Monday, November 30, 2020

Behind closed doors; Israeli authorities use sexual torture against Palestinian male prisoners

By Patty Diphusa - September 06, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [prisoners] [torture] [Human rights]

Israeli authorities have a long record when it comes to violating the rights of Palestinians. 


Some of these consist of arbitrary detentions of children and adults, enforced disappearances, illegal demolition of homes, denial of the right for Palestinians to return to their homeland, annexation of Palestinian lands and torture and ill-treatment in detention facilities.


The UN Committee Against Torture published a report in 2016 in which it expressed concerns regarding torture and ill-treatment against Palestinians. This investigation stated that these crimes are mainly perpetrated by the Israel Security Agency, the police and the Israeli Defence Forces (also known as Israeli occupying forces), “particularly during arrest, transfer and interrogation” of detainees. The report also raises concern about the lack of accountability for these crimes.


An area which remains under-reported is that of sexual torture perpetrated by Israeli forces, specifically against Palestinian men. Although men do profit from privilege as they are naturally favoured by the existing patriarchy in all societies, Palestinian men who are abused face some added difficulties which are set by the (socially constructed and not innate) generalised homophobia in Palestinian society.


Understanding of sexuality in the 'Arab World’ and its rolling taboos around it, including that of sexual diversity, has been influenced by its history of colonialism and more recently that of foreign interventions and Zionism. By no means is it suggested that the current taboos are a natural part of 'Arab’ or Palestinian society.


Sexual torture of Palestinian men by Israeli authorities


Recording sexual torture is complex as victims are likely not to report because of fear of stigma, repercussions, shame and re-victimisation.


However, a 2015 publication concluded that of 1,500 men testimonies screened, of which less than 100 were by non-Palestinians, over 77 incidents amounting to sexual torture were identified. In nine of the cases, the victims were minors. 


The gravity of the punishment inflicted by Israeli officials can be understood by some of the testimonies provided by the report.


One male aged 28 reported his perpetrator was part of the Israeli Secret Service, stating that during his questioning, “The interrogator threatened that he will f* me and put his hands in my ass if I won’t give him a full confession and if I won’t sign on all accusations that they directed toward me.”


Another testimony reported a secret service official threatening another detained Palestinian with rape, saying “you son of a bitch, terrorist, I’ll f* you like a homosexual”, not only enforcing sexual torture but also feeding the widespread myth that homosexuality is intrinsically linked to rape and violence.


Other reports describe similar threats of rape, abuse and having photos taken of them whilst they were stripped naked.


Pink-washing violations of human rights


These testimonies are difficult to process and amount to some of the worst crimes regardless of who commits them, against whom they are committed and the place these violations happen. They resonate far away from the image Tel Aviv has created of Israel as a place full of liberal beaches and bars where sexuality is respected and encouraged - a “queer haven” in the Middle East.


Tel Aviv has become famous as one of the top touristic destinations to cater for Western homosexual men, hosting one of the biggest 'pride’ events in the world. It is not here suggested that homosexual men are the only members of sexual diversity, rather that these are the ones which the “gay tourism industry” is most often addressed to. 


Paradoxically, Israeli authorities attempt to cover other crimes, including that of sexual torture and exploitation of taboos surrounding homosexuality, by portraying itself as a “democracy which respects sexual diversity”. Such practice is commonly known as pink-washing.


As human rights activist Botrous* explained, “pink-washing is the process of sugar-coating all violations against Palestinians under the erratic statement of Israel as a 'queer-friendly State’, and as such, co-opting queer-struggles”.


The ultimate goal of Israeli pink-washing is to “get other people to sympathise with their illegal, expansionist Zionist project by portraying themselves as 'progressed’ versus the 'barbaric Palestinians’” Botrous continued.


Rania Muhareb, a legal researcher at al Haq, a Palestinian Human Rights NGO operating since 1979, followed up on this division between 'barbaric Palestinians’ and 'progressed’ (Jewish) Israelis by stating that through pink-washing, Israel tries to “impose a sort of moral superiority upon what they claim Palestinian culture is”. 


By creating this narrative, “attention is diverted from the crimes they commit against Palestinians, regardless of their sexuality and gender identity,” Muhareb asserted. 


Although the testimonies cited above amount to sexual torture, the implications are compounded due to the alleged “queer friendliness” of the Israeli State. There is then a double standard when sexuality is addressed. 


As Botrous explained, Israel is consciously exploiting the socially constructed stigma of homosexuality in Palestinian culture which is linked to the concepts of masculinity and honour. He explained that if victims were to speak they could be threatened with honour killings, family disowning, loss of reputation and could even lead to higher chances of suicide. 


Botrous continued suggesting that “such practice is part of a larger trend by oppressive regimes to apply torture specifically designed according to social taboos of the people they oppress”, becoming not only a physical but a psychological punishment.


Similar measures have been recorded for instance by the US forces in Iraq, specifically in the infamous Abu Ghraib detention facility.


Muhareb expressed that while reporting on human rights violations in occupied Palestine, “we have seen practices by Israeli occupying authorities that exploit stigmas and taboos in Palestinian society not only regarding homosexuality, but also regarding gender relations directly affecting women”. 


Moreover, Botrous and Muhareb both noted that there are serious concerns that these sorts of actions enforce the erratic narrative of 'homosexuals as innately perverted rapists’ and thus fuels the myths surrounding homophobic discourse and which queer activists try to tackle in Palestine and elsewhere, particularly in the Global South.


Although recognising Israel’s double standard when claiming to be queer friendly whilst exploiting queer struggles and homophobia, Palestinian queer activist Rami* explained that Israel’s actions as an occupying force with its daily violations of the rights of the Palestinians transcends such contradiction.

Rami said that “even if Israel would not have [such double standards], if it wouldn’t for instance, in this case, sexually torture Palestinians, if they would not discriminate to whom their 'queer-friendly’ policies are addressed to, it would still be “an occupying power confiscating people’s land, ethnic cleansing Palestine, imprisoning children.” 


He continued asserting that “regardless of how respectful of sexual diversity Israel might become, as long as Palestinians are not free, the field of sexual diversity loses relevance as it is only one part of the larger sphere of human rights”. 


As Muhareb stated, “a democratic and open society cannot be constructed and based on the oppression of others.''

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