Israel’s Human Rights Abuses out in Open

By George S. Hishmeh

The revelation that harsh interrogation methods, including torture, were used against detainees during the US-led war in Iraq by the George W. Bush administration, continues to reverberate here and overseas. The actions, sanctioned in legal memorandums, were recently released by US President Barack Obama.

The repercussions of Obama’s actions, however, are being felt by key US government officials, especially those within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as well as within several other countries including Great Britain and Israel.

Tel Aviv’s American supporters were quick to justify its anti-Palestinian harsh interrogation techniques not much different from the abuse meted out at the Abu Ghraib prison camp in Iraq.

On the other hand, Hamas has been reprimanded by Human Rights Watch for its attacks on its opponents, some of whom have been physically eliminated.

Although Israel’s Supreme Court has prohibited torture, an editorial in Forward, an American Jewish daily, found that the 1999 decision had some "disturbing loopholes".

Even the executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Hagai Al Ad, wrote in an April 26 Huffington Post article, titled Torture: The Truly Painful Lessons from Israel, that the Israeli court actually "never said ‘never’ to torture".

J.J. Goldberg noted in a Forward article that the ongoing torture debate "is just a first step on a long road as America exorcises the bullying, blustering, unilateralist legacy of the Bush years" and, in turn, "Israel has allowed itself to become closely identified in the popular mind with that discredited world view."

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israeli (PCATI) has maintained that "torture and ill-treatment during interrogation continue to exist in Israel". In a report published in April 2008, the group focused on "a previously unknown and illegal forms of ill-treatment", namely the "exploitation of a detainee’s family members for the purpose of forcing him to confess to deeds he is accused of committing".

The report underlined that "this is a genuine form of psychological torture that at times is far more severe than the physical methods used against most interrogees" because it includes threats against family members, who are not suspects, "causing great emotional distress to the detainee".

The Israeli Supreme Court is also scheduled to hear this week a petition filed by Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and two other Palestinian groups – one in Gaza and the other in the West Bank – demanding an investigation into "the killing of civilians and extensive home demolitions" during two Israeli military operations in Gaza in May and October of 2004.

This hearing is the first to be held on the petition, two years after its filing. In the Gaza operation, the petitioners said at least 17 children were killed and 167 homes were destroyed. In the second incident at a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Gaza, "many" civilians were killed including at least 27 children, and about 91 homes were demolished.

Israel’s tarnished record will also be examined this week by United Nations investigators who are meeting in Geneva in the hope of travelling to Israel and the Gaza Strip to investigate possible war crimes committed by both Israel and Hamas.

This is contingent on Israel allowing them to travel to the recent battlefields where more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed earlier this year in the 23-day Israeli military assault on the Gaza Strip.

But what is intriguing is that the UN mission is led by a South African judge named Richard Goldstone. He is said to be Jewish with ‘strong personal ties’ to Israel where he serves as a trustee of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and president emeritus of World ORT, a Jewish charity that runs dozens of educational projects in Israel.

According to Forward, Israel "will most likely refuse to cooperate", while Hamas has agreed to accept Gladstone’s probe.

At the same time, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that at least 60,000 Palestinians out of 225,000 living in Occupied Jerusalem presently face the risk of having their homes demolished. These homes are considered illegal by Israel since these were established without building permits, something Palestinians are usually denied.

Palestinians see this Israeli attempt as another example of ‘ethnic cleansing’. Fakhri Abu Diab, an Arab resident, told newsmen. "We know the [Israeli-run] municipality wants to bring [Jewish] colonizers here. They want the land without Palestinians."

In the opinion of the European Commission, Israel’s activities in Occupied Jerusalem "constitute one of the most acute challenges" to the prospect of an eventual peace accord with the Palestinians.

Peter Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, saw the EU view as "speaking out in ways that [people] haven’t done before" but wondered if "it is too early to say if this is the beckoning of a new era or just a passing phenomenon."

It is definitely a step in the right direction.

– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: ghishmeh@gulfnews.com.

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