By Hind Shraydeh
A few weeks ago Rita Arbeed, eight years old, looked at her mother Noura and asked the question, “what does critical condition mean?” Rita’s father, Noura’s husband, Samer Arbeed, 44, was arrested by Israeli forces on September 25 while in “good health,” yet two days later he was hospitalized with a fractured rib cage, kidney failure and bruising all over his body, according to the prisoner rights group Addameer who have accused Israel of “torture and ill-treatment during interrogations”
Noura did not inform her children of the medical exact status of their father. She only told them that he was arrested. But after news broke, Rita found out by when she went online and searched her father’s name.
Noura said she stared back at her daughter’s face speechless. “I did not know what to tell her,” she said.
Since first being hospitalized, Samer’s condition has deteriorated and today he is unconscious and receiving oxygen support from a respirator.
“Only God and Israeli officials know what happened between the 25th until the 27th of September, the date Samer was transferred to Hadassah Hospital. Although he was in critical condition and unconscious this did not exempt him from being placed under strict security measures,” Noura told Mondoweiss.
According to the family’s lawyer Mahmoud Hassan, Samer began to experience severe chest pains and constant vomiting the day after his arrest. He expressed as much when he was taken to court where his bruising was visible. He repeatedly made complaints to the judge, but his requests for medical care were ignored.
More so, members of a judicial panel approved the Shin Bet, or Israel’s security service, to “use exceptional ways to investigate,” which human rights organizations have lambasted as a form of state sanction of torture.
“It is utterly outrageous that the use of torture during interrogations continues to be sanctioned by the Israeli authorities, from the Shin Bet, through the executive branch and all the way to the Supreme Court,” Saleh Higazi, Amnesty International’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director, said in a statement last month.
In 1999, Israel’s high court banned torture but made an exception for physical interrogation tactics in so-called ticking time bomb situations, in which an attack is imminent. The ruling specified that Israeli officials who carry out torture under these scenarios can be exempted from prosecution or investigation, and must both seek out approval from a senior officer and log the physical abuse.
On September 30 the Israeli ministry of justice opened an investigation into the case. But for Palestinians, an investigation is hardly oversight or justice.
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel logs allegations of prisoner abuse. It reports since 2001 more than 1,200 complaints of torture have been brought against Israeli interrogators and police, resulting in zero indictments. The group says that violence used in questioning is “routine” with two-thirds stating they were subject to sleep deprivation, one third to physical violence. Another third said they experienced sexual harassment and humiliation and 40 percent have said they were shackled at the wrists and ankles for prolonged periods.
What’s more, the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club estimates 73 Palestinian prisoners were killed due to torture while in Israeli detention facilities since 1967.
While torture is difficult to verify in court, the sessions are not recorded, Haaretz correspondent Chaim Levinson reported in 2017 a conversation he had with Israeli officials who confirmed the use of torture, in a case regarding abuses used against Israeli settlers who were arrested for an arson attack that killed a Palestinian baby and both of his parents in the West Bank town of Duma. In the article, Levinson wrote that “lenient plea bargains” have been used “with suspects who were tortured to ensure that the conspiracy of silence remains unbroken.”
Samer was previously detained weeks earlier on August 26, when Israeli soldiers raided his house late at night and took him into custody in front of his wife and children. He was held in custody for nearly a week with no charges after which he was released by a court order.
Until now, there is no indictment against Samer, but only accusations.
Israel’s Shin Bet has said he was responsible for an explosion at a spring by the West Bank settlement of Dolev that killed a 17-year old Israeli and injured two more in late August.
For Noura, her concerns right now are about her husband’s immediate well-being and her children. She said she saw the arrest take place last month and confirmed he was abused as he was being detained.
Samer and Noura had dropped off their kids at school, they have three children including Rita, and were on their way home when they noticed that they were being followed. As their car stopped, four armed men wearing civilian clothes and holding guns beat Samer, including blows to the neck, and then forced him into their vehicle.
Two hours later, Noura was detained at an Israeli checkpoint near the town of Qalandia for two hours. In the meantime and in their absence, Israeli soldiers raided Samer and Noura’s house, leaving wreckage behind.
Since then Samer has not been seen by his family.
“Samer is a kind father and a devoted husband,” Noura said tearfully. “He also takes care of his old mother and sick brother.” She said he is active with local civil society groups and at least two churches in the West Bank have held mass in his honor.
Noura said she has continuously been denied visitation to see her husband even while in hospital. She is not receiving updates about his medical condition.
“The occupation is not allowing us to examine his medical condition and refuses to issue a medical report concerning his condition,” she said.
“With all my heart, I pray that he will recover soon and come back home and be with his children,” she said.