Israel Must Put Boundaries on Torture

Right-wing activists act out a mock Shin Bet torture session in protest of interrogations of suspected extremists, 2018.
Moti Milrod

The hospitalization of Samer Arbid, a suspect in the murder of 17-year-old Rina Shnerb, reminded everyone that the Shin Bet security service has special means of torture reserved for cases it defines as urgent. There are only a few such cases every year, as Haaretz’s Amos Harel wrote late last month.

But even in situations not considered emergencies, when special means of torture aren’t necessary, Shin Bet interrogators use methods that cause severe physical and emotional pain and suffering – sleep deprivation, handcuffing in painful positions for long stretches, threats and isolation cells that are intentionally cold, filthy, stinking and moldy.

Of the 102 interrogees in whose name the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel has complained to the Justice Ministry over the past five years, 31 percent said they suffered physical violence. Double that number – 61 percent – complained of threats. Forty percent said they were tied in painful positions for a long time, and well over half – 66 percent – complained of sleep deprivation. A combination of some or all of these methods constitutes torture, which is forbidden by law.

When these methods are used on Jews, everyone knows immediately; an outcry is raised and a spade is called a spade. The fact that they are still used routinely against many Palestinians is swept to our subconscious. The number of complaints filed by the Public Committee Against Torture is much smaller than the number of Palestinians who have testified about being tortured. But most choose not to complain because they believe it was all done knowingly on orders from on high.

Still, four Hebron women who were arrested in the summer of 2018 decided to lodge complaints via the Public Committee Against Torture about torture during their interrogations, as Amira Hass wrote in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition this week. “Maybe this will prevent someone else from being tortured in the future,” said Lama Khater, whose testimony still hasn’t been processed into a formal complaint.

Her testimony, like the complaints by Suzan Awawi, Dina Karmi and Safaa Abu Sneineh, reveals that even when the suspicions stemmed from civic, social or religious activities for Hamas, the Shin Bet didn’t hesitate to use cruel interrogation tactics for many weeks, with the approval of doctors who simply provided painkillers. As seen in the modest sentences they received – all were released about a year later – their interrogations under torture didn’t produce any incriminating information about terrorist activity.

The way they were interrogated shows that the need for information isn’t what guides the interrogators. Cruelty and humiliation are part of a policy of control over the Palestinians, the goal of which is to suppress and crush any resistance. But it hasn’t worked and will not work, and it only increases Palestinians’ loathing for Israel, providing more fuel for the cycle of bloodshed. Therefore, once again, the Shin Bet must be told what its boundaries are.

The insistence on continuing the occupation requires the constant crossing of legal and moral lines. Israel desperately needs a new government that will courageously change its approach to the conflict with the Palestinians.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.