DevMode
Torture, Human Rights, Medical Ethics and the Case of Israel
Edited by Neve Gordon and Ruchama Marton
London and New Jersey, in association with the Association of Israeli-Palestinian Physicians for Human Rights (PHR):
Zed Books, 1995. xv + 206 pp. No price stated.

In the summer of 1994, the Palestine-Israel Journal published a document by the Human Rights Watch on the torture and ill-treatment by Israelis of Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). In ten pages of shocking reading, it described in condensed form the patterns of torture applied to many thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Covering similar material comprehensively and systematically, Torture makes far more painful and harrowing reading.
Some books are said to be hard to put down, but the serious reader will find it hard to continue reading this one: Torture is deliberately unsparing in detailed evidence and documentation of torture in what attorney Avigdor Feldman calls "a modem inquisition state." The legitimization in 1987 of "moderate physical pressure" by the Landau Commission con¬firmed what Feldman calls a regime which "bureaucratizes the practice of torture in order to hide and insinuate it in between legitimate government techniques." Gaza psychiatrist Eyad Elsarraj notes that since the Occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, some 400,000 Palestinians have been detained and imprisoned, and he believes that "a large propor¬tion of the Palestinian population is suffering from the direct effects of tor¬ture and the whole society is indirectly affected."

Silence through Violence

Ruhama Marton, a psychiatrist who is founder and chair of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), explains that while the declared purpose of using tor¬ture is to force the enemy to reveal secrets, in fact, "the torturer knows that the victim's words are useless [and] to impose silence through violence is torture's real purpose." In her introduction, she presents this book as a tool for individuals or groups fighting against "organized violence, cruel pun¬ishments, humiliations and the physical and mental abuse of people wher¬ever they are carried on." With this purpose in mind, no attempt is made to spare the reader even the most gruesome details relating to the torturers and the tortured, the medical ethics involved, and the social and legal responses to torture. Relevant Israeli and international documents are also provided.
The book, Torture, follows up an international conference on the subject held in 1993 in Tel Aviv. However, instead of a word-for-word transcrip¬tion of the proceedings, it was wisely decided to present the major issues dealt with there in four sections by medical, legal and academic experts. The aim is to merge an academic approach with practical prescriptions for action. This formula is generally highly successful. It both avoids repetition and assures the provision of a remarkable amount of authoritative infor¬mation and personal testimonies on varied aspects of the subject.

Valid Hopes?

The editors note in their foreword that "we hope that this book will help gener¬ate a public outcry against the practice of torture in Israel and around the world." Inge Genefke of the Danish Rehabilitation and Research Center for Torture Victims, writing of government-sanctioned torture as a weapon against repressive regimes, believes that "it might be possible to abolish government¬sanctioned torture before the year 2000." Reading the book, it is difficult to see how these hopes may be realized as regards Israel.
The problem, as Hebrew University criminologist Stanley Cohen expresses in one of the most trenchant and thought-provoking chapters in the book, "The Social Response to Torture," is that while there is nothing radical or extremist in a world organization like Amnesty International, "in Israel, the identifiably liberal sectors of the community play no active part in the campaign against torture." The Israeli Bar Association is among the inactive elements; he goes on to say that "the only serious opposition [to torture] comes from more 'radical' and marginal groups" (like the two which organized the 1993 conference).

The Israeli Reality

Unfortunately, this evaluation seems to be verified by the recent decision of the Labor-Meretz government to continue with the "shaking" policy which caused the death of Palestinian prisoner, Abdel-Samed Herizat, under interrogation. Human rights activist Mamdouh Al-Aker notes that today the PHR's efforts do not even reach the majority of Israeli medical practitioners. While Cohen rightly demands more pressure from the inter¬national community, how effective can this be without a change in the cli¬mate of public opinion in Israel itself?
There are grounds to fear that in the present Israeli reality (and at the time of publication in 1995 it was noted that, since the Oslo accords of September 1993, the position has not improved), the struggle "on both sides of the bor¬der," in Marton's words, may take much more than Inge Genefke's five years. Cohen rightly compares the Israeli reaction to torture to what he calls the clas¬sic response to allegations of atrocities committed during the Vietnam War:
"They're all lying and anyway the bastards got what they deserved."

Small Sentence, Big Lie

There are a few errors and irrelevancies in the text. For example, Ruhama Marton, whose contributions to the book are among the most interesting, refers in her introduction to the "Israeli-Zionist society." Does she mean "Jewish" society in Israel, because the overwhelming majority of Israelis vote for Zionist-oriented parties? Is she using the word "Zionist" as a term of approbation or (as I suspect) of repudiation? Or neither, in which case why use it at all without defining it? However, these are minor matters.
What stands out is the good choice of the material and the high overall standard of the articles and of the documentation. Stanley Cohen reminds us that Landau's "moderate physical pressure" was termed "special pro¬cedures" by the French in Algeria. The authorities have three variations in their reaction to torture: "nothing is happening; what is happening is something else and what is happening is completely justified." Torture proves that in this small sentence there are three big lies.

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