The Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) has released a paper on its efforts to hold the Israel Security Agency (ISA) - or Shabak - to account for its practices of torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees. In Accountability Still Denied, PCATI reveals how Israel has evaded criminal investigations into all 701 complaints of torture and ill-treatment.
In October 1991, Israel ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Israel should therefore prevent acts of torture. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as a justification of torture, according to the Convention. According to article 4, Israel must ensure that all acts of torture, attempts to commit torture and acts of complicity or participation in torture are made punishable “by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature.” However, PCATI found that Israel has hitherto ignored its international obligations to halt torture.
Torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees
Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations have consistently reported about violations of the rights of Palestinian political prisoners. In its paper, PCATI presents a summary of two complaints on torture. In the case of Jihad Mughrabi the Shabak used physical force, beating the detainee’s head and chest with their fists and guns and kicking his legs. The violence produced bleeding wounds and the detainee lost consciousness while being tortured. He was taken to hospital. Shabak agents also exerted psychological pressure by showing Mughrabi detained family members. Mughrabi’s testimony is recorded on video.
Ala’a Salem also filed a complaint of torture suffered during Shabak interrogations. Ala’a was interviewed by Social Television to spread his story. The video is in Arabic with subtitles in Hebrew:
Habib Ph. Jaudy has translated what Ala’a said into English:
“They put me in jail for two days. Then they brought me back to the isolation cell and chained me.
Starting from there my treatment was beyond description. Naturally during this whole time I was forbidden to meet the lawyer.
I was placed on concrete, with my hands and feet in steel chains.
For the first period, after every eight hours of chaining they’d give me two and a half minutes of rest to eat and go to the toilet. But if you dare to ask to go to the toilet when you are chained [i.e. at a time other than your permitted two-and-a-half minute rest period], the eight hours would be extended to ten or even twelve hours of chaining as punishment.
At one time on the second day in the ‘hotel’ [this must be the interrogation place] there was a crazy Jewish person in the cell next to me shouting for 24 hours. So even if I was dying to sleep in my condition I couldn’t close my eyes. So I asked to go to the toilet, but in vain, I shouted but still in vain. (Video cut at that point.)
The reaction was that five soldiers came in and started hitting me. My nose was bleeding and blood came out of my mouth and I couldn’t do anything as I was chained. At that time I had tears running down my face … firstly because of the harsh pain and secondly because of the feeling that you can’t do anything about it.”
No proper procedure to investigate complaints
The majority of detainees who reported torture or ill-treatment to PCATI’s lawyers refused to submit complaints to the Israeli authorities. According to PCATI, the Palestinian detainees lack trust in Israel’s mechanism of investigation or fear reprisals.
Nevertheless, the Inspector of Interrogee Complaints (IIC) – who is an agent of the Shabak – received 701 complaints of torture and ill-treatment between 2001 and 2010. In 2009 and 2010 the IIC received 52 and 51 complaints respectively. PCATI informed me that the trend in the number of complaints continued in 2011.
Complaints of torture and ill-treatment have to be submitted to the Attorney General, who delegates a senior official within the State Attorney’s office to decide upon the complaints. Instead of opening a criminal investigation, the senior official refers the complaints for a preliminary inquiry to the Shabak Inspector of Interrogee Complaints. PCATI criticizes the inquiry:
Complainants’ testimonies are taken by the IIC during very brief and unannounced visits, It has been common practice for the IIC to falsely introduce himself as a representative of the Ministry of Justice, and complainants’ testimonies have been taken under conditions that replicate the interrogation itself: in the very same room where ISA interrogations take place, and, in some instances, while the complainants have remained shackled for the duration of the meeting.
No complaint of torture criminally investigated
Based on an analysis of its correspondence with the State Attorney’s Office, PCATI concludes that the majority of the complaints of torture and ill-treatment were closed because the authorities denied the facts. Fifteen percent of the complaints were closed because they were categorized under the “defense of necessity” doctrine. In 1999 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the Shabak is not allowed to use physical means of interrogation that are aimed at tiring out or breaking the detainee. The Court did “not negate the possibility that the ‘necessity’ defense be available” to Shabak investigators and empowered the Attorney General to devise guidelines for such “ticking bomb” cases. PCATI writes that these guidelines - issued in 1999 - have served “as the basis for de facto approval of methods of interrogation amounting to torture and ill-treatment in such cases, thereby granting ISA interrogators blanket exemption from prosecution.”
However, the Convention against Torture does not recognize such a “defense of necessity doctrine”. The Convention is unequivocal in its absolute prohibition of torture.
In addition, the Human Rights Committee concluded in July 2010 that Israel “should ensure that all alleged cases of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials, including police, personnel of the security service and the armed forces, are thoroughly and promptly investigated by an authority independent of any of these organs, that those found guilty are punished with sentences that are commensurate with the gravity of the offense, and that compensation is provided to the victims or their families.”
PCATI writes that following the publication of its first report on the topic - Accountability Denied - in 2009, there have been no substantive changes in Israel’s practices of torture and ill treatment. The closure of all 701 complaints of torture and ill-treatment by Palestinian detainees proves that the Israeli authorities protect the perpetrators. Meanwhile, Israel’s violations of Palestinian political prisoners’ rights continues. That is why the BDS Movement must keep Israel under pressure, and human rights organizations, social movements, activists and concerned citizens must call on their politicians, governments and embassies to intervene.