New allegations have surfaced claiming that Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, Shin Bet or Shabak, is engaged in the brutal torture of Palestinian detainees, despite the practice being against both Israeli and international law. The new accusations, deemed “very credible” by both Israeli and Palestinian rights groups, come amid a recorded spike in the use of torture on Palestinian detainees by Israeli authorities.
The latest cases involve three Palestinian men who were detained as part of the extensive manhunt that followed an August 23 bombing that killed an Israeli settler and teenager Rina Shnerb. The three men, living in the occupied West Bank, were detained per Israel’s controversial practice of “administrative detention,” whereby Israel may detain an individual for months or even years without charging them with a crime.
The lawyers and family members of the three main suspects have asserted that all three men suspected of links to the bombing had been tortured to the point of needing hospitalization, with one of them being admitted for kidney failure and 11 broken ribs before subsequently being returned to the custody of Israeli interrogators. Another of the men had his genitals bitten by a security dog while the third man was wheelchair-bound and unrecognizable to his wife when he appeared in a courtroom.
While these three Palestinian men’s experiences are extreme cases, the same Shin Bet investigation also tortured several other detainees in less severe ways but nonetheless left them traumatized. Those detainees were released after weeks in detention and were never charged. Shin Bet also arrested family members of detainees and, in some cases, paraded them in front of detainees in order to create the impression that their wives and children would also undergo the same harsh treatment.
Though the manhunt and resulting torture of Palestinian suspects took place months ago, reporting on the incidents was delayed due to an Israeli court-mandated gag order that was renewed multiple times since it was first issued last September. That gag order, in effect for well over three months, also made court proceedings of the three main suspects in the case closed to the public and prevented family members from attending court, with few exceptions.
A spike in torture
The alleged torturing of prisoners in connection to the August 23 bombing occurred during a period when the use of torture of West Bank Palestinians by Shin Bet spiked dramatically, according to the Palestinian prisoner rights organization Adameer, which issued a report last month that contained hard evidence of “the systematic use of torture and ill-treatment” against Palestinian detainees at the Al-Mascobiyya interrogation center.
The torture of detainees, though often denied by Israeli officials, is technically illegal. Yet, a loophole provided in the same 1999 Israeli Supreme Court ruling that made the practice illegal has allowed it to continue, as the ruling only prohibited torture of detainees unless there was suspicion of an imminent attack. This loophole has routinely been used by Shin Bet, especially given that Shin Bet officials who engage in the practice have done so for decades with impunity. Indeed, while over one thousand official complaints against the Shin Bet related to its use of torture have been filed since 2001, only one has ever gone to court — a 2017 case which is still open.
In addition, the use of torture has been supported by a cadre of doctors who work with Shin Bet by approving brutal interrogation tactics, falsifying medical reports and engaging in other activities that provide justifications for the use of extreme and internationally-condemned interrogation methods. Their support would also likely help protect Shin Bet officials in the event that more of these torture cases ever went to court.
One likely reason for the culture of the impunity is the tacit approval of a large portion of the Israeli populace regarding the use of torture on those deemed “enemy combatants.” For instance, one poll of youth between the ages of 20 and 35 conducted in 16 countries last month found that Israeli youths were by far the most supportive of the use of torture, with only 23 percent of Israeli respondents opposing the practice, compared to the international average of 55 percent.
As to why the last few months have seen a spike in reports of the torture of Palestinian prisoners, the answer is not entirely clear. One possible explanation could be related to the U.S.-Israeli push to enact the so-called “Deal of the Century” as well as the current political upheaval in Israeli that has seen the country awaiting its third election in less than a year, as embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to promote his tough-on-crime and security-focused stances during the prolonged election season.
Feature photo | An actor demonstrates the torture method known as the “banana.” One of several standard torture techniques reportedly used by the Shin Bet during interrogations of Palestinian prisoners. Photo | AP
Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.