Autopsy casts doubt over first Israeli version of how Palestinian prisoner died

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 26, 2013 

— On the evening of Feb. 18, Israeli authorities arrested Arafat Jaradat, 30, on suspicion that he had thrown stones at Israeli soldiers. Five days later, he was dead. Now his story has come to symbolize what many Palestinians and human rights groups say are the torturous interrogation methods used by Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet.

A spokeswoman for Israel Prison Services, Sivan Weizman, originally said that Jaradat had died in Meggido Prison of a heart attack. But a different picture emerged when Israel’s Ministry of Health released a statement describing what doctors found during their autopsy.

“Two internal hemorrhages were detected, one on the shoulder and one on the right side of the chest,” the statement said. “Two ribs were broken, which may indicate resuscitation attempts. The initial findings cannot determine the cause of death.”

A Palestinian doctor who was involved in the autopsy told McClatchy that Jaradat’s body had “clear signs of torture.”

“There was blood in his nose and in his throat. There were bruises across his body consistent with beatings that would have happened just before he died,” said the doctor, who asked not be identified because the official autopsy results had not yet been released. “There was, in my opinion, clear evidence of torture.”

Jaradat’s death has triggered a wave of protest across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Thousands flooded the main square in this village for his funeral Monday, and thousands more, imprisoned in Israeli jails, declared a hunger strike that they vowed would not end until there is a broad-ranging agreement on prisoner rights.

Questions about Jaradat’s demise abound.

Palestinian officials want to know why Dr. Yehuda Hiss, the former head of the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine, was placed in charge of the autopsy. Hiss was fired from his post as Israel’s chief pathologist in October after allegations emerged of gross mismanagement at his forensic lab, included misplaced body parts and tissue.

Kamil Sabbagh, a lawyer who represented Jaradat in a preliminary hearing on Feb. 21, said that Jaradat complained that he was being treated harshly during his interrogations. Jaradat told his lawyer that he had sharp pains in his back and chest and that he was being interrogated for several hours each day.

Sabbagh filed a complaint with the court and requested that a physician examine Jaradat, but the request apparently was ignored.

Friends wonder how a 30-year-old who worked as a gas station attendant in the same village where he was born could so quickly die.

“He had a job where he had to be active, run around, lift heavy things. Don’t you think we’d know if he was unhealthy?” said Sami Abboud, a 23-year-old Palestinian from the nearby city of Hebron. “Of course he had no health problems. His only problem was the Israelis. They gave him health problems when they beat him to death.”

Israel Prison Services declined to provide details about Jaradat’s case other than to say that his death was “under investigation” and that he had a security file. Palestinian officials confirmed that Jaradat was a member of the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed wing of the Fatah movement that governs the West Bank, and that he had been arrested in the past for throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers and vehicles.

Human rights groups have said that a more thorough review is needed of Israel’s interrogation process and of the military courts in which most Palestinians are tried. According to Israeli officials, at the end of 2012 there were nearly 4,500 Palestinians being held in security detention and in Israeli jails. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both filed reports detailing what they termed as widespread problems in the Israeli prison system, which included regular use of solitary confinement and harsh interrogation methods.

In 2011, a report by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights said that methods of interrogation included “insults; beating using batons, sharp tools, feet and hands; tying the feet and hands to a chair and beating with batons or wires; and other methods. Additionally, detainees were held in cells or small rooms, were placed in solitary confinement, and were forced to stand for long hours in cold weather or under the sun.”

Relatives and friends of Jaradat said that many of those interrogation methods were used on him and on other men in his family who had been arrested by Israeli authorities in the past.

“This is nothing new to us. In Palestinian families we tell each other what will happen in jail because this is an experience too many of us share,” said Mahmoud Abbir, a 42-year-old resident of Sair who said both his brother and his oldest son have been arrested by Israeli authorities for alleged involvement in stone throwing.

Palestinian officials said that Palestinian outrage is growing over the prisoner issue.

“Every Palestinian knows this, they know someone in Israeli jail. The Palestinian prisoner issue is familiar to all the families, familiar to everyone,” said Ziad Abu Ein, the Palestinian deputy minister for prisoner affairs. He said he spent more then 13 years in Israeli jails over the last three decades. “It is something every Palestinian feels about deeply in their heart.”

“What happened to him can happen to any of us,” said Abboud as he protested at Jaradat’s funeral. “Whether we throw rocks or not, the Israelis will come and arrest us. So why not just be part of the resistance and die a martyr?”

Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent. Email:; Twitter: @sheeraf

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