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Developing indifference to torture

January 23, 2014 at 5:18 am

Routine torture in Israeli prisons occasionally makes the news as a reminder of its existence combined with the perpetrators’ impunity. The recent outrage over detained Palestinian children exposed to extremely cold weather while held in outdoor cages by the Israeli Prison Service prompted a detailed discussion with the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) published in the Jerusalem Post. This suggested that despite illusions of minor positive changes, protecting Israel’s impunity in such matters takes precedence over the dignity and human rights of detainees. The state is developing indifference to torture so that it can continue to use it against detainees.

Shin Bet’s denial of using torture during interrogations is consistent with the impunity exhibited by the authorities which condemn human rights violations of other nations while endorsing torture as a prerogative and a deterrent for any hypothetical threat. Describing its interrogation methods as “consistent with Israeli law, court rulings and international law”, the statement by Israel’s internal security agency portrays the ability of Shin Bet to manipulate its practices within acceptable discourse and thus avoid public incrimination. References to consistency with the aforementioned legal frameworks are reminiscent of the colonial and imperialist interpretations and impositions of a narrative which excludes the oppressed in an attempt to enhance a superior and fabricated legitimacy.

The information obtained by Shin Bet during interrogations is alleged to “facilitate the frustration and prevention of murderous terror actions”, a perfunctory answer that attempts to influence public perception of all tortured detainees as terrorists against whom state violence should be sanctioned. This tactic not only reinforces impunity but also contributes to the manipulation of memory and indifference, allowing authorities to garner support from the people for sanctioned illegalities by the dehumanisation of detainees. The widespread collaboration of various professionals in the torture of detainees, such as physicians and psychologists, enhances affiliation to state torture and complicity and renders victims even more vulnerable as the integrity associated with protection disintegrates. The superiority of authorities indulging in torture also aids the enhancement of the stereotype of tortured detainees as threats to Israel’s security. This eliminates the possibility of any opposing discourse on the subject due to the conformity of a percentage of Israeli citizens endorsing state terror.

According to PCATI, the restrictions and prohibitions of torture imposed by the High Court of Justice have resulted in a reinvention of what torture means. The 1999 ruling declared torture to be illegal, but Shin Bet’s interpretation allowed its use if practiced with “less intensity” due to the lack of the specific prohibition of various torture practices inflicted upon detainees. PCATI’s petitions to the High Court have allegedly succeeded in restricting certain torture practices and threats; however, accountability remains elusive as Shin Bet assumes self-investigation of allegations of torture and human rights violations. Agents are rarely indicted and explanations detailing the denial to proceed against torturers are inadequate and delayed, in order to create further dejection for detainees complaining about abuse.

The Israeli Prison Service deems its conduct to be “beyond” what is expected of the authorities by international law. While spectators within the international community applaud the perfidious rhetoric, torture remains fettered to sporadic recognition which dissipates until the next publicised violation. Inherent to the wider framework, torture constitutes an integral part of Israel’s state terror, generating acceptance within a considerable percentage of its citizens and ensuring the continuation of the settler-colonial project.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.