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Gaza, the World's Largest Prison

From One Prison to Another

by CLIVE HAMBIGE

Does Israel really care for its returned son, or was he used as a political pawn? As a young soldier returns home to assuage the “righteous indignation” of a nation state, no longer “sensitive [even] to its image of democracy”, one can only agonise on the return of other soldiers and civilians of no blame apart from being under the yoke of Israel. They are those who, on being released from Israeli prisons, incarcerated for resisting a “brutal occupation”, find themselves in another prison, Gaza, while many are sent into exile and an uncertain future.

Does Israel really care for its returned son? Was “partial intelligence” soon after his capture enough to effect a rescue operation? Evidence suggests that it was, but more importantly what of Gaza and the conditions inside Israel’s notorious prisons? The world must seek the testimonies of the returned sons and daughters of Palestine and learn of and from their ordeal.

The late Rachel Corrie said of Gaza in January 2003, “I couldn’t even believe that a place like this existed.” Almost 150 square miles packed with human suffering only matched by human stoicism and dignity. Over 1.5 million people, two thirds of whom are refugees, toil in an open prison created and sustained by Israel through the pernicious and unconscionable use of “de- development”, the “deliberate, systematic and progressive dismemberment of an indigenous economy by a dominant one, where economic — and by extension societal — potential is not only distorted but denied.” This, it has to be said, done to encourage a Semitic exodus. For those (Palestinian) Semites who would leave, a denial of any return and their “residence rights”. For those that would stay, a life of subsistence under an illegal blockade and the expression by successive Israeli governments of the worst aspects of the human condition; hate, leading to the inevitable expression of the evils of apartheid.

Former UNRWA Secretary-General Karen Abu Zayd has warned that Gaza “is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution.” Perhaps Israel will kill more children before then. Kathleen and the late Bill Christison wrote, “Against a total of 13 Israeli civilians killed [and I condemn any attack on any civilian] in Palestinian Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza in the three and one-half years between mid 2004 and the end of 2007, the number of Palestinians killed in a much shorter period — from the beginning of 2006, when Hamas was elected and Israel began to concentrate its force on Gaza, through September 2008 — was over 1,400, the vast majority in Gaza. This is a kill ratio of more than 100 Palestinians to every one Israeli. Approximately 20 per cent of the Palestinians killed were children.” We know that Israel is “good at killing” and good “at going wild”. They are good at this because the government is lacking in any morality. Is it a surprise then that Palestinian Israeli Knesset Member Haneen Zoabi said, “Israel has a general atmosphere of a fascist state”?

The children of Gaza ask their parents in their trauma, “When are we going to be killed”? What then of the children languishing in Israeli prisons? How does this fit with David Cameron’s statement of 2009 during a Conservative Friends of Israel annual lunch where he praised Israel because it “strives to protect innocent life”? And this on the release of Gilad Shalit: “I can only imagine the heartache of the last five years, and I am full of admiration for the courage and fortitude which Sergeant Shalit and his family have shown through his long, cruel and unjustified captivity.”

What about the “the long, cruel and unjustified captivity” of the Palestinian children against whom, reports the UN Human Rights Council, so-called “administrative” detention is used regularly. These children are, rights denied, thrown into “seriously bad prison conditions, including overcrowding”; they have “family visits denied” and face “arbitrary transfers, torture and ill-treatment by Israeli security soldiers and prison guards, deteriorating health conditions and increasing deaths in custody.”

The above abuses have been corroborated by the findings of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), which “accused Israel of torturing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners by shackling them in violation of international standards”. According to the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, as of October 2002, “85 per cent of Palestinian detainees [had] been tortured during interrogation”. Most arrests are arbitrary, a methodology of terror. Article 9.1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as are established by law.”

And what happens in the notorious Facility 1391, an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv? This is Israel’s “Guantanamo Bay”, where the state has denied access to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other organisations consistently. What happens there in violation of “international standards”? And why have the authorities, according to The Guardian, “airbrushed from Israel, aerial photographs [of Facility 1391] and purged [it] from modern maps”. Kept secret until 2003, Facility 1391 is situated in a “Tegart fort on route 574 between Kibbutz Barkai and Kibbutz Maanit in northern Israel”. Human rights lawyer Manual Hazzan concluded that it “exists to make torture possible — a particular kind of torture that creates progressive states of dread, dependency and debility.”

Does not this “dread, dependency and debility” permeate the citizens of Gaza? And is this not wicked? Between 2001 and 2006, “600 complaints of alleged ill-treatment or torture were brought” to the attention of the Israeli prison authorities, “but none had been followed up”. One detainee, Hassan Rawajbeh, who only saw his persecutors during four months of detention, said that, “You begin to feel like the jail exists only for you, that no one else is there.”

As far back as 1968, the ICRC reported that in one prison, “A detainee was subjected to suspension by the hands; burns with cigarette stubs; blows by rods to the genitals; tying up and blindfolding for days; bites by dogs; electric shocks at the temples, the mouth, the chest and testicles.” What would the ICRC find in Facility 1391 today, I wonder?

Formed in 1987 and headed by the former Israeli Supreme Court Judge Justice Moshe Landau, the Landau Commission “found that GSS (General Security Service) interrogators routinely used force during interrogation of prisoners, and then committed perjury at subsequent trials”. It was therefore of supreme importance that in 1984 the UN Committee Against Torture stated: “The Landau Commission report, permitting as it does ‘moderate physical pressure’ as a lawful mode of interrogation, is completely unacceptable to this committee.” In the use of “physical pressure” and reportedly worse, Israel contravenes the UN Convention Against Torture Article 1.1 which defines torture as, “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, [which] is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession.” This, in fact, reinforces the view that Israel does practice apartheid. The International Convention for the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) holds that, “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them” constitutes the said crime of apartheid. Moreover, “the practice of apartheid is an international crime.”

Torture, as Israel and the mute international community knows, is absolutely prohibited and that prohibition is “accepted as a principle of customary international law.” As Noam Chomsky pointed out in Propaganda and the Public Mind, “For years, Palestinian prisoners claimed that their confessions had been obtained under torture. The courts, all the way up to the High Court, uniformly rejected this charge. They just dismissed it as false.”

So when “the [Israeli] Attorney General’s complete abstention from ordering the opening of criminal investigations against GSS interrogators suspected of torture and/or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment [enabling] the absolute lack of oversight of the happenings … within GSS interrogation rooms… All of this creates an unconditional defence for GSS interrogators.” What hope then for oversight and justice for the Palestinian prisoners of war when “unconditional defence” is available for the indefensible, the continued and systematic abuse of Palestinians to include children?

These men, women and children will not be “airbrushed” from our collective conscience or history. It is clear that “universal jurisdiction” must be upheld and those leaders who are aware of the abuse and indeed are complicit in it must be brought before to international justice.

The world needs to know that — quite shockingly — even civil matters have been “dealt with by Israeli military courts”. For decades now, as soon as a child reaches the age of 16 and is accused of a crime he has been put before the “kangaroo courts” of the Israeli military in “flagrant violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child”. When international laws and conventions are ignored in this way, these unprotected innocents are at the mercy of the brutal occupier, and that is no mercy at all.

According to Global Geopolitics and Political Economy, “Israel is the only state worldwide that has child prisoners under the age 18 years.” Friends of Humanity International reports that, “Israel uses all sorts of punishment and tortures against child prisoners to recruit them as spies. They threaten them with rape and other forms of violence.” Furthermore, “The Israeli state and prison service facility has escalated their humiliating and torture tactics. Barely a week passes before another raid or attack against prison chambers.” Needless to say the psychological tension in expectation of the next brutal assault induces into the minds of prisoners an unbearable pain. Of course, that is the intention of the Israeli authorities and makes the following statement by Moshe Etzioni, a “high court justice”, intolerable: according to Chomsky, during an interview with Amnesty International Etzioni was asked, ” [w]hy the Israelis were getting such a high confession [rate]. Everybody knows what that means. He said, ‘Arabs tend to confess. It’s part of their nature’.”

It is a fact that on the 27 September 2011, “OC Central Command signed Amendment 10 to the order regarding Security Provisions.” The amendment changing “provisions relating to minors in the military justice system, raising the age of minority from 16 to 18.” Despite this, minors, mostly wrongly accused of stone throwing, claims B’Tselem, have their rights breached “at all stages of the process: arrest, interrogation, trial and imprisonment.”

Shame on Israel; shame on David Cameron; and shame on America and the international community for their continued silence and, therefore, ongoing complicity.

Britain might be a High Contracting Party to the Fourth Geneva Convention but today it is acting as a low retracting party to the “whitewash of lies” spewing forth from Israel’s propaganda machine. Do we not recognise the nature of the present and past administrations of Israel from the litany of crimes above? And if we do, must we not speak out at every opportunity? As the Christisons warn in their book Palestine In Pieces, “The United States and the rest of the international community, by winking at Israel’s aggressively expansionist policies, have given Israel virtual total impunity to do whatever it likes with Palestinian land and lives,” and indeed Palestinian children.

Israel would do well to hearken to these words from one of its own: “If a child asks bread of you, would you offer a stone? If your child asked for fish to eat, would you offer a snake? Would you give a scorpion to the little one who asked for an egg?” And would you offer prison, torture and exile to the children who “cry freedom”?

Clive Hambige is director of Facilitate Global.