The Human Rights Case against Israel: The Policy of Torture

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VOL. 8


No. 4
P. 3
The Human Rights Case against Israel: The Policy of Torture



Israel, its leaders and supporters all over the world argue, is a Western- style democracy, which is based on the respect for the rights of the individual and the supremacy of the law under all circumstances, and which abides completely by international law, living in harmony with the majority of states in the world. For this reason, it is most unlikely that Israel will ever confirm its use of torture against the Arab people who live under its occupation. Israel, however, has occupied Arab lands by force since June 1967, and is faced daily with a population intensely and actively opposed to that occupation. It is logical and not unheard of, even in Western democracies, for the systematic use of torture to occur in such conditions. This, at any rate, is the belief of the former employee of the United States Consulate in East Jerusalem, Alexandra Johnson.


Reports of Israeli torture of Arab suspects on the West Bank and Gaza surface periodically in the American press. Since the torture is committed by Israel, a country that is considered to be the "bastion" of democracy in the Middle East, the reports tend to be discounted. The victims of torture are Palestinian Arabs, a fact which seems to make it easier for the media and leaders in the West to take the reports less seriously. The issue of torture is all the more salient because the Carter Administration in the United States is committed, on paper at least, to the preservation of human rights. In his inaugural address, Carter declared: "Our commitment to human rights must be absolute.... Because we are free we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere. Our moral sense dictates a clear-cut preference for those societies who share with us an abiding respect for individual human rights." Subsequently, his government defined two different categories of concern regarding human rights. First, "the rights to be free from governmental violation of the integrity of the person. Such violations include torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; arbitrary arrest or imprisonment; denial of fair public trial; and invasion of home." And second, "the right to enjoy civil and political liberties such as freedom of thought, religion, assembly, speech and the press; freedom of movement both within and outside one's country; freedom to take part in government...." [1]


The United States government is a signatory to almost all international and regional agreements which deal with the issue of human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the United Nations, states in Article 2 that every human being, "without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration." These freedoms, the declaration states, encompass those who live under all forms of government, "political, jurisdictional, or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty." Article 5 reads: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Article 9 adds that "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile."


The United States is also a signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention, formulated by nations of the world precisely to protect all people under military occupation, such as the Palestinians. It would seem natural, then, that since the United States is the "defender" of human rights, any violations of human rights known to the US Administration should receive considerable attention and concern. Is this really the case? Did the United States government know of Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights? If so, what did it do about it? Reports of Israeli torture of Arab prisoners are, after all, not a new phenomenon. A few examples will be mentioned here but most of the emphasis will be placed on the recent reports of a member of the United States Foreign Service in the State Department.


Alexandra Johnson was an employee at the US Consulate in East Jerusalem, who, with the complete knowledge of her superiors and, sometimes, their encouragement, reported back to the State Department in two cables, Jerusalem 1500 and 3239, that Israeli authorities were, in fact, practicing torture against suspected Arab West Bankers in a systematic way. Now, Ms. Johnson is an honest individual - and a very intelligent and articulate one too, as any entrant to the US Foreign Service must be. Ms. Brenda Anderson, of the Foreign Service Board of Examiners, has stated that last year 12,223 individuals from all parts of the country took the Foreign Service Exam, of whom 2689 (22 percent) passed it and went on to take a very hard verbal test, which itself lasted two days. Of those who passed, the 135 top achievers were selected to join the Foreign Service. In this sense, Alexandra Johnson is not an average individual but a very bright one. She was, however, fired, or, to use her words, "selected out" of the Foreign Service. The reasons for this will be explained later.




Before we discuss Ms. Johnson's findings concerning Israeli torture of Arab prisoners and suspected individuals, it is pertinent to review other reports. In July 1977, a ten-member team from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) visited the Middle East in order "to explore the situation of the Palestinian people and to investigate the allegations of violations of their rights." [2] This team visited Lebanon from July 11 to 17, Jordan from the 18th to the 20th, and Israel, the West Bank and Gaza from the 20th to the 28th of the same month. The National Lawyers Guild, it is worth mentioning, is a nationwide organization of lawyers, law students and legal workers with a membership of over 5,000 in seventy-five chapters. Though the exact number is unknown, a substantial portion of the membership in the Guild are Jewish.


In 1975 in San Francisco, the National International Committee recommended by a vote of 12-7-3 that "the National Lawyers Guild resolve to study the many complex historical/political/social issues flowing from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict." [3] In the NLG National Executive Board Meeting in Columbus, Ohio, in August 1975, it was resolved: (1) "The NEB commits the resources of the organization to continuing and expanding our internal political education on the Palestinian question," and authorizes proper committees to "explore ways in which the views of the Palestinian people and progressive Israeli Jews can be heard..."; and (2) "The Guild recognizes the importance of studying violations of civil and political rights of Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories...." [4]


The interest of the NLG in the various aspects of the rights of the Palestinians is not exclusive of similar interests in other parts of the world. The NLG, for example, has also sent groups to Chile, Iran under the rule of the Shah, and to West Germany in order to investigate the treatment of prisoners and suspected persons under their governments.


The report which was presented to the Guild at the end of the delegation's visit to the Middle East was the result of a consensus opinion by nine members out of ten (the sole dissenting member was Howard Dickstein). The report, summarized below, was the consequence of interviews the delegation conducted with Palestinian ex-prisoners who were deported from their country upon release from prison into one of the neighbouring Arab states, with Israeli and Palestinian lawyers, with Palestinian civic leaders on the West Bank and in Gaza, and with representatives of church groups, the United Nations and various political parties in Israel, as well as a review of existing human rights documents.


In support of their conclusion, the delegation named the twenty-five individuals interviewed. The names included members of the Knesset, professors, journalists, mayors, lawyers and others, in addition to ex-prisoners. Their conclusion is that "many of the allegations commonly made [against Israel] are valid." Repression, the report concludes, "is a fact of life in occupation; Israel's occupation is no different." [5] Determined to continue its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and eventually to incorporate them into Israel, the authorities there "violated the rights of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians in a variety of ways...." [6] The report also concludes that Israeli practices in the occupied territories "violate the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention," [7] which aims at protecting such populations under military occupation. Israel, the report adds, was found in violation of twenty articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention.


Torture, the delegation summed up, is committed by certain govern- mental agencies which report directly to high officials in the Israeli government. The main agencies which fit under this category are the Shin Beit (Sheroot Betahon), which reports to the office of the Prime Minister; Military Intelligence, which reports to the Defense Minister; and the border police and the Latam (Leshka Letafkidim Meyohadim), which is responsible to the Minister of Police. These facts must indicate some knowledge by these high officials of the torture which is committed by agencies in their charge, the report argued. The many allegations against these governmental agencies would indicate prior knowledge by the ministers of the workings of their subordinates.


Interviews with ex-prisoners elicited frequent references to a central prison somewhere in Israel where prisoners are tortured. Their description of the inside structure of this building suggests that it is there to serve the purpose of interrogation and torture. This also indicates that some higher-up must have authorized the security agencies to use the compound, or to have authorized its preparation for such purposes. The report is supported by the findings of the International Committee of the Red Cross report of 1968 from Nablus, where it was concluded that there was evidence of the use of electric shocks. That these torture tools required money for purchase indicates that authority from above must have been obtained.


Despite the many accusations levelled against Israel, it continues to refuse any investigation into allegations by an international commission. The report lists the US Department of State, Amnesty International, the

ICRC and the United Nations as having requested Israel to allow an international investigation into the charges but to no avail. [8] Although the report agrees that Israel's legal system does "contain some provisions which might curb the use of coerced confessions" which are obtained through torture, "the application of these procedural safeguards... does not provide adequate protection against their use." [9] The NLG delegation concurs with the United Nations Special Committee that "military courts' procedures do not provide adequate opportunity to establish allegations of ill-treatment." [10]




In June 1977 the London Sunday Times published an article accusing Israel of systematic torture of the Arab population under its occupation since June 1967. The Times article further accused the Israeli press, which "normally [is] so vigorous and outspoken" of not carrying out its investigative duty. (The Sunday Times team had six years earlier, in a similar report, accused their own government's agents of ill-treating Irish fighters under interrogation.) Their conclusions were supported by testimony received from 49 Palestinians who had been interrogated by Israeli security agents. Most of these persons were still living in the occupied territories after their release. Forty-four out of forty-nine accused Israeli agents of practicing torture against them. Twenty-two of those interviewed agreed that their names be released, although they still are subject to Israeli control.


The conclusion reached by the Sunday Times was as follows:


1. "Israel's security and intelligence services ill-treat Arabs in detention."


2. Though some of this ill-treatment is primitive, e.g., prolonged beatings, "more refined techniques are also used,'' such as electric shock torture and confinement in cells which are specially constructed for this purpose. Due to the nature of such techniques and the organization required for their application, the report concludes, Israeli practices are placed firmly in the ''category of torture" rather than spontaneous individual brutality.


3. "Torture takes place in at least six centres" which the Times lists.


4. "All of Israel's security services are implicated; the Shin Beit...; Military Intelligence...; the border police; and Latam," each of which are responsible to ministers in the Israeli government.


5. "Torture is organized so methodically that it cannot be dismissed as a handful of 'rogue cops' exceeding orders. It is systematic. It appears to be sanctioned at some level as deliberate policy."


6. The purposes of torture are three: "to extract information, to induce people to confess to security offences, of which they may or may not be guilty," and which then is "used as the principal evidence in court."


Finally, torture is used "to persuade Arabs in the occupied territories that it is least painful to behave passively."


The Sunday Times report made headlines when it was published in 1977. It was, of course, attacked and rejected by the Israeli authorities. The Times coverage was, however, just another of a series of reports which accused Israel of practicing torture against the Arab population of the West Bank and Gaza, which has been under Israeli occupation since the June War of 1967.




During his visit to Washington, D.C., on March 25, 1979, to sign the bilateral peace treaty between his government and Egypt, Menahem Begin was asked on Columbia Broadcasting's programme "Face the Nation" if there was "any chance that you will let in the three-man commission voted by the United Nations" to investigate the conditions of Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza. "No," said Begin, "we are not going to let them in at all.... They don't have anything to do... they will only side with the Palestinian Arabs against the idea of autonomy....."


In December 1968, the UN General Assembly, in resolution 2443 (XXIII), appointed a "Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Population of the Occupied Territories." In September 1969, a three-member committee was appointed, including Somalia, Sri Lanka and Yugoslavia. Somalia decided in 1974 to withdraw from the Special Committee and the Secretary-General appointed Senegal to replace it. [11]


In its 1978 report to the Secretary-General which was distributed to the General Assembly, the Special Committee confirmed that they don't "have access to the occupied territories; the government of Israel reconfirmed its refusal to cooperate with the Special Committee." [12] The Committee then met again in Geneva and "examined a number of cases of alleged ill-treatment of detainees and a number of reports on conditions in Israeli prisons," and "viewed unedited films shot in the occupied territories." [13] The Committee also interviewed individuals who spent time in Israeli jails, and examined reports from the Israeli, Arab and international press on the occupied territories, and reports submitted to it by governmental and non- governmental bodies.


The report of the Committee covered the year since its last report of 1977, in which it found that "the indications that cases of torture have occurred and continue to occur are very strong...." [14] Since then, an Israeli army spokesman had announced that visits by delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross after the arrest of an individual would be allowed after fourteen days, a reduction from the 30-day limit (except in special "security" cases), and that the ICRC would be notified within fourteen days of the arrest. However, since the Committee submitted its last report it "continued to receive... allegations of ill-treatment of individual prisoners" and "took cognizance of 34 cases of alleged ill-treatment...." [15] The Special Committee also acquired information on the conditions in the prisons of Kfar Yona, Damoun, Beersheba, Ramallah, Shatta, Tulkarm and Ashkelon. Despite the acceptance by Israel of a reduction in the period after which the ICRC can visit prisoners, the Committee's observation was that "allegations of ill-treatment remain high" and at Ramallah Prison, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz on November 18, 1977, "several prisoners complained bitterly about torture during their interrogation." [16]


The UN Special Committee noted that reports of torture appeared even in the Israeli Hebrew press, e.g., July 26, 1978 in Zu Haderekb, where names of prisoners were provided. A case which deserves some special attention is that of Mr. Abdul-Rahman al-Asafra, a 42-year old who was arrested on December 13, 1975, and sentenced on May 11 to six years imprisonment. His allegations, according to the Committee, were "severe ill-treatment during interrogation including beating, immersion in hot water followed by exposure in cold water, [and] two months solitary confinement." As the report continues, "his wife was arrested ten days after giving birth and detained for four days; his son, 10 1/2 years, was arrested and detained for 25 days and ill-treated while being interrogated." Mr. Asafra has been blind since the age of 12 and is "reported to have undergone surgery on two occasions... on the genitals subsequent to the treatment received during his interrogation." [17]


Similar treatment, the Committee states, was received by Mr. Ahmad Husni al-Batch, 32, Mr. Suleiman Madi, 50, Mr. Muhammad Hamed Nimr Sobran and many others. In the case of Mr. Madi, the Committee possesses two medical reports "attesting to the injuries... as well as a perforated eardrum." [18] Another prisoner whose case is reported by the Committee is Ms. Aisha Odeh, 30 years old, who reported being tortured and sexually assaulted. Ms. Odeh's medical condition was very serious, and various organizations and individuals in the United States, such as the Palestine Solidarity Committee and the Palestine Human Rights Campaign, have waged a campaign to save her life. She was reported to have been one of the seventy-six Palestinian prisoners who were released in exchange for an Israeli prisoner held by Palestinian forces since last year's Israeli invasion into South Lebanon. The UN Special Committee ends its report by stating that "the fundamental violation of human rights lies in the very fact of occupation."

On February 21, 1979, the New York Times reported that "the United Nations Human Rights Commission accused Israel today of war crimes in the occupied Arab territories." The UN Commission also reported that Israel's alleged crimes in these territories "represent violations of the 1949 convention on the protection of civilians in wartime." The resolution was supported by 20 out of the 32 members, the United States and Canada voted against and nine other members abstained, while one member was absent. Israel's argument against such allegations of violating the Geneva Convention was based on the logic that the West Bank and Gaza are not occupied territories since the formal authorities controlling these territories before 1967, Jordan and Egypt, were not by law entitled to these lands. This position is rejected not only by the Commission, but also by Israel's major ally, the US government, and by almost all international lawyers outside Israel.


Other reports which cite evidence of Israeli practices of torture against the population of the occupied territories have been published by Amnesty International, the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights and others. In its report to the US Congress on human rights in the world, the State Department made different assessments of the situation in Israel and that in the occupied territories. It stated that Israel is a country where there is "respect for the integrity of the person, including freedom from: (a) torture; (b) cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; (c) arbitrary arrest or imprisonment; (d) denial of fair public trial; (e) invasion of the home." (Many people in Israel and outside it differ with the State Department conclusion, in particular concerning the Palestinians who became Israeli citizens in 1948.) As to the section regarding the occupied territories, defined as the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, most of the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, the report says that evidence "makes it appear that instances of mistreatment have occurred. In repeated discussions with Israeli authorities," the report continues, "we have been assured that such practices are forbidden by Israeli law and that any violators are punished." Concerning torture, this was the harshest criticism of Israeli rule on the West Bank and Gaza to appear in the State Department annual report. The rest of the report merely commends Israel for its democratic institutions and for its respect for the rights of peoples in the territories.


The quote mentioned above - "instances of mistreatment" - is taken from a cable sent by Alexandra Johnson, the visa section officer at the US Consulate in East Jerusalem, to the State Department early last year. Ms. Johnson, who was later fired from her position in the Foreign Service, charges Israel with systematic torture of Arab prisoners and suspects in security offences. The reasons for her "selection out" of the Service after six years with the Department of State are two: one "official" and the other the "real reason." The "official reason," according to her statements to me in an in-depth interview on February 28, 1979, a summary of which follows, is that her superior, Mr. Newlin, the Consul-General in Jerusalem, considered her an "excellent analyst, writer, and very objective," but "he believed I had problems getting along with colleagues, and therefore that I wouldn't be an effective administrator." The rules of the Foreign Service state that Ms. Johnson would have to be promoted or "selected out." In April 1978, Ms. Johnson asked Mr. Newlin to provide her with some examples of her inability to get along with her colleagues and he replied that "there weren't any examples that he could think of."




In January 1978, Mr. Kruse, the Deputy Principal Officer at the Consulate, directed Ms. Johnson to prepare a summary report of the "security visa cases," twelve in number by then, so that they could be submitted to the Department of State. Security cases are those "Palestinians who were accused at some point of belonging to and operating under a Palestinian organization." After the investigation of these cases, and before the results were cabled to Washington, Mr. Kruse signed off each of them individually. "All of the twelve cases," Alexandra said, "reported that they had been tortured." Mr. Kruse had a good idea of the content of these cables, but "what he did not realize was that a summary of them could add up to a shattering indictment of Israel."


In complying with Mr. Kruse's request, Ms. Johnson wrote what eventually became the cable "Jerusalem 1500" in January 1978. Mr. Kruse read it, praised it, and said that Mr. Newlin would have to read it as well. The drafted report now became a cable and was given by Mr. Kruse to Mr. Newlin, who after many weeks, and because "he was too busy," couldn't read it. Mr. Kruse informed Alexandra of this later. During this time, Mr. Kruse "mysteriously lost a copy of the draft," and when Alexandra talked to him it became clear to her that "he believed that it was the only copy available." He was disappointed, Alexandra felt, when she produced an additional copy of the draft, one of ten she had had made prior to handing the original over. Ms. Johnson, who wanted to send the cable to Washington, was told by Mr. Kruse that she shouldn't insist on doing so because he, Mr. Kruse, "had leaked the cable [Jerusalem 1500] to Donald Neff," who was then serving as the bureau chief in Jerusalem for Time magazine, and undoubtedly he would write about it.

At this same time, Mr. Newlin wrote his first recommendation that Ms. Johnson not be promoted. Under Department of State rules, if she did not receive a promotion that year then she must leave the Service. In addition to Mr. Newlin's report on her, Alexandra says that Mr. Kruse had himself called the State Department in Washington and asked specifically that she be ''removed from Jerusalem as soon as possible." Department of State rules, she explains, do not forbid such removal without the consent of the officer involved, but there should be an emergency and a good justification for doing so, especially at that time, which was the beginning of the peak visa season of summer and when it is very hard to get a replacement for visa officers. Later, Alexandra decided that since her report had not been acted upon, she would send it to Washington via official policy dissent channels. When she announced the decision to Mr. Newlin, "he immediately backed down."


The rules for sending a dissent cable are such that if there is a disagreement between a chief of a diplomatic post and one of the subordinate officers, the latter can send such a cable to the office of the Secretary of State. The consequences for both parties could be "exceedingly serious" once the office of the Secretary verifies and comes up with a conclusion. Mr. Newlin, when faced with such an alternative, backed down and told Alexandra that her cable would be sent "ordinarily" and that it was "very objective, very well done, etc....." The cable was sent on May 31, and received by Ms. Pat Derian, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs.


Ms. Derian later found out about the personnel action which was under way against Ms. Johnson and, according to Alexandra, "she personally telephoned them [personnel] that she would oppose my removal because [she] believed that I was being removed because of human rights reporting." Ms. Johnson is certain that her superiors were making "the most strenuous efforts to suppress the evidence that I was presenting to the Human Rights Bureau." This then is the real reason, Alexandra explained, that she was "selected out" of the service, not her "inability to get along with co- workers."


Ms. Johnson's knowledge of the Middle East before she joined the Foreign Service was extremely limited. Even when she did join the Foreign Service, her education was in the field of Soviet studies, specifically in Sino-Soviet relations. It is impossible to claim, then, that she had any sympathy with the Arabs or Palestinians. "Like many Americans," she said, "I was very naive and pro-Zionist." She says that Palestinians were always associated in her mind with terrorism (a statement easily believable to anyone who lives in the United States, reads its newspapers and listens to the American mass media). Ms. Johnson had, she recalled, toured Morocco for a week, and spent a month visiting Jerusalem on a religious pilgrimage prior to joining the Foreign Service. The Middle East was not, however, her choice of assignment, but was urged upon her by her superiors. She had been offered a post in Vietnam, but because of her moral objection to the war and out of concern for her personal safety in that area, she turned down that opportunity.


When she did accept the assignment in the Middle East, Ms. Johnson began studying the Arabic language in 1975, spending six, months training in Washington, two and a half months in Beirut, and fourteen months in Tunisia. By the time she arrived in the West Bank, however, she was still "pro-Zionist," and, according to her, "exceedingly ignorant" of the politics and realities of the Middle East. In fact, she "regarded the occupation as a very benign affair with no injustices and basically a model operation." Alexandra stressed the point that one shouldn't conclude that all other officers of the State Department are as unfamiliar in their areas as she was. In Jerusalem, however, she found that her case was not the exception. Mr. Newlin was himself a specialist in NATO affairs who knew nothing about the Middle East, and Mr. Kruse was an expert in European affairs. The backgrounds of the remaining personnel were equally inapplicable to the area.


In response to the question whether she knew prior to leaving for Jerusalem that she would be involved in human rights investigations there, she replied: "No. I didn't even know that there were any human rights issues." As a visa officer, Alexandra explained, she knows that anybody who belongs to an organization proscribed by the US Attorney General is forever barred from entering the United States. In Israel, the PLO is illegal and this obviously applies to the occupied territories as well. The United States Visa Regulations state that when a member of an illegal organization convicted of such membership applies for a visa, it is the duty of the visa officer to look at the court record of that individual and, if possible, the officer should interview the person. The results of such an investigation are cabled to the Department of State, which continues examining the case with the help of the CIA and FBI. Based on the reports of all these sources, the visa is either granted or denied by the State Department in Washington and the decision is referred back to the visa officer in the field.


The visa is granted or denied on the basis of two classifications regarding membership in illegal organizations: first, "meaningful membership," i.e., when the person is a "serious and committed member of the organization," and second, "non-meaningful membership," i.e., a "non-serious or non- committed member" of an organization. The "non-meaningful" member can be granted a visa to the United States. All of the cases which Ms. Johnson investigated were classified as non-meaningful, a judgment made in conjunction with the State Department in Washington. It was not unusual to discover in the handling of visa cases that the court record of a convicted Palestinian would itself confirm the story related by the individual to Alexandra in the course of their interview. As an example, Alexandra cites the case of a Palestinian who, according to both his personal testimony and the Israeli court record, had refused overtures by a Fateh recruiter, but was still found guilty of membership in the organization and sentenced accordingly. As Alexandra points out, the court record "had given a very complete list of circumstances that showed that the person was not a member, and then they ended up by convicting him of membership." The only possible explanation, then, is that the individual's confession of membership (clearly obtained by torture) was the only basis of his later conviction.


Ms. Johnson recalls that she sent the material about the above case to the State Department along with a note which stated that "Israel's definition of membership [in the PLO] is extremely broad" and a person may not have been a member at all despite a conviction for membership. The State Department reply to her was that she had to decide whether or not he was a member. "If he is not a member, don't send the case to us. If he's a member, send us the case and we will decide whether the membership is meaningful or not." This could be interpreted that the State Department does not take the Israeli court records at face value, first because of the possibility of torture and coercion of a confession, and second because of the inconsistency between the record of the court and the sentences delivered. In the case cited above, the Department granted a visa, because it was obvious to them that the person either was not a member at all or was at most a non-meaningful member.


To Alexandra, the significance of this example is twofold: First, "it introduced me to the whole subject"; and second, upon receiving her cables a meeting of responsible people was held and a memorandum was issued stating that the "law doesn't say that a person who was convicted of membership shall be denied a visa - it says a person who was a member shall be denied a visa." The implication is, once again, that the court records of Israel are not to be presented as final evidence upon which a visa should be denied, but rather that the individual officer should investigate the case and make the conclusion upon his or her findings. Further, Alexandra said that the State Department, on this level at least, recognized that "many of these Israeli court decisions represented a miscarriage of justice."


Ms. Johnson interviewed 47 Palestinians from the West Bank and reported in two cables to Washington on 29 of these cases. The two cables became known as "Jerusalem 1500" and "Jerusalem 3239." The "1500" cable included fifteen interviews and 3239 included fourteen. Her method of interview was, at first, simply to ask each individual to tell his story. Some would only mention that they were beaten during the interrogation while others would go into detailed description of the interrogation and the torture. At the end of the interview, Alexandra would ask each of the persons to "write his story in his own words," and when that was done the statement would be reread to the individual, corrections would be made if desired, and they would then be asked to sign and swear to the truth of the statement. The signed document would then be filed as a permanent record of the investigation.


In 1977, Ms. Johnson interviewed twelve of these applicants for visas and in early 1978, three more were interviewed. On April 4, 1979, the Christian Science Monitor published an extract from Jerusalem 1500. (When later asked about the contents of the said article, Ms. Johnson said that it "is almost 100 percent correct.") The charges for which the fifteen individuals were arrested and tried, according to the Monitor article, are as follows: "One individual smuggled a timing device.... Another embarked upon a course of ideological training under PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) auspices. Two were arrested because they each had a friend who owned an unlicensed pistol. Six seem to have been arrested on the basis of indiscreet conversations in which they expressed verbal support for the PLO. One had distributed leaflets calling for a protest demonstration, two were children who had scrawled anti-Israeli slogans on school walls (they were arrested for this almost two years after writing the graffiti). Another had lied to obtain a permit to cross the Allenby Bridge into Jordan to attend his own wedding. Yet another still claims to have no idea why he was held for one month of interrogation and five weeks of administrative detention, and police records also throw no light upon the matter."


Alexandra went through the investigation of these cases not to prove any wrong-doing by Israel against the Arabs on the West Bank and Gaza. She did it in order to justify to the Department of State why she recommended turning down or granting a visa to somebody. She swore under oath to do her job the best and the only legal, correct way she knew how, and she added: "It is a serious matter to accuse Israel or any state of torture.... You really have to present unquestionable evidence to substantiate these accusations."




Reflecting her dedication to her job and her determination to do it well, Alexandra said to me during the interview that "in some of these instances torture is irrelevant. If a person is a serious member of an organization (a proscribed organization), it doesn't make any difference whether or not he was tortured. If he was tortured, I may feel sorry for him on a human level, but I have to recommend refusal of the visa." A decision to refuse a visa for someone, as Alexandra points out, is very serious because it bars that person from entering the country for life, except by obtaining a special waiver for tourists.

Jerusalem 1500 also describes the ways in which the applicants were tortured. All fifteen of the applicants said that they had been beaten and tortured during their interrogation. The beating was done with fists and sticks. Some of the victims reported that they lost consciousness during the beating. Some of them claimed both psychological and physical torture. Most said they confessed only to stop the torture, and to avoid permanent physical damage. Some of the victims also said that the torture included "immersion in cold water, hanging by the hands and feet, various forms of sexual sadism, beating on the genitals, inserting a bottle into the rectum, threatening to bring females of the arrested person for public rape in the prison, [and] confinement in extremely small cells without sanitation."


The beating and all other kinds of torture were mostly used during the interrogation. Once the person confessed, the likelihood that torture would be stopped was great. Some of the applicants described to Alexandra the techniques and purpose of the torture, which "indicated that the Israelis were not looking for truth, they were looking for a confession and they did not care whether the confession was accurate or not. Some said that the Israelis gave them a choice of organizations in which to confess membership to." Others said they were told to manufacture a false confession. One person, Alexandra said, was interrogated and tortured a whole month without confessing to anything. When they threatened him that his sister would be brought to the prison and would be raped in front of him, he told them to write anything they wanted and he would sign it. He was charged by the court on that basis. Yet another person said that he confessed twice - once by signing a blank paper and again while being whipped by the interrogator. Sometimes the victims were asked to sign a confession which was written in Hebrew.


Once in the court, Ms. Johnson said, the victims "regarded the trial as a simple formal preliminary to conviction and imprisonment." They did not see the courts as a system which would decide on their guilt or innocence. Here, the problem of language once again arises. Theoretically, the military trials are supposed to be in Hebrew with simultaneous Arabic translation. In practice, however, there was either no translation at all or a very bad translation that the prisoner did not understand. Some prisoners said that at their trial they made a second confession in order to obtain sentences. This was done in public repeating what was coerced from them during interrogation. Local attorneys confirmed these second confessions because they "considered it a waste of time to challenge the interrogator." Some prisoners had to regret their actions in court, upon the advice of their attorneys, in order to receive lesser sentences.


In early January 1978, a draft of the human rights report, which was published later that same month, was sent to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for comment. Edmund Hall, the political officer in the Consulate, asked Alexandra to read the draft and comment on it to Mr. Kruse. "I read the report," Ms. Johnson said, and the sentence "We know of no evidence that Israel follows a policy or a practice of torture." And the conclusion said that "instances of brutality by individual interrogators cannot be ruled out." Jerusalem 1500 did not mention that torture was systematic, but it certainly concluded more than what the draft had concluded. Ms. Johnson said: "Here I had twelve people who applied [for visas] at different times, none of whom knew each other, who came from different parts of the West Bank, and from different social classes. I felt," Ms. Johnson said, "that statistically it is almost impossible to take a random sample of twelve individuals and have that kind of uniformity unless you have something more than individual instances of brutality by an interrogator or two...."


Ms. Johnson disagreed with Mr. Kruse's draft and especially with his conclusion. Mr. Kruse told Ms. Johnson that they had to send in the report that very morning so that there was no time to make any additions. She told him that she had interviewed twelve cases which were relevant to the report, and he told her to write a summary report about them. The result was the drafting of what became Jerusalem 1500. Once the draft of Jerusalem 1500 was finished it was too damaging to Israel and Mr. Kruse and Mr. Newlin were reluctant, or frightened to send it. Eventually, however, it was cabled to Washington.


Jerusalem 1500 concluded with two different observations that indirectly supported the notion that systematic torture is practiced. "It noted that the Palestinian prisoners did not try for the most part to influence their fate in any way, nor did their families." Therefore, "they believed that once they were arrested it was all over with them; that they would be beaten, they would confess, they would be tried, they would be convicted and be imprisoned." When two people were released, they couldn't understand why - they thought it was just luck.


A very important point which Alexandra made, and which was not dealt with by the press, was that "in the spring of 1978, the State Department officially accepted the existence of Israeli torture, and accepted this as a factor to be considered in processing visa security cases." This occurred before the writing of 3239 and long before the current controversy. The decision of the State Department centred on two cases. One is that of "Elias," who was accused by the Israelis of organizational membership, distribution of political brochures and training in explosives. His court record was fragmentary, offering no explanation in detail of his offence. "On the basis of this record," said Alexandra, "I would have had to recommend refusal of the visa. The only way this person could be issued a visa is if the State Department accepts torture [as the explanation for his confession]." He was granted a visa, which means that the State Department accepted the notion that he confessed under, and because of, torture.


Another case was of a Palestinian who had been processed for a visa a year earlier by Vice-Consul Ted Tench. This Palestinian had been in prison at the time, but the Israeli Military Governor promised his release for deportation to the United States. The people at the Consulate were worried about this particular case and they didn't want to handle it. Mr. Tench, who had handled it before, was advised to refuse it on the ground of possible political problems. Based on court records alone, the man was refused a visa in April 1978. When he was finally released, he came to Ms. Johnson and again asked for a visa. Ms. Johnson interviewed him for four days and sent the results to Washington, including a comparison with the fourteen other cases she had handled. The State Department granted him a visa. "Legally speaking," said Alexandra, "there was no way they would grant the visa without accepting that torture had occurred." In May 1978, Washington sent a telegram to Jerusalem stating explicitly that "in addition to the court records, the State Department was taking into consideration... the applicant's statements about interrogation practices."


In another case, Alexandra said that she had an applicant who was a member of a cell which had previously planted explosives in the US Consulate in Jerusalem. Though he himself had not been a part of that operation, Alexandra said that she naturally recommended refusal of a visa for him. The State Department reply was that "this man confessed under torture and under threat of continuing torture, therefore we request that you reopen his case and reinvestigate it" to ascertain his status. When she received this cable, Alexandra reopened his case and found more evidence of his involvement with the group and again recommended his refusal. He was finally refused the visa. This case makes clear the State Department knowledge of torture and the significance accorded to it. The people responsible for evaluating torture reports are in the visa office in Washington, D.C. They operate under strict legal guidelines and could be called upon to account for these decisions.


The Jerusalem 1500 cable, and the information known prior to it, made it clear even to the US Department of State that torture was being regularly practiced in Israel against Palestinian prisoners and suspected individuals. In attempting to make an accurate decision about the past of a visa applicant, the US Department of State did not consider Israel's court records as factual or truthful enough a basis upon which to make their decision. Still, however, in the report released to the Congress, the State Department refused to admit in public what was to them a known fact. The second cable, 3239, which Ms. Johnson sent from Jerusalem to Washington in November 1978, referred to another fourteen cases of applicants. Ms. Johnson said that "even this one, 3239, I did not volunteer to write." She explains that in October 1978, while in Washington for consultations, the Israel Desk asked that she brief one of them about torture in the West Bank. The woman from the Israel Desk, Margaret Dean, explained to Alexandra that the rest of the Israel Desk personnel were very busy because of the Camp David talks and therefore "she had been delegated to discuss with me certain things which the Desk was concerned about." What Margaret Dean wanted to know was what evidence Alexandra had that torture was systematic. Alexandra, who had not given this subject a lot of thought up to that time, said that in her own mind she saw two types of evidence: (1) "Israeli personnel policy" and (2) "Existence of elaborate physical facilities designed for causing pain." Ms. Dean, when hearing this, told Alexandra that it would be helpful for the "Desk to have a full analysis of this subject," and she asked that Alexandra "please send them a cable citing all the evidence" that could be gathered and which suggests that torture was a systematic practice. "So," Alexandra said, "I wrote 3239."

Cable 3239 analyses applicants' statements about the kind of torture Israel used on them and how frequent interrogation sessions were. Statistically, according to Alexandra, the data she gathered could be categorized into three levels:


(1) "Beating with fists and sticks on the head and torso. Typically, applicants interrogated on level (1) were interrogated once daily," and each session lasted no more than an hour. In some cases, the interrogation was done once every several days. "This type of interrogation was associated with a particular type of concern on the part of the interrogators. The interrogators' concern may be different from the charges ultimately brought against the person." The use of this type requires a minimum output of personnel and time.


(2) This is a more sophisticated level which requires the use of more sophisticated equipment. It is used for more serious cases than the first. It involves immersing the victim in cold water and then in hot water, which could result in shock for the person and in some cases even death; sexual sadism, sticking the hand and/or the feet with needles, and beating the genitals with hands and sticks. This of course requires more deliberation, thought and preparation. Interrogation sessions are more frequent, i.e., twice daily for two or three hours a session, and usually more than one interrogator is involved. The accusations directed against the victim on this level are membership in an organization but not activity.


(3) This level is the most serious type of interrogation. The people whom Alexandra interviewed were for the most part imprisoned for relatively short periods of time, and therefore she didn't know what kind of interrogation was used with people who were sentenced for life or twenty years, for example. Techniques which tend to be associated with this level are the use of electricity, refrigeration, hanging by the hands or feet for prolonged periods of time, extreme forms of sexual sadism which usually involve the insertion of objects into the penis or the rectum, and exposure to high frequency sounds accompanied by forced sleeplessness and starvation. The victims during these sessions are forced to be nude. The interrogation at this level could involve up to eight interrogators, with several teams of interrogators rotated. The person interrogated is not allowed to rest in between shifts.


The implication of being able to identify these three levels of torture statistically is that the "interrogators are trained and that there is a certain set of standard techniques that are used. It also shows that the authorities have thought through what kinds of cases are more important for them." In addition, it demonstrates some notion of systematic torture. Ms. Johnson went on to say: "I also found that the willingness of the individual to denounce other people was a key point in determining at what level he was interrogated." The person will be interrogated at level (1) even if he is accused of membership, if he immediately denounces a dozen other people who are not already in police custody. The interrogation will shift to level (3) for a simple accusation if the person doesn't denounce others. Most of the applicants were themselves arrested on the basis of being denounced by another individual who had been arrested and tortured, or by a paid informer.


Ms. Johnson said that almost all applicants told her that they were asked to denounce others. "In many of the cases the individual confessed almost immediately, incriminating himself, because he regarded himself as a lost cause. Then the interrogation would drag on for days, or even for weeks, solely on the issue of furnishing other names." Sometimes people are implicated who are simply friends, relatives, or associates who simply talk of nationalism or politics on the streets, or in homes or coffeehouses.


Other evidence which supports the idea of systematic torture, in addition to the coordinated efforts of interrogation teams, is that all applicants pointed out that along with the members of security agencies who did the interrogation, members of other services were called in as well for their help. The applicants told Alexandra that members of the border police used to come and share in the beatings and torture. At what level does this type of coordination have to occur? Alexandra said, "I don't know. But at the very minimum, a commander of a platoon has got to know about it, probably higher."


Another form of evidence which indicates a "system" is the "administrative coordination of districts." Alexandra said that she handled cases from Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron and the Russian compound of Jerusalem. The above locations are found in three separate military districts, and Jerusalem, of course, is under civil rule. People from Bethlehem are interrogated in Hebron, and Jericho people are interrogated in Ramallah; Bethlehem and Jericho are also under separate military governorates as well. In some cases persons arrested in their houses will be interrogated immediately after the arrest in a nearby building before they are taken to interrogation centres. Some form of administrative coordination is needed for an interrogator to borrow a building or part of a building in a different jurisdiction. The lender at this level must then know who he is lending the space to and for what purpose.


A further factor lending credence to the idea of a "system" of torture concerns the tools which are used for the practice. Two different types of sticks are used for beating people. One is about a foot long, thin and tapered, the other is a metre long and thick. Alexandra said that the applicants described these two types to her quite uniformly; the short one is used for beating on the head and the genitals and the long for hitting the torso. The use of these two sticks uniformly suggests that they must have been issued by somebody for this purpose since they are not carried by agents, except in riot control situations.


"We have data," Ms. Johnson said, "that in Hebron and in Ramallah there are rooms with meat hooks sunk into the ceiling and walls, and people are hung by the hands or the feet from these meat hooks. It is not usual to install meat hooks in an office, and it is not usual for an interrogator to do his own carpentry work." One must write some kind of a requisition, and workmen must be brought in from somewhere, and the meat hooks must be bought or obtained from somewhere in order to be installed in these rooms. All of this naturally suggests that a system of torture is in existence and that higher-ups must know of it and approve it. The interrogation centre, according to Alexandra, is under the jurisdiction of the Deputy Military Governor and therefore he must know about the existence of these meat hooks.


A more sophisticated apparatus of torture was also described to Ms. Johnson by the applicants and other sources. In Jerusalem, Hebron and Nablus, she was told, there are electrical torture apparatuses. In Hebron there is a room which has equipment for high frequency irritating sounds. In Nablus there is a row of four to five small refrigerator cells in which people are kept for various lengths of time, often after having been drenched in cold water prior to their confinement.


Such sophisticated electric apparatuses require expertise in installation, operation and maintenance. In some cases, Alexandra said, some prisoners were brought in to keep these machines in good operating order. The prisoners are not under the administration of the security agencies but under an administration which reports to the Military Governor and his deputy. Borrowing them in order to maintain the torture installation in interrogation centres requires prior knowledge of, and agreement by, the administrative unit from which they are taken.


Therefore, the lowest level at which torture could be sanctioned would be the Deputy Military Governor. But once that is established, it is hard to exclude the likelihood that the Military Governor himself knows about it as well. The geographical distribution of the cases Alexandra interviewed, and the distribution of the torture installations, leads to the conclusion that all the interrogation centres are covered, including the Jerusalem area under civil rule. In addition, the time span involved in the cases Alexandra investigated covers the years from 1967 to 1977. "What official, I ask," Ms. Johnson remarked, "has the power to authorize this type of activity in such a wide geographical area, covering both civilian and military governments and over such a very long period of time? " Alexandra went on to say that if the Israeli public knew the details of what is taking place in the prison systems and the interrogation centre, even against Palestinians, "they could not ignore it."


Another aspect which was covered by 3239 to support the idea of systematic torture was the self-protecting mechanism, for the survival of the system. There is a method of "squashing the complaints" about torture. Applicants' interviews indicate a number of such methods. Most common is the existence of two signed confessions. One is obtained during interrogation under torture and the other is taken in a police station, in front of a police officer. The idea behind this is to have a police witness in the court proceedings testify that the accused signed the confession willingly, and not under duress or torture. This way, the allegation of the accused that he confessed under force is refuted in the courtroom by the police witness. The accused, of course, is told by his interrogators that if he doesn't sign the second confession at the police station, he will be taken back to the centre for more interrogation and more torture.


Another self-protecting mechanism is that the interrogators don't give their true names to the victims. Rather, they use pseudonyms, mostly Arabic or English, such as Abu Zaki, Abu Jamil and Jerry. When a protest is raised in court about the confessions, the judge asks the accused to name the interrogators and to point them out if they are in the courtroom. When the applicant, said Alexandra, pointed to a person and said "this one is Abu Zaki," the judge said, this man is an Israeli Jew and can't be Abu Zaki; the case was therefore thrown out on this technicality.


Another type of ploy to eliminate the evidence of torture is to prevent victims from seeing doctors, especially those of the Red Cross, immediately after interrogation when torture has occurred. Naturally, the intention here is to cover up the torture and therefore eliminate the possibility of having medical records as proof. This basically was the content of cable 3239.


Since East Jerusalem has been officially annexed by Israel (an action which is not recognized by most of the countries of the world), it is interesting to find out that the Palestinians who lived in Jerusalem have not been treated any differently from the rest of the West Bank residents, who were under military rule. "During the interrogation," said Alexandra, "there was no difference." After the interrogation a slight procedural difference was apparent. While applicants from the West Bank were tried either in Nablus or Ramallah military courts, the people from Jerusalem were tried in Lydda. Similarly, people from the West Bank, other than Jerusalem, were imprisoned in Hebron, Ramallah or Nablus central prisons, while Jerusalem people were sent to Ramleh or to other prisons in pre-1967 Israel.


In reporting about Alexandra's findings in Jerusalem, the American press exaggerated a point which has no relationship to her exercising the duties she held as a visa officer of the US Consulate in Jerusalem, and that is Alexandra's short-lived engagement to one of her applicants. It is good journalism to try to dig out every element of a story which has an effect on its content or on the way the public may perceive the reported event. It is not good journalism, however, to smear a person's reputation by intentionally pursuing the one aspect of an event which has the least import on the facts of that event. Some journalists, according to Alexandra, did try to do just that concerning her engagement to one of her applicants.


In regard to the engagement, Alexandra said the following. "I met him in April 1978," a full year after she began her reporting of human rights violations in March 1977. Their meeting was, as usual, in the US Consulate in Jerusalem, where he came for an interview after his application for a visa was processed for "a security adviser's opinion." They met three times in the office of the US Consulate "in the presence of a secretary, and we conducted the standard visa interviews." He was questioned about his connection, if any, with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and about his interrogation by Israeli authorities. His application was approved by Washington for an immigrant visa and he obtained the visa in May 1978. His entire family was, of course, delighted about the granting of the visa, and not unlike many Arab families, they invited Alexandra and her mother and secretary for lunch at their home. They accepted the invitation and the visit was paid in June of that same year.


This was the last contact Alexandra had with the young man for two months, during which time Alexandra was under the belief that he had already left for the United States. In August 1978, "he came to the Consulate and said that he would be leaving the West Bank the next day, and he asked me and my mother to come to his house that night to drink coffee and say goodbye." For Arabs, of course, such a custom of dinners and visits is not unusual. Alexandra said: "This was not the only time I accepted such invitations. The only rule we had about accepting such invitations is that we could only accept after the visa case was finished."


Alexandra and her mother did again visit the man's home before he left the West Bank. He asked for her address so that he could write to her from the United States, and she told him to write to her care of the US Consulate. In the last week of August, he wrote what Alexandra said was a "love letter with a marriage proposal," both of which came to Alexandra's complete surprise. "I liked and respected him but I wasn't in love with him," Alexandra commented. And as she thought it would be cruel to turn his proposal down so abruptly, and since she was going back to the States soon with her mother, she decided that they would stop in Chicago where he was living with his family. Once in Chicago, he "asked for my hand formally from my mother, who said we would consider it." Then he went with Alexandra and her mother to their home in California for a visit until Alexandra was to return to Washington.


Alexandra and the Palestinian in question, who had by then become a resident of Chicago, were engaged on October 6, 1978. At this time it was clear to Alexandra that she would not remain in the Foreign Service, and therefore they decided that upon her return to the US from Jerusalem, they would get married. "All of this episode came after Jerusalem 1500, which was sent in May 1978, and after I had completely processed 25 out of the 29 cases," Alexandra said. "It is really inconceivable that my engagement could have had an influence on my work."


Some of the articles written in the American press about this subject have tried to create suspicions and doubts in the minds of readers by implying Alexandra's reporting of torture was influenced by her engagement to a Palestinian. Listening to her, however, and following the facts and details of her work, leaves little doubt that not only was she not sympathetic to Palestinians, she was, and still is, a sympathizer with Israel on a number of aspects of the Middle East conflict. Torture, nonetheless, is not one of these aspects. Besides, her commitment to her job, and her absolute will to do it as well and as objectively as possible, leads to the same conclusion: that there was torture, it was reported to her by all of her applicants, and she investigated it in the best way she knew how. When there was no doubt in her mind as to the results, she reported it to Washington. Her superiors in Jerusalem signed all her cables, and complimented her on them. In Washington, too, her reporting was accepted, and the Department of State visa section made decisions based upon it.


Alexandra's engagement did not, in fact, last very long. The reason, as explained by Alexandra, was that her fiance wanted to go back to his village on the West Bank after three or five years, while she "had serious reservations about living as an ordinary civilian under Israeli military occupation, having children under this environment, etc. ..." She thought about the problem at length and decided that she "couldn't face that." So she broke the engagement a short time later. He was naturally very upset, left his family home and disappeared. "I haven't heard from him since," she said sadly.




In May 1977, Ms. Johnson was delegated from the US Consulate to attend the trial of an American citizen who had been arrested in January of that year. Her suspicions of Israeli torture were greatly enforced when she was repeatedly hit by an Israeli soldier, even though she identified herself as an American from the US Consulate.


The American citizen who was arrested on the West Bank was charged with membership in Fateh. The American Consulate intervened in the case because there was a "violation of international law in the processing of this man's case." The Consulate, instead of being notified within 72 hours of his arrest, was notified after three months. The arrest was in January 1977, and the Consulate was informed in March 1977, not by the Israeli authorities but by citizens on the West Bank who heard of the case. The consular officer visiting the arrested man was told by him that he had been beaten up during the interrogation, and the signs of the beating were still very clear on his body. In such cases, the law requires that an officer attend the trial of the person involved, and Alexandra was delegated since she spoke Arabic.


The Consulate was given the wrong date for the trial, which was to be held in Ramallah. When Alexandra explained to the gate guards of the court the reason for which she was there, she was sent to see a Captain Moshe in a place that didn't look like a military installation. Neither of the two soldiers who stood there spoke English or Russian, according to Alexandra, and she did not speak Hebrew. She told the two soldiers in Arabic that she was sent to speak to Captain Moshe concerning the American citizen, that she was from the American Consulate and would like to see the arrested individual. "They were very rude and either said in Arabic, 'I don't understand Arabic,' or just turned their backs on me."


When she showed her consular card, which was written in Hebrew, to the remaining soldier (one of them had walked away), he was suddenly very nice and directed her to the door of Captain Moshe. She knocked at the door and when there was no answer she cautiously turned the knob. The other soldier opened the door and "I explained to him in Arabic that his colleague had told me to see Captain Moshe and gave him my identity card." The soldier didn't bother to read the card but "raised his fist and began hitting me on the right shoulder and the right half of the chest. I was too surprised," Alexandra continued, to do anything, and "when he finished hitting me he just pushed me from the door and shut it in my face." Witnessing all of this were about 35 Arabs sitting in the room, none of whom said a word. An old man later walked up to Alexandra and showed her his American passport and said, "In this place it doesn't matter if you are an American citizen."


Alexandra said that she was very upset, and she went to the offices of the Military Governor and his deputy, Colonel Katz and Major Dodie, to lodge a complaint. Katz wasn't there but the deputy was. The regulations specify that consular officials are not to communicate with Military Government officials except when an American citizen is involved, as was true in the case Alexandra was there to witness. Deputy Military Governor Dodie asked Alexandra to describe the man who hit her and they brought in another soldier, whom Alexandra identified as the wrong one. When she said so, the Major said to her: "Oh, you mean Nahman, he is not an Israeli soldier. He is from a local mental asylum and it appears that he escaped again. Sometimes he escapes and does strange things." She then asked him why the man was wearing an Israeli military uniform, to which Dodie answered, "Well, he may be a soldier, but he doesn't belong to our command." When she followed up with her next question concerning why the man was at that time in Captain Moshe's office, the Deputy Military Governor simply said that he was very sorry if the man had hit her but "they were not responsible for his actions." Alexandra, then, in the presence of two English-speaking officers, called the American Consulate and told them what had happened. She was told to go back to Jerusalem and she subsequently wrote out a complete statement about the entire incident.


The Israelis received three different protests concerning this attack on an American Consulate officer. One was sent to the Military Governor in Ramallah, another was sent to Israel's Department of Defense, and the third was presented to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It later was found that Nahman, the soldier who struck Ms. Johnson, was sent on leave. The Israelis promised to investigate the matter but such an investigation never took place. The only feedback the US Consulate ever received about the case from the Israeli authorities was that "the incident was my fault," says Alexandra, "because I spoke in Arabic to the soldier." The Military Government officials said that the "soldiers were so used to striking Arabs that obviously anyone who spoke Arabic was laying themselves open to this type of treatment." This certainly is not a very comfortable comment to accept. If the only reason for hitting a woman was the fact that she spoke Arabic to an Israeli soldier in the office of an Israeli captain, is it so hard to accept the possibility of torture against those people who not only speak Arabic and look like Arabs, but who are also accused of security offences against the State of Israel?


The reporting of human rights violations and of torture of suspected security offenders in Israel, according to Alexandra, is not limited to her service in the US Consulate in Jerusalem. The Carter Administration's emphasis on this subject, however, made reporting on such issues more of a policy. Alexandra said that she was not the first to report about violations of human rights in Israel. The first report was filed from Jerusalem by Vice- Consul Ted Tench, about the room with meat hooks in Ramallah. This report was based on an interview with an American who was not himself tortured but who had been shown the meat hook room in order to urge cooperation by him with the Israeli interrogators. There were other reports of beating and torture by people in the US Consulate in Jerusalem, such as E. Hall, D. Kruse, and W. Griffith. Newlin, Hall and Kruse, Alexandra said, "agreed that... human rights reporting is dangerous." Mr. Newlin once told her it was "dangerous because sooner or later it must become public... and if a record is built up of human rights violations by Israel, and this becomes public, there will be problems for the Jerusalem Consulate.... There would be rather severe career problems, so wouldn't it be just better if we didn't file them?"


William Newlin, it should be kept in mind, is the Consul-General and the top ranking US diplomat in Jerusalem. For him to have said the above is not very complimentary for a US government official. For a US Consul-General to say the above, while his superior, the President of the United States, is at least publicly pushing for the issue of human rights, is an indication of the risk involved in even justly exposing Israel. It is a reality, however, for career-oriented officials in the US government that the subject of Israel is a high-risk one. Any American official who is caught criticizing Israel, even in a well-researched and documented criticism, is for a long time condemned to no advancement in any governmental bureaucracy. Naturally, in the US the personal incentive for promotions in the government, federal, state or local, overshadows one's human and moral commitment against violations of human rights, even if it is the Administration's declared foreign policy issue, and it is the basis upon which the continuation of aid, or its cessation, depends. Mr. Newlin, then, is not unique in this case. He may be simply protecting himself and his career by being careful about reporting of Israel's torture of Palestinians. Ms. Johnson did not heed her superior's warning, however, and it is a proof that he was right - she was, to use the State Department jargon, "selected out."


Replying to her superior, Mr. Newlin, Alexandra said: "I think we have to file them [the reports of torture]. In the first place, we have a statutory responsibility under the law to follow these things so they can be reported to the Congress. The law doesn't say you'll file these things if it is convenient. The law says you will file these when you find them." Edmund Hall, the political officer in the Jerusalem Consulate, also refused to see four Arab Bir Zeit University students who reported having been beaten up by Israeli interrogators because of their opposition to Camp David and the agreements. His justification, according to Alexandra, was that he "was very frightened" by the possible consequences of interviewing them.




Altogether, Alexandra Johnson interviewed forty-seven Palestinians who reported Israeli torture to her. In addition to the fifteen of Jerusalem 1500, and the fourteen of Jerusalem 3239, there were eighteen more interviewed by her, about whom she sent a report to Washington in a diplomatic pouch on January 22, 1979. All of them, or at least the undisputed majority, described to Alexandra the ways in which they were tortured, the places in which they were tortured and even the people who did the actual torturing. They described to her in detail the rooms of torture, including the rooms with meat hooks, and the alternatives given to them for confession, in such a uniform way that one must conclude that systematic torture exists. The forty-seven individuals she interviewed came from a variety of towns, localities and districts; such a distribution clearly indicates that torture exists in all parts of the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and perhaps Gaza and the Golan Heights as well.


Similarly, the London Sunday Times, the UN Special Committee, and the National Lawyers Guild report, reached the same conclusion that torture of suspected Palestinian security offenders and prisoners is a common practice in Israel. Other sources leading to this conclusion are also found. Israel naturally denies all of these reports. Since it is not in the interest of the Israeli government to admit such activities, and since it is similarly not in the interest of Time magazine, the UN Special Committee, the London Sunday Times, the ICRC, Amnesty International, the National Lawyers Guild, and employees of the US Consulate in Jerusalem to report wrongly about torture in Israel, it is easier to adopt the second party's assertion that torture does exist.


Similarly, there is no good reason for Israel to admit such acts. Those societies and governments which believe that Israel is a democracy will not accept evidence to the contrary; why, then, should Israel incriminate herself by publicly admitting these inhuman acts? The report of the State Department to the Congress about the issue of human rights in Israel reads on the first page that "Israel is a full-fledged parliamentary democracy with extremely high standards of justice and human rights." The report doesn't, however, state that these high standards apply to the occupied territories: "The accumulation of reports, some from credible sources, make it appear that instances of mistreatment have occurred" (emphasis added). The reports about torture submitted by different groups and organizations do not talk about "instances of mistreatment." Alexandra Johnson concluded that systematic torture was taking place, and the Sunday Times wrote that "based on our own judgment, Israel has been covering up ill-treatment and torture of Arab prisoners before they are brought to trial." The Sunday Times Insight team interviewed 44 Palestinians covering all six interrogation centres in Gaza, Sarafand, Nablus, Ramallah, Jerusalem and Hebron. The same conclusion was drawn by the other parties investigating this. issue.


Refusing to listen to the plight of individuals under the mercy of the "State," with all of its powers and means available to do anything against the individual, and then cover it up, is a horrible and a grim reality. Considering the facts presented above, one must ask how long ago the US Consulate in Jerusalem knew of the practice of torture against Palestinians in Israel. When they did know, did they report it to the US Department of State; if they did not, why; if they did, what was done about it? The US government and especially the Carter Administration, in addition to its commitment to adhere to the principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, must comply with several acts passed by the US Congress. These acts are the human rights provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act and the International Security Assistance and the Arms Export Control Act.


Confirmation of these accounts of Israeli torture of Palestinians would mean, at least, the questioning of aid which the US grants to Israel under the Foreign Assistance Act. But no President or Administration with knowledge and understanding of the power of some pressure groups to combat any attempt to question aid to Israel would ever risk such a confrontation. Action on the human rights of Palestinian prisoners and suspected security offenders will have to be matched against political and other personal interests and risks. Undoubtedly, the former will be the loser.


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Ghassan Bishara is Washington correspondent for al-Fajr (Jerusalem).


1 Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy, Department of State publication 8959, Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs, 1978, pp. 7-8.


2 Report of the 1977 Middle East Delegation of the National Lawyers Guild, Treatment of Palestinians in the Israeli-Occupied West Bank and Gaza (New York: National Lawyers Guild, 1978), p. vii.


3 Ibid., p. 139.


4 Ibid., p. 140.


5 Ibid.,p. 119.


6 Ibid.


7 Ibid.


8 lbid., p. 115.


9 lbid., p. 1 16.


10 Ibid.


11 United Nations General Assembly, Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Population of the Occupied Territories, November 13, 1978, pp. 5-7.


12 Ibid., p. 10.


13 Ibid., p.11.


14 Ibid., p. 52.


15 Ibid., p.53.


16 Ibid., p. 54.


17 Ibid., pp. 56-57.


18 Ibid., p. 57.