by Jonathan Cook in Jerusalem
police officer known as “Major George” who is accused of torturing Arab
prisoners in his previous role as chief interrogator in a secret
military jail has been appointed to oversee relations with Jerusalem’s
Palestinian population, it has emerged.
decision has been greeted with stunned disbelief from human rights
groups, who say unresolved allegations against Major George that he
brutally abused Arab prisoners for many years should disqualify him from
such a sensitive post.
between the Israeli police and the 250,000 Palestinian residents of
East Jerusalem have been on a knife edge for many months, as extremist
Jewish groups -- backed by the municipality -- have increased their
settlement drive in traditional Palestinian neighbourhoods such as
Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.
Association of Civil Rights in Israel (Acri), Israel’s largest legal
rights group, revealed last week that it had made a formal complaint in
February about Major George, whose real name is Doron Zahavi.
said he had threatened to demolish the home of a Palestinian community
activist in Silwan for leading protests against a settler takeover of
Palestinian homes in the area. During what police described as a
“getting to know each other session”, pressure was also put on Jawad
Siyam to become an informant.
however, first earnt notoriety in Unit 504, a special wing of military
intelligence, that oversaw the interrogation of foreign Arab nationals
held in the secret prison, known as Facility 1391. Israel claims to have
closed the jail following its exposure in 2003.
Lebanese militia leader, Mustafa Dirani, who was held in Facility 1391
for many years, alleged in an Israeli court in 2004 that Zahavi
repeatedly tortured him, including by sodomising him with a baton.
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civil suit for $1.5 million damages was never settled because Israel
released Dirani in a prisoner swap before the court had issued a ruling.
The judge has denied Zahavi’s subsequent requests to close the case.
Zahavi has denied the main charges, he has admitted interrogating
prisoners while they were naked and that he ordered one of his officers
to undress in Dirani’s cell and threaten to sexually assault him.
of Unit 504’s interrogators later corroborated Dirani’s claims,
revealing that they routinely used the torture techniques he had
The case has attracted comparisons with Abu Ghraib, the prison in Iraq where US soldiers sexually abused Iraqi inmates.
Kerstein, director of Hamoked, an Israeli human rights group that
helped to expose Facility 1391, called Zahavi’s appointment “appalling”.
said the security services had a history of appointing officials who
acted violently towards Palestinians to sensitive posts. The
authorities’ logic, she said, appeared to be that “these people know how
to deal with the Arabs because they can speak the language of
new role as adviser on Arab affairs to Jerusalem’s police chief, Aharon
Franco, is one of the key roles in the Jersualem force. Zahavi is
supposed to act as the main channel between Palestinian residents and
to the job description, the adviser “must be an accepted and welcome
figure in the Arab community, with excellent interpersonal skills.”
Takefman, a spokeswoman for Acri, said it was hard to see how Zahavi
could fill such a post. “The problem in Jerusalem is that the police
relate almost exclusively to the Palestinians as suspects and do not
enforce the law equitably.”
Zahavi’s job in Facillity 1391 was to extract information from important Arab prisoners.
-- a senior figure in Amal, a now-defunct Lebanese militia, who was
seized by Israeli commandos in 1994 -- was assumed to know the location
of a missing airman, Ron Arad, whose plane went down over Lebanon eight
Dirani claimed he was left naked for his first month in detention and was sexually abused repeatedly by his interrogators.
Dirani appeared in court in 2004, he entered walking with great
difficulty and aided by a cane. He told the judge of his experience of
torture: “I prayed that I’d die.”
unnamed interrogator who worked under Zahavi told the Israeli media: “I
remember one instance that I still feel until today, which makes me
shudder, in which a baton was used -- not for hitting. Even in the
field, George did what he wanted, in front of my eyes and the eyes of
Zahavi was dismissed from military intelligence, he joined the
immigration police and later moved into police intelligence. He is
reported to have taken up his new post in the past two months.
recent meeting with Siyam suggests that he is likely to bring an
uncompromising approach to his role as a liaison with Jerusalem’s
said Zahavi spent most of their meeting shouting at him, and warning
that a demolition order would be drawn up for Siyam’s house if he
continued his political activities. Zahavi also threatened to get him
fired from his job.
Israel claims to have closed Facility 1391, there are suspicions it and
possibly other secret prisons are still in operation. In May last year
the United Nations Committee Against Torture called for the location of
1391 to be identified and the prison inspected.
No bar to promotion
is only the latest example of a security official accused of violent
crimes against Palestinians later being placed in a sensitive post.
A lieutenant in the border police, Dahan was found guilty of carrying
out a “manifestly illegal” order to shoot dead Israeli-Palestinian
citizens arriving at an improvised checkpoint in 1956. In total, 47
civilians were killed at Kafr Qassem. Dahan was later appointed adviser
on Arab affairs in the mixed city of Ramle.
In the infamous Bus 300 affair in 1984, Yatom admitted using a rock to
smash the skulls of two bound Palestinian teenagers who had hijacked a
bus full of Israelis. Yatom was later pardoned. In 2001 prime minister
Ariel Sharon appointed him his counter-terrorism adviser, though the
supreme court ruled him unfit for the post. He was elected to the
parliament in 2003.
A state commission of inquiry harshly criticised Sau, northern
commander of the border police, for his role in the fatal shootings of
13 unarmed Palestinian citizens in 2000. The panel recommended he be
denied promotion for four years. In that time he was promoted twice,
eventually becoming head of the national border police.
Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest
books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the
Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing
Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His
website is www.jkcook.net.