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Americans Tortured in Israeli Jails
by Jerri Bird
June - July 2001
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Volume 34, Issue 3
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[Note from UsQueers: Please keep in mind that the woman writing this article, Jerri Bird, is 75 years old. She is on the front lines. We have added emphasis.]

“The interrogation started.

“I was hooded and tied to a chair.

“An investigator named Shawqi came and told me, 'Let me tell you something. Have you heard about a law called Emergency Law?'

“I said, 'Yes, I read about it in the newspaper.' He said, 'So if you are an American citizen that does not mean anything to us. We could do whatever we want with you. And let me tell you something. We are America, so whatever we want, we'll do it. Do you understand that?

"They left me in there isolated for eighteen days. There in that cell, the smell. There is a bit of water in a little container. I was so thirsty. I told them, give me a cup. I start knocking on the door. He comes and he opens the little window and he says, 'What do you want?' I tell him, 'I need a cup so I can drink water.' They wouldn't give me.

"The second day they brought food in the morning and they put food in a plastic bag so I used that plastic bag as a cup.

"These six guys were in there and they gathered around me and put a plastic bag around my head. And they had a broomstick and they pushed it against my neck and they started to strangle me. Then they just let it go and they said, 'Well now you better listen to us. The prince of jail is not happy with you. And you have to tell us what you got. And if we tell you to write something you will do it. If not, we will kill you. Do you understand that?

"I mentioned that to the American consul in the second visit. I told him, 'They tried to kill me in that place. Why was the American embassy not doing anything about it? I almost got killed in there. I'm an American citizen. I need help.' I told him, 'Why don't you guys do something about it? They tried to kill me. They were going to kill me inside that place.' He said he can't do anything about it because it'll be 'your words against their words.’

"Well, they took me back to the cell. My body was shaking constantly. Every single nerve in my body was shaking. I just wanted to die. And while they were leading me with the sack on top of my head in my chains the persecutor gave me a kick to my back and he started cursing me because I only got 15 days. He wanted more time for me. I swear to God that's what happened with those people. I was sweating. I had a fever. I was losing weight. I could see that. I was losing muscles. Fatigue. It was hard on me to breathe. He kicked me again.

"While they were tying me to the chair I felt such a pain in my hand. I told him, 'Listen, my hands are hurting.' He says ‘That's good. It hurts, so you will talk.'

"They left me in that room, tied up against that chair. I could see people shouting, screaming from the torture. Such a terrible thing. And the voices were coming from the next room. And he came back after I don't know, one or two days. I was still on that chair. My body was shaking, cold. I could feel the coldness in my bones. And of course they leave the AC on. It's a way of torture. The pain, the hunger, it came back. He said, 'You gonna talk?' And I didn't answer him.

"They took me outside. They tied me against the little chair. The small chair is supposed to be harder. They put loud music, big speakers right in front of my face. He told me, 'A lot of other guys won't understand what the music talks about, but you will.' It was American music, Rock and Roll and other kinds of music, very loud. They left me for hours and this music— boom, boom, boom. My ears were going to explode.

"I was getting crazy. I told the American consul, 'Please just tell them to put me in a better facility if you don't want to get me out.' He said the longest they could keep me in there was about 100 days. I told him I have been here for almost 40 days and you expect me to go on for 60 more. He said that is the most they could have me in here.

“I told him, 'Listen, you could just come back after a few days and pick up my body.' He saw the way I looked. He saw everything. I told him that I need help.

"So they took me outside. And then the security said, 'Okay, you will leave.' When they took the sack off they said, 'Get out of here. Don't make any trouble for us.' That was it. No apology, nothing. After 40 days, thank God, I could get out of there.

"I called the American consulate and I asked them, 'I want to speak to the consul, Mr. Abdel Noor.' So I spoke with him and I asked him, 'Is there anything you could help me with? I would like to be escorted to the airport or could you send someone from the consulate that could be with me while I am leaving the country?' And he said, 'No, don't worry, they are not going to do anything to you, and the only thing they could do, they could interrogate you one more time for 15 minutes to two hours, the maximum they have. And if anything happens to you, call us.' It was like, yeah right, are they going to let me make a phone call like the first time when they detained me? So I said, 'Thanks a lot.'"

The narrative above has been excerpted from a lengthy recording made by Anwar Mohamed, then 27, within weeks of his release from detention in December, 1998. He had lost 40 pounds in 40 days. The trauma still causes him great distress. In the end, Israel never charged him with anything.

Anwar Mohamed was not the first case of an American tortured by the Israelis that I encountered, but he was the first I was able to interview in person. My husband, Gene Bird, now a journalist, was in the Occupied Territories within days of Anwar's release and visited him in the home of his aunt whom he had gone to visit on his vacation. Gene took a videotaped interview at that time and the first look I had of Anwar was of him seated in an enormous armchair that seemed to engulf his thin body.

It was some weeks later that he came to Washington and by that time he had regained some of the 40 pounds he lost during his almost six-week incarceration in the Moscobiya Prison (the Russian Compound). Since my husband's first post in the Foreign Service was Jerusalem (in 1956-58) I could immediately visualize the building where he had been held, only about two blocks from the American consulate general on the Israeli side. (At that time the city was divided by a no-man's land and there was a consulate on each side of the city to serve the two communities, Israeli and Palestinian.)

Anwar is even younger than my own children, tall, handsome, articulate, but clearly deeply shaken by his experience. I found it difficult to see in him the thin, tentative Anwar of the videotape. So we began the de-briefing process and carefully established the facts of the detention as well as his background. So began the methodology for the other cases I was soon to encounter.

In January, 2000, CNN producer Ted Rubenstein and CNN Middle East correspondent Charles Glass came to my office to do a report on the abuse of American citizens in Israeli jails. Of the several cases we had documented by that time, the one they chose to feature in a 14-minute interview was that of Anwar Mohamed. By doing the interview Anwar was defying the warning given him upon his release not to make any trouble for his torturers.

The CNN report took months in the making and aired in September, 2000. It was viewed around the world, including the United States. I give CNN credit for doing the program, with particular credit to Charles Glass, who himself made news in 1987 when he was held hostage in Lebanon for two months. For its efforts CNN suffered nasty and sustained attacks from major Jewish organizations.

Why I Do It: The Case of Hashem Mufleh

I am 75 years old, the wife of a retired foreign service officer who became a specialist in the Middle East. Our first post was Jerusalem, and thereafter we spent almost 20 years in the Middle East and South Asia. We brought up four children while serving in posts from Cairo to New Delhi and I managed to be evacuated twice, and dealt with "hardship posts" for most of that time.

But why is this old woman spending her retirement years (when she should be baking cookies and enjoying grandchildren and leisure) researching torture cases? Good question, and one I often ask myself. My mother used to say that I was born with "fire in the belly," as she shook her head at my reaction to injustice. I remember when I was in high school a friend (a boy I probably had a crush on) suddenly disappeared. It was 1941, he was a Japanese American and he and his family had been picked up and placed in a detention center somewhere in the California desert. I remember my sense of outrage and my inability to do anything about it. I never heard from him again and the community seemed to accept the disappearance as a necessary part of war. I did not accept it and, according to my sister, continued to rage against the unfairness of it.

Years later, as a volunteer activist during the first intifada, I invited a group of friends to meet in our home around our dining room table to explore activities we might undertake in support of the legitimate demands of the Palestinian community for recognition and statehood. We decided that the Americans supporting this cause needed training on how to get their message out through the public media. This group became Partners for Peace and impact through the media has been our goal from the beginning.

I certainly would never have guessed that I would find myself targeting the foreign service as complicit in neglecting the legitimate rights of American citizens of Arab origin in Israel. The foreign service had been my family while away from American shores for more than 20 years. I knew what care and concern foreign service officers took in defending the rights of Americans. They considered it a fundamental part of their role and even went beyond the requirements of the Foreign Affairs Manual to, at the minimum, ease the plight of incarcerated Americans, whether they privately thought they might be guilty or not.

My interest in the plight of Americans of Arab extraction in Israel was captured in September, 1998 when I received an action alert from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee about Hashem Mufleh. I decided I had to know more about his situation.

I managed to contact his sister, who is married and lives in Ramallah. I was also able to reach his lawyer, Jonathan Kuttab, and spoke with Hashem's brothers in the United States. What I learned was more than enough to send this American grandmother into a frenzy of activity.

Hashem, whose 18th birthday was the day before, was traveling with his mother and older brother to Ben Gurion airport to return to the United States, where he planned to enter the University of New Mexico. As a third-generation American citizen he had deep roots in New Mexico. His family owned property in the West Bank and he and his mother had returned to live there for several years to ensure that he acquired good Arabic. His father, who lived and worked in Gallup, New Mexico, returned at least annually for a visit with his family. Since Hashem was the youngest, the family could now be united in Albuquerque.

At the airport Hashem was taken out of the boarding line and his mother and brother were told to continue on. His mother became distraught and refused to go, but told his brother to continue since he was returning to university in Florida.
This was the beginning of Hashem's long ordeal that ended more than 18 months later when the Israelis took him from the prison directly to the airport. The money for his ticket was obtained from his family, and he returned to the United States wearing his prison clothes, totally disoriented and confused. His uncle who lives in Wisconsin flew to Chicago to be with him during a layover and told me that he was in no condition for me to talk with him. He said Hashem spoke mostly Arabic, seemed to think that the "Shabak" (the secret police) were following him, and clearly needed time to heal.


My efforts to obtain his release had been nearly fruitless. I remember my sleepless nights over the Labor Day weekend in 1998 when I had first learned of Hashem's plight; he was the age of my grandson. I was in frequent telephone contact with his sister and mother in Palestine, and we shared our grief at his incarceration. At that point I didn't know the torture he was to endure, but simply felt outrage that he was torn from his mother's side.

This time I was sure that I could do something. I called Senator Domenici's office and was told that I must contact the local (New Mexico) office about a "constituent" matter. When I spoke with a "case worker" she expressed astonishment at my request. She said, "But he is a Palestine" (she didn't even know the term Palestinian), completely ignoring his third-generation American status. She declared him a terrorist and refused to even look into the matter.

So I tried the office of Senator Bingaman. With some difficulty I was finally put through to a woman assistant who expressed similar reservations a little more subtly. I managed to appeal to her motherly instincts and she assured me that when the senator returned to the office after the holiday I would have a chance to talk with him. She kept her word, and the senator did call me. She had briefed him so he knew about Hashem's background, his family, and the fact that he was being held without any charge. He asked what I wanted him to do. I asked for just one thing. Make a public announcement about the plight of Hashem Mufleh and call for his immediate release. He seemed shocked at the request. Nothing ever happened. No announcement was made and no further expression of interest in helping was offered.

I learned very early in this new project that elected officials were unlikely to be willing to take any serious, effective action.

I was similarly frustrated by the Department of State response. For example, in the case of Hashem Mufleh I had frequent phone conversations with the consul in our embassy in Tel Aviv. He admitted that the Israeli government had failed to notify the embassy of Hashem's detention, and an official letter of inquiry was sent to the Israelis about the case. Six months later I asked (as I had regularly inquired before) about the reply to that letter. The Israelis never replied. And there never was an official protest over the lack of a reply.

The consul found it quite startling that I should suggest that he ought to attend one of the many "hearings" scheduled for Hashem. He had never done that before, but he agreed it might be worthwhile. I had alerted the media to the date of this hearing and both the consul and several television cameras and "pencils" (print media) appeared.

The hearing was held in a Jewish colony on the West Bank known as Beit El. A military officer served as judge and jury. When he saw the audience he announced that the case of Mufleh would not be heard. Everyone left, and once they were gone, the officer did bring the case up, calling a witness even though the accused was not present.

Hashem was not going to get an early release as I had hoped, and other cases were now being reported to me as the word spread of my interest.

My media consultant, Peter Wirth, and I decided to embark on a long-term media plan to accumulate solid facts about cases, be able to provide contact numbers for those individuals who could validate those facts and offer background information. Next we needed to get this information to the media and concentrate on developing contacts in the world of journalism and the electronic media for whom we would provide ongoing updated information. We knew it would be a long process, but we were determined to be persistent in adding new cases and new evidence to substantiate our claims.

My U.S. Department of State contact told me, “Nothing you can do will have any effect on what I do.”

I had suggested that it could be embarrassing for the Department of State to have public awareness of the clear policy that governed the service provided to Americans of Arab descent.

His disdain energized me.

I only hope he saw the CNN report, and that the Department of State got many calls protesting our country’s complicity in Israel’s systematic torture of U.S. citizens.

Torture: In Their Own Words

The first and rather overwhelming barrier I faced with media, government officials, elected officials and the general public was doubt. Most thought I was exaggerating, that Israelis wouldn't risk their special relationship with the U.S. by torturing Americans, and what proof did I have anyway of my allegations? The fact is, torture’s a lot like pornography: people know it when they see it. So, let us listen to the victims as they tell us what was done to them.

Yusif Marei, 44, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in April, 1999, when he returned with his wife to visit his 90-year-old parents. Forty days later, he was released without charges and ejected from Israel without being allowed to see his parents. He relates:
One interrogator used the method of shabeh against me for three hours to force me to lie against myself. Shabeh is the process of dehumanizing a human being. A single movement cannot be performed by any part of my body.During this dehumanizing process very loud music was blasting overhead. So many times they kept me for long hours in a small cell between the interrogations. That cell was the size of my body. I called it the living grave cell.

Abbas Fawaz Na'ora, 16, an American citizen from Georgia, while with his family in Jerusalem, was imprisoned in Megiddo Prison in February, 1998. He was released in September, 2000. His account:
In the first two days of my interrogation they put me in the "closet"— a room a meter wide and about two meters high. I was seated in a small chair, my hands tied behind my back in tight handcuffs to the chair which caused my hands to swell. The position in which I was tied to the chair for 48 hours continuously was very painful. This position is known as shabeh. An interrogator named Captain Omri began kicking me brutally in my testicles. I cried from the pain. The pain made me feel that I was going to die. They left me in the shabeh for a few hours, but my condition worsened from the beating and they returned me to the cell. I couldn't sleep [or] stand I was in so much pain.

Hanna Abu Khdeir, 29, was born in East Jerusalem and became a U.S. citizen in 1995. She returned to East Jerusalem with her husband and, on March 12, 2001, was arrested in her home at night by Israeli security forces. After 10 days, she was released without charges, but was required to surrender her U.S. passport. She relates:
On March 13, 2001, at 8 o'clock in the morning the interrogation started and lasted for three and one-half days continuously without sleep. One of my hands was chained to the back of an extremely uncomfortable chair and the chair was tied to the floor. Every time they took me in and out of the chair to go to the cell to use the bathroom (hole in the floor) they covered my eyes with completely black glasses so I could see nothing. A girl led me around while the black glasses were on.

Beshar Saidi, 31, a U.S. citizen from Michigan, was imprisoned in 1997 while attending a Christmas Day dinner in the Galilee. He was released 18 months later. He testifies:
I was hand- and leg-cuffed with a huge hood covering my head and face and I was taken to one of their torture centers nearby. In the following 24 days I was subjected to a severe process of psychological and physical torture. I was sleep deprived for periods of 48 hours at a time. I was threatened with being killed and eliminated physically by applying 240V electric shocks to my body. My wife was pregnant at that time; they convinced me that she was being subjected to the same process of torture in the next cell in order to drive me to confess. They threatened to strip me out of my American citizenship. “We run the policy of the U.S. in the Middle East and we will get you in Detroit if you cause us any trouble.” They cursed me and my faith repeatedly [he is a Christian]. [They said] “Your only way out of here is to coordinate with us here and in Detroit and we put you on the first flight heading back to the U.S. with a promise of a good life in the future.”
Luay Qasam Abdel Jaber, 20, engineering student from Chicago, Illinois, was detained in May, 1999 at the Tel Aviv airport on his way back home. He was released eight weeks later after his family paid a $2,500 bond, but he cannot leave the West Bank. He testifies:
I was held in shabeh for five days. They didn't allow me to sleep for 36 hours and I was held under an air conditioner the whole time.
Steve Adams, 39, born Mohamed Blata in Palestine, is a naturalized U.S. citizen. He was arrested on December 27, 2000 by Israeli authorities as he was about to leave Gaza International Airport. He was held for 37 days at Ashkelon prison and finally released without charges brought against him. He says:
I was placed in isolation for more than 10 days. Every day the air conditioning was on 24 hours. Even when I was taken to various rooms and handcuffed to the chair by my wrists and legs they put the air conditioner on full blast. The chair was tied to the floor. When I wanted to use the bathroom, the soldier followed me to the bathroom and refused to let me close the door while standing there observing me. I refused and waited until I returned back to the cell at night.
All of the above citations are excerpted from sworn affidavits filed with the U.S. Department of State.

When I had the opportunity to interview these individuals I found it striking that their first accounts were always centered on the humiliation they had suffered. This was almost more important to them than the physical torture. They felt dehumanized.

Beshar Saidi first told me of how helpless he felt when the Israeli interrogator told him that his pregnant wife was in the next torture chamber and they would abort her baby if he didn't confess.

Yusif Marei said that the interrogator cursed with very profane language his father, mother and his family and (with great indignation) even his American citizenship.

Hanna Abu Khdeir was shocked that the Israeli interrogator knew that she had sought medical assistance because she had not been able to conceive and she and her husband very much wanted a baby. She said, "Goor [the Israeli interrogator] came back and without any preface told me that I am a ‘snake’ and I am married to a big ‘snake’ and because of that God doesn't want us to have babies because God doesn't want more ‘snakes’ in this world. I was shocked. I could not imagine that there could be people in the world who feel happy because of other people's problems."

Steve Adams said they referred to him as the donkey or the cow.

And the accounts of the food they were given were almost identical.

Mohammed Sarsour, 39, a U.S. citizen from Wisconsin, after spending eight weeks in jail, said, "I was provided with disgusting spoiled food which was inedible. I could not bring myself to eat it and as a result I lost about 23 pounds."

Steve Adams said, "The food was no good. They put cucumbers with sand and jelly all together on the same plate with cut cheese. It was disgusting."

Yusif Marei said, "The food which was given to me should not even be called food. The boiled eggs, meat and other cooked foods were always spoiled. At one time after I tried to eat a boiled egg I had severe diarrhea. After that I couldn't eat the cooked food again. The only thing I survived on was bread and tomatoes."

Medical treatment, too, when given, was cynically inadequate.

Hanna Abu Khdeir suffered from a severe itchy rash all over her body and requested a doctor. She was taken to a Russian prison doctor who, according to Hanna, spoke very poor Hebrew, and the only treatment was for Hanna to be allowed to bathe. The rash became worse and they refused another consultation with a doctor.

Does the U.S. Consulate Know?

In 1999, the High Court of Israel heard another in a series of cases of alleged torture brought by Israeli Human Rights organizations. Much to the surprise of all, the High Court came down on the side of the litigants, admitting that Israeli authorities had been engaging in the use of torture during interrogation. Further, they outlawed several specific methods of torture commonly used.

But they left a loophole: they let the Israeli Knesset pass legislation that legalized the use of “moderate physical pressure,” the euphemism used to describe the forms of torture. The Israeli cabinet voted eleven to one to pursue that option. The U.S. government did send an official to suggest that such an action would be unwise, and the High Court decision prevailed for about a year. Then the Al Aqsa Intifada began in September, 2000, and the torture began again.


But the U.S. government did not have to wait for the Israeli High Court’s admission to know what Israel was doing behind prison walls. It had Alexandra Johnson’s report back in 1978. Johnson, a young vice consul at the American consulate general in Jerusalem, was processing visa applications when she discovered that many Palestinian applicants were ineligible because they had been charged by Israel with a felony. Johnson requested and got permission from the Department of State to examine their cases.

Her research resulted in a lengthy report on the use of torture by Israeli security forces. Titled the Jerusalem 1500 Report, it quoted from sworn testimony by numerous victims, including two American brothers, ages 15 and 16, and it even provided diagrams of the torture equipment used.

During the period that Alexandra Johnson was reporting on these cases, she received a commendation from Deputy Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and from Arthur Houghton, a senior officer in the Department of State, who called her report “excellent.”

But for the past 23 years, despite knowing this, the U.S. Department of State has never remonstrated publicly with the Israeli government policy of using torture in a routine fashion in its interrogation of “security suspects.” The U.S. government, however, did remonstrate against the author of the Jerusalem 1500 Report. Not long after she submitted her report, Alexandra Johnson was found to be an “inappropriate officer” and was forced out of the Foreign Service.

So what has the U.S. consulate been doing over these years to assist Americans who are tortured in Israeli prisons? The one word answer to that question is sympathize. In the words of the victims:
Yusif Marei: "Mr. Haskell (the American consul) told me that the security issue is 'a matter between you and the Israeli authorities,' and he couldn't get involved in that. He offered me two magazines together with some printed pages, but the guard didn’t allow me to have the printed pages. Maybe they explained my rights as an American citizen.”

The case of Abbas Na'ora is particularly poignant. He tells of being visited by the American consul after about a week of torture and after he had signed a confession. "I sat with him for 10 minutes. He asked me what I confessed to. He asked me if I was tortured. I was afraid of him and I told him that I didn't confess and that I wasn't tortured." In a subsequent visit Na’ora finally told the consul about the torture and the "closet," but didn't reveal the kicking in the testicles because he was afraid the consul would tell his father and "I didn't want to worry my father." He says he was visited several times but "in all his visits he did not offer to help and/or ease my situation."

Beshar Saidi says the Israelis denied him the right to see a representative from the American consulate for some time. When the consul did appear he was so appalled at the smell that he cut the interview short and left. Beshar had been denied the use of the bathroom while being interrogated in the chair. The consulate appears to have assumed that Beshar was guilty of being a spy for Lebanon, a highly publicized case in Israeli newspapers, and took a hands off attitude. Beshar was egregiously tortured, threatened with the abortion of his wife’s baby, denied the right to see an attorney or the American Consul within three days, and ignored by the U.S. government. In the end he was sentenced to five years in prison solely on the basis of his "confession" obtained under torture in a secret court session.

A woman consul who brought two English language magazines (which were confiscated by the Israelis) visited Hanna Abu Khdeir. This consul actually came to the court hearing but "they did not allow her to stay. They treated her with no respect. When my lawyer tried to make the point that she had the right to be there because this was a civil court proceeding and anyone can attend it, the judge ejected her."

This constitutes a damning indictment of the U.S. government in general and the Department of State in particular. The Foreign Affairs Manual often quoted by consular officials as demonstrating the limited role of the consular officer in cases of arrest states: "Neither arrest nor conviction deprives a U.S. citizen of the right to the consular officer’s best efforts in protecting the citizen’s legal and human rights." The "Arrest of U.S. Citizens Abroad" section of the Foreign Affairs Manual (7 FAM 400) goes into great detail to outline the responsibilities of the consular officer in such cases.

The American victims, Anwar, Beshar, Luay, et al. can verify that these responsibilities have been taken very lightly in their cases. Probably the words of State Department officials are the most effective way of conveying the attitudes that prevail there.

In the Spring of 1999, I called the consular officer to suggest that Arab Americans deserved to be warned about the dangers of traveling to Israel and to be told the limits of official U.S. reaction to their detention and abuse. I was told there was a warning in the "Country Information Sheet" that was available on the Department of State’s website.

When I suggested that not all travelers had access to the internet, the reaction was disdain. I was further told that it is the responsibility of the U.S. citizen to obtain such information before traveling.

I remonstrated with the consular officer over the interpretation of the "limits" on the consular service to aid a detained American and was told that if I wanted to speak about political matters I should contact the Israeli Desk officer.

So I called Matt Finston in that office. He told me that the Consular Information Sheet was adequate notification. He denied that this constituted a racist attitude as I alleged since it accepted that Americans of one ethnic background could be treated by Israel, our ally, in one way, totally different than other Americans. He furthermore said, "You should tell Arab Americans that their American passport is no protection to them." He added, "If Arab Americans want to be safe they should stay at home."

In meetings with Maura Harty, deputy assistant secretary for consular affairs, she expressed regret that the American citizens had been "mistreated," but added that there was nothing she could do about it. "Surely you don’t expect us to call in the Marines to get you out."

Four men, all victims of torture were there to make specific requests of the Department. For one thing they wanted to be assured that they could safely, without fear of arrest, go to Israel to visit aging relatives. Ms. Harty replied that they had explored this problem with the Israelis and were unable to get any assurances of their safety. In effect, in all of my contacts with the Department, both personally and in the company of victims of torture, we have received nothing more than sympathy.

Contrast this with the campaign waged by the Department on behalf of Professor Gao Zhan, a green card holder—not a U.S. citizen—who was detained in China. Even the President and the Secretary of State spoke out forcefully on the denial of her rights and called for her immediate release. Yet in 23 years, the Department has never made even one public protest over the Israeli practice of torturing American citizens.

As one Department official pointed out, "You have to understand that there is a ‘special relationship’ with Israel."

The ‘Special Relationship’

In 1978, then vice consul Alexandra Johnson said, “Potentially, there are hundreds—even thousands—of Palestinians currently in the U.S. who have been arrested by the Israeli authorities for political reasons and interrogated under torture.”

Currently we know that Amjad Farah Kur’an and Jamil Sarsour are still in prison. Kur’an was sentenced after a “confession” under torture. Jamil Sarsour has not been charged but has been held for two and one-half years.

Luay Abdel Jaber, Hanna Abu Khdeir, Mohammed Sarsour and Wael Hirabi are no longer in prison. Abdel Jaber, Abu Khdeir and Sarsour are refused exit visas. Hirabi’s situation is unknown.

Johnson’s report provides sworn affidavits alleging Israeli torture (1978 and prior years) so horrendous that one has to conclude that the Israeli practice of torture today has moderated somewhat. No longer do we get reports of actual gang rape of female relatives of Palestinian detainees that they are obliged to watch. No longer do we have reports of Palestinian detainees being hung by their feet. The kinds of torture used today are more refined, do not leave marks, and emphasize psychological torture.

Should we consider this progress?

In May, 2001, the U.S. government is outraged at its elimination from the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations. Press analyses suggest that this happened because we opposed environmental accords, or because we had no ambassador in place at the United Nations. The Financial Times of London suggested that Washington’s vetoing of any resolution that alleges Israeli human rights abuse showed the U.S.’s inability to fairly and impartially work in the area of human rights. Secretary of State Colin Powell put it more graphically when he said that the vote reflected the fact that “we left a little blood on the floor” in votes involving the Palestinians. (New York Times, 9 May 2001, p. 1)

And the evidence is overwhelming:

Israel egregiously violates international law by using torture as a routine part of interrogation of security suspects. The United States has routinely accepted this practice. Israeli torture of Palestinians is a basic problem because we support Israel with arms, economic aid and our acceptance of these intolerable inhumane practices.

How can we expect the Palestinian people to make peace with Israel, with the occupation, the torture, the land confiscation, the house demolitions, the settlement building, and the humiliation continuing on an everyday basis?

What kind of long-term psychological trauma can we expect to see in the Palestinian community, and, indeed, in the Israeli society?

The children of the fathers who are tortured today are the Palestinians of tomorrow whose legitimate anger will no doubt result in extended conflict.

The ‘special relationship’ is shameful.

It must end.




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