By Ismail Royer
Washington, D.C. August 30, 1999 (iviews.com) At this moment, human rights activists say, there are 200 to 300 Arabs being tortured in Israeli jails. Last Friday, three Arab American victims of Israeli torture met with US Government officials to protest what they say is a lack of official concern for the suffering of American citizens and others held in Israeli prisons.
The United Nations Committee Against Torture has condemned the Israeli practice of using what its security service calls "moderate physical pressure" against detainees. This often consists of food and sleep deprivation, beatings, and placing a filthy hood over the head of a detainee.
There are nine documented cases of American citizens of Arab origin who have been tortured by Israeli security services.
iviews.com talked with Beshar Saidi, an American citizen of Lebanese Christian origin, about his experience in the Israeli judicial system.
iviews: How did your ordeal begin?
Saidi: My wife is a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship. We went back there over Christmas time in 1997. We stayed there six days.
While we were ready to head for the airport, my wife's home was stormed by almost 20 members of the security services: Mossad, Shin Bet, local police. I was told I had to come with them.
I was handcuffed, leg-cuffed, blindfolded, I was taken for a couple hours, and I ended up in one of their questioning centers. At the same time, my parents sat there. They were shocked. They tried to ask all kinds of questions, and they couldn't get an answer from the Israeli authorities.
I was presented to four or five internal security service officers and one Mossad officer. They accused me of being a member of the Syrian Nationalist Party. I was told to spill my guts.
iviews: What did you tell them?
Saidi: I tried to explain: I'm a professional in the States, I've held a good job for the last three years. I've been in the States for 13 years with no record of arrest. They told me, "You're lying."
At that time, they started applying the torture tactics that they've been applying to the Palestinian and Arab prisoners down there.
iviews: What did they do to you?
Saidi: They tied me up to a chair, and put a filthy hood on my head. They wouldn't let me sleep, for four or five days sometimes.
I was sitting on a chair, hands tied, legs tied, the hood was on my face. I can't breathe, I can't see nothing. Loud music in my head, tired, psychologically torn down. You can't itch your nose if you want to itch. I was totally, totally deteriorated. These are the kind of things they applied for almost twenty four days.
They threatened me. My wife was pregnant at the time. They told me she is being tortured in the next room to you. "She's pregnant, and she's going to abort your baby if you don't confess."
They told me, "We're going to get you in the United States. Don't think carrying American citizenship is going to protect you. We run the policy of the United States in the Middle East. We can get from them whatever we want."
iviews: Did you ask to see an official from the American Embassy?
Saidi: I asked repeatedly to see a representative from the American Consulate. I was told to bang my head against a wall.
I asked for a lawyer many times. I know as an American citizen, the first thing in these circumstances, you ask for a lawyer to represent you. I was laughed at.
I was in isolation. I was in a four by six feet cell for a long period of time. Sometimes I was sitting there for a week. You don't seeanybody but your tormentors.
iviews: Did they let you read anything?
Saidi: I asked them for a Bible repeatedly. They wouldn't let anyliterature there, so I figured that the best thing I could get is a Bible. Basically they cursed me. They cursed my faith, my religion.
iviews: What did the Israelis say about Christianity?
Saidi: They said, "F*** you and f*** your Christianity. Every time I mentioned to them to get me a Holy Book, I brought up this issue, Christianity was cursed.
iviews: What were you thinking the whole time?
Saidi: You don't think. I was in a weak mental state. Your second day deprived of sleep, you don't think anymore. You are like a helpless baby, sitting in the corner. You feel like everything you have achieved in life, everything you have been educated about...it's all been wiped out.
iviews: So how did you eventually get out?
Saidi: My wife, with the help of the State Department and the American Consulate, was able to get me a lawyer to represent me, and I met with him. At the initial stage, they wouldn't let my lawyer go inside the court during questioning. They wouldn't let my family go in there. It was basically me, and my tormentors, and the judge.
His name was Faris Salah, an Arab Druze.
I told the judge, "I need to see a lawyer." The judge told me, "Your best choice is to go back with the Shin Bet and deal with them." That was the verdict.
iviews: So where did it go from there?
Saidi: I went back to the Shin Bet. I went to court a second time, and the same thing. My lawyer wasn't allowed in the court. The third time, the lawyer was able to go inside the court.
He tried to defend me. He asked, "What is the evidence? What are the charges they are presenting here?" They told him, "It's all secret evidence, we can't give you anything."
I was sentenced to two years in jail and three years probation. All this was done on secret evidence. They had no witnesses, no evidence.
They made me sign a piece of paper. After 24 days, I was totally gone, I couldn't think after that. They told me, "We're going to take you to prison, you have to sign this piece of paper." And I did sign it. It turned out to be my charges.
iviews: Were the charges you signed written in Arabic?
Saidi: They were in Hebrew. They had one of their Arab collaborators translate it for me. I was totally cheated. Eighteen months later, they did a retrial. They told me I was going to be deported. They put me on an El Al plane for JFK [airport, NY].
iviews: You were tortured mentally. Did you experience physical torture as well? Did you have any physical problems?
Saidi: I developed back pains from sitting for a long period of time. I have problems with my kidneys, with my digestive system. I had a urine infection. I have problems with my nasal passages. I still have a kind of numbness, my face gets numb every once in a while...
iviews: What about suing Israel?
Saidi: We are pursuing the legal avenues. It is very hard. I brought this issue up with the state department. We asked for some help on how to pursue the legal avenues of getting some kind of compensation out of them. And the State Department is willing to help.