In Israeli Prisons, Palestinians Who Say They've Been Tortured Are Denied Doctor Visits

Israeli human rights group finds prisoners waiting years for medical exams to verify claims of mistreatment.

Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger
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Palestinians protest in Nablus in solidarity with hunger striking prisoners in Israeli jails, in May 2012.
Palestinians protest in Nablus in solidarity with hunger striking prisoners in Israeli jails, in May 2012. Credit: AP
Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger

S. was arrested in the West Bank in early 2014 on suspicion of involvement in security crimes. After his arrest he was interrogated by the Shin Bet security service, and has said that he was tortured.

Afterward, he was transferred from the Shin Bet facility to the Megiddo Prison. He filed a complaint, through his lawyer, with the Justice Ministry’s ombudsman.

S. found himself with a problem, though. It was his word against the Shin Bet. As is the case with most prisoners who have undergone “necessary interrogation” by the Shin Bet, where nonconventional methods - in practice, a form of torture - is used, such sessions are not recorded.

His lawyer asked the Prisons Service to have a doctor and psychologist examine his client, hoping such a medical report could provide enough evidence of torture to back up the complaint, were it ever to reach the state of disciplinary examination.

The lawyer was told that S. would be permitted a doctor’s visit. But the exam was scheduled for September 3, 2015, and two days beforehand the prison informed them that a hearing had been set for the exact same day as the exam. They requested another date for the medical tests.

But S. was then transferred to the Ramon Prison in the Negev where prison guards refused to allow doctors to see him. In November his lawyer asked to reschedule the doctor’s visit. He received a response that the request for a neurologist and psychologist to enter the prison for a one-time examination was rejected, “after in-depth consideration.”

S. is still waiting to see the doctor, and it is unclear why the Ramon Prison staff has refused to allow such an exam by an outside doctor to take place.

S. is not a unique case at all.

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, which represents S. and a number of other prisoners who claim they were tortured, said its data show that the IPS has continued to refuse to allow those who claim they underwent torture to meet with doctors to receive medical opinions that may be used as part of their legal proceedings.

The IPS denies it has changed its policies, but the committee’s figures reflect a different picture. In 2013 and 2014 at least five such examinations were conducted for security prisoners who claimed they were tortured. In 2015 the committee staff filed two requests, one of which was approved, while in the second case the prisoner did not see the doctor.

In 2016, three requests were made, and all were rejected. In one case, the IPS has changed its mind, and the exam is expected to be conducted soon.

The IPS said every prisoner and detainee who files a complaint with the ombudsman is allowed access to a doctor, according to official policy.

Those who have not been allowed such a visit either did not file a complaint, or the IPS was not informed of it, the Prisons Service said.

However, the committee said the four Palestinians who were denied such exams in recent months all filed complaints with the ombudsman. The correspondence with the IPS clearly states the exams are for use in the “legal process,” without mentioning the word “ombudsman,” the committee said.

The letters from the IPS rejecting the requests do not provide detailed explanations and the IPS is not always consistent in its policies. The protracted wait time to meet with the doctor, even if the visit is approved in the end, can render the results of such an examination ineffective, the committee said.

"Since 2001, over 1,000 complaints of torture and mal-treatment at the hands of Shin Bet investigators have been filed," an attorney with the committe told Haaretz. "Up to this day, not a single criminal investigation has been opened."

The Justice Ministry said in response that they do not have figures regarding torture complaints, but did confirm that over the past year, not one of 56 filed complaints yielded a criminal investigation.

The Shin Bet responded that as a general rule, visits from external doctors are allowed in cases of torture complaints.

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