There have been approximately 800 cases of alleged torture brought before Israel’s Attorney General. Not one has resulted in an investigation.
“The government fears that people will say that they were authorised to commit torture,” Dr Ishai Menuchin, executive director of Public Committee against Torture (PCATI). “That is why they are not allowing the investigations”
Yet there clearly is torture committed in Israel, which is both antidemocratic and a violation of international law, explains Louis Frankenthaler, Development & International Outreach Director at PCATI.
I sat with Louis and Ishai recently and asked them to explain, well, simply what they do. I already knew that PCATI coordinates a project in which the IRCT provides training on how to conduct proper forensic examination in cases alleging torture. However, I was unfamiliar with other aspects of their work
PCATI is a legal and advocacy organisation that has put forth the majority of the 800 torture claims against the state. In addition to their direct legal claims against Israel, they have pursued social change through both traditional and vanguard means, explains Louis.
“The vast majority of victims of torture are Palestinians under occupation,” says Frankenthaler.
To bring about social change, they try to build the critical skills in Israeli youth by working with high school education programmes and teachers. Further, they produce research publications and reports to disseminate to the public and media, such as Doctoring the Evidence in 2011, which chronicled medical practitioners involvement in torture and ill-treatment.
Then there are the more “vanguard approaches,” as Louis describes, to force the public to confront the reality that individuals are being tortured in Israeli detention facilities.
For example, at a recent public film screening event in Jerusalem, PCATI asked around 10 youth volunteers to be handcuffed and “interrogated” in the street near the entrance.
“People just want to drink some wine and watch a Woody Allen film, and then they saw this scene on the street,” Ishai says. “We asked them, ‘How does it feel to know that just 100 meters away, people are being tortured?’ They don’t want to know what we are doing. They don’t like to think that this is their society.”
The tactics are useful to get a dialogue going, to confront the pervasive attitudes in Israel that torture is only used again “terrorists”.
“People other the victims,” says Louis. “They think of them as terrorists because that is how the authorities define them… as suspects, as ‘wanted’ as….”
Recent changes to the appeals system have the chance to push this dialogue further – to bring about a full, formal and transparent investigation into a case of alleged torture. While the chances of that have historically been rather grim, Ishai says, he remains cynical, yet optimistic. Just last year, the Attorney General changed the complaints investigations system. Rather than led by a member of the Israel Security Agency (ISA), also known as Shin Bet, a civilian investigator will lead the appeals process. Ishai adds, “Yet we are waiting for this to become fully operative”.
But how do you uncover a policy that authorizes torture of others? Louis and Ishai agree that the goal now is to create such a depth of evidence and material presented to the appeals process, such as forensic documentation of torture, that the courts will have to pursue an investigation. And PCATI continues to bring forth cases – 35 new cases thus far,; 22 appeals cases in just one month.
“If just one case goes through, we expect that officials will say they were authorised to torture,” says Ishai. “We just need one case in a formal and open investigation.”
By Tessa, IRCT Communications