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Hidden History of Zionism

Ralph Schoenman

The Hidden History of Zionism

Chapter 9
The Second Occupation

8. Blitzkrieg and Slaughter   |   10. Prevalence of Torture


Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres have, at different times, expressed the conviction that “the lesson of Lebanon” would pacify, by example, the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

This pacification, however, had been underway for twenty-one years since their occupation in 1967. Many in the West Bank and Gaza were refugees of earlier Israe1i depredations from 1947 to 1967.

In the post-1967 territories of occupation, a Palestinian cannot plant a tomato without an unobtainable permit from the military government. He or she cannot plant an eggplant without such a permit. You cannot whitewash your house. You can’t fix a pane of glass. You can’t sink a well. You can’t wear a shirt which has the colors of the Palestinian flag. You can’t have a cassette in your house which has Palestinian national songs.

Since 1967, more than 300,000 Palestinian youth have passed through Israeli prisons under conditions of institutional torture. Amnesty International concluded that there is no country in the world in which the use of official and sustained torture is as well-established and documented as in the case of the state of Israel.

Twenty-one years after the Israeli seizure of Gaza, the Los Angeles Times described its consequences:

Only about 2,200 Jewish settlers live in the Gaza Strip, which was captured from Egypt, but they occupy about 30% of the 135 square mile area. More than 650,000 Palestinians, mostly refugees, are squeezed into about half the strip, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The rest of Gaza’s land has been designated restricted border zones by the army. [127]

Civil Rights and the Law


In all territory under Israeli military occupation, any soldier or policeman has the right to detain an individual should he believe he has “grounds to suspect” that the person in question has committed an offense. The law does not set out the nature of the infraction suspected by the soldier to have been committed or planned.[128]

The deliberately vague nature of this statute has the consequence of denying to Palestinians in the territories occupied since 1967 any means of knowing why they may be arrested and detained.

Upon arrest for suspicion, a Palestinian may be detained for eighteen days with the approval of a police officer.

Once arrested, a Palestinian detainee can be (and virtually always is) denied access to a lawyer. The formal regulation provides that the Prison Administrator decide whether or not a lawyer may be permitted to see a client.

Routinely, prison officials rule that for a prisoner to meet with an attorney before interrogation is complete would be to “hinder the process of interrogation.” [129] This decision can extend through the duration of detention. As a result, lawyers gain access to a prisoner only after that prisoner has confessed or after the security services have decided to terminate the interrogation.

Lawyers in Israel maintain that the reason for this arrangement is that the focal point of interrogation is to obtain a confession. To achieve that end the authorities invariably subject a prisoner to isolation, torture and insupportable physical conditions.

Upon arrest, a detainee undergoes a period of starvation, deprivation of sleep by organized methods and prolonged periods during which the prisoner is made to stand with hands cuffed and raised, a filthy sack covering the head. Prisoners are dragged on the ground, beaten with objects, kicked, summarily stripped and placed under ice-cold showers. Verbal abuse and physical humiliation are commonplace involving such acts as spitting or urinating into a prisoner’s mouth and forcing the prisoner to crawl around in a crowded cell.

The interrogation can go on for several months until such time as the individual confesses and a charge can thus be drawn up. If the prisoner does not break under torture and agree to confess, he or she may be detained administratively, without being charged or brought to trial.


The coerced confession is central to proceedings against Palestinian prisoners. Until 1981 a prisoner could be tried only on the basis of his or her personal confession - a sufficient inducement for prison authorities to produce one for the court. Wasfi O. Masri, who had been a senior judge under Jordanian rule and who defends many Palestinian prisoners has stated:

In 90% of the cases I have, the prisoner ... was beaten and tortured. [130]

Because many prisoners withstood torture and refused to confess, an amendment to the military statute was adopted, permitting courts to use as the central and, indeed, sole evidence against a defendant the fact that his or her name was mentioned in someone else’s confession.

While “evidence” is considered inculpating if a defendant’s name is cited in another prisoner’s confession, the prosecution’s case is treated as definitive if a defendant’s confession is produced. If a detainee fails to admit to an offense, officers of the Intelligence Services are brought into court to testify that the prisoner made an “oral” confession. Palestinian attorney Mohammed Na’amneh, in describing two such cases, observed that when prisoners deny having confessed orally, the court accepts an Intelligence Officer’s testimony as probative. [131]

All confessions are written in Hebrew, a language virtually none of the Palestinians from the territories occupied since 1967 is able to read. When prisoners refuse to sign on the ground that they cannot read Hebrew, they are abused. In the case of Shehadeh Shalaldeh of Ramallah, “the officer left the room and two men in civilian clothes came in. I told them I wanted to know what I was signing ... They started beating me, so I said “Okay, okay, I’ll sign’.” [132]

There are many cases wherein the statement which a prisoner has signed in Hebrew bears no relation to the Arabic text originally shown him. Such confessions invariably begin:

“I was a member of a terrorist organization.

These words would never be used by a member of the P.L.O. (Palestine Liberation Organisation) or its component organizations. Notwithstanding the fact that such “confessions” are in a language which cannot be read by those signing them, the courts have ruled that confessions are “irreversible” and wholly probative of the offense in question.

Exact data on the percentage of those arrested, interrogated and eventually brought to trial are difficult to establish with precision. No published statistics exist. But the cumulative information of lawyer and Palestinian community records make evident that the number of Palestinians subjected to interrogation and torture is enormous.

Israeli lawyers state without hesitation that most males over the age of sixteen have been interrogated and held at one or another time in their lives for periods of varying duration. By 1980, reports printed in the Israeli press estimated the number of Palestinians imprisoned at one or another time after 1967 to have reached 200,000. Lawyers recently updated this figure to 300,000.


Those who reach trial are charged most commonly with “political” offenses which include: 1) Breaking public order (a vague category embracing any action including insufficient subservience toward Israeli officials); 2) Demonstrating; 3) Distributing leaflets or daubing slogans; 4) Membership in an “illegal” organization. Specifically targeted are groups which attempt to form any Palestinian political party in pre-1967 Israel such as El Ard (The Land), which does not support explicitly a Jewish state, or representative Palestinian bodies, such as the National Guidance Committee (Lijni Komite al Watani) in the West Bank. Organizations which are part of the P.L.O. are also among those declared illegal.

Many youngsters in the Occupied Territories who strike, march, demonstrate or meet, are charged with “producing or throwing Molotov cocktails”. A significant number of people are tried for possession of arms, armed assault and forms of military operation and sabotage. Many of these cases involve, in fact, violation of the “contact with the enemy” provision, which covers any organization designated by Israeli security forces as sympathetic to Palestinian national aspirations.

Within ten years of the occupation, over 60% of all prisoners in pre-l967 Israel and the territories occupied since 1967 were Palestinians found guilty of political offenses. All political offenses violate the Defense Emergency Regulations of 1945 and the State Security, Foreign Relations and Official Secrets Act of 1967, thus making them “security offenses”.

People charged with such political offenses are brought to trial in military courts. This is true inside pre-1967 Israel as well as the territories occupied subsequently. Palestinians are rarely tried in civil court.

The Defense Emergency Regulations

Under the Emergency Regulations, a military commander (currently the Military Governor) can, at his discretion and without judicial review.

Military edicts appended to the Defense Emergency Regulations have proliferated to the point where they impinge upon the minutiae of Palestinian existence. Military Orders affecting the West Bank:

The Defense Emergency Regulations, first adopted by the British to control the Palestinian population within the Mandate, were revised in 1945 and used by the British to control armed attacks on British soldiers by the Irgun and Haganah and to restrict Zionist acquisition of land. The Regulations were condemned in 1946 by the Hebrew Lawyers Union in the following terms:

The powers given to the ruling authority in the Emergency Regulations deny the inhabitants of Palestine their basic human rights. These regulations undermine the foundation of law and justice; they constitute a serious danger to individual freedom, and they institute a regime of arbitrariness without any judicial supervision. [133]

Yaakov Shimpshon Shapira, who was later to become a Minister of Justice for the state of Israel and one of its leading legal authorities, proclaimed:

The regime built in Palestine on the Defense Emergency Regulations has no parallel in any civilized nation. Even in Nazi Germany there were no such laws and the Nazi deeds of Mayadink and other similar things were against the code of laws. Only in an occupied country do you find a system resembling ours ... [134]

Notwithstanding these assessments by leading Zionist authorities in jurisprudence, the Defense Emergency Regulations were incorporated into the legal system of the state of Israel. Since the founding of the state in 1948, the basic regulations have remained unchanged.

The irony is evident. The very regulations characterized by the man who would become Israel’s Minister of Justice as “unparalleled in any civilized country” and condemned by Zionist lawyers for denying “basic human rights” were adopted as the law of the land. As Yaakov Shimshon Shapira stressed: “Only in an occupied country do you find a system resembling ours ...” The Palestinian people, whether in pre-1967 Israel, East Jerusalem, the West Bank or the Gaza Strip live in an occupied country.


127. Dan Fisher, Los Angeles Times, November 11, 1987.

128. Lea Tsemel, Prison Conditions in Israel – An Overview, November 16, 1982, p.1. Included in Ralph Schoenman and Mya Shone, Prisoners of Israel: The Treatment of Palestinian Prisoners in Three Jurisdictions (Princeton, N.J.: Veritas Press, 1984).

129. National Lawyers Guild, Treatment of Palestinians in Israeli-Occupied West Bank and Gaza (New York: 1978), p.89.

130. London Sunday Times, June 19, 1977.

131. Mohammed Na’amneh, Interview with the author, East Jerusalem, February 2, 1983.

132. London Sunday Times, June 19, 1977. p.18.

133. Arie Bober, ed., The Other Israel: The Radical Case Against Zionism (New York: Anchor Books, 1972), p.134.

134. Sabri Jiryis, The Arabs In Israel (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976), p.12.


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