestinians have gone through this and they carry the scars - both physical and emotional - with them to this day.

Once, I dined with four members of the Palestinian Legislative Council who told me of the torture they had suffered at the hands of Shin Bet interrogators during the Intifada. Their descriptions are too grisly to be printed here, but the four related them with equanimity. They opened a new chapter long ago. Only the Shin Bet refuses to put the past behind it. First, its agents denied everything, attributing all the accusations to lies by the Arabs. Then they spoke of "irregular" cases. Finally, they established a procedure of authorizations and forms for torture, and the entire time they persisted in their methods. A battery of jurists, politicians and doctors protected them the whole time. Now the High Court of Justice has decided to put an end to it all.

When Ranimat appeared two years ago before the very same judges who yesterday decided that the Shin Bet does not have the authority to act as it did, showing his wrists, cut to the flesh by handcuffs, and asking the court to put an end to his torture - the Supreme Court refused to intervene. It behaved the same way in the cases of other Palestinians under interrogation by the Shin Bet. Only now, late but very resolutely, has the Supreme Court decided that "painful handcuffs are forbidden," that sitting on a deliberately painful stool "is not included in the general authorization of interrogation," that "reasonable interrogation is one that is carried out without the use of torture," and that "human dignity includes that of detainees under interrogation."

Where, it must be asked, have they been until now? After all, the matter of torture has been brought before the court many times over the years. For Ranimat and Ahmed and others like them, it is too late. They will apparently carry the physical and emotional scars of their interrogations with them forever. But Israeli society rid itself yesterday of a terrible abscess.


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

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