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Report alleges abuse, torture at Shin Bet interrogation facility

A new report by B’Tselem and Hamoked includes testimonies of Palestinian detainees who were held in Israel’s ‘Shikma’ interrogation facility.

Illustrative photo of Palestinian prisoners in an Israeli military prison (By ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo of Palestinian prisoners in an Israeli military prison (By ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)

Human Rights organizations “Hamoked — Defence of the Individual” and B’Tselem on Wednesday published a report that draws on affidavits and statements from 116 Palestinians who spent time in the Shin Bet’s (Israel Security Agency) Shikma interrogation facility.

The Palestinians, all of whom were “security detainees” — which means they were suspected of political crimes or terrorism-related offenses as opposed to criminal suspicions — spent time at Shikma between August 2013 and March 2014.

Some of the testimonies describe Shin Bet methods of inflicting physical pain as part of interrogations. ‘Imad Abu Seriyeh, a 22-year-old handyman from the West Bank refugee camp of Nur Shams, near Tulkarem, described a special chair he was forced to sit in for hours:

The interrogation chair had a shorter backrest than regular chairs. It had a fifth leg – a kind of tube under the middle that was fixed to the floor. Three legs were the same length and one leg was shorter. Every movement makes the chair wobble. You can’t rest on that chair, the wobbling doesn’t let you. Each position is worse than the last. You can’t get comfortable. The wobbling makes your lower back hurt. When I stood up, I felt like my back would split in half.

Others, like T.A., whose full name is withheld, described being served uncooked, inedible food for weeks on end:

They gave me inedible food that wasn’t fit for human consumption. For example, the chicken wasn’t cooked nor were the eggs. I couldn’t eat anything except the piece of fruit I got once every three days, and the bread. I lost about 15 kilos in 40 days.

The report also details the use of solitary confinement as an interrogation technique. Ibrahim Msallam, a 30-year-old Palestinian man from the southern West Bank city of Yatta, describes how solitary broke him:

In the cell, you’re alone. The atmosphere makes you ill with bad thoughts. I was alone most of the time. Isolation is psychological torture. You start thinking that you should tell the interrogators whatever they want, just so you can get out of there. I told the interrogator things I had never even heard about in order to get out. Crazy things that a quick calculation will show that I was seven when they happened. I was willing to say and sign anything they wanted, as long as they got me out of that cell.

Torture is not legal in Israel, but a High Court ruling in 1999 sent a clear message to Shin Bet interrogators: the court said that if a Shin Bet agent decides in real time that torturing a terrorism suspect is necessary to stop an imminent attack, the necessity of stopping a “ticking bomb” becomes an adequate defense for having illegally used torture. That was all the Shin Bet needed — a narrow legal opening. (Note: there is no exception to the ban on torture under international law.)

The publicity surrounding cases involving Jewish terrorism suspects, however, gave us a window into just how far Israel’s security services, and the country’s justice system, have taken. Twisting that small opening intended as a tool for making impossible decisions in extraordinary circumstances, the Shin bet has turned it into an Israeli version of the Bush White House’s Torture Memos.

But even with the exception carved out by the country’s top court, the B’Tselem/Hamoked report suggest that authorities have even more ways to sidestep the formal ban on torture — outsourcing the practice to Palestinian intelligence agencies.

One-third of the Palestinian detainees interviewed for the report were arrested by Palestinian security forces prior to their arrest and interrogation by Israel’s Shin Bet. In 22 out of those 39 cases, the Israeli interrogators told the detainees that they had the Palestinian Authority interrogation records in their possession, at times even producing confessions that had been signed for the PA.

While there is no evidence that Israeli authorities asked the Palestinian authorities to arrest and torture specific detainees, the testimonies indicate that the Shin Bet at the very least understood how to benefit from Palestinian interrogations that include torture. “In these cases, the [Shin Bet] interrogators knowingly used information obtained through illegal methods,” the report concludes.

Muhammad ‘Asi, a 20-year-old from Beit Liqya, discussed how he was arrested just two days after being released from three months in PA custody:

[The Israelis] interrogated me about the same things. When I asked the interrogator how he got the PA material, he said: “We’re friends and don’t keep anything from each other.” […] I was tortured by the PA, they hung me up for days. They would hang you from the window, from the top window frame (by the hands), with your feet in the air, you could just barely reach the floor with the tips of your toes. They let me rest only two or three hours… The [Israeli] interrogator explicitly said that he wanted to show me how much better they are. That means he knows how I was interrogated and tortured by the PA.

There is an independent supervisory body within the Justice Ministry that is supposed to investigate allegations of torture and abuse by the Shin Bet toward detainees. However, according to the report, the body examined some 950 complaints by Palestinian detainees concerning torture and abuse between the years of 2001 and 2015. It has never recommended a criminal investigation be launched on the basis of such a complaint.

In a response appended to the report, the Israeli Justice Ministry derided the report as being written “in a tendentious manner” and accused the two human rights NGOs of “distort[ing] the existing reality of the treatment at the detention facility, including with regard to the various proceedings concerning the detention and interrogation procedures.” The Justice Ministry also argued that the report’s methodology was flawed. “[Shin Bet] interrogations are conducted within the confines of the law,” the response added.

[Editor’s note: In accordance with legal obligations imposed on all media outlets in Israel, this article was sent to the IDF Censor for review prior to publication. We are not allowed to tell you if (and if, then where) it was indeed censored.]

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    1. Bruce Gould

      “Present day Israel has discarded the rational, the universal and the visionary. These values have been subordinated to a cruel and oppressive occupation, an emphatic materialism, severe inequalities rivaling the worst in the western world and distorted by a fanatic, obscurantist and fundamentalist religion which encourages the worst behaviors rather than the best….” says David Gordis:

      “David Gordis has served as vice-president of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles (now American Jewish University). He also served as Executive Vice President of the American Jewish Committee and was the founding director of the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel. He founded and directed the Wilstein Institute for Jewish Policy Studies which became the National Center for Jewish Policy Studies.”….


      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Present day Israel has to live in the shadow of Arab terrorism. Attacks such as the one below are a daily reality of our lives…

        “Two Israeli Jews were stabbed to death and two seriously injured by a 39-year old Palestinian from the West Bank, who was apprehended at the scene and taken to an Israeli hospital with minor injuries. The stabbing attack took place at the entrance to the synagogue next to the Panorama office building in Southern Tel Aviv, as afternoon prayers were going on.

        In a separate incident, a Palestinian terrorist opened fire on cars stuck in a traffic jam in Gush Etzion, killing an Israeli, an American tourist, and a Palestinian, and wounding seven others. Five of the wounded were American Yeshiva students. After the shooting the terrorist sped off in a car but rammed into another car, attempted to flee on foot, and was then arrested by Israeli security forces. The American victim was identified later in the day as 18-year old Ezra Schwartz, from Massachusetts.”

        Considering this reality, Israel continues to be amazing.

        Am Yisrael Chai.

        Reply to Comment
        • Herectioul

          “Present day Israel has to live in the shadow of Arab terrorism. Attacks such as the one below are a daily reality of our lives…”

          The indigenous Palestinian natives have been living in the shadow of Jew terrorism for more than 100 years now. The abuse and torture mentioned in the article, conducted by and for Jews, has been the daily reality for Palestinians, for decades.

          Am Palestine Shai.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            “Am Palestine Shai”

            LOL. Nothing shy about Am Palestine. They have never been shrinking violets. Maybe their problem is that they lack any sense of proportion and perspective.

            Reply to Comment