Shin Bet accused of benefiting from Palestinian torture

Report claims ‘cruel, degrading, and inhuman’ treatment of prisoners; security agency says its actions are lawful, allegations ‘distorted’

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Illustrative photo of a Palestinian prisoner (Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a Palestinian prisoner (Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

The B’Tselem and HaMoked human rights groups on Wednesday released a report accusing the Shin Bet security agency of knowingly using information extracted by Palestinian security services through torture to incriminate Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

The report also alleged that prison abuse by the Shin Bet, including sleep deprivation, exposure to hot and cold, inedible food, and physical beatings, were a matter of “formal interrogation policy.” Overall, some of the cases amounted to “torture,” it said.

The domestic security agency denied the “tendentious” and “distorted” allegations, but said it would not address them specifically due to a High Court of Justice appeal pending on the subject.

B’Tselem and Hamoked interviewed 116 Palestinian security prisoners who were held at the Shikma facility in Ashkelon from August 2013 to March 2014.

Of the 116, some 39 were previously held by the Palestinian Authority, and 17 were detained by Israel within a month of their release from Palestinian custody. Twenty-two said that Shin Bet interrogators had told them they had received their files from the Palestinian Authority. Fourteen reported being tortured by the Palestinian security services, of whom 11 said Israeli interrogators had their file.

“The Israeli interrogators appear to have been aware of the torture that the detainees had undergone at PA facilities. Two detainees were told by the Israeli interrogators they wanted to show them they were better than their Palestinian counterparts,” the report said. “Another detainee related that his Israeli interrogators knew of his complaint to a Palestinian human rights organization about undergoing torture by the PA. Yet another detainee who was tortured by the PA described being threatened by Israeli interrogators that they would ask the PA to arrest him again.”

It concluded from the three accounts that the Shin Bet was aware the information provided by the PA had been obtained under duress.

“However, it stands to reason – as is clearly indicated by the affidavits of three detainees provided for this report – that the interrogators knew that the interrogation material, which was provided them by the PA, was obtained under severe torture. In these cases, the Shin Bet interrogators knowingly used information obtained through illegal methods,” it said.

Right-wing activists protest alleged Shin Bet torture of Jewish terror suspects, staging mock torture scenes in Tel Aviv, December 25, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Right-wing activists protest alleged Shin Bet torture of Jewish terror suspects, staging mock torture scenes in Tel Aviv, December 25, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The report further accused the Shin Bet of “verbal, and occasionally physical violence” against the detainees, e.g., solitary confinement, poor food and cell conditions, sleep deprivation, and exposure of the inmates to hot and cold. Such methods are a matter of “formal policy,” it charged.

Of the 116 Palestinians interviewed, 14 reported physical violence, 105 said their hands were tied to a chair during interrogation, 30 said they were interrogated most hours for over three days and nights, and 38 said they were bound to misshapen chairs.

Six of them reported being chained to a bed, and 12 said they were deprived sleep for over 24 hours.

“This extreme measure was apparently adopted in consequence of suicide threats,” it said of the bed-chaining, “or after it was thought or claimed a detainee might harm himself – after an outburst or breakdown in overt interrogation or during solitary confinement. In some cases, there is concern that tying the detainee to the bed may have served as a means of interrogation.”

The report maintained throughout that the incidents were a matter or policy, rather than decisions made by individual interrogators.

“Cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of Palestinian detainees is inherent to the Shin Bet’s interrogation policy, which is dictated from above, not set by interrogators in the field,” it charged.

“Each and every one of these measures is cruel, inhuman and degrading, an effect that is compounded when used in combination or for long stretches of time. In some cases, the use of these measures amounts to torture – in contravention of international law and in violation of High Court of Justice rulings and Israeli law,” it concluded.

Alongside the more serious allegations, complaints also included being denied a shower, the lighting in the cells (“The cells were lit around the clock by bulbs that gave off a yellowish light. In some cases, the light was orange or red. According to the detainees, the light made it difficult to sleep and caused them eye pain and headaches”), the temperature in the cells (both extreme hot and cold), and the conditions of the cells, which many said “were overrun with insects, flies, many cockroaches and in one case, a mouse.”

The Shin Bet said in response that it would not address any specific allegations, due to an ongoing High Court of Justice petition on the report, which it called “distorted” and “tendentious.”

“The Shin Bet interrogations are done in accordance with the law to thwart and prevent activities designed to harm state security,” it said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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