A HUMAN RIGHTS INQUIRY Inside an Israeli Detention Camp BY JAMES C. HARRINGTON FOR TEN DAYS in August we traveled through Israel and the land which it has occupied since 1967. Our five-member delegation a group of physicians and attorneys sponsored by four American churches and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee was unique in that it visited areas of the West Bank and Gaza where virtually no Westerners go. The Israel that we saw is not the democratic leader of the Mideast that Americans are asked to support. We witnessed a country plagued by self-doubt, a country that rules Palestinian territories on the West Bank and in Gaza with a heavy hand. The occupied territories are in their tenth month of intifada Israeli military rule. The intifada is a kind of economic resistance. Palestinian shops are only open three hours daily and on some days there are general strikes. Arab employees have quit their jobs with Israelis. And there have been frequent clashes. Stones are thrown; animosity is bitter and runs deep. Israel’s military has responded brutally, shooting to death more than 220 Palestinians, many of them very young \(four while rubber-cased steel bullets, teargassing hospitals with CS shells made in the United States, interrupting surgeries to remove the patient to jail, deliberately breaking people’s hands, arms, and collarbones on site, and bulldozing dozens of homes because a child is suspected of having thrown a rock or merely to teach a lesson to the village .. . collective punishment. The government tolerates nothing that fosters community organization or develops Palestinian identity. In Ramallah, for example, Israeli soldiers welded shut the doors of an internationally respected selfsupporting Palestinian women’s center which operated an embroidery cooperative for 4,800 women villagers, graduated 200 James C. Harrington, a frequent Observer contributor, is the Legal Director of the Texas Civil Liberties Union. His trip to the Middle East was not connected to the work of the TCLU and the views .:,cpressed herein are his own. women a year from vocational programs, collected oral histories, and promoted Palestinian cultural activities. Similarly, the military governors refuse to allow formation of community self-help groups, if only to clean up the abysmal refugee camps or the pitiful Palestinian hospitals. Even when Arab countries offer to cover the cost, West Bank universities are not allowed to expand; nor can ambulance service or hospitals expand beyond 1967 capacities, to meet the needs of a growing population. The Israel we saw rules Palestinian territories with a heavy hand Civil liberties are nonexistent, and both the Israeli and Palestinian press are censored. Although Israel prides itself on making occupied territories, it steadfastly refuses to reinvest that money in infrastructure support, creating an ever-widening development chasm between Israeli and Palestinian societies. Despite nearly universal condemnation, Israel systematically deports or detains virtually every Palestinian community leader. BUT PERHAPS the most shocking accounts come from the 40-yearold cramped refugee camps which “shelter” 250,000 people in Gaza and another 100,000 people in the West Bank. Open sewage, horrible health conditions, and food shortages are compounded by curfews imposed by Israel when the residents rise up in protest. An Israeli curfew does not just confine people to their housing, overcrowded with children, under pain of being shot without questions asked; it cuts off running water and electricity. Our delegation focused on one phase of Israel’s actions use of preventive detention or, more specifically, incarceration of community leaders in the southern Negev Desert. The tent camp there, located in a sunscorched place call Ketziot, is nicknamed “Ansar III,” for the notorious Ansar camp operated by Israel after its 1982 invasion of Lebanon. \(A similar camp in Gaza is Israeli officials refused to meet with us and they rebuffed our requests \(and those to visit the camp. But a member of our group, Mary Howell, a New Orleans attorney, managed to accompany an Israeli lawyer into the Ansar camp for a day. She verified what we had learned from interviewing some 25 former detainees \(a few attorneys, families, and physicians of numerous other current and former prisoners. Another member of our delegation, Bates Butler III, a former U.S. Attorney from Arizona, observed, “their testimony was credible; and the government’s refusal to meet, telling.” According to information from the former detainees and from Howell’s account, the following picture of the Ansar III camp emerges: The camp’s 2,800 to 3,500 political detainees include doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, insurance agents, professors, community workers, Red Crescent executives, the chair of a university’s directors, teachers, manual laborers, journalists, small business entrepreneurs, and students in short, the Palestinian leaders. \(Comparably, the percentage of professionally educated Palestinians vis-a-vis the general population is rather high, 17 to 20 percent, a bit higher than The physical conditions include scorching heat, freezing nights, blowing dust, relentless flies, vipers, vermin all the amenities of desert life. The inmates live in floorless tents, with sides furled during the day, sleeping on wood slabs, inches above the ground. Food is terrible; meat, rotten; and water, wholly insufficient. Dysentery is rampant; medical care is nearly nonexistent. Detainees average a 30to 50-pound weight 4 SEPTEMBER 16, 1988
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