Israel’s Liturgy of Torture

Over the last week, thousands of Palestinians, Jews, and internationals protested the illegal and inhumane treatment of Palestinian prisoners.  800 Palestinian prisoners declared a one-day fast in protest of Israel’s detention policies, an act of solidarity with four men who continue an ongoing hunger strike calling an end to the unjust detention of Palestinians without charge and without trial.  The UN officials, remarking on the hunger strike that reached its 200th day, commented: “Israel must end the appalling and unlawful treatment of Palestinian detainees. The international community must react with a sense of urgency and use whatever leverage it possesses to end Israel’s abusive reliance on administrative detention.”  Clashes between the Israel Defense Force and protesting Palestinians became routine throughout the West Bank, as stones seemed to warrant a vast array of responses from the IDF: tear gas, skunk water, stun grenades, rubber bullets, and in some cases live ammunition.


And just as the international community began to report on the ongoing hunger strikes, Palestinian Arafat Jaradat was detained, questioned, tortured, and subsequently died at Megiddo Prison.  Israeli officials reported the 30 year-old’s death as a heart attack with no prior health issues before detention.  He was being held under investigation for throwing rocks at demonstration last fall.  After the autopsy, it was determined that Jaradat had undergone intense torture: beatings on the chest, lashes on the back and shoulder blades, bruising in the mouth, and two broken ribs.  Chief Pathologist of the Palestinian Authority, a witness to the autopsy, reports that there was no sign that heart failure was the initial cause of death.  And as tension continues to rise, Palestine seems on the verge of a third-Intifada.


Torture is prohibited under every system of law, and is denounced by every major religion.  And yet, it is practiced by half of the world’s countries, often under the guise of some-sort of doublespeak.  But torture serves a particular function for nation-states, and rarely does it revolve around extracting information.  Rather, torture represents, according to William Cavanaugh, a “perverse liturgy” that enables the state to use fear to become “both menace and protector; to be truly omnipotent the state must be both the taker and giver of life” (33).  In this way, torture ramifies from the body of individuals into the social fabric of society, creating isolated bodies whose only mode of community is fear.  And fear fragments relationships in such a way to lose control to the governing politic, which is normally the politics of the torturer.  Cavanaugh thus says that torture doesn’t so much punish enemies as it creates them, and thus becomes a production of the “imagination of the state. To speak of imagination is not, of course, to imply that state power is ‘merely imaginary,’ a disembodied thought. The imagination of the state has a tremendous power to discipline bodies, to habituate them and script them into a drama of its own making” (31).


Israel’s imagination is very strong.  Take the military practice of ‘mapping,’ for example.  At any time, but mostly always at night, soldiers can break into a Palestinian homes, force the family into the streets, as they draw maps of the apartment or house.  The family sits at gunpoint waiting for the soldiers to finish drawing the maps.  According to Israeli testimonies of such events, the soldiers were never asked for the maps.  One soldier had collected 6 months worth of maps and had never had to turn them in.  When he asked, he was told not to worry about it. (Breaking the Silence, Interview July, 2010).  The practice was not meant to get apartment logistics, but to instill fear into the minds of the people.  Socialized fear accomplishes Israel’s goal to be omnipotent, both the giver and taker of life.


In a weird twist, after the death of Arafat Jaradat, Israel gave the Palestinian Authority $100,000 of their own collected taxes in order to squelch the numerous protests.  As a friend of mine living in Hebron puts succinctly, “So if I understand correctly Israel tortured Arafat Jaradat, a Palestinian, to death. Then when Palestinians violently revolted against the Israeli military occupying their land, Israel asked the Palestinian Authority (PA) to stop the protests, and bribed them with the PA’s own tax dollars,” which Israel originally withheld from them.  In this way, violence is used against Palestinians not in response to a threat of Israel’s security, but rather to create threats from which the Palestinian Authority becomes dependent upon the State of Israel.  This is a perverse liturgy indeed.

Further Reading:
  • guest

    I like to think of the hunger-fasts as an alternative liturgy of sorts. Yeah, fasting, both spiritual discipline and alternative liturgy. Seems appropriate here. An alternative to fear, isolation, and the power of the state to write the death-ly script for people. Empowerment, solidarity, and openness to the Spirit to write a life-ly script for a new future. Hmmm. I like this. Good article.

  • Courtney Druz

    As an admirer of The Other Journal and a poet previously published in it, I am shocked that you have chosen to publish such a vile piece of anti-Israel propaganda as this article. Israel’s humane treatment of prisoners is well documented, as are the stated hopes of Palestinian activists that prisoners would die from their own refusal to eat, thus creating an incident on which to justify more pre-planned terrorist violence against Israeli civilians—attacks of the type for which Arafat Jaradat himself was arrested, as well as even worse ones. Although this article is full of far more untruths than I can attempt to respond to, I hope that concerned readers will investigate the facts on their own—a good place to start is this article:
    Further, I’d like readers to consider for themselves why this author’s phrases “Israel’s Liturgy of Torture,” “perverse liturgy,” “political theology” and “Israel’s goal to be omnipotent, both the giver and taker of life,” should raise red flags as to the justice of what is being argued.

    • ericpaul

      Courtney, thank you for taking the time to respond. Let me first say that I do write from a particular perspective- a Christian who longs to see the Kingdom Jesus preached and embodied to be here on earth. From this perspective, any violence, hatred, animosity, fear, vengeance, torture, and un-love toward enemies must be put to death (nailed to the cross, so to speak). And so when I write, I have an eye toward that awaited moment (that has already begun in the person of Jesus) in which nation will not rise up against nation, where swords are beaten into farming tools, and we will not know war anymore. Not everyone writes/sees from this viewpoint.

      This perspective does indeed make me critical of many injustices around the world, of which many policies of the State of Israel are but a drop in the bucket. I don’t so much think I am “anti-Israel” as I long for Israel to live into a posture of good neighborliness. Sometimes, a critical eye is necessary for one’s existence.

      But I hope and long for the same thing for Palestinians, that they too may live into a posture of good neighborliness. But the power of an oppressive force that beats down on vulnerable people rarely harbors good neighbors (Is this not the evidence of the spiral of violence on both sides?). So, I’ll share one more link (because apparently the ones in the article above didn’t quite drive the point home)…B’tselem recognizes that while many within the Israeli Administration declaratively condemn beatings and abuse of Palestinians, there is rarely any action to stop the action from happening or punish the one’s who did it.

  • Rebecca Wimer

    It would be wayyyyy awesome if you guys would put a “subscribe by email” option on this blog. (Other blogs at this site have this option. :)