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Tel Aviv University
[TAU Philosophy] Anat Matar in an audio interview on Israel's political prisoners. Rebuttal of her comments incorporated


Anat Matar, of the Philosophy Department at Tel Aviv University. 


Tel Aviv University senior lecturer Anat Matar on Israel's political prisoners

On July 21, 2011, CHUO 89.1 FM Ottawa The Train's Denis Rancourt interviewed senior lecturer of philosophy and political activist Anat Matar by phone from Israel.

We explored "Who Profits" from the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Israel's grotesque system of political prisoners and their judicial treatments, and the origins of the societal pathology of Israel's Zionism.


The following is a summary of this interview.

Rebuttal of her comments in the interview are incorporated, indented in italics, in the summary.


Part One


Anat Matar is introduced as a political activist and chair of the Israeli Committee for Palestinian Prisoners, and recent co-author of a book on that subject. Matar notes that she is a long-time political activist, much of which has been spent actively opposing military service. Matar states there is no conscientious objection in Israel, and there has been some change resulting from her activism; she says the change is not formal, but rather an increase in the number of young people who find ways to evade military service.

Matar uses the term conscientious objection, but what she means, as is clear from her comments, is refusal to serve for political reasons, i.e., the recruit does not agree with the government’s policies. Disagreement with government policy is not a basis for discharge from the obligation to serve, on grounds of CO, in any country. Indeed, exemption from service on this claim is inconceivable. In any event, and as she states, many draft-age young people find ways to get out of military service. Besides, the IDF does not induct persons who are unsuitable for service, for one reason or another.

A point that warrants emphasis is the extent to which Matar has over the years, committed a criminal offense in inciting persons to evade draft. She does not mention that she has been indicted, or even threatened with criminal charges, for her activity in seeking to convince recruits to refuse induction and reserve soldiers not to do reserve duty. Incitement of this kind is indeed a criminal offense under Israel’s criminal code. The Israeli authorities’ forbearance should be noteworthy, even praiseworthy, especially in eyes of persons like Matar who exhibit a heightened concern for freedom of speech and Israel’s democracy.

Matar explains that she is a member of “Who Profits,” an organization under the umbrella of the Coalition of Women, which runs a project monitoring the international corporations involved in building the “colonies” and the infrastructure there. “Who Profits” publicizes the identity of the beneficiaries of the “occupation.” On the one hand, she says, the general Israeli population does not profit, because of the cost in building the settlements and of the subsidies paid to the settlers. Yet, there are many firms, such as banks, that do benefit. The state benefits: “it steals land, it steals water, it steals minerals, and. . . natural resources from the Palestinian territories.” Matar and the interviewer emphasized the water problem arising from the theft: Israel even ignores the Oslo Accords, itself an unfair deal with the Palestinians.


In fact, the Oslo Accords were negotiated by Israel and the Palestinian Authority over many months, and the Interim Agreement and its annexes exceed 300 pages. Annex III, which deals with Civil Affairs, is more than 80 pages long. Article 40 of this annex deals with water and sewage, a highly complex riparian-law issue as Israel and PA share the Mountain Aquifer. The parties agreed that the Palestinian water rights will be settled in the final-status agreement. In the meantime, the parties agreed (in section 6 of the Annex) that the future needs of the Palestinians in the West Bank are estimated to be 70-80 million cubic meters a year. Israel has provided this amount, and more. Moreover, up to one-third or more of the water the Palestinians receive is lost through theft (by Palestinians) or as a result of corrosion and other defects in the pipe network; this figure is provided by the Palestinian Water Authority.  

Matar asserts that Palestinians suffer a water shortage: “It’s not that they don’t have running water at all, but they have shortages. They don’t have water every day and every hour. There are villages which rarely get water.”

The truth is, there are quite a few Palestinian villages which do not have running water (in which about 10 percent of Palestinians live). Indeed, a surprising figure in itself is that 3 billion people not only do not have a running-water system – they do not have running water within one kilometer of their house. The question is: to what extent is Israel responsible for establishing a running-water system in communities over which it has control (Area C) The response is not a simple one. Matar makes no attempt to come up with an answer.

As for Gaza, the water is not drinkable, the interviewer points out. Matar views the problem of Gaza water in the overall context, claiming that the West Bank and Gaza should be viewed as one entity, in which water could be piped from the West Bank to Gaza.

It is unclear how her solution would help if there is a water shortage in the West Bank. Leaving that point aside, the problem in Gaza is not new; the shortage of potable water is due to relatively high levels of nitrate contamination, which is caused by over-pumping of the underground water. The problem has been known for many years, and the Gazans/Palestinians have done nothing to ameliorate it in spite of suggestions made by international bodies to build a desalination plant there. As for Gaza and the West Bank forming one entity, this is a political question, and Israel has little to say about it at this stage, when Hamas and Fatah can’t work things out among themselves. 

The greatest concern for Matar presently is the issue of Palestinian prisoners. She asserts that there are currently 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails, and that 600,000 have been through the process. She doesn’t know the average sentence, but many are sentenced to life. At the other extreme are persons held for interrogation and then set free. They undergo very rough treatment. They’re tortured, she says. The 5,000 figure includes the Palestinians who are interrogated and freed.

Whatever the current figure of Palestinians in Israeli jails, her claim that they are political prisoners is not supported by international law. She evidently defines “political” as an act of actively engaging in the planning, carrying out, and aiding in attacks against Israeli civilians. As for the ”many” who are sentenced to life, as far as we know, only defendants charged with and convicted of murder are serving a life sentence. A common lesser charge is membership in a terrorist organization. Anti-terrorism statutes – covering membership in a terrorist organization, providing material support for such an organization, and the like – are common in western countries, including Great Britain and the United States.

As for the alleged rough interrogation, and the claim detainees are tortured during interrogations, Matar’s assertion is totally unsubstantiated as would be obvious to anybody who studies the reports and publications put out by human rights organizations such as the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, B’Tselem, and HaMoked, organizations harshly critical of Israel. As for PCATI, the two most recent major reports they have published have dealt with holding detainees incommunicado and on shackling (cuffing) of detainees. In a joint report, B’Tselem and HaMoked did the best they could to criticize the harsh treatment of Palestinians who were detained and taken to the Petah-Tikva interrogation facility, The extent of alleged maltreatment is exemplified by the report’s emphasis on detainees being kept in cells whose walls are not smooth, making it difficult to lean against them, and the poor quality of the food. All these organizations contend that the official in the Ministry of Justice charged with investigating interrogees’ complaints has not ordered a criminal investigation into even one complaint. And the interrogees have made hundreds of complaints of torture and maltreatment. The figure was a few hundred when B’Tselem and HaMoked published an earlier report, in May 2007, where the organizations made the same complaint about the inspector’s failure to properly investigate the claims, and the failure to open any criminal investigations. Yet, neither human rights organizations nor detainees took the claims to the High Court of Justice, which made a clear ruling, in 1999, that the use of force in Shabak interrogations was unlawful. Since that report of 2007, the situation has not changed –the inspector still has not substantiated any claim of torture – and hundreds more complaints were filed with him in the interim. A review of PCATI’s website indicates that a petition was finally filed, in March 2010 (for persons who read Hebrew, the progress of the file in the Supreme Court can be followed at http://elyon1.court.gov.il/verdictssearch/HebrewVerdictsSearch.aspx - the file number is 1910 and the year 2010). In March 2011, PCATI along with five other NGOs filed a principled petition on the issue (file no. HCJ 1265/11). HaMoked’s website mentions that a petition it filed on the subject, in August 2010, was dismissed in January 2011 by the High Court, which held that HaMoked had not exhausted the proceedings before the administrative authority.

Matar protests against the use of administrative detention, a procedure Israel inherited from the United Kingdom, she asserts. The detention continues for years, without trial and without due process. It is based on “belonging to a hostile organization or being suspected of organizing terror, something that has to do with [a] terror attack, something like that.” The detainees do not know the charges against them. They can remain in detention indefinitely, with their case being heard by a judge every six months. This is an obvious violation of human rights, she asserts.

Matar offers the case of Ahmad Katamish, who was held in administrative detention in the 1990s for five years, was released, and was recently detained again. She notes that Katamish is alleged to be a leader of the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine and to be connected to terrorist activity. Why, all of a sudden was he taken back into administrative detention, she asks. She points out that the PFLP is a tiny faction of the PLO. As for Katamish, he has not been involved in any known activity. He spent his time at home, writing children’s stories, essays, doing research.

Administrative detention, whether under the Emergency Regulations inherited from the UK or under other laws, is potentially problematic, but the reason for it – the desire, and need, to maintain the secrecy of the sources of the information on the detainee’s terrorist involvement – is reasonable and understandable. The detainee knows the general charge against him – that his activity endangers the security of the region. The judge, upon the required judicial review every six months, is aware of the specifics and must be convinced that they indeed indicate that the detainee poses a threat to the security of the region. He then decides whether to extend the detention for six months, or for a lesser period, or not at all. As for the numbers, in November 2009, 2 of the 291 administrative detainees in detention had been held for three years or more (the figures are provided on B’Tselem’s website, at  http://www.btselem.org/administrative_detention/statistics. Note among the figures the table with the numbers of administrative detainees by years, from 1989-2004, which indicate the correlation between Palestinian violence and the number of administrative detainees). The “years” of detention that Matar speaks about are the exceptional cases.

Matar’s claim that Katamish spent his time at home, writing children’s stories, articles, and doing research, is worthless, unless we assume that he would tell Matar he was involved in PFLP activity. Not a reasonable assumption. As for the size of the PFLP, this small faction and its military wing, the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, have committed some of the most violent attacks on Israeli civilians since its inception under George Habash in the 1960s. Most recently, two terrorists affiliated with the PFLP murdered five members of the Fogel family, including a small baby.




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