In 1982, following widespread demonstrations protesting the dismissal of several West Bank mayors, then chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces Rafael Eitan toured the West Bank to reassess Israeli security policies. His office issued a report highlighting the use of detention as a central feature in the Israeli crackdown on growing popular demonstrations against the occupation in which:
1) It is necessary to act with force against the agitators and to imprison them at every opportunity.
2) When it is necessary, use legal measures which enable imprisonment for interrogation (without a trial) for a period state in the law, and release them for one or two days and then re-imprison them.
To facilitate these detention policies Eitan ordered the establishment of a prison “even if it does not have the conditions of a normal prison” (Law in the Service of Man 1984, 4). And in early 1982, the Al-Fara’a detention center, officially known as the “Al-Fara’a Corrections Facility” was opened.
The Al-Fara’a compound located some 20 kilometers northeast of the West Bank city of Nablus was built by the British in 1932 to serve as a military camp. The facility was utilized for the same purpose by the Jordanian army until the facility was seized by Israel in the 1967 war. And from 1982 to 1995, the facility was utilized by the Israeli military both as tactical base of operations, and as a site to facilitate the military practiced known as “terture.”
Although the precise meaning of the term is frequently contested, a loose interpretation “terture” is military operations meant as harassment or “semi-torture.” A Newsweek article written on February 14, 1983 describes Israeli “terturing” practices:
''Beyond the constant police patrols, the most common manifestations of terture are the wholesale roundups that take place whenever West Bank Arabs stage nationalist demonstrations. Israeli border police have been witnessed forcing Arabs to sing the Israeli national anthem, slap each other’s face and crawl and bark like dogs. The police arrest thousands of Arabs each year on “security” charges, which can range from blatant terrorism to simply reading blacklisted books.''
At its inception, Al-Fara’a was essentially terture between walls: little if no interrogation, no advanced torture techniques, short sentences, “only” beatings and humiliation – all meant as a “preventative detention” to discipline mostly teenage boys resisting the occupation by organizing parades, displaying Palestinian flags, and on occasion throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers. From the interviews I have conducted those sent to Al-Fara’a in approximately the first 20 months of its operation were used primarily as prison labor to repair the facility as it had fallen into disrepair since 1967.
However, in mid 1984, interrogations began at Al-Fara’a. The introduction of interrogations entailed extreme and perverse measures of physical, psychological and sexual torture and humiliation intended to produce confessions to “criminal” manifestations of Palestinian nationalism that would lead to sentencing in a “normal” prison. In the words of nearly every prisoner from Al-Fara’a I have interviewed, these measures were meant to “break our will.”
After the Oslo Accords, control of the Al Fara’a compound was transferred to the Palestinian Authority and it ceased to be a prison. Shortly after, a group of former prisoners and community leaders recommended to Yasser Arafat that the facility be converted into a youth center. Arafat agreed and the former Al Fara’a Prison became the Al Fara’a Center. Since 1995 Al-Fara’a has hosted thousands of youth from across the West Bank each year to participate in summer camps, leadership conferences, and athletics. However, approximately one fourth of the facility remains as it was when Al-Fara’a was under Israeli control with the hopes of one day turning Al-Fara’a into a museum. The torture cells and interrogation rooms, although in disrepair, have not been altered since 1995.