Over the last 16 years thousands of Palestinian Arabs from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip have been convicted by Israeli courts of terrorist activities and other security offenses. In many of these cases the primary evidence leading to conviction was provided by the confessions of the accused. Now an official Israeli commission has found that agents of the Shin Bet, the domestic intelligence agency, routinely used "physical pressure" to wring confessions from suspects and then, when the validity of these confessions was challenged in court, routinely lied about the methods they had used. As a result of this finding, which supports claims long made by Israeli defense attorneys and others, a large number of imprisoned Palestinians may seek to have their convictions overturned.
Some, in Israel and elsewhere, may discern in the commission's disclosures proof of the inherent strengths of a political system that is self-confident enough to expose official misbehavior. But for others what will stand out most starkly is the commission's chilling acceptance of the use of "physical pressure"--a euphemism for torture--in past and future cases of suspected Arab terrorism. Indeed, the commission's greatest repugnance seems to have been aroused not by the fact that government agents regularly abused suspects, but that they later "broke the criminal law" by lying under oath about what they had done.