On June 1st, as the Campaign Against Arms Trade revealed the UK’s rapidly increasing arms exports to Israel, and the Palaced announced Prince William’s forthcoming trip to Jerusalem and Ramallah, Razan Najar, a 21-year-old Palestinian woman volunteering for a medical team, was shot dead by IDF soldiers near the Israel-Gaza border. Witnesses who were at her side state she was openly targetted by snipers who knelt, sighted her carefully, and shot her dead, despite her role being clearly identified by her vest and actions as a medic. When will the open inquiry into her death be held? It may not be worth anyone holding their breath.
The UK may have sold them the bullet. As our own government continues its amoral pursuit of post Brexit trade with anyone who will have us, one hopes this is not why William is pressing palms. At least ministers can pretend they’ll raise human rights abuses as the other side signs the cheques.
Yet Israel does more than shoot Palestinians it claims looked iffy through a rifle sight. It removes their moral status as bearers of rights, a crucial first stage in all historical abuses of peoples. Nowhere is this more evident than in its approach to the non-derogable ban on torture contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Non-derogable means no exceptions, not in times of war, not if you’re the head of the CIA, not if you’ve been watching ‘24’ on Fox. Signatories to the declaration agree this, and are obliged to codify it in law. On December 14th 1978, signing the Declaration for Israel, Yehudi Zvi Blum told the UN that the principles enshrined in it were given to the world by the Jewish nation three thousand years ago as ‘the equality and brotherhood of man, the intrinsic dignity and value of the human being and the ideals of social justice.’ Yet Israeli law contains no specific criminalisation of torture. Until 1999 the Israeli Security Agency, ISA, relied on a 1987 state commission which suggested that “psychological pressure” and “moderate physical pressure” were permissible “to prevent terrorism.” Their methods went far beyond any reasonable interpretation of these terms, and in 1999, Israel’s High Court declared torture in interrogation illegal – except, crucially, for agents investigating “ticking bomb” cases. Such ticking is, of course, in the ear of the beholder.
America’s own senate report on black-site torture revealed that, despite claims regarding ’ticking bombs’, it delivered no useful intelligence. Evidence shows that whilst torture may persuade people to do things they don’t want to do, they are only likely to tell you what you want to hear. Israeli human rights groups, based on hundreds of affidavits from interrogated Palestinians, suggest that ISA employs torture routinely. Since 2001, over 1,100 complaints have been submitted alleging torture in interrogation, including beatings, kicking, sleep deprivation, stress positioning, sexual abuse, painful shackling, assault with rifle butts, mock executions and threats against family members. Such treatment is described by the state as “special measures,” in tones rather reminiscent of ‘enhanced interrogation.’ Not a single criminal investigation has been launched into a complaint against an ISA interrogator.
Israel claims that UN conventions do not apply to Palestinians under occupation. There seems to be no proper inquiry even if they are murdered in cold blood. We risk it becoming Anti-Semitic even to raise the question of Israel’s military ethics.
It’s a steep slope, when you exclude the people of your choice from universal human rights. The Prince should tread carefully, lest he slip on it.