Israeli lessons for the US in Iraq

The torturing of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison by US occupying forces has shocked the world, but for most Palestinians it comes as no surprise.

Thousands of Palestinians say they were tortured by Israel
Thousands of Palestinians say they were tortured by Israel

In fact, thousands of Palestinians who have served time in Israeli prisons and detention centres see striking similarities between the Israeli treatment of prisoners and American treatment of Iraqi detainees.

In some cases, the torture technique or form of mistreatment is almost identical, some former Palestinian prisoners told

Hisham Abd al-Razzaq is a Palestinian Authority minister in charge of overseeing and catering for more than 7000 Palestinian prisoners in Israel, many of them interned without charge or trial.

He believes that what the Americans are doing to the Iraqis amounts to a carbon copy of what the Israelis have been doing to the Palestinians.

“I am inclined to think that the Americans copied the Israeli techniques. I can’t prove it in an objective manner, but the striking similarities are overwhelming.”

Abd al-Razzaq, who himself experienced many forms of torture during his lengthy imprisonment in an Israeli jail prior to the Oslo Accords in 1993, described physical and psychological torture as the modus operandi of Israeli staff.

Torture techniques

He said that the so-called hooding technique – whereby the detainee’s head is covered with a rancid-smelling sack for weeks or months – was always the first technique used in Israeli interrogation centres.

“The hooding itself is not an interrogation method. Its purpose is not to extract confessions from the suspect, but rather to demoralise him and destroy his mental balance.”

“The hooding is not an interrogation method.
Its purpose is not to extract confessions
from the suspect but
to demoralise him
and destroy his
mental balance”

Hisham Abd al-Razzaq,
Palestinian Authority minister

Abd al-Razzaq said that the filthy sack he was forced to wear was made up of three or four layers. This design ensures the victim breathes only enough oxygen, enough to keep him or her alive.

In addition to the hooding, Israel, according to consistent reports by international human rights groups as well as testimonies by detainees, continues to use other forms of torture, both for extracting confessions and as punishment for opposing the Israeli occupation.

These include, among other things, brutal beating, (taltul) violent shaking, forced stripping, sleep deprivation (by playing extremely loud music inside a detainee’s cell), cold baths in winter, actual or threatened sexual abuse, as well as the notorious shabh technique whereby a suspect is tied tightly to a small chair, with his hands tied to his back, for weeks.

Similarity denied

Ofer Yisler, spokesman for the Israeli Prison Authority, vehemently denies any “similarity between our treatment of the Palestinians and what we have seen in Iraq”.

“There is no comparison whatsoever. What the Americans did in Iraq is something entirely different.”

Palestinians say the US learned its torture tactics from Israel

Palestinians say the US learned
its torture tactics from Israel

But Yisler refused to comment on accusations that the hooding technique, the shabh, sleep deprivation and forced stripping were still being used by Israel. Yisler ended the interview and refused to answer further questions, insisting that written questions be submitted to his office.

Yisler’s reluctance to speak, however, seems to underscore Israel’s desire to stay away from the international outcry over what happened in Iraq.

But Israeli-Arab Knesset member Talab al-Sanai says Israel is indirectly but heavily involved in “the systematic mistreatment of Iraqi people at the hands of the American occupation troops”.

Israeli experts

“It is not secret at all, there are many Israeli experts on torture in Iraq who are transferring to the Americans their accumulative experience of 37 years of torturing and mistreating Palestinians,” al-Sanai told

He said that US officers joined Israeli army units in Jenin several months ago for the purpose of learning Israeli methods and techniques of repressing civilians, which the Americans, he said, later applied in Iraq.

“It took Israel 37 years to develop and perfect these barbaric methods of repression and humiliation. Surprisingly, the Americans surpassed and outmatched the Israelis in their savagery in less than two years.”

Al-Sanai condemned American behaviour in Iraq as “manifestly criminal”, dismissing claims by the Bush administration that the torture incidents were isolated.

“Here in Israel, it is an ugly occupation, and Israel doesn’t make any pretensions about it. But in Iraq, the United States is murdering, humiliating, torturing and raping the Iraqis under the rubric of freedom and democracy.

“Perhaps this is what they really mean when they talk about freedom and democracy, namely, liberating the Iraqis from their dignity.”

Source: Al Jazeera

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