[Ppnews] Children not exempt from widespread torture in Israeli detention

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jul 6 17:17:43 EDT 2011

Children not exempt from widespread torture in Israeli detention

Electronic Intifada
6 July 2011


Sleep-deprived and suffering from a broken leg, 
16-year-old Muhammad Halabiyeh endured days of 
torture at the hands of Israeli soldiers and 
police officers, who punched him repeatedly in 
the face and abdomen, shoved needles into his 
hand and leg and threatened the Palestinian teenager with sexual abuse.

Arrested near his home in the East Jerusalem 
neighborhood of Abu Dis in February 2010, 
Halabiyeh confessed after days of abuse and 
torture to the charge that he threw a Molotov 
cocktail at an Israeli army base. More than one 
year after his arrest, which was spent in Israeli 
custody, Halabiyeh was found guilty in an Israeli military court.

His conviction came despite the fact that the 
Israeli military judge in his case stated that 
she believed the teenager was tortured. However, 
the judge argued that there was no evidence that 
his confession was the direct result of the 
torture he endured. Halabiyeh’s sentencing 
hearing has now been postponed until 19 July.

“[The judge] said there’s no direct connection 
that he confessed later on in the police station 
because of this torture,” 
Francis, the director of 
the Prisoners’ Support and Human Rights 
Association, told The Electronic Intifada. 
Addameer represented Halabiyeh in his trial at the Ofer military court.

“She didn’t believe that he was threatened the 
whole way [to the police station]. He said in the 
court that he was [afraid of more torture], but 
she decided not to give much weight [to this],” Francis added.

Since Israel began occupying the Gaza Strip and 
the West Bank including East Jerusalem in 1967, 
it is estimated that approximately 700,000 
Palestinians have been detained by Israel. This 
amounts to approximately 20 percent of the total 
Palestinian population, and 40 percent of the 
male Palestinian population, in the occupied 
Palestinian territories, according to Addameer.

Today, more than 5,600 Palestinian prisoners 
remain in Israeli jails, and more than 1,500 
Israeli military orders continue to govern all 
aspects of life in the West Bank. In fact, the 
Israeli military courts system controls the 
trial, sentencing and imprisonment of Palestinian 
detainees. Notably, the principal court officials 
including the prosecutor and the judge are 
Israeli army officers ­ which means that the 
Israeli occupation army is both accuser and judge 
of Palestinians living under its control. 
Moreover, this system is reserved only for 
Palestinians; Israeli 
living in the West Bank are subject to Israeli civil law and civil courts.

According to a 2007 report issued by Israeli 
human rights group 
Din, “of 9,123 cases concluded in the [Israeli] 
military courts in the year 2006, only in 23 
cases - which constitute 0.29 percent of the 
rulings - was the defendant found to be entirely not guilty.”

While no specific figures are available, Francis 
explained that the use of torture against 
Palestinian detainees and prisoners is widespread 
and that often, Israeli soldiers use torture 
during an arrest - before the detainees are 
brought into the interrogation center - as a way 
to intimidate the detainees and coerce confessions from them later on.

“Especially in the case of juveniles, it’s 
threatening them before even coming to the 
interrogation so it will make it easier to 
collect their confessions. They will be really 
terrified. They humiliate them. They start to 
beat them and kick them and abuse them all the 
way to the detention center. It affects [the 
detainees’] confidence and the way they will 
treat the whole process of the interrogation later on,” Francis said.

Sleep deprivation, threats of sexual abuse and 
physical violence, prolonged periods spent in 
complete isolation, and the arrests of family 
members are some of the methods used to coerce 
confessions from Palestinian detainees, Francis 
explained. While most of the torture the Israeli 
authorities use is psychological in nature, she 
added that physical torture does take place as well.

“In some cases, they use electric shock. In some 
other cases, they close [their] eyes and tie 
[them] to the chair. They push back [their] head 
and then they bring a cup of water and they start 
to drop water on [their] face, giving a feeling 
like [they] can’t breathe,” she said. ”[Torture 
is] very common. It’s very common.”

Israel’s “ticking time bomb” loophole

The UN Convention Against Torture defines torture 
as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, 
whether physical or mental, is intentionally 
inflicted on a person” for purposes that include 
obtaining information or a confession, punishing 
the detainee or a third person for something, and 
for the purpose of intimidation or coercion, among others.

Article 2 of the Convention states that a state 
must take the necessary measures to ensure that 
torture does not occur in any territory under its 
controls, and that the use of torture may not be 
justified under any circumstances, “whether a 
state of war or a threat or war, internal 
political instability or any other public emergency.”

Further, Article 12 states that, “each State 
Party shall ensure that its competent authorities 
proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, 
wherever there is reasonable ground to believe 
that an act of torture has been committed in any 
territory under its jurisdiction.”

According to the Israeli human rights group 
while more than seven hundred complaints alleging 
abuse of detainees by Israeli General Security 
Services (GSS) agents have been reported from 
2001 to 2009, “the State Attorney’s Office did 
not order a criminal investigation into any of 
the complaints” 
to investigate alleged cases of ill-treatment and torture”).

The GSS, also known as the 
Bet or Shabak, according to its Hebrew acronym, 
conducts interrogations of Palestinian detainees. 
In 1987, the 
Commission ­ an Israeli governmental commission 
charged with examining the interrogation methods 
used by the GSS ­ found that the continued use of 
“physical force” in interrogations was acceptable.

Twelve years later, in 1999, the 
high court finally prohibited torture of any kind 
in Israel, and outlawed certain interrogation 
techniques. In “ticking time bomb” situations, 
however, the court found that the use of physical force could be justified.

This caveat, otherwise known as “the necessity 
defense,” has been used to justify the use of 
physical force and torture by Israeli 
interrogators since the high court’s ruling. The 
GSS argues that its agents should be exempt from 
criminal prosecution during these types of 
situations due to Article 34K of Israel’s Penal 
Code, which states that “no person shall bear 
criminal responsibility for an act that was 
immediately necessary in order to save his own or 
another person’s life, freedom, bodily welfare or 
property from a real danger of severe injury, due 
to the conditions prevalent when the act was 
committed, there being no alternative but to commit the act.”

Still, while it should only be employed in 
extreme cases, human rights groups have 
criticized the “ticking time bomb” defense for 
its widespread and inappropriate use.

“In the few cases in which the Complaints 
Inspector found that [GSS] agents abused an 
interrogee, the State Attorney’s Office decided 
to close the file without ordering a criminal 
investigation, this on the tendentious grounds 
that the high court established, whereby in 
‘ticking bomb’ cases the [GSS] interrogator may 
escape criminal responsibility under the 
‘necessity defense,’” the B’Tselem report found.

According to a 2009 report released by the 
Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) 
Denied: The Absence of Investigation and 
Punishment of Torture in Israel,” the State of 
Israel is not meeting its responsibilities under 
international law since it fails to hold 
accountable those responsible for torture or abuse.

“The mechanism for examining complaints does not 
exist in a vacuum. It is maintained alongside the 
systemic torture and abuse of Palestinian 
detainees, and alongside the silence, if not the 
actual support, of the legal system,” the report states.

“We believe that the State of Israel must meet 
standards of human dignity, justice, and equality 
of law and must respect its obligations under 
international law. A criminal investigation, with 
the attendant criminal and public ramifications, 
conveys a strong and clear message that all forms 
of torture and abuse are absolutely prohibited 
since they fatally injure human dignity and the 
human person. This is a message that must not be ambiguous,” the report adds.

Ending Israeli impunity

According to Addameer’s Sahar Francis, 
Palestinian detainees are hesitant to report 
instances of torture due to the fact that these 
claims are rarely investigated and virtually 
never result in criminal convictions or justice, 
and because they will be held in Israeli military 
detention while their claim is investigated.

“It’s very hard to say that you can reach justice 
in this [Israeli military court] system. And the 
case of Muhammad Halabiyeh is a very good example 
to see how the court always believes the soldiers 
and the police officers who collect the 
confessions and don’t trust what the detainees 
have to say,” Francis told The Electronic Intifada.

“Most of the cases, even if you exhaust the whole 
procedures, wouldn’t end up in favor of the 
detainees,” she added. “We can say that there’s 
more than 95 percent of conviction at the end, 
whether it’s through plea bargains or exhausting 
the system. Most of the prisoners prefer plea 
bargains because they don’t trust the system. Why 
waste the time and put all these efforts?”

Francis said that the issue of torture of 
Palestinians convicted in Israeli military courts 
is closely connected to the Israeli occupation, 
and can therefore only be solved by ending the Israeli occupation altogether.

“The solution for this is ending the occupation, 
putting an end to the occupation, which means 
Israel is not allowed to arrest Palestinians and 
prosecute them in their military courts. And they 
are then supposed to release all the Palestinian 
political prisoners from the Israeli prisons, 
where they are held illegally,” she said.

“What’s very important is to put an end to this 
impunity when it comes to torture of Palestinian 
political prisoners. This is a big demand of the 
Palestinian human rights NGOs [nongovernmental 
organizations], [and] the international community 
should find a way to put an end to the Israeli 
immunity in torture and not just in torture but 
all of the other violations of international law.”

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