Palestinians Beaten, Exposed to Cold, Lawyers Say : Brutality Alleged at West Bank Prison Camp
It was late in the morning when the Israeli army, and security police disguised in Arab clothes and driving an Arab taxi, came for Farouk Najajra.
The 18-year-old high school student was asleep, exhausted from a month of nighttime hiding in the stony hills that surround this village outside biblical Bethlehem.
He was led away in handcuffs, with an army jacket pulled over his head so that he could not see, according to his family.
When his family saw him next in military court in Ramallah, after 38 days in interrogation, he had a black eye, back injuries, cuts on his hand and welts on his back, according to his lawyer, Mary Rock, and his family.
Confined to Closet
Najajra told the army judge, according to court records and his lawyer, that he had been repeatedly beaten in the interrogation center at Dahariya detention camp and at the nearby Hebron jail; that he had been kept outside in the cold for two days without food or water and with a burlap bag over his head, and that part of the time he was imprisoned in a closet where he could not sit, stand or go to the bathroom.
Finally, after 56 straight days in interrogation, after yet another beating and after two of his friends confessed and implicated him after they, too, were beaten (their lawyer said), Najajra confessed to participating in the yearlong Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation. He admitted to throwing stones, burning tires and tearing down the fences of Israelis whose settlements were encroaching on Nahhalin’s traditional land, the lawyer said.
According to a source who works in the detention camps, and who spoke on condition of not being identified, 90% of the prisoners confess to crimes under duress whether they are guilty or not--usually much more quickly than Najajra did.
Prisoners were sometimes kept for weeks tied up in a crouching position with no food, water or hygiene most of the time, the source said.
Najajra now is in the general section at Dahariya, an army-run detention camp in the West Bank where conditions are described by an Israeli lawyer as “inhuman,” a view also held by independent sources.
Twenty men, for example, are packed into a cell 15 feet by 18 feet, without enough mattresses or space for all to sleep at once.
The Israeli secret service, Shin Bet, is in charge of the interrogation of prisoners at Dahariya, but its activities are clandestine and it cannot be reached directly for comment.
The Israeli army spokesman’s office, after receiving written questions for this report concerning beatings and abuses, said in a formal reply that the allegations that Najajra was beaten are still under investigation, more than five weeks after the military judge asked the police to investigate his claims.
Lawyer’s Report Cites Abuses
The army statement also followed charges by Neta Goldman, a lawyer and member of the Assn. for Civil Rights in Israel. Goldman prepared a report on unsanitary conditions and abuses at Dahariya.
In response to questions about conditions and reports of beatings at Dahariya, the army replied that Dahariya is overcrowded. It said the facility will be expanded and that it does not need to be closed. Sanitary facilities have already been improved, an army spokesman said, including a new sewer system and hot water.
Asked specifically whether Najajra was kept confined in a closet, an army spokesman said, “If it was done, it was not right.” The spokesman denied that beatings are conducted at the prison.
Goldman, who recently visited the camp, said the cells are dark, their windows covered. The stench from the prisoners and an uncovered bucket, the only sanitation, was described by Goldman and others as unbearable. The prisoners told the lawyer that they were let out of the cells for exercise and a shower (consisting of a few seconds of water) only once every week or two.
About 9,000 Arabs in Camps
Nearly 9,000 Palestinians are in Israeli prisons or detention camps, and only a small percentage of them are there for ordinary criminal acts. The vast majority are charged with politics-related offenses ranging from throwing stones or burning tires to belonging to illegal organizations or organizing protests as part of the uprising. A few are charged with more serious politically motivated violence, such as throwing firebombs or planting bombs.
The prisoners include hundreds of Palestinian professionals: prominent lawyers, doctors and journalists as well as U.N. employees and four Palestinian employees of Al Haq, a human rights organization associated with the International Commission of Jurists in Switzerland.
About 1,500 of them, including some in Dahariya, are detained without charges or trial.
Other former prisoners, in interviews or in affidavits collected by Palestinian lawyers, say that beatings and other forms of torture were used during interrogations and sometimes afterward. Their allegations were substantiated by a source who works in the detention centers and described seeing prisoners who had been beaten or could not walk because they were kept in a crouching or standing position for long periods of time.