LONDON (Jul. 13)
The call for an independent inquiry into allegations of torture by the Israeli authorities was indignantly rejected today by a member of the Israeli Supreme Court. Justice Moshe Etzlioni described the call by the Sunday Times as “an insult to the Israeli judiciary.” It was also an insult to the English judiciary on which the Israeli legal system was closely modelled, he said.
Etzioni, who is in London for the World ORT Union Council meeting, made his comments at a specially convened press conference at the Israeli Embassy. He stressed that he was not replying on behalf of the government to the Sunday Times’ allegations. He specifically rejected that paper’s suggestion of an inquiry by the International Red Cross, since that was not its function and it did not have the ability to carry one out.
He also opposed an inquiry by left-wing members of the Israeli parliament, saying the only way to examine allegations of torture was in open court in Israel. He told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency later that leading members of the Anglo-Jewish community had suggested an independent inquiry by leading British judges.
He said he was shocked by this suggestion, too, seeing in it an affront to Israel’s national sovereignty and her judiciary. British judges themselves would be embarrassed by such a proposal and would reject it, Etzioni said.
EXPLAINS ISRAELI SYSTEM
The jurist explained that Israel, like Britain, observed the rule that a man is innocent until proven guilty. On the question of confessions, Israel went even further than Britain, since Israeli judges were not allowed to read alleged confessions until satisfied that they were made freely. The police have often been severely censured for presenting inadmissible evidence.
Etzioni also said that members of the Israeli Supreme Court make a frequent practice of visiting prisons and remand centers often without advance notice to the prison authorities. Prisoners are able to air their grievances to the judges in private. Lawyers and the Red Cross also have free access to prisons and trials are held only in open court except when they involve national security.
DENIES EXISTENCE OF TORTURE CHAMBERS
Etzioni expressed incredulity at the Sunday Times suggestion that there were top secret torture chambers–so-called X-cells–in certain Israeli prisons. Israel is a small country and such things could never have been kept secret for long, he said.
He did not deny that terrorist suspects were sometimes roughly handled during capture and subsequent interrogation, especially if people’s lives were thought to be in immediate danger because of terrorist bombs. Just as in other countries, the police and army were only human and could abuse their authority. However, the Israeli judges had creditable records in stemming such abuses, he said.