Torture, foul cells, denial of access to attorneys and threats to families are among a list of claims against the Israeli internal security service Shin Bet outlined in a human rights group's report.
Rights group slams Israeli treatment of prisoners
TEL AVIV // Israel's Shin Bet internal security service prevents as many as 90 per cent of its Palestinian prisoners from consulting a lawyer during their interrogation and exposes them to abysmal detention conditions and torture, an Israeli human rights group claimed in a report.
The document, jointly issued this week by The Public Committee Against Torture and the Palestinian Prisoners' Society, said the inmates were often shackled to a chair for prolonged periods, deprived of sleep, isolated in foul-smelling cells and repeatedly threatened that they and their families would be harmed.
"This is all aimed at getting the detainee to reach his breaking point as fast as possible and make a confession," said Maya Rosenfeld, a sociologist at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, who wrote the document for the human rights groups. "He is put under massive pressure - physical, mental and emotional."
Data collected by the groups showed that denial of legal access to Palestinian detainees was the rule rather than the exception.
Between 70 per cent and 90 per cent of the 11,790 Palestinian detainees from the West Bank who were questioned by the Shin Bet between 2000 and 2007 were denied access to a lawyer for part or the entire time of their interrogation, the report said. About half of them went for two weeks or more without seeing an attorney, it added.
The trend has changed little since then and is unlikely to abate because such detentions are not subject to external reviews and the Shin Bet is exempt from making public its data on Palestinian prisoners, Ms Rosenfeld said.
The report's conclusions were based on partial statistics released by the Shin Bet, known as the General Security Service, in 2007 on the number of Palestinians that it has detained as well as on the testimonies of former inmates and lawyers. According to Ms Rosenfeld, the Shin Bet's statistics have since been eliminated from the organisation's website.
The detainees who spoke to the rights groups testified of the rampant use of violent methods and psychological abuse meant to pressure them to confess to the crimes with which they were accused. Indeed, support of such a claim is that in many of the cases, they were only granted a meeting with a lawyer after they agreed to confess, the report said.
The Shin Bet uses a clause in the Israeli military's legal code for the West Bank that allows them to prevent an inmate suspected of "security" violations from speaking to a lawyer for as many as 90 days if it obtains a judge's approval. In an indication that Israel uses harsher methods on Palestinians from the West Bank than on its own citizens, the law within Israel would only allow the Shin Bet to hold an Israeli suspected of "security" crimes for up to 21 days without legal access.
Security violations are defined widely and include membership in a "hostile" group, damaging the Israeli army's property, holding weapons and spreading "hostile propaganda", the report said. "The military code imposed in Palestinian territory … associates security violations with every attempt to undermine its control" of the area, it added.
"This all-encompassing definition of security violations … ensures that the proportion of detainees suspected of security violations among all Palestinian detainees at any given time will be especially high," the report said. "This is true in particular in times of escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
One case that the report cites as questioning the Shin Bet's policy of forbidding legal aid to detainees is that of Ziad Shanti, a 32-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank city of Qalqilya. Mr Shanti was arrested in 2006 when Shin Bet agents shot him with live bullets from a civilian car as he walked down the street with his friends. He was loaded into the vehicle and taken to an Israeli hospital because two bullets had hit his leg, and was informed that he would not be allowed to meet a lawyer.
Mr Shanti was detained for 40 days, during which he was held in solitary confinement, and at times forced to sit with his hands tied behind his chair for a whole day despite his wounded leg. He was forbidden from speaking to an attorney and his pleas to have his family informed that he was alive were rejected. "The interrogator said he would allow this only after I confess," Mr Shanti wrote in an affidavit to his lawyer.
A year and a half later, Mr Shanti was convicted of a truck robbery and of "harbouring" members of a Palestinian militant group four years prior to his arrest.
"The indictment and ruling raise grave questions about the use of incommunicado detention in this case," the report said.
"How could a meeting between Shanti and his attorney regarding Shanti's 'harbouring' of an unidentified person in 2002 to 2003 endanger the [West Bank's] security in 2006?"