Gideon Levy: Twilight Zone / Dress Code

By Gideon Levy

What won’t the Shin Bet security service do to break the spirit of a Palestinian detainee? Before, interrogators used threats and told detainees that their loved ones were being arrested because of them. Now they even put on the show. Under false pretenses, agents brought the wife and the aged father of a security detainee to a Shin Bet interrogation facility, where they forced him to remove his kaffiyeh in order to humiliate him, then dressed him in a prisoner’s uniform, held him by both arms and, through a window, displayed him to his son, who has been kept for weeks in isolation, without the opportunity to meet with a lawyer.

The result: Prisoner M. launched a hunger strike. He has attempted to kill himself in his cell three times, twice by bashing his head against the wall and once by hanging.

In its ruling prohibiting the use of torture, the High Court of Justice wrote: "A reasonable investigation is necessarily one free of torture, free of cruel, inhuman treatment of the subject and free of any degrading handling whatsoever."

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel argued in its petition to the High Court regarding M.: "The use of the interrogation technique by which the petitioner’s father and wife were presented to him as prisoners, caused and is causing the petitioner genuine psychological suffering which has led him to hurt himself and even to attempt suicide."

Justices Ayala Procaccia, Elyakim Rubinstein and Devora Berliner ruled two weeks ago on M.’s case. The High Court ordered the Shin Bet to tell M. that his wife was never arrested and to arrange for a psychiatrist to examine M. by the end of the week. In addition, it said that M.’s representatives could ask the relevant authority to review the staged imprisonment of his father to determine "the degree of legitimacy of the use of this method."

The result: In Ashkelon Prison there is a prisoner in a state of severe psychological distress, while at his home in Beit Awa his wife and father are absolutely distraught over the dirty trick played on him. The state has not permitted them to visit him since the arrest.

Psychiatrist Dr. Yaakov Elish of the Be’er Yaakov Mental Health Center, who examined the prisoner for the High Court, wrote: "In the wake of distress over imprisonment, he has developed a depressive response with tendencies to self-injury."

Beit Awa is south-west of Hebron, on the Green Line. It has 10,000 residents and two main clans. The prisoner’s father, A., is from the Suwayti clan and describes himself as "nearly Israeli." For 34 years he has roamed through Israeli cities, collecting and trading in used items. Last Friday he was at a house in Ramat Gan to pick up a table and four chairs, while on Sunday, he got a call from Bat Yam, to come pick up a dining room set. In the past, A. worked for the Solel Boneh construction company, at Soroka Hospital in Be’er Sheva and for the Jewish National Fund on Kibbutz Lahav. He is 63, the father of 15, who speaks fluent Hebrew and has Israeli friends.

M., 32, is his third son. His father doesn’t want the full name published because of his son’s mental state. We are in M.’s home, in a living room filled with objects he chose out of his father’s collecting: a dish with Hebrew text, an enormous wooden globe, an old clarinet and an old record player. It’s not what you’d call a "political" living room: There is no sign of any connection with the national struggle, in contrast to most homes in the territories.

A few years ago M. opened an reupholstery shop in Beit Awa. He was arrested only once in his life, about two years ago, when he was held for six days. His wife is from the Rajoub family. They have four young children. A. says that apart from M., none of his children has ever been arrested. He is convinced that someone falsely accused his son.

At 2:30 A.M. on February 1, their world was turned upside down. M. and his wife were awakened by the sound of rocks being thrown at their door. M. went outside in his pajamas, where he was met by soldiers who told his wife to bring him a coat and shoes. M. disappeared into the night with the soldiers. For the next 30 days, no one was allowed to visit him, including his lawyer.

A week after M.’s arrest, again in the middle of the night, soldiers knocked on his father’s door. A. says that there were nine Jeeps parked around his house. When he came to the door he was taken to an officer. "The officer said to me: ‘Good evening.’ I said: ‘Good evening.’ He said: ‘What’s your name? Whose father are you? How many children do you have? Give me their names, from oldest to youngest.’ When I got to M., he said: ‘Enough,’" A. related.

The officer introduced himself as the "captain" who arrested M. "He told me: ‘I want you to come tomorrow, at 8:30 A.M., so I can give you a ticket to see your son. He’s in a bad way. And bring him a change of clothes.’ I told him: ‘Okay, but give me another half-hour, until nine.’ He said: ‘Okay,’" A. continued his story.

The captain told him that he also intended to go to M.’s house to give his wife a ticket. A. pleaded with him not to wake his daughter-in-law, who was alone with the children. "It’s one in the morning and she’s alone with the children… she’ll be afraid. I’ll bring her with me, without a ticket. You have my word."

That morning M.’s father and wife took a taxi to the Etzion detention facility. They waited outside until noon, when M.’s wife was summoned and told to leave the package of clothing outside. A. was called in about half an hour later. "I went in there with the clothing, but they told me to leave it," A. said. "I went up to the second floor and saw my son’s wife." A. was questioned briefly. His daughter-in-law told him that in the meantime she was taken into the husband’s room. When M. tried to tell her not to worry and that he was innocent, the guards pushed him roughly. Their meeting lasted a few minutes.

A. continues: "Now they told me: Take off your kaffiyeh. They took it and put it on the chair. I’m a 63-year-old man. For us, this is our dignity. I don’t have any hair. Two men came, one an Ethiopian [Jew], the other maybe Druze, speaking Arabic better than me: ‘Kif halak, ya hajj?’. I told him I was fine. He said: Stand on the chair. I said: ‘If the government tells me to stand on the chair, I’ll stand on it.’ The Ethiopian and the other one left and came back two minutes later with a torn and dirty coat that a dog wouldn’t wear. I said: ‘I have good clothes, why are you giving me this?’ And one of them said: ‘Stand up and put it on.’ I said: ‘It’s the Israeli government, what can I do?’ And they fastened the jacket so my clothes underneath wouldn’t show. Only at the end did I figure out what it was. A movie."

The uniformed guards took A. by the arm on either side. "So it would look like I’m sick or something," A. continued. "Me, who hauled a refrigerator down from the tenth floor the other day. They took me to the stairs and told me to walk down each one – not more than 20 centimeters high – in two steps, as if I was sick or stiff. When I’m carrying a heavy washing machine, I take each step normally and they’re telling me to take two steps each time.

A. and his two jailers, his co-stars in the show, went down to the yard, where A. was instructed to look up at the second-floor window. A. did not see his son, his eyesight is poor. A. was released immediately afterward. "That was the first film."

A. and his daughter-in-law returned home, leaving the clothes for M. they had brought. M.’s wife told A. that M. was standing at the window, thin and unshaven, when A. was in the yard in the prisoner’s coat.

A week later, the telephone rang. It was the captain. He told A. to return to Etzion the next day, where he was questioned by an agent who introduced himself as his son’s interrogator. A.: "He asked about my family. I have 15 children. It took two hours. At the end he said to me: What kind of work does M. do? And I told him: He rents a storage room and deals in furniture."

A week ago, security forces raided M.’s upholstery workshop. A. says that almost 20 Jeeps showed up for the operation. The soldiers broke the doors and windows and broke in, wreaking havoc.

We have seen the upholstery shop, and that is all it is, nothing more.

A prisoner who was released several days ago told A. that M. attempted suicide in prison and that his condition is serious. Perhaps M. wanted to put an end to his father’s suffering, believing him to be ill and imprisoned on his account.

(Ha’aretz, March 27,2007)

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