Soldiers Ordered to Stop Force Questioning Palestinians, Israeli Army Tells Court

Soldiers were allowed to force Palestinians to answer questions if they believe they have information about an offense – even if they did not witness it. The state now says the orders have been changed

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
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IDF soldiers near Tapuah Junction in the West Bank, in May.
IDF soldiers near Tapuah Junction in the West Bank, in May.Credit: Moti Milrod
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

The military has informed the High Court of Justice that it now prohibits soldiers from compelling Palestinians in the West Bank to cooperate with their interrogators by providing information about alleged offenses, including ones they did not personally witness.

In response to a petition filed on behalf of some 40 Palestinians, the army said it had banned the practice as part of a revised order issued in June. The army did not provide the exact text of both the old and the revised orders, claiming it was classified.

The petition was filed last year by attorney Eitay Mack against the chief of the IDF Central Command and the legal advisor of the Judea and Samaria Brigade, which operates in the West Bank. The petition was withdrawn after the army informed the court of its change in policy.

It presented two cases in which soldiers forced Palestinians to answer their questions about events that they had not personally witnessed. In one case, two Palestinians who refused the demand to provide the information were arrested.

Attorney Eitay Mack, in 2018.Credit: Emil Salman

The first case described in the petition occurred in Hebron in 2019 when Uni Abu Shamasiya, a resident of Hebron, was confronted by IDF forces after refusing to reveal the identities and phone numbers of several guests he had hosted in his home. According to the case, soldiers arrived at his home and demanded information about the individuals, beating and shoving members of the household and firing into the air, asking repeatedly about the identity of their guests. Eventually the soldiers arrested Abu Shamasiya’s mother and a neighbor.

The state responded that during the interrogation “cooperation was not forthcoming and [the situation] deteriorated into violence.” The state added that the soldiers felt their lives were in danger and therefore fired into the air and called in additional forces. The state told the court that the mother was arrested after she assaulted one of the soldiers.

The second incident occurred when a shepherd from the Mughair area near Ramallah was questioned by soldiers attempting to capture several Palestinian teens who had been seen standing near a military exercise. When the shepherd failed to identify them, the soldiers left, secretly taking some of his flock with them. The sheep were returned only hours later, after another questioning.

Clashes between soldiers and Palestinians in the West Bank last year.Credit: RANEEN SAWAFTA / REUTERS

In a civil suit, the state told the court that the soldiers suspected the shepherd, who was standing in a closed military zone, of stealing ammunition. The state explained that the soldiers had moved the sheep out of the zone. The shepherd was ultimately compensated in the amount of 5,000 shekels ($1,608).

“We hope that this change will have a practical impact and people can use it against situations in which the army invades their homes and requires them to convey information,” said Badia Dwaik, one of the petitioners representing the Palestinian NGO Human Rights Defenders Group. According to Dwaik, “The petition is part of our opposition to the occupation and now, if they don’t respect the order, we can use it to show the internal contradictions of the occupation.”

Mack responded: “Over the years I’ve heard endless cases of IDF soldiers forcing Palestinians to cooperate against family members, neighbors and friends, usually by threats of force. It’s very doubtful whether this change in policy will percolate down to the soldiers in the field.”

“It’s bizarre that after 54 years of occupation the IDF must be reminded what is written in The Hague Conventions and the Fourth Geneva Convention," he added.

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