Torture (a street-theatre protest, and reflections after)

The handcuffs were digging their metal teeth into my ankles and wrists. Once, they twisted around my feet and I almost tripped. My throat was raw from screaming. I wanted water. Everything was dark. Next to my head, a stereo was turned on full volume, fluttering between FM stations, the sound of static, white noise and the occasional riff of a pop song. The stereo was pressed against my ear, and my face was pressed against the ground.

Yesterday, as part of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel‘s campaign to raise awareness as part of the International Day in Solidarity with Victims of Torture, I participated in an act of protest and street theatre, in Jerusalem’s  gaudy Mamila Mall (the action was also covered on +972 Magazine). I was asked to represent a victim of torture, handcuffed, blindfolded, and led around the mall by a “guard.” I am still shaken from the experience.

It was all an act, of course, and I was “guarded” by a dear friend of mine, with the knowledge that at any point, I could say “stop” and everything would stop, would return to normal, would be fine, but there was something about reenacting what I- from my place of privilege, comfort and distance- imagined someone who was being tortured might feel that touched me in a different way than articles or analyses against torture I’d read in the past.

Here is a video of part of the action, which overall lasted for over an hour. The video first shows the silent reenactments of solitary confinement, and some of the hostile reactions from the crowd. I enter at minute 1:00. By this point, the line between action and actuality was a bit blurred in my head. “I am a human being,” I shriek. When I am on the ground, I am asking for water. The guard tells me to admit to throwing stones. I ask for water again. He tells me to say I threw stones. I say I threw stones and ask for water again. The guard walks away:

“I am a human being.” This line came into my head half way through the action. I was, of course, deeply opposed to torture before this action (part of why I took part), but something about this hour, about trying to feel a tiny, imaginary sliver of the humiliation, raw fear, thirst, anger, panic and confusion of torture drove the empathy into a much deeper place, and I think that it will be much harder for me, now, to brush off a story of a human being- especially a child- being tortured, as in the case I wrote about in Silwan last month, of a fourteen year-old boy being tortured in an Israeli detention center. A sickening part of the responses to that story was the chorus of denial, those commentors who said “this is a lie, this did not happen.” Maybe, though, as a friend said to me after the action yesterday, denial is the first step. It is natural for people to be unable to believe that such a thing could happen here, but if they take the time to look into the question more, denial will surely melt into the horror that a human being must feel when she thinks about what it truly means for other human beings to be treated like this. In further proof, for those who are unwilling to believe Palestinians themselves, or their allies, today the British Foreign Office issued a report in which they found that “Children from the West Bank are held in conditions that could amount to torture…” 

As Ban Ki Moon states, in the beginning of the clip above, torture can never justified. Those of us who are not threatened by torture have an increased obligation to speak out on behalf of- and along with- those who are. Treating another human being as if he or she is worth less than an animal can never be justified. Dehumanization of some decreases humanity and security of all.

Here are some pictures of the action taken by HaArutz HaAdom: