NGO Asks Israel's AG to Probe Alleged Shin Bet Abuse of Palestinian Women

The Public Committee Against Torture In Israel says Shin Bet humiliates Palestinian women during interrogation.

The Public Committee Against Torture In Israel submitted affidavits by Palestinian women to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Monday describing their treatment during interrogation by the Shin Bet security service.

The watchdog group asked Weinstein to direct interrogators to maintain the women's dignity during questioning.

Asra Salhab
Ofer Vaknin

Nine individual complaints were sent to the division of the Justice Ministry that investigates the police, and eight complaints were filed with the Military Advocate General.

The affidavits, which were collected from the women over the past few months by the Public Committee Against Torture, describe instances over the past three years in which women undergoing interrogation were humiliated, threatened or goaded based on gender, religion and culture.

One of the complaints was submitted by Isra Salhab, an East Jerusalem journalist who says the Shin Bet called her in last November to meet with her husband, who was being interrogated in the Shin Bet facility at Jerusalem's Russian Compound.

"After they took me they strip-searched me. They handcuffed me and then strip-searched me again. They questioned me from 7:45 in the morning to 12 midnight. They asked me personal things, about my marriage and my previous relationships .... They told me they know many things about me, but they would not tell my husband."

Salhab said that after a number of days of questioning, she was brought into a room with four male interrogators.

The Shin Bet categorically denied the complaints by Salhab and the other women.

"They had nothing to ask me. They used me to put pressure on my husband," Salhab told Haaretz. "They asked me questions about the past. They told me that they would tell stories about me in Jerusalem. At a certain point they brought me to see my husband and told him I had children and he should think hard about what he was doing. During the questioning, the interrogator sat close to me and shouted at me not to move," she said.

Salhab's husband, Shadi Zahda, is on trial as one of a number of people indicted for involvement in the civilian infrastructure of Hamas, working to raise financial and moral support for the organization.

Several of the testimonies reveal that investigators frequently moved very close to the women being questioned, who were unable to move because they were cuffed, a practice the State Prosecutor's Office has ruled out.

Tali Fahima, a Jewish Israeli woman convicted and jailed in 2005 for two years for contact with a foreign agent with the intent to harm Israel's security, lodged a complaint about this matter.

The State Prosecutor's Office commented that it intended to discuss the matter with the Shin Bet and "formulate procedures to oversee the issue of questioning a person by an interrogator not of the same gender."

Some of the women said the men questioning them refused to allow them to cover their heads, or mocked the custom.

Another frequent complaint was that the authorities threatened women during questioning that their relatives would be arrested.

Until 2007, the Shin Bet made such arrests to pressure people they were in the midst of questioning. However, the High Court ruled in response to a petition on the matter, that innocent family members were not to be arrested, although if a justification was found, they could be arrested in order to pressure suspects.

Records from military courts show that after this directive was issued, investigators began using the threat of incarceration of relatives rather than actually arresting them.

In December of last year, the court threw out the confession of Aiman Hamida, who had been charged with a number of shooting incidents, because the investigator threatened that he would arrest her sister if she did not confess.

In another case, S., a 26-year-old Qalqilyah resident, was arrested in the summer of 2009 on suspicion of conspiring to kidnap a soldier. When she was brought to the Shin Bet's Kishon incarceration facility, she was given men's underwear to put on. She was made to sit on a chair for hours with her hands handcuffed behind her back and whenever she tried to change her position, the man questioning her ordered her not to.

S. was threatened during questioning that her mother and sister would be arrested, and was told that if she cooperated she would be allowed to live in Israel with her father, who has Israeli citizenship.

She was not allowed to cover her head and her interrogators said they would make it known that she had been arrested for something other than security infractions.

N., 27, from Tul Karm, was also arrested in 2009 on suspicion of planning the abduction of a soldier. In addition to being told that family members would be arrested, she was brought blindfolded to a room where a man was waiting, to whom the interrogators said: "We brought you a girl, we know you like girls." N. said the man laughed and left the room.

When N. complained that her interrogators were touching her, they said: "What difference does it make, you're not religious." She also said they would tell her the wrong time, to make her lose track of time.

Other cases deal with the arrest of women by soldiers, in which complainants said soldiers were physically and verbally violent to them, their families and their property during searches and arrests.

Most of the women said they were strip-searched with men present. When one of the women refused to be strip-searched with a male soldier present, she was told she would be forced to submit.

A., 27, from Bethlehem, said she was strip-searched during her menstrual period by a woman soldier. Her request to receive sanitary napkins was denied for 12 hours.

The IDF responded that the Military Advocate General had never seen the eight complaints Haaretz presented. It added that it was going to launch a criminal investigation into two of the complaints, but that in the six other cases no justification had been found for an investigation.

The Shin Bet commented: "The Shin Bet and its personnel operate only within the law, and are under internal and external supervision, including by the State Comptroller's Office, the State Prosecutor's Office, the attorney general, the Knesset, and the entire court system."

The Shin Bet said that both men and women who are arrested receive their full rights under Israeli law and international conventions, including representation by legal representatives and visits by the Red Cross.

"The Shin Bet utterly rejects the claims mentioned in the newspaper report, especially about the use of humiliation in the context of religion and gender. The opposite is true," the Shin Bet said.

In the cases of N. and S., the Shin Bet reiterated that their claims were false, and noted that they were charged with planning the kidnapping of a soldier. The Shin Bet said it was "surprising that the claims came up now, some two and a half years after their arrests."

With regard to Isra Salhab, the Shin Bet said she had been "arrested on suspicion of illegal activities for Hamas. When insufficient evidence was collected to try her, she was released. All claims with regard to her humiliation during questioning are baseless."

Dr. Ishai Menuhin, executive director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, said: "Palestinian women in general and security prisoners in particular are the weakest population in Israel and the territories. It is an oppressed population, and they have no idea of their rights. We have decided ahead of International Women's Day [March 8] to publish a booklet outlining their rights, which will state what is allowed and what is prohibited. We hope it will be in every Palestinian home in the occupied territories."

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