Knesset extends legislation that facilitates torture

The Knesset has extended temporary legislation under which interrogations of security prisoners are exempt from requirements to visually record the investigation, Haaretz recently reported.

The security establishment pushed hard to make the law permanent; Haaretz reports that opposition by two of the democratic-leaning Likud members, Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan, as well as human rights organizations like ACRI resulted in the compromise of a temporary extension. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel wrote in a statement that:

In security-related offenses, full documentation is all the more necessary. This, both because of the increased concern for wrongful pressure in such interrogations and because of other authorities – such as preventing a suspect from meeting with an attorney for a long period of time – that are often invoked in such cases and prevent a minimal external monitoring of these interrogations. Enabling these interrogations without visual documentation severely injures a long list of the basic rights of the suspect: the right to dignity, to bodily integrity, to due process, to liberty, and to equality. It also stands in contradiction to Israel’s obligations, under international law, to act in order to prevent torture and to maintain the dignity of arrestees.

The law can be seen as a direct challenge to Israel’s landmark ruling from 1999 which famously restricted certain kinds of torture in security interrogations. Yet B’Tselem has shown that torture continues. Allowing interrogators not to record their investigation is precisely the kind of measure that enables a free hand, since interrogators know that any later accusations by the victims will lack proof.

Extending the legislation for another two years is also another example of a practice commonly used to keep controversial legislation and policy in place. Whether in order to avoid accusations of human rights violations or just because Israeli policy is often notoriously short-term by nature, some of the most significant conflict-related policies begin as temporary situations. The best example is occupation itself.

Other examples include the temporary amendment to the citizenship law from 2003 preventing family unification among Palestinian spouses  of Israelis; which has been extended ever since. Just this January, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by human rights groups challenging the amendment.

Similarly, the military decision to close Route 443 to Palestinian traffic in 2002 was initially viewed as a temporary security measure during the second intifada and was not even official state policy, but was still in effect six years later when human rights groups appealed the ban. Defending the policy, the state finally issued official orders to keep the road closed only in 2008 – in an explicit attempt to keep the policy permanent. The Supreme Court ruled against that policy in 2009 (seven years after the initial ban on Palestinian traffic), and it was partially opened to limited, restricted Palestinian travel in mid-2010.

Finally, the move adds to a trend of turning to legislation as a means of minimizing various forms of opposition to occupation – such as the attempts to pass legislation to approve illegal outposts in the West Bank, or talk of a law allowing the Knesset to override Supreme Court rulings in general.

Of course, the use of legislation as a basis for the occupation has occurred since the early days, a situation that is brilliantly exposed in the film The Law in These Parts.

The difference at present seems to be that legislation is increasingly being used to preclude any challenges by either Israelis or Palestinians to occupation practices, and to ensure unfettered expansion of Israel’s control over both land and population.

Laws in general are designed to confer legitimacy upon a practice in the eyes of the population that elected the lawmakers. It seems that the ultimate outcome of the legislative route will be a population of Israelis who inherently believe that the occupation is just.