JERUSALEM (Feb. 8)
Premier Menachem Begin expressed “amazement” today over the publication of a story in the Washington Post alleging “systematic torture” by Israel of Arabs arrested for security offenses. He told reporters that the allegations, derived from reports to the State Department by a former employe of the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem, were “totally baseless.”
Begin recalled that similar allegations were published in the Sunday Times of London lost year and that Israel had “proven that these are inventions of our enemies.” He blamed “great papers like the Times and Post” for publishing such accounts.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Shmuel Tamir invited international jurists and representatives of “fair and neutral countries” to come to Israel to see for themselves that there is no mistreatment of prisoners. He said that American Congressional committees, judges, lawyers and other “people of standing” would be welcome to study prison conditions in Israel.
Tamir denounced the allegations in the Past story as “evil slander” and declared that “there is no torture in Israel’s prisons and there never has been.” He said he took a very grave view of the Post story because the facts could easily have been verified.
NOTES AGREEMENT WITH ICRC
He noted that under an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), its representatives have the right to meet with persons imprisoned for security offenses without the presence of Israeli officials. He said that out of some 1278 such visits by ICRC representatives, in only six percent of the cases did the Red Cross ask to pursue investigations based on complaints made by the prisoners.
Tamir said the ICRC on one occasion sent a physician to check complaints of physical torture but the physician could not find a single case. The talk of torture in Israeli prisons does a great injustice to Israel, Tamir said. “There is no second to Israel in the scope of humanitarianism and liberalism exercised towards its enemies,” the Justice Minister stated. He also said that a “State institution” was investigating the activities of the American Consulate in East Jerusalem where the allegations quoted in the Washington Post originated.
READY TO SUPPLY INFORMATION
Michael Shiloh, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said today that Israel stood ready, as in the past to give “any respectable newspaper” relevant and specific information that could contradict allegations such as were published in the Post. He said the Israeli Embassy in Washington offered to furnish the Post with specific responses to each allegation but the paper “rejected our proposal, to our regret.” He said the Embassy also suggested that the Post postpone publication of the story until it carried out an on-the-spot investigation of its own but the story was published nonetheless.
Moariv denounced the Post in an editorial today. It said, “We must deeply regret that such a serious newspaper as the Washington Post did not exhibit the measure of professional and public responsibility that one would expect from a paper of that standard on an issue as weighty and controversial as this.”
(In New York, Theodore Mann, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, stated:. “The Washington Post has joined left-wing and extremist groups in the United States in a sensationalist and irresponsible attack charging the State of Israel with the systematic torture of Palestinian prisoners….The ‘Big Lie that Israel has mistreated its Palestinian terrorist prisoners is a discredited propaganda device that has been investigated and proven false….(f)he Washington Post has lent itself to a blatant anti-Israel propaganda effort and given aid and comfort to the terrorist cause. For a major newspaper that aspires to national prestige, to indulge in such reckless journalism is both scandalous and shocking.”)
(The Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington issued a statement calling the testimony of Palestinians cited in cables quoted by the Post “self-serving statements of convicted terrorists dedicated to the destruction of the State of Israel against which they testified and eager to explain away their criminal behavior in order to be admitted to the United States.”)