Highlights

  • On 7 May 1997, the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva summoned Israel for an extraordinary hearing to face accusations that its practices violate the International Convention Against Torture. The Committee strongly criticized Israel, which claims to share western democratic values and laws, for being the sole nation that has codified and legalized the use of violence in interrogation by its security services, the Shin Bet.

Human rights records confirm that thousands of Palestinians have been subjected to torture, which Israel justifies as "moderate physical pressure." Thousands have undergone severe shaking (many to the point of death), sleep deprivation, and tight handcuffing that results in the loss of blood circulation. Prisoners are kept in contorted and excruciating positions, often in closet-size rooms, with foul smelling sacks over their heads, and denied access to toilets and food. Human rights organizations estimate that about 5,000 Palestinians a year were tortured by the Israelis in all the years prior to the signing of the Declaration of Principles in 1993, and despite the peace process, this practice has continued unabated.

The 1984 U.N. Convention Against Torture, which Israel ratified in 1991, defines torture as "any act by which severe pain and suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted upon a person" to obtain information or a confession. Accordingly, the U.N. Committee, whose composition includes Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross and various Israeli human rights organizations, confirmed that the Shin Bet’s methods are indisputably torture as defined by international law.

The legality of the use of torture in Israel stems back to 1987, when the Landau Commission found that the Shin Bet had been using violent methods in questioning Palestinians. Rather than condemning the practice, the Commission instead proposed to legalize these "moderate measures of physical pressure". Not only has the policy been condoned and approved by the Israeli Supreme Court, but the entire Israeli security, legal and legislative establishment has effectively institutionalized this use of violence in questioning Palestinians.

The U.N. Committee rejected all the Israeli justifications presented in defense of the use of torture and it fiercely condemned the Israeli institutionalization of torture, arguing that its regulation only encourages its further use. The international community refused to accept the long-standing Israeli response that Israel faces a unique terrorist threat and rejected Israel’s assertion that it only employs violence in extreme cases. Reports by lawyers and human rights organizations prove that over 80% of those tortured are not even indicted, confirming most interrogations in fact have little to do with imminent attacks.

  • Following the adoption of General Assembly resolution A/ES-10/2, of the 10th Emergency Special Session (ESS), the Arab Group at the United Nations has continued its efforts to ensure that the resolution be implemented and the follow-up mechanism provided for in the resolution be immediately applied. These efforts included a meeting with the U.N. Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, regarding the implementation of the resolution, particularly the paragraph requesting the Secretary-General to monitor the situation and report on the implementation of the resolution within two months of its adoption. The Arab Group also held meetings with other delegations, including the European Union, to emphasize the implementation of operative paragraphs 7 and 8, as well as to discuss follow-up steps to be taken, pending the outcome of the report. These efforts highlight the significance of the 10th ESS of the General Assembly, both as a process and as a tool to ensure Israeli compliance. The ESS is reinforced by mechanisms that are to be put into practice until Israel ceases and reverses all of its illegal actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, especially the construction of the settlement in Jabal Abu Ghneim.