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Israel can’t force-feed occupation to those who hunger for freedom

on 33 Comments
(Image: Carlos Latuff)

(Image: Carlos Latuff)

For more than a month Israel sought to wriggle off a hook that should have snared it from the start. Two children, 17 and 16, were shot dead during Nakba Day protests near Ramallah, in which youths threw stones ineffectually at well-protected and distant Israeli military position.

Hundreds of Palestinian children have lost their lives over the years at the end of a sharpshooter’s sights, but the deaths of Nadim Nuwara and Mohammed Abu Al Thahir in Beitunia were not easily forgotten. Israel was quickly cornered by an accumulation of physical and visual evidence.

Israel’s usual denials – the deaths were faked, video footage was doctored, Israeli soldiers were not responsible, the youths provoked the soldiers, no live ammunition was used – have been discredited one by one. Slowly Israel conceded responsibility, if only by falling into a grudging silence.

A CCTV camera mounted on the outer wall of a carpentry shop provided the most damning evidence: it captured the moments when the two unarmed boys were each hit with a live round, in one case as the youth can be seen walking away from the protest area.

But rather than come to terms with the world as it now is, Israel wants to preserve the way it once was. It believes that through force of will it can keep the tide of accountability at bay in the occupied territories.

There has been no admission of guilt, no search for the guilty soldiers and no reassessment of its policies on crowd control or the use of live fire – let alone on the continuation of the occupation. Instead, 20 soldiers arrived last week at the store in Beitunia, threatened to burn it down, arrested the owner, Fakher Zayed, and ordered he remove the camera that caused so much embarrassment.

According to Israel, the fault lies not with a society where teenage soldiers can choose to swat a Palestinian child as casually as a fly. The problem is with a Palestinian storekeeper, who assumed he could join the modern world.

The nostalgia for a “golden era” of occupation was evident, too, last week in a policy change. Israel has rounded up hundreds of Palestinians in the hunt for three Israeli teenagers missing since June 12. Palestinian cities like Hebron have been under lockdown for days, and several Palestinians youths killed, while soldiers scour the West Bank.

But with the search proving fruitless, Israel’s attorney general approved the reintroduction of the notorious “ticking bomb” procedure.

In doing so, he turned the clock back 15 years to a time when Israel routinely used torture against prisoners. Israel may not have been alone then in using torture, but it was exceptional in flaunting its torture dungeons alongside claims to democratic conduct.

Only in 1999 did the country’s supreme court severely limit the practice, allowing interrogators one exemption – a suspect could be tortured only if he was a ticking bomb, hiding information of an attack whose immediate extraction could save lives.

Now Israel’s law chief has agreed that the Palestinian politicians, journalists and activists swept up in the latest mass arrests will be treated as “ticking bombs”. Israel’s torture cells are back in business.

Israelis have been lulled into a false sense of security by the promise of endless and simple technical solutions to the ever-mounting problems caused by the occupation.

This week, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, hoped to find another “fix” for Palestinians who refuse to remain supine in the face of their oppression.

Netanyahu is racing through a law to force-feed more than 100 Palestinian prisoners who are two months’ into a hunger strike. The inmates demand that Israel end the common practice of holding prisoners for months and sometimes years without charge, in what is blandly termed “administrative detention”.

Such prisoners, ignorant of their offence, are unable to mount a defence. And as it becomes ever clearer to Palestinian society that Israel is never going to concede Palestinian statehood, things that were once barely tolerated are now seen as unendurable.

Last week, the heads of the World Medical Association urged Israel to halt the legislation, which in a double bill of compulsion will require doctors to sedate and force-feed prisoners to break their hunger strike.

The WMA called the practice “tantamount to torture”. The legislation violates not only the autonomy of the prisoners but the oaths taken by the doctors to work for their patients’ benefit.

The liberal Haaretz newspaper warned that Israel was rushing headlong towards “a new abyss in terms of human rights violations”. And all this to prevent reality pricking the Israeli conscience: that Palestinians would rather risk death than endure the constant indignities of a life under belligerent occupation.

Israelis have yet to realise the dam is soon to burst. They still believe a technical fix is the way to solve ethical dilemmas continuously thrown up by the longest occupation in modern times.

Israel’s technical solutions work to an extent. They confine Palestinians 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.

Belligerent occupations – especially ones where no hope or end is in sight – engender evermore creative and costly forms of resistance, as the hunger strike demonstrates. A physical act of resistance can be temporarily foiled. But the spirit behind it cannot be so easily subdued.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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33 Responses

  1. annie on June 24, 2014, 11:19 am

    20 soldiers arrived last week at the store in Beitunia, threatened to burn it down, arrested the owner, Fakher Zayed, and ordered he remove the camera that caused so much embarrassment.

    According to Israel, the fault lies not with a society where teenage soldiers can choose to swat a Palestinian child as casually as a fly. The problem is with a Palestinian storekeeper, who assumed he could join the modern world.

  2. justicewillprevail on June 24, 2014, 11:30 am

    What a grotesque farce. The only punishment meted out for the murder of two Palestinian boys is to the store owner whose camera recorded the incident. Keep on killing, but blind the witnesses. And if Palestinian deaths come at the hands of Israel then that is ok, but should it come at the hands of the Palestinians themselves, then they must be forcibly kept alive by the same state which has no problem with killing them in secret. What kind of Kafka-esque nightmare have Israelis made, and how can any of them have the gall to defend such an Orwellian dystopia?

    • Taxi on June 24, 2014, 12:14 pm

      Or even have the “gall” to talk about the holocaust while their zio torture dungeons are being newly, legally refurbished.

    • jenin on June 24, 2014, 4:13 pm

      that’s exactly how I feel about some of the justifications I hear from Israelis I know–like I’m in an Orwell novel. I am really tempted to leave the US–can’t stand that a single penny of my tax money goes to supporting that horrendous excuse for a state

  3. amigo on June 24, 2014, 12:37 pm

    Maybe they already exist, but if not what is needed is a camera that will send the the details/images to a secure site at predetermined intervals.This would put a stop to this behavior by the criminals who both man the idf and it,s upper echelon.

    This act by the idf is symptomatic of the depth to which Israeli society and zionism have tumbled.

    No way back for Israel.

  4. James Canning on June 24, 2014, 2:06 pm

    Very interesting.

  5. Walid on June 24, 2014, 2:52 pm

    Since torture is officially coming back to Israel (anyone doubt it ever left?) I decided to look up “Israeli torture” to see what’s to be expected by Palestinians. There were 1,980,000 results. Here’s one of them from 2013 picked at random:

    Physical methods

    Repeatedly beating or kicking the prisoner in different parts of the body – head, hands, face, abdomen, back, genitalia – using hands and/or metal tools.

    Sometimes the prisoners’ hands were being tied to the wall or to metal bars during the beatings.

    Former prisoners also reported to have been beaten deliberately on wounds and injuries caused earlier.

    Tying the prisoners’ hands and/or legs together for a long period of time. Former prisoners reported to have been tied to the ceiling through their hands and legs.

    Others have been tied and left in the rain or cold weather for a long period of time.

    Shaking prisoners violently. This is being done by investigators who change from time to time.

    Forcing the prisoner to sit on a small chair – chairs for kindergarten kids – for long hours and sometimes days. This is associated with covering the head with a dirty plastic clothing bag. While the prisoner is in this position, he is exposed to very loud music and deprived of sleep.

    Forcing the prisoner to remain standing for a long period of time.

    Forcing the prisoner to sleep on the floor without mattress, even during wintertime.

    Former prisoners also reported they were forced to sleep while sitting on the floor.

    Blindfolding a prisoner and dragging him or her on the stairs.

    Spraying gas in the face of a prisoner and using electric shocks against them.

    Pulling out the hair of the prisoner.

    Pouring cold water on the prisoner while asleep.

    Suffocating the prisoner by putting his head in the water and telling him that he will be drowned to death.

    Psychological methods

    Placing the prisoner on a chair with his head covered whilst meanwhile drops of water hit the head regularly.

    Depriving the prisoner from food for a long period of time or providing the prisoner old or spoiled food.

    Exposing the prisoner to loud music for a long period of time.

    Using military and police dogs to frighten the prisoners. Investigators threaten prisoners the dogs will be unleashed and will attack the prisoner.
    Threatening the prisoner will be sexually abused. Former prisoners reported being forced to be nearly naked.

    Speaking negatively about the prisoner’s family members and/or threatening the prisoner that their family members will be caused harm. Some former prisoners reported being threatened that their wife would be sexually abused.

    Depriving the prisoner from defecating or urinating for a long period of time. Other former prisoners reported being forced to defecate or urinate in front of prison inmates.

    Telling the prisoner, wrongfully, that his family will visit him today. Other former prisoners were wrongfully informed that one or more family members passed away.

    Spitting in the prisoner’s face.

    Forcing the prisoner to verbally abuse his/her religious and national symbols.

    Jailing some of the relatives of the prisoner and torturing them in front of the prisoner.

    Legal background

    The treatment of Palestinian political prisoners and detainees is a violation of Articles 32, 49 and 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relating to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. The use of torture methods is not in line with Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). According to Conor Foley of the University of Essex and the Human Rights Centre, torture is also prohibited in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the European Convention on Human Rights (1950), the American Convention on Human Rights (1978) and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (1981).

    Additionally, the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1987) and the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture (1985) reject the use of torture methods.

    • just on June 24, 2014, 3:09 pm

      Here’s one from yesterday:

      “RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — A Palestinian Prisoner’s Society lawyer reported Monday from Palestinian detainees at Etzion detention center that many of them were assaulted and beaten before they were detained.

      Prisoner Faraj Ghaith, 57, told the lawyer that three settlers raided his house, assaulted him and his family before the Israeli police detained him and his two sons Ahmad and Omar.

      Ghaith lives near the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arbaa.

      Jaclyn Fararjeh said that bruises were still clear on the prisoners’ bodies.

      Prisoner Ashraf al-Jaaidi, 30, from Bethlehem, said that he threw up blood since he was detained, and that he was beaten with butts of the riffles when he was detained from his house in Duheisha refugee camp last Friday.

      Farajeh highlighted that al-Jaaidi requested to be examined by a doctor but the prison service refused. ”

      Anyone doubt it?

    • Taxi on June 24, 2014, 4:42 pm

      Thanks, Walid, for making that extra research effort – very helpful for the discerning cyber crowd to know the specifics of how criminally abusive and inhumane the israelis are towards Palestinians. The torture details are unconscionably horrific but very important to mention and describe. Very import to be out there and known. The abhorrent list is utterly unbearable and heart-wrenching to read. For me, the darkest, most agonizing one was the last one: “Jailing some of the relatives of the prisoner and torturing them in front of the prisoner.”

      That to me is pure evil. Pure evil attempting to throttle life. Crush the very essence of the human spirit.

      But it’s the unique pathology, the sickness and depravity of it all that is astounding: that it took not even a single generation before the children of holocaust victims literally forgot the humanistic, simple lesson: Do Not Prejudice The Other.

      Begs the question here: why haven’t the Armenians, who also suffered a relatively recent holocaust, why haven’t they reacted to their tragedy with such ugly, criminal vengeance? Why are the jews doing this? I’m earnestly wanting to know. Why are the jews senselessly torturing people? That’s just NOT right! Have they sold out their ancient soul for a piece or real estate? Is this what this is really about? Or is it about some sort of collective, hyper post-traumatic syndrome the israeli jews are trapped in and arrested by? Do the jewish diaspora suffer this collectively too and to varying degree? A (violently contested) piece of real estate instead of peace-of-mind is a very poor life deal the israeli jews have traded for themselves. Israel as the second golden calf in the jewish life odyssey? I’d appreciate an answer from someone who’s delved deeper into the nano-psychology of it all than I have.

      Is it really true that history does actually repeat itself?

    • Accentitude on June 25, 2014, 1:45 am

      I work with victims of torture on a daily basis. Part of my job is translating their stories from Arabic to English and providing testimonies and reports to the UN in Geneva. I literally have thousands of case studies on torture practiced against Palestinians and perpetrated by all of the various Israeli security agencies. After interviewing these victims or reading/translating their first hand accounts, nothing shocks me anymore. I’ve seen and heard it all.

      Ironically, the Israeli PR machine is doing a great job at rationalizing the use of torture because tomorrow is the United Nations Day in Support of Victims of Torture (June 26) and all eyes will be on Israel and its crimes. So this announcement that they’re continuing to practices physical and psychological torture under the pretext of a “ticking bomb scenario” is quite timely indeed. There is a national conference tomorrow in Ramallah where Mustafa Barghouti and the EU Representative are going to be discussing these issues. I’m sure that Israel is already preparing its B.S. talking points in response.

  6. seafoid on June 24, 2014, 3:36 pm

    Great article. Israel can’t sell nihilism and Jim Crow to the Palestinians any longer. Bennett can sell his snake oil to poor Jews in Israel but he has nothing to offer the Palestinians other than cruelty. The notion that Israeli Jews are inherently superior would surely only be supportable if they behaved more ethically than the rest of humanity LOL.

  7. seafoid on June 24, 2014, 3:55 pm

    Meanwhile the Israeli right is pushing through a bill in the Knesset that defines Jews as having the sole right to self determination in historic Palestine

    And the Israeli government has approved a bill to forbid pardons for Palestinian prisoners in negotiated deals and significantly worsened the conditions of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

    while prominent North American Jews lobby Obama to be nice to Pollard and commute his sentence

    And American friends of Magen David Alom says Israel cherishes life

    What is the Hebrew for SNAFU ?

  8. Walid on June 24, 2014, 4:01 pm

    Whatever became of Israel’s project to make honest Israelis of its Christian citizens?

    • Woody Tanaka on June 24, 2014, 4:17 pm

      That’s on hold so that Netanyahoo can run his blood-libel pogrom in the West Bank.

    • Hostage on June 24, 2014, 5:38 pm

      Whatever became of Israel’s project to make honest Israelis of its Christian citizens?

      I haven’t heard anything, except for the adoption of a law that provided for separate representation on the public advisory council which is appointed under the 1988 Equal Employment Opportunities Law. The employment opportunities for an “Arab” are pretty much the same, whether or not you are a Muslim or a Christian. A Jewish commissioner noted that “there are no groups promoting employment for different sectors in the Arab population per se, only for the Arab population as a whole.” So, there isn’t much to show for the initiative so far.

  9. weareone on June 24, 2014, 5:29 pm

    Hi Jenin,
    I often feel this way also-
    “I am really tempted to leave the US–can’t stand that a single penny of my tax money goes to supporting that horrendous excuse for a state.”
    I just finished reading “Quitting America” by Randall Robinson. Excellent, imo. You may like it.

  10. just on June 24, 2014, 5:50 pm

    Good letter and petition to (letter by some very good folks)

    “………..We believe that Mr Blair, as a vociferous advocate of the invasion, must accept a degree of responsibility for its consequences.

    The occupied Palestinian territories represent another tragic failure of western engagement in the Middle East.

    It is our view that, after seven years, Mr Blair’s achievements as envoy are negligible, even within his narrow mandate of promoting Palestinian economic development. Furthermore, the impression of activity created by his high-profile appointment has hindered genuine progress towards a lasting peace.

    Seven years on there are still over 500 checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank. The Gaza Strip, severely damaged by Israel’s 2009 bombing, remains in a humanitarian crisis, with 80% of its population reliant on foreign aid for survival. Israel continues to build settlements that are illegal under international law. According to the Palestinian Authority’s former chief negotiator, Nabil Shaath, Tony Blair has “achieved so very little because of his gross efforts to please the Israelis.”
    Tony Blair’s office has responded as follows:

    “These are all people viscerally opposed to Tony Blair with absolutely no credibility in relation to him whatsoever. Their attack is neither surprising nor newsworthy. They include the alliance of hard right and hard left views which he has fought against all his political life. Of course he completely disagrees with them over the Middle East. He believes passionately in the two-state solution, but also believes that can only be achieved by a negotiation with Israel.

    “The truth, and anybody who knows anything about the situation in respect of Palestine knows this, is that transformational change is impossible unless it goes hand in hand with a political process. There was hope that this could progress with the recent US-led talks which were underpinned by a hugely ambitious economic plan spearheaded by Mr Blair.”

    • MHughes976 on June 24, 2014, 6:00 pm

      There are some people of whom there is no getting rid. Among these are Sepp Blatter and Tony B..

    • justicewillprevail on June 24, 2014, 6:13 pm

      If I was Blair’s spokesman I wouldn’t be raising the topic of credibility, in the light of his dishonest manipulation of the evidence over WMD’s, his refusal to allow the inquiry to publish his exchanges with George Bush, and his risible efforts at a two state solution, which apparently involve being holed up in an expensive hotel in Jerusalem, whilst never visiting Gaza and the West Bank. The arrogance of that response is indicative of his deluded sense of self-importance, and the total lack of accountability he has to anyone.

  11. Stephen Shenfield on June 24, 2014, 5:55 pm

    I doubt the statement that from 1999 until recently the Israelis used torture only in rare “ticking bomb” cases. I have found many reports of widespread torture pertaining to that period. Perhaps it wasn’t considered torture, only “moderate physical and psychological pressure.”

    Here is one source for 2009:
    It describes a form of torture called the “death ride.” The victims “are ordered to board an extremely filthy, hot and nearly hermetically sealed white vehicle,” which “moves slowly from one prison to another to take in more prisoners, including dangerous Jewish criminals.” A prisoner can spend up to 24 hours “in the oven-like metal chamber” with no food, water, fresh air or toilet facilities. The nightmare may be repeated every few days.

    One type of torture that is probably underreported is sexual abuse of various kinds, including rape with sticks or other objects. Such abuse is inflicted on prisoners of both sexes. One source is:

  12. Daniel Rich on June 24, 2014, 7:42 pm

    How come nobody defends this aspect of the Apartheid State’s open and democratic way of truth-seeking [yet]?

  13. just on June 24, 2014, 8:03 pm

    Maybe some good news:

    “Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons ended two-month-long hunger strike overnight Tuesday after a deal was struck with Israel Prison Service.

    The details of the deal, it was agreed by the sides, will only be made public after the hunger strikers will receive treatment and their condition stabilizes. ”

    (I’m sorry, I can’t resist…perhaps the prisons are getting more overcrowded than usual.)

    Anyway, I hope for the best.

  14. Palikari on June 25, 2014, 1:17 am

    If they don’t want to eat, let them die. They are responsible for themselves.

    • eljay on June 25, 2014, 8:08 am

      >> If they don’t want to eat, let them die. They are responsible for themselves.

      Jews are responsible for themselves too, yes? And if they don’t act responsibly, they should be left to die, yes?

      If you disagree, please explain why Jews who do not act responsibly should be saved, while non-Jews who do not act responsibly should be left to die.

    • Woody Tanaka on June 25, 2014, 8:28 am

      Of course the whole issue of human rights never play into your consideration. Typical Zionist.

      • Palikari on June 26, 2014, 9:39 am

        If I say they should be force-fed, you don’t like it; if I say they shouldn’t, you don’t like it… Seriously, do you have any point or just oppose anything Israel does?

      • Woody Tanaka on June 26, 2014, 9:55 am

        “If I say they should be force-fed, you don’t like it; if I say they shouldn’t, you don’t like it… Seriously, do you have any point or just oppose anything Israel does?”

        My point is that you and the other dimwits in the Zionist entities should actually use what brains you have and what morality you can pretend to scrape together and understand that this is not about whether they eat or not, but about how they’re treated. What I want is for not to take a position on whether they should be force fed, but on whether they, and the rest of the Palestinians, should be as grotesquely mistreated, against all sense of human decency, as they are by you psychopaths.

  15. Shmuel on June 25, 2014, 2:12 am

    According to Haaretz, a deal was reached last night, between the Palestinian hunger strikers and the Israeli Prison Service:

    Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons ended a two-month-long hunger strike overnight Tuesday after a deal was struck with the Israel Prison Service.

    The details of the deal, it was agreed by the sides, will only be made public after the hunger strikers receive treatment and their condition stabilizes.

    Sources in the Palestinian Prisoners Club told Haaretz that Israel has agreed to some of their terms and said that a press conference will be held on the matter on Wednesday.

    • Walid on June 25, 2014, 9:17 am

      Word coming out from the prisoners via the Palestinian Minister for prisoners was that the ongoing aggression by Israel on the WB had something to do with their decision to end their fast. They didn’t get most of what they had been asking for.

      • Shmuel on June 25, 2014, 9:31 am

        Word coming out from the prisoners via the Palestinian Minister for prisoners was that the ongoing aggression by Israel on the WB had something to do with their decision to end their fast. They didn’t get most of what they had been asking for.

        Thanks, Walid. I suspected as much. The hunger strike was merely ignored before the disappearance of the 3 Israelis and the Israel’s onslaught. It was then completely eclipsed. Combined with Israel’s force-feeding law (also largely ignored), it became virtually pointless self-harm. I hope all of the hunger strikers recover their strength quickly. They’ll need it.

  16. just on June 25, 2014, 8:46 am

    A very thoughtful editorial in Haaretz by Sari Nusseibeh :

    There was a time, in the late 1960s, and after the ’67 war, when even I – a conquered Arab and Palestinian – thought I could sense the vibrant and missionary zeal of an extraordinary nation, set to achieve a rare and sublime human condition that would be a model for all to follow, whether friend or foe.
    But I had tried through my personal experiment, and succeeded, to see the “other side.” And doing that, I felt there was hope. A human space exists – I came to believe – in which their people and mine could still live our ideal dreams. A beautiful future can still surely be built for both of us. But now, I must say I can no longer see that “beautiful side” of the nation, however hard I try.

    I can, of course, see and admire beautiful individuals. Israel boasts so many of them – poets, writers, journalists, scholars, artists – and just ordinary people in ordinary jobs, trying to live their harmless lives. But that special luster of an idealistic nation to be admired has vanished. I can no longer see it anywhere. It has become replaced, in my mind – sorry to say – by what appears to have become a scientifically skilled colonialist group of self-serving thugs, bent on self-aggrandizement, capitalizing on world-guilt for past pains and horrors suffered, and now hiding behind a religious fiction to justify all the pain and suffering it does to my own people, our heritage and culture.

    The most I can now feel for my enemies in my sober moments is being sorry for them! Somewhere along the line, I tell myself, something cracked. They managed to lose what was special in them, or about them – what might have vindicated their project, even in my own mind. If once they held the flame of an extraordinary dream – to re-gather the nation in its historical homeland and to show the world what a moral human community might look like – they somehow only succeeded in the end to turn themselves into yet another ugly colonial power, feeding off the sorrows of others.

    Their days, I tell myself now, more with a sense of dread than with any sense of elation, are surely numbered, like all other colonialist projects. One-hundred years is but a faint stroke in the annals of history. Nor will their downfall come by my own doing, but by theirs. Of course, my friends tell me that that is how they have always been – that that has always been their nature. But I refuse to believe that. Because I believe I heard firsthand the throbbing of their idealistic hearts.

    Can I feel sorry for myself as well as for my enemy? Surely I can. For the sorrow springs from the same source: their failure to bring back with them to the homeland that beautiful and ideal dream in which the space where they flourish leaves the same, or enough space for me. ”

    • Walid on June 25, 2014, 9:11 am

      Nusseibeh just had his rude awakening; seafoid could have filled him in on the facts of life a while back.

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