Shades of Steve Biko

A 30-year-old Palestinian man has died in an Israeli jail. After first attributing the death to cardiac failure, Israeli spokesmen adopted the phrase “unknown causes” after a postmortem showed no damage to the heart. The results of toxicology testing are pending.

Arafat Jadarat, of the village of Sa’ir, in the West Bank, died less than a week after he was arrested for throwing stones at Israeli troops. His postmortem was conducted by the Israeli state pathologist in the presence of an official Palestinian pathologist. The latter said that marks on the body indicated that Jadarat had been tortured. Israeli spokesman attributed Jadarat’s two broken ribs to “resuscitation efforts.” There was also a small abrasion on the right side of Jadarat’s chest.

Those of us who remember Steve Biko and the other victims of apartheid torture can be excused a certain heartburn when digesting the Israeli version. After all, the trifecta of detention, sudden death and official lies are the same in 2013 as they were in 1977, though on a different continent and under a different regime. The same as they were in Argentina under the junta, in Chile, Burma, Greece and numerous other places.

When it comes to oppressive regimes, nothing changes. It’s as if they are wired to proceed in the same, plodding, vicious way time after time. Never stopping, never changing and never learning. They arrest opponents, detain them, torture them – and sometimes they kill them. After they kill, they lie, and, if necessary, they fabricate evidence. Somehow, they always seem to believe they’ll get away with it.

By the way, the use of torture by the Israeli Shin Bet security service is not a wild figment of the Kibbizter’s imagination. It was fully documented in 1987 by a government commission (the Landau Commission,) which found that Shin Bet interrogators routinely used force during the questioning of prisoners and then committed perjury at subsequent trials. The use of torture escalated during the second Intifada that began in 2002 and remains widespread, according to the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) and the Palestinian Al Haq human rights organization.

So, torture in Israel is no surprise. Nor is government lying to cover up the misdeeds of its security services or the general disinterest of the public. We take that sort of thing in our stride, though quite where we’re heading is not clear. A third intifada (Palestinian revolt) is a definite possibility. Jadarat’s death was followed by rioting in several places in the West Bank and the Palestinian street remains very tense. Disquiet over a tanked economy, the lack of any movement on the peace front, rampages by armed Israel settlers and other issues has been on the rise for several months. Media and diplomatic observers have been warning of the potential of another uprising, but those warnings do not seem to have gotten through to Prime Minister Netanyahu or the vast security apparatus that controls the lives of the Palestinians.

President Obama is due to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority in less than a month. On the agenda with Israel are Iran, Syria and reviving the peace effort, probably in that order. In my view, the latter is more a question of saving face than anything else. There is no chance of any serious diplomatic movement – and Obama surely knows that.

The question is whether President Carter would have continued with a scheduled state visit to South Africa after Biko was killed in custody; or whether Obama would visit China or Burma or any other country after their use of torture had been splashed all over the media. I doubt if he would – and he should cancel his visit to Israel. Diplomacy requires dealing with shady characters, but it should be kept at arms’ length. A regime that tortures prisoners does not deserve a presidential visit.

1 reply on “Shades of Steve Biko”

This time I agree with your point of view. I am definitely opposed to torture.The truth will come out as it is impossible to block every path especially these electronic days.
It is very difficult for any government to deal civilly with prisoners, but that is no excuse for inhuman behaviour. There needs to be a clear humane policy(standard), to which a government must be held accountable. No one is above the law of the land.
What the law is, is debatable, but once the law exists , then the rule of law is imperative.

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