Prisoners

Israelis have been lulled into a false sense of security by the promise of endless and simple technical solutions. Palestinians are confined to ever smaller spaces: the prison of Gaza, the city under lockdown, the torture cell, or the doctor’s surgery where a feeding tube can be inserted. But the craving for self-determination and dignity are more than technical problems. You cannot force-feed a people to still their hunger for freedom.

The apparent abduction of three teenagers has provoked a wave of revulsion in Israel but no readiness to examine the causes of the incident or the appropriateness of Israel’s response. Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the parliament, discovered the cost of not joining the chorus of outrage: she was assigned a bodyguard after receiving a flood of death threats, and is being investigated for incitement.

Reports that Washington was offering to free Israel’s most notorious spy, Jonathan Pollard, as part of an unorthodox prisoner exchange has provoked feverish excitement in Israel. The move appeared to be the sweetener in a last-ditch effort by US President Barack Obama’s administration to prevent the demise of current peace talks

Although Israel is suspected of recruiting tens of thousands of Palestinians as collaborators since its creation in 1948, the practice has rarely attracted more than superficial attention. Palestinians are ashamed that cooperation with the Israeli security services is widespread, while Israel is loath to draw attention to its systematic violations of international law. But the issue of collaboration is finally emerging from the shadows.

Israelis are wallowing in the conviction that the prisoner exchange, in which Sgt Shalit was returned for more than 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners, proves Jews value life more than Arabs. Positing an Arab culture of “primitivism and barbarity”, a commentator at Ynet, Israel’s most popular website, boasted: “We lost the sadism contest by knock-out.”

Israel has admitted that it was behind the abduction of a Gazan engineer who went missing more than a month ago while travelling on a train in the Ukraine. The whereabouts of Dirar Abu Sisi, the operations manager of Gaza’s only power plant, have been the subject of intense speculation since he disappeared on February 18 as he travelled on a train to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

A police officer known as “Major George” who is accused of torturing Arab prisoners in his previous role as chief interrogator in a secret military jail has been appointed to oversee relations with Jerusalem’s Palestinian population, it has emerged. The decision has been greeted with stunned disbelief from human rights groups, who say unresolved allegations against Major George that he brutally abused Arab prisoners for many years should disqualify him from such a sensitive post.

Israel’s watchdog body on medical ethics has failed to investigate evidence that doctors working in detention facilities are turning a blind eye to cases of torture, Israeli human rights groups claim. The Israeli Medical Association (IMA) has ignored repeated requests to examine such evidence, the rights groups said. The accusations will add fuel to a campaign backed by hundreds of doctors to force Yoram Blachar, who heads the IMA, to step down from his recent appointment as president of the World Medical Association.

The rights of Palestinian children are routinely violated by Israel’s security forces, according to a new report that says beatings and torture are common. In addition, hundreds of Palestinian minors are prosecuted by Israel each year without a proper trial and are denied family visits. The findings by Defence for Children International (DCI) come in the wake of revelations from Israeli soldiers and senior commanders that it is “normal procedure” in the West Bank to terrorise Palestinian civilians, including children.

The United Nation’s watchdog on torture has criticised Israel for refusing to allow inspections at a secret prison, dubbed by critics as “Israel’s Guantanamo Bay”, and demanded to know if more such clandestine detention camps are operating. In a report published on Friday, the Committee Against Torture requested that Israel identify the location of the camp, officially referred to as “Facility 1391”, and allow access to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Israel’s enduring use of Palestinian collaborators to entrench the occupation and destroy Palestinian resistance was once the great unmentionable of the Middle East conflict. When the subject was dealt with by the international and local media, it was solely in the context of the failings of the Palestinian legal system, which allowed the summary execution of collaborators by lynch mobs and kangaroo courts. That is beginning to change with a trickle of reports indicating the extent of Israel’s use of collaborators and the unwholesome techniques it uses to recruit them.

The roadside signpost bearing the information “Facility 1391” was removed months ago. Now there is nothing to identify the concrete fortress guarded by two watchtowers that sits atop a small wooded hill. But this summer the Israeli government, under pressure from the courts, admitted that Facility 1391 serves as a “secret prison,” what one local newspaper termed “Israel’s Guantanamo”.

Facility 1391, close to the Green Line, the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank, is not marked on maps, it has been erased from aerial photographs and recently its numbered signpost was removed. Censors have excised all mention of its location from the Israeli media, with the government saying that secrecy is essential to “prevent harm to the country’s security”.