Human rights in Israeli occupied territories

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.308.6920.61b (Published 01 January 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:61
  1. D Summerfield
  1. Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, London NW5 3EJ.

    EDITOR, - Successive reports by Amnesty International and other human rights bodies about the torture of Palestinian detainees during interrogation have become more difficult to ignore within Israel. Exposure of the institutionalised collusion of doctors during military service has recently forced the Israeli Medical Association to take a stand on this issue.1

    At an international conference, “Mental Health and the Challenge of Peace,” held in Gaza in mid-September-The first of its kind in the occupied territories-evidence was produced of the after effects of these experiences for victims. The Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, hosts to the conference, recently studied 477 men within six months of release from imprisonment during the intifada (F Abu Hein et al, unpublished data). The commonest form of torture, experienced by 85% of subjects, was of methodical assaults by a team of men, each of whom had an assigned task. A particular focus was the genitals, and transient suffocation was also common. One interrogator often had the job of signalling to his colleagues when the prisoner was unconscious or had indicated that he was ready to talk. Ninety five per cent of convictions in military courts are based solely on a confession. Even after release, regular surveillance and night raids on their homes conveyed to these men that they were still not safe of free.

    The study found that 26% of subjects had physical symptoms associated with their genitalia, 17% were depressed, and 40% had seven or more symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Their hypervigilance and suspiciousness impinged on others, with around 40% reporting family or marital problems and social withdrawal. Moreover, the communities in which they must recover have been traumatised by six years of violence that spared no one; more than 20% of the 1000 people killed by the Israeli army in Gaza and the West Bank were children, and all social, economic, and academic life has been subject to the imperatives of military occupation. Gaza's shattered infrastructure must support one of the most densely populated zones in the world; three quarters of its 800 000 inhabitants are refugees.

    The report's psychological findings are worrying, given that an estimated 80 000 Palestinian men have been imprisoned since 1987 and 13 000 are still held. However, it may be a good augury that the conference coincided with the signing of the peace accord in Washington, an event unforeseen here even two weeks earlier. Recognition of Palestinians' aspirations to shape their own future and the prospect of an end to an endemic conflict will give these men the chance to rebuild their society and thus themselves. Though some will need professional help, the definitive treatment for victims of torture is not psychotherapy but social justice.


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