Rights Groups Call for Israeli Action in Case of Palestinian Woman's Intrusive Search

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Palestinian women at a Bethlehem checkpoint.
Palestinian women at a Bethlehem checkpoint. The subjects have no connection to the content of the article.Credit: Musa Al Shaer/AFP
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Two human rights groups have called on Israel to prosecute Shin Bet security service agents and army officers involved in the 2015 search of a Palestinian woman’s vagina and anal cavity during a raid of her West Bank home.

The woman was suspected of belonging to a Hamas cell that was planning a terrorist attack and the security forces were looking for her cellphone SIM card.

Following a Haaretz report last week disclosing the contents of interrogation transcripts from the investigation, the Public Committee Against Torture wrote a letter on Sunday to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit on the matter.

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Earlier this month, the cases against the officers in question were closed for lack of evidence after six years had elapsed.

“This involves a serious sexual assault,” the Public Committee Against Torture said in the letter, signed by the organization’s director, Tal Steiner, and by Efrat Bergman-Sapir, the head of its legal department. 

“The fact that such a serious case was closed without filing indictments testifies to the incompetence of the police misconduct unit, the military police, and the prosecution; they should have taken criminal action against everyone involved in the assault. No less grave is the fact that the case was closed because none of those involved took responsibility, and all the senior commanders in the incident tried to blame one another, like the worst of criminals,” the letter stated.

“If the prosecution sticks to its decision not to prosecute anyone, then at least immediately dismiss them from the public service to send a clear message: sexual assault, torture and war crimes are not acceptable to Israeli society, and commanders involved in them aren’t worthy of serving in state institutions.”

Physicians for Human Rights is also demanding that the Health Ministry take disciplinary action against one of the female soldiers who performed the search and who is a doctor. She was never questioned as a suspect in the case. 

In its letter to the chairman of the ethics committee of the Israel Medical Association and to the army’s chief medical officer and the Health Ministry, Physicians for Human Rights wrote, “A search without the consent of a detainee is a violation of medical ethics and a doctor is not permitted to take part in such a procedure. Although in real time the doctor apologized, the fact that it is still her belief that she has the authority to conduct such an examination testifies like a thousand witnesses that she is totally unaware of the contradiction between her actions and medical ethics.”

The incident followed the arrival at the suspect’s home of an army force accompanied by two Shin Bet agents. According to the Palestinian woman’s complaint, two female soldiers, one of whom was an army doctor, asked her to undress and one of them asked to conduct “an internal search, like a gynecological exam.” The Palestinian objected, but one of the soldiers said that if she refused, the soldiers could force her to submit.

The bodily search was illegal. It was not based on any relevant intelligence information and the woman did not pose any immediate risk.

In addition to the Shin Bet agents, three Israel Defense Force officers were questioned in the case: the company commander of the soldiers who detained the woman, the battalion commander and an officer with the rank of colonel who was commander of the regional brigade. The company commander, who was questioned as a suspect, said the Shin Bet coordinator had instructed him to carry out the search based on urgent security needs. The battalion and brigade commanders were also questioned by a special investigation team.

Over the weekend, it transpired that the Shin Bet agents and army officers all blamed one other for issuing the order and that one of the Shin Bet agents allegedly pinned the blame on the two female soldiers who had searched the Palestinian woman’s body cavities, as if they had conducted the search at their own initiative.

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