Will Israel really outlaw torture?

Human rights groups suspect that promised Israeli anti-torture law will contain major loopholes.

Anne Paq ActiveStills

Israel has consistently shown disdain for the United Nations Human Rights Council, the work of which it has boycotted and impeded.

In marked contrast, the Israeli government has cooperated with the UN Committee Against Torture.

Earlier this month, Israel sent a 13-member delegation to the 57th session of the Convention Against Torture to respond to questions about its record on human rights.

In his introductory remarks, Eviatar Manor, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, stated that “the composition of our delegation here today, reflects the importance we attribute to the UN HR [human rights] conventions.”

“They did all their efforts to come out as perfect as possible. They didn’t dismiss the questions, they were polite,” Andrea Barsony from Physicians for Human Rights–Israel told The Electronic Intifada, noting the contrast with Israel’s approach to the Human Rights Council.

Nevertheless, last Friday – after spending three days studying Israel’s practice of torture and harsh treatment of Palestinian prisoners – the UN Committee Against Torture issued an unsparing report.


In unflinching terms, the report addresses the increase and intensification of abusive practices Israel has implemented since a Palestinian uprising began in October 2015.

The report directs criticism at Israel’s treatment of both prisoners and non-detained Palestinians.

The committee observed the increased use of administrative detention – indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial – and recommended its immediate end.

The committee sharply criticized Israel’s reliance on coerced confessions from children, legislation which sanctions force-feeding of hunger strikers and the complicity of medical personnel with prison guards in abusing prisoners.

Though an early signatory to the UN Conventions Against Torture, Israel has never criminalized torture in its own laws, nor has it agreed that the treaty applies to Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

On day two of the three-day session devoted to scrutinizing Israel’s torture practices, Roy Schondorf, Israel’s deputy attorney-general for international law, announced that Israel’s justice ministry was, at last, drafting legislation against torture.


Physicians for Human Rights–Israel and other human rights groups welcomed the announcement, albeit with caution.

Barsony commented on the Israeli official’s announcement: “Everyone knows that Israel will keep loopholes that will allow torture. Because they think they need to.”

Around 1,000 complaints have been submitted against Israel since 2001, alleging torture during interrogations by its internal intelligence agency Shin Bet.

The methods of torture include beatings, sleep deprivation, keeping detainees in stress positions and sexual abuse, according to the Public Committee Against Torture (PCATI), an Israeli human rights group.

Not a single complaint has led to a criminal investigation, though Israel claims “disciplinary measures” were taken.

When it comes to torturing Palestinian detainees – whom Israel refers to as “security” prisoners – the Shin Bet can invoke the “necessity defense” clause or the “ticking time bomb” – legal ruses that allow torture, although supposedly only in exceptional circumstances. Israel’s high court codified this gaping loophole in 1999.

“This defense is not employed sparingly, but rather very frequently,” wrote PCATI, one of more than a dozen organizations which submitted reports to the UN on Israel’s use of torture.

Moreover, no video or audio recordings are made of interrogations by the Shin Bet – unlike those in police criminal investigations.

In his announcement that Israel would make torture a criminal offense, Schondorf, the Israeli official, also boasted of reforms to the military court system to which Israel subjects Palestinian children.

The Electronic Intifada has reported on the paucity of those reforms: children remain frequent subjects of Israel’s torture techniques.

According to a recent report by Defense for Children International – Palestine, Israel has the “dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes between 500 and 700 children in military courts each year.”

Research done by the group in the occupied West Bank found that two-thirds of 429 children from whom it had gathered testimony between 2012 and 2015 experienced physical violence after being arrested.

The UN Committee Against Torture’s report went far beyond Israel’s treatment of detainees.

It condemned Israel’s practice of punitive home demolitions that is used only against Palestinians; the withholding of the bodies of slain Palestinians from their families; the degrading treatment of Palestinians at checkpoints and the extrajudicial executions of Palestinian demonstrators.

Israel has been invited to respond to the committee’s observations at next year’s session.




Before Israel can outlaw torture, they have to first outlaw genocide against the Palestinians and outlaw the theft of Palestinian land. Then outlaw torture. Then give back all of the stolen land and pay restitution to every Palestinian. I'd say $100,000 per person is a fair amount.

Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.