Shin Bet Officers Suspected of Ordering Unwarranted Search of Palestinian Woman's Private Parts

The investigators focused on trying to understand who gave the order for the invasive cavity search. Charges could range from rape or other sexual offenses to assault or misuse of force in the line of duty

Two Palestinian women pass the checkpoint in Bethlehem.
MUSA AL SHAER/AFP

Shin Bet security service personnel are suspected of having told an Israel Defense Forces officer to order female soldiers to search a Palestinian woman’s private parts for no particular reason in an arrest three years ago in the West Bank.

This was the first time the department for investigating complaints against Shin Bet opened a probe into allegations of violations of suspects’ rights during a Shin Bet interrogation. The unit responsible for investigating these complaints, known by its Hebrew acronym Mivtan, is under the authority of the Justice Ministry.

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The unit had previously closed more than 1,000 complaint files about Shin Bet conduct without opening any criminal investigations. Haaretz has learned that the investigation has been completed and the findings have been sent to the Prosecutor’s Office. According to the Justice Ministry, there has not yet been a decision on the case. The IDF spokesman has refused to respond.

Details confirmed to Haaretz by a security source suggest suspected criminal actions on the part of the Shin Bet. Personnel from the agency who testified along with soldiers and senior IDF officers, among them a brigade commander and a battalion commander, have not been questioned.

The investigation followed an official complaint filed by the Palestinian woman, with the encouragement of the head of the Mivtan unit at the time, attorney Jana Mudzgurishvilly. The investigators focused on trying to understand who gave the order for the invasive cavity search, since it’s suspected that it was unnecessary. It is not clear who among the persons involved has been questioned as a suspect and of what he is suspected.

Charges could range from rape or other sexual offenses to assault or misuse of force in the line of duty, an offense punishable by up to three years in prison.

Palestinian women at the Qalandiya checkpoint, last year.
ABBAS MOMANI / AFP

The incident occurred in 2015 when an IDF detachment was sent to arrest the Palestinian woman, a West Bank resident who was suspected of actively abetting those engaged in terror activity. At least two Shin Bet members accompanied the group to the woman’s home and arrested her.

Sources knowledgeable about the investigation say the action was mainly for the purpose of collecting mobile phones, tablets and media materials in the woman’s home, whose identity Haaretz is protecting out of concern for her safety. She says the detachment entered her home during the night when she was in her bedroom.

After her arrest, one of the men from the Shin Bet ordered two female soldiers in the group to search her private parts. They took her aside, stripped her and performed a body search in accordance with instructions from one of the men from the Shin Bet and an IDF officer, who was at the scene – apparently the brigade commander or battalion commander.

Associates of the Palestinian woman say she told them that the search was “from the front and from the back,” in other words, both vaginal and anal probes.

Both female soldiers conducted a search separately, so that each of her organs was probed twice. Nothing was found in the searches.

“She was humiliated and helpless,” her friend says. “After the incident she was in shock. To this day she cannot forget the event or share it with anyone. She is afraid it is something her family will not accept and perhaps they will be angry at her for not having resisted.”

The woman filed a complaint with the Justice Ministry unit, but very little was done about it. Despite the grave suspicions against her, ultimately she was convicted of more minor offenses and sentenced to two years in prison, after which she was released.

Mudzgurishvilly asked to meet with her at a facility of the Liaison Office in the West Bank to go more deeply into the complaint. The woman refused, not wanting to have any more contact with Israeli security personnel. According to the woman’s associates, “She wished to leave the incident behind her even though she had been badly hurt.” Shortly thereafter she was arrested a second time on suspicion of involvement in nationalist activity.

Mudzgurishvilly heard about the arrest and went to speak with the woman at Hasharon Prison. Mudzgurishvilly managed to persuade her to submit a second and detailed complaint, of which State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan ordered the opening of an investigation by a special team at the Justice Ministry.

In May, the Kan public broadcaster reported that security personnel were questioned in the affair and that differences were found between the Shin Bet and the IDF versions’ of the incident. During the past year all the individuals involved were questioned and sources say it’s not certain that there had been any information necessitating an intimate search, nor is it clear who exactly gave the order for it.

While her complaint was under investigation, the woman was released from prison. She left Israel on a foreign passport and is living abroad. She hasn’t returned to the Palestinian territories.

An associate of hers says that the incident traumatized her. “It’s perfectly clear that there was no justification for the humiliating search that reached the level of sexual offenses and even the head of the Justice Ministry unit realized the gravity of it and pushed for opening an investigation. All the cell phones were found and she herself helped the soldiers, but after what happened she was crushed. She is an educated woman who immediately understood that something wrong had been done. She is unaccustomed to anything so debasing. To this day she is afraid the incident will become known and since she is a traditional woman – she fears her reputation will be ruined.”

The investigation was opened at the beginning of this year, after the Justice Ministry unit had shelved hundreds of complaints for many years. In the past, the unit was under the aegis of the Shin Bet itself, but in 2013 it was transferred to the Justice Ministry, when attorney Mudzgurishvilly, formerly the chief military prosecutor, was appointed to head it. Last month she left the position and no replacement has been appointed.

Even if there is a decision to file an indictment, the chances that the woman will return to Israel to testify are slim.

According to a security source, the military investigation has ended and the findings have been sent to the Prosecutor’s office.

“Without relating to the substance of the matter, there has not yet been any decision taken on the case. At this stage we cannot go into any further detail,” the Justice Ministry responded.