Sat 20-July-2024

Through the eyes of the blindfolded: A look at Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights

Thursday 4-July-2024

Many disturbing videos of the abuse of blindfolded Palestinians have recently surfaced on social media. One of these shows Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank forcing blindfolded Palestinians in detention to listen to a children’s song, “Meni Meni Meni Mamtera,” continuously for eight hours. This video has gone viral, sparking a TikTok trend in which Israelis mock detained Palestinians by reenacting the scene. Even Yinon Magal, a former member of the Knesset and a television show host, has participated in this activity with his own children.

Having worked with Palestinian victims of torture for almost two decades, I have witnessed firsthand the severe consequences of such practices. Blindfolding and hooding are common tactics used by the Israeli army, police, and interrogators during detention and interrogation. Often conducted in conjunction with torture, these practices make it nearly impossible for victims to identify their torturers, thus hindering prosecution efforts. These actions have become increasingly brazen, frequently occurring in front of cameras during the genocidal acts currently taking place in Gaza. Many detainees report being cut off from their surroundings for the majority, if not the entirety, of their detention. This reprehensible practice raises significant legal, ethical and psychological concerns.

Blindfolding, as a method of sensory deprivation, is particularly pernicious. It has profound psychological and physiological consequences – both short-term and long-term – including damage to the eye, injuries, anxiety, panic attacks, disorientation, cognitive problems and hallucinations. Sensory deprivation exacerbates the power imbalance between the blindfolded victim and the interrogator, amplifying the victim’s feelings of vulnerability, fear and powerlessness. By blocking the capacity to see, the victim becomes more reliant on other senses, which intensifies physical pain and the impact of the interrogation.

Blindfolding creates a psychological environment of private darkness and isolation. The inability to see one’s surroundings fosters a sense of disconnection from reality, making victims more susceptible to manipulation.

This isolation can lead to heightened stress and despair, increasing the likelihood of the individual providing information or complying with the interrogator’s demands. These findings are consistent with our clinical understanding that sensory deprivation can lead to significant mental health issues and traumatic consequences.

This tactic also serves to dehumanize the victim. Interrogators block the victims’ visual connection with their surroundings and with the interrogators themselves, diminishing the victims’ sense of personal identity, subjectivity, and agency; making it easier for their interrogators to exert control. The method increases the victim’s sense of disorientation, objectification and suggestibility. Such deliberate sensory deprivation aims to create an environment where the victim is more likely to succumb to pressure during interrogation.

Several of the victims of torture I examined who had experienced weeks of sensory deprivation during detention, including blindfolding, have described dissociative symptoms. Victims may experience out-of-body experiences, a sense of unreality, and profound detachment from their surroundings; these symptoms can persist even when the visual deprivation ends and can have a profound impact on their mental health. Others became afraid of darkness and are unable to sleep spontaneously.

While Israelis may argue that blindfolding has practical security applications, we know that extreme psychological tactics often result in unreliable information. Under duress, individuals are more likely to provide false or exaggerated statements.

I believe, indeed, that blindfolding serves to shield Israeli soldiers from the Palestinian gaze and from any potential for eye contact with the individuals they are interrogating. This separation from the human aspect of the Israeli’s actions is a psychological defense mechanism, allowing soldiers to distance themselves emotionally from the impact of their behavior. This emotional detachment can contribute to a broader process of dehumanization through which soldiers become desensitized to the human cost of their actions. Studies on military psychology indicate that such detachment can lead to increased aggression and a greater likelihood of committing human rights abuses.

It is crucial to recognize that the use of blindfolding and torture is widely defined as a violation of human rights. But we cannot unsee what we have seen, even when Israel is trying to blindfold the world to its genocidal acts and to handcuff the international public from condemning these acts. Palestinians call upon the global community to fix its gaze at Israel and hold accountable those who perpetuate such practices. Only through addressing these violations can we protect our insight into human rights and maintain a vision for a better world.

-Samah Jabr MD is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist; the Head of the Mental Health Unit, Palestine Ministry of Health; and Assistant Clinical Professor, George Washington University, Washington DC, USA. She is also the author of Derrière les fronts (Behind the Frontlines). Her article appeared in MEMO.

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