Israeli Human Rights Groups Say Israel Abused Palestinian Detainees

Two Israeli nonprofit groups that focus on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, HaMoked and B’Tselem, recently reported that Israeli agents have mistreated and even tortured Palestinian detainees. The groups’ findings were based on interviews they conducted with 121 Palestinians who had been held at the Israel Security Agency’s Petach-Tikva interrogation center in the first or last quarter of 2009.

The full report, “Kept in the Dark: Treatment of Palestinian Detainees in the Petach-Tikva Interrogation Facility of the Israel Security Agency,” can be found here on B’Tselem’s website.

In the report, the authors allege that prisoners were mistreated in a variety of ways, including:
Thirty percent of those interviewed reported physical violence being used during their arrest, including beating, kicking, and painful shackling.

  • The cells in which detainees were held were small, filthy, ill-ventilated, harshly lit, and seemingly designed to inflict constant discomfort and prevent sleep.
  • Many said their food was of poor quantity and quality — not just unappealing but truly revolting.  None of those interviewed was  ever permitted to leave their cells for exercise.
  • Seventy-eight percent of those interviewed were held in solitary confinement for a portion of their detention. One man, a 22-year-old construction worker, says he was held alone for 20 days after his last interrogation.
  • During interrogation detainees were shackled tightly in immovable chairs for long periods of time, causing them severe pain. Eleven detainees said interrogators were physically violent with them during questioning.
  • Those interviewed were frequently subjected to threats of violence by interrogators, and their families were often threatened. In some cases, family members were actually detained in order to reinforce the threat. One 63-year-old woman who was held for under two days told interviewers that shortly after her arrest she felt her blood pressure dropping and feared for her health. After telling her jailers, she was shackled in an interrogation room while she shouted in pain and called for a doctor. She learned later that her sons and grandson were being held in nearby rooms so they would know their beloved mother and grandmother was in pain and possibly in danger.
  • Many detainees reported being deprived of their legal right to an attorney.
  • Though Israeli law provides special provision for minors, the eighteen teenage detainees described the same rough treatment as the adults.
  • Only four women were interviewed; one reported that male interrogators “swore at her using sexually evocative language” and another said an interrogator threatened to start a rumor she had had an extramarital affair, which would have damaged her reputation and could even have endangered her life when she returned home.
  • One detainee was deprived of medicine he takes for a mental disorder. Within a day, he was seeing monsters and throwing himself against the rough walls of his cell. When he was given his medicine, it came from an interrogator rather than medical staff.

Forbidden by Israeli law
The report points out that abuse of detainees is against Israeli and international law. In addition, B’Tselem and HaMoked write that these cases can’t be excused as “ticking-bomb” scenarios where police have to get a detainee to talk immediately or disaster will strike — according to them, most of the detainees “were not suspected of serious offenses.” The authors of the report connect the mistreatment of detainees to a wider pattern of prejudice against Palestinians. Detainee abuse, they write, is “made possible due to the dehumanization of the Palestinian population.”

Israel’s Justice Ministry has denied the groups’ charges. In a written statement quoted by BBC News, the Ministry said all interrogations were “conducted according to law in order to prevent illegal activity that would harm state security.” Again according to BBC News, “the ministry said that military police had opened 427 investigations of alleged violence against Palestinian detainees between 2000 and 2007,” but the statement “gave no information on the results of these investigations.”

A Record of Detainee Abuse
This is not the first time human rights organizations have alleged that Israel has abused Palestinian detainees. In 2007, B’Tselem and HaMoked released a report, “Absolute Prohibition: The Torture and Ill-Treatment of Palestinian Detainees,” which they say resulted in some limited improvements in the treatment of Palestinian prisoners. Some abuses they described in “Absolute Prohibition,” such as the use of certain painful stress positions during interrogation, were not reported in the most recent interviews. Others, unfortunately, continued.

In 2009, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) released a report titled “No Defense: Soldier Violence Against Palestinian Detainees,” which can be downloaded here. Based on complaints filed with PCATI by Palestinians detained by Israeli military and security forces, the report contains many of the same accusations made by those interviewed by B’Tselem and HaMoked, including violence being used during arrests, painful shackling of prisoners, threats of violence to prisoners and threats made to prisoners about their families and homes, the use of dogs to frighten and demean detainees, and subjecting minors to the same treatment as adults.

Amnesty International has also identified the mistreatment of Palestinian detainees as a key human rights issue in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Their 2009 summary of rights violations includes Israeli forces denying Palestinian detainees family visits, holding prisoners without cause, beatings during and following arrest, and “torture and other ill-treatment by the Israeli General Security Service” including “prolonged tying in painful stress positions, sleep deprivation and threats to harm detainees’ families.”

The consistency of these reports indicates that despite the assertions of the Israeli government, and despite the efforts of Israel’s Supreme Court, which has explicitly prohibited the use of torture, Israeli agents are continuing to mistreat Palestinian detainees.

Palestinians also accused
(While it in no way justifies any abuses against Palestinian prisoners by Israeli agents, I think it’s worth noting that Palestinian security services have also been accused of abusing prisoners. Human Rights Watch recently reported that men detained by the Palestinian Authority because they were suspected of having ties to Hamas were mistreated and even tortured in prison. I support the right of Palestinians to govern themselves, and also recognize that self-governance will not automatically eliminate every human rights violation in the area.)

What Does This Have To Do With The U.S.?
Abuse of Palestinian detainees violates human rights, Israeli law, and international human rights treaties. Mistreatment of detainees is also negative when viewed pragmatically, as it provides ammunition to anti-Israel extremists.

While it’s important to learn about and protest human rights violations all over the world, the United States has a special stake in allegations against Israel. A close ally of the small Jewish democracy, the U.S. supplies the country with billions of dollars in miliary and special aid every year. Jeremy M. Sharp of the Congressional Research Service reports [pdf] that in 2010 the U.S. will provide Israel with $2.8 in aid — $2.775 billion of it in military grants.

The U.S. also uses political power to defend its ally, with representatives frequently wielding the countries’ Security Council veto to protect Israel from U.N. sanctions. Politicians and the American public overwhelmingly support Israel, and some in the U.S. even consider starting wars on its behalf. America’s close involvement with Israel means that we (theoretically) have leverage with them, and it also means that our reputations are bound closely together.

Now, the United States has its own serious issues with detainee abuse, so we’re hardly standing on moral high ground here. However, as citizens of the U.S. advocate for the rights of detainees and prisoners within the United States, we should also advocate for the rights of detainees the world over. Leaning on one of our closest allies seems like a good place to start.

Photo of Palestinians holding photographs of Palestinian detainees was found on Lisa Nessan(frecklebaum)'s flickr, and is reused with thanks under Creative Commons Attribution license.


Thomas Liddle
Thomas Liddle7 years ago

I'm with Klaus on this. It's strikingly similar to a man, beaten by his father as a child, who raises his hand in anger to his own children. Violence begets violence and only the person who breaks the cycle can claim to have made any progress.

It's long past time to recognize the Palestinian people and take away the Israeli get out of jail free card.

AbdulAziz A.
AbdulAziz A7 years ago

@Ginger S.

Well said" Israel is a big bully to their neighbors....and it is sickening how we 'have their backs' simply because their god is the christian god too".

May I add God is the same but the names differ and that is enough for some to enslave, torture, kill, maim and cage the indigenous population.

This is truly a sign of a BULLY and US is the supervising, bank rolling and supporting the outrageous behaviour of non civilised group of Zionists. No offence to the Jews who are peace loving people.

Aaron K.
Aaron K.8 years ago

read the information on the site" true torah jews against zionism" to really understand who is the enemy of peace. i mean, come to where i live and try to do to my community what the zionists have done to the palestinian community and watch how i's human condition to resist at all costs the occupation of ones land by terrorist, quasi-fascist peoples. palestinians are correct to argue that they were there for many generations so that is rightfully their land...zionists base there arguement on a conversation between some "spirit" in the sky and some old guy who almost murdered his own son cause that "spirit" said so, THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO!!!! i stress again, read the articles on the site "true torah jews against zionism". the zionists of today are the al'queda of tomorrow.

David M.
Eva Daniher8 years ago

You might look up groups like Jewish Voice For Peace.

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman8 years ago

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. psm122;6 thanx :-)

Klaus P.
Klaus Peters8 years ago

I am of German origin and I hoped that the Yewish people would have learned something from the hollocaust. Most Germans did not want it, but had no say. We are paying the price now. But, Israel/Palestine is a land owned by both, Yews and Moslems, you still have a chance to work it out, we do not need another hollocaust. I beg to the Yews, do not apply Nazi tactics to control, I know you suffered so much, but you can make an end to future sufferings for both: you and the Palestinians, make it one country governed by both. Respect each other and it can be done, be equal. I so much love to see the holy country especially Jerusalem, it is actually the last wish in my life, but I will not go there untill there is peace for all to share. Sadly, it will not happen in my life time.

Ahron E.
Ahron E8 years ago

In the mid 1800 the land of Israel (Palastine to the Romans) was devoid of people. See Mark Twins description when he visited Isreal. The Jews started, who have always had a presence in their country throughout the 2000 years of the exile, returning to Israel. They caused economic improvement in the area which brought Arabs to The Land. Now that the Jews have created a paradise in there own country these Arabs want to steal it from them.
Arabs have a tendency to lie. Many times they have made up stories and been caught. I do not believe these prisoners have been abused. It is a known fact that convicted terroist are incarcirated in a country club. They are treated better than Jewish prisnors. Why should these detainees be treated any different.

Tori W.
Past Member 8 years ago

i think the aid should be reduce...not because of any accusations of abuse but because i'm tired of paying for to the abuse...strange that the only "proof" is unsubstantiated reports by detainees...while it may be may may be an attempt to cause significant distress and separation within israel and its' allies...since many subversive groups have a pattern of distorted allegations just to cause trouble, i wonder how many who are so disturbed by these reports and are willing to believe them no matter much attention do you really think you will get when you complain about the terrorists and how they treat our people when captured?? so far, the bodies they have returned show extensive torture and beheading. if this abuse is truly an ongoing pattern where is the unbiased evidence? there has to be some.

Nic F.
Nic F.8 years ago

You cannot undo one wrong by doing another and that is what I feel has happened in Israel over the past 60 years or so. In order to make up to the Jews for their treatment through the centuries, we have allowed the Palestinans to be treated the same way. Both sides must learn to live in peace and share the land, of which the Palestinians must have their fare share. As I have said in a previous comment, "Israel, be careful you don't become your worst enemy, Nazi's"

Stephen Amsel
Past Member 8 years ago

It may seem strange that an army which commits abuses would run honest investigations, but to understand what is happening, you must understand the reason for those abuses: With a low population relative to hostile neighbours, Israel runs a conscript army. If you conscript 75% of the population, you get 75% of the immature idiots.

After a year of training, they give 19-year-old teens guns and tell them they have authority over civilians in the area. Most are professional, but imagine one who acts like he's 15 and stupid. He could think "I have the gun so I say what happens" and not realize his authority extends only as far as the law. Even then there would be a supervisor, and there are extensive efforts to keep idiots from becoming the supervisors. Still, in a country's army a dozen might slip through screening. Then if even a single idiot abuses his power and manages to influence his subordinates to do the same (rather than blow the whistle on him) he can cause serious problems. To understand how much trouble one charismatic immature kid can cause, consider that at Guantanamo Bay, nearly every single abuse was carried out by just one shift of bad guards.

However, higher up in their internal investigations-division, they do not use conscripts. They run normal investigations with professionals who apply for the job and would have been turned down if unfit. Thus their internal investigations can be trusted, even if some of the lower-down soldiers cannot.