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Knesset Left Proposes Outlawing Torture of Palestinian Prisoners

Left-wing lawmakers in the Knesset have proposed a bill that would outlaw torture of Palestinian prisoners, a practice human rights groups routinely charge Israel with committing.

According to the private member’s bill, anyone found guilty of torture would be sentenced to a jail term ranging from one to seven years.

Those found guilty of torture resulting in grave bodily harm could face up to 20 years in jail, while torture resulting in death would be punished with a life sentence.

Furthermore, evidence obtained by interrogators through torture would not be accepted as legal and acceptable in court.

A vote on the bill, introduced by a group of Knesset members led by Tamar Gojansky of Hadash, the largely Arab Communist party, was postponed until a government-appointed committee concluded its own work on the same subject.

The committee of experts was appointed this week following a memorandum by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel that several countries–including the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Holland — had enacted laws which formally incorporated the international anti-torture convention into their legal code.

Israel signed the international convention against torture in 1984, but has refused to incorporate the convention within its legal system, arguing that this would be tantamount to admitting that its present laws are insufficient to prevent torture.

Both the government move to re-evaluate its position on the torture convention and the Knesset bill proposal come in the wake of strong criticism leveled against Israel.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, during a recent visit here, slammed Israel for human rights violations in the administered territories.

There have also been reports that the United States may exert more pressure on Israel to improve its record on civil rights.

Several years ago, another government appointed committee charged with examining the practices of Israel’s domestic security agency, the Shin Bet, sparked controversy with its findings.

The committee, headed by Justice Moshe Landau, justified in its final report the use of “moderate physical pressure” during interrogation.

This phrase was widely criticized by Israeli liberals, who said the report legitimized the use of a certain measure of terror in interrogation.

In fact, one of the major objections of the Justice Ministry to the Knesset bill currently under debate was a clause which defined torture as any “physical or mental pressure.”

Justice Minister David Libai said this week that the language was too broad and that under this definition one would be able to press charges of torture against any interrogator.

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