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                   Thursday, September 30, 1999


 

                                      A prison without a state
 


                     For years, Israel denied that it was in any way involved in what
                     transpires at Al Hiyam prison in southern Lebanon and refused
                     to accept responsibility for the system of arrest without trial that
                     the South Lebanon Army carries out and for the torture the SLA
                     uses in its interrogations - reports of which were provided by
                     some former prisoners to international human rights groups.

                     Just 10 kilometers from Israel's northernmost town of Metulla,
                     and in an area where Israel maintains full security control, a
                     detention facility exists in which the SLA does whatever strikes
                     its fancy. The State Attorney's Office maintained in the High
                     Court of Justice that "Israel has no effective control in southern
                     Lebanon, the SLA is not subordinate to the IDF, and Israel does
                     not run the Al Hiyam prison." The justices of the High Court did
                     not take that statement at face value and asked for an affidavit
                     from the IDF concerning the scale of its involvement.

                     In that affidavit, which was signed by Major General Dan Halutz,
                     the IDF stated that the Shin Bet internal security service
                     maintains permanent contact with the SLA with respect to
                     interrogations at Al Hiyam prison. It turns out that in the first
                     seven months of 1999, Shin Bet personnel made three visits to
                     the prison in order to instruct SLA interrogators and to collect
                     information.

                     Interrogations at Al Hiyam are conducted using techniques that
                     are far more brutal than those that are utilized in Israel. Amnesty
                     International, the human rights group, collected testimony about
                     interrogees being hung from the ceiling, forced starvation and the
                     application of electric shocks to the fingers and the genitals of
                     those under interrogation. Over a lengthy period the International
                     Red Cross was not permitted to enter the facility. According to
                     Amnesty International, 181 Lebanese citizens, including three
                     women, are currently being held at Al Hiyam without trial. One of
                     the women is more than 70 years old. Only a week ago news
                     arrived about the arrest of a Lebanese journalist, Cosette
                     Ibrahim. Ibrahim, a student at Beirut University, was detained
                     when she paid a visit to her parents in the village of Remeish.
                     The Israeli defense establishment declined to accept
                     responsibility for the arrest, but defense sources said the
                     journalist was suspected of spying on behalf of the Hezbollah
                     organization.

                     From the conflicting statements, it is difficult to determine
                     whether Ibrahim was in fact a spy, or only a journalist whose
                     presence in the region made the SLA uncomfortable. One way
                     or the other, the manner of her arrest, without due process and
                     without any possibility of appeal, must be condemned.

                     Ibrahim's arrest focuses attention on the moral degeneracy that
                     is entailed in the protracted occupation of southern Lebanon.
                     What is taking place behind the fence of Al Hiyam prison in
                     Israel's name is an important consideration in grounding the
                     need to leave Lebanon quickly. If Shin Bet interrogators are
                     instructing the warders of Al Hiyam, then Israel should apply to
                     the facility the recent decision by the High Court holding that the
                     use of torture in interrogations is illegal.

                     The contention by the state that the defense establishment is not
                     involved in the details and does not decide who will be arrested
                     or for how long, does not divest Israel of responsibility for the
                     continuing abuses of human rights at the facility. In 1983, the
                     state commission of inquiry chaired by the late Justice Yitzhak
                     Kahan found that Israel and its ministers were responsible for
                     the massacre at the Beirut refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla
                     in September 1982, even though it was perpetrated by the
                     Christian Phalangists. In the light of that decision, it can be
                     inferred that Israel is also responsible for what is wrought at Al
                     Hiyam prison by SLA chief Gen. Antoine Lahad and his army,
                     who are the hired implementers of Israeli policy in southern
                     Lebanon.

                              copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved