Shin Bet Abuses Its Prisoners, Says Israeli Rights Group

Shin Bet prisoners are often incarcerated and interrogated under unsatisfactory conditions, according to a report to be released by B'Tselem and Hamoked.

Shin Bet prisoners are often incarcerated and interrogated under unsatisfactory conditions, according to a report to be released on Tuesday by the rights groups B'Tselem and Hamoked.

The report - based on interviews with 121 Palestinians detained in the security service's Petah Tikva detention facility last year - indicates that 645 detainees had filed complaints over the nature of their incarceration and/or interrogation, but that none had led to the opening of a criminal investigation.

A detainee sits in solitary confinement in a Ramle prison.
Limor Adary

Hundreds of detainees are brought to the Petah Tikva facility for questioning every year. After their interrogation, some are transferred to Shin Bet holding facilities to await legal proceedings, and others released without charges filed against them.

The interviewees included four women - one of them 63 years old - and 18 minors. Nearly all the of the respondents reported having been detained in the early morning hours and denied the chance to take personal belongings with them. Some said they hadn't been allowed to get dressed or put on shoes.

A quarter said their homes had been damaged during the course of their arrest, and a third said they had been subjected to violence during questioning. Still, the report does not reveal any systematic use of violent interrogation.

Three-quarters of respondents were held in solitary confinement, in small cells with room only for a mattress and no outside-facing windows. A bright light was on at all times in the cells, they said, and the bathrooms emitted a putrid stench.

They said detainees were prohibited from cleaning the cells or replacing dirty mattresses, and were kept from knowing the time of day.

Nearly all of the interviewees said they had been tied to a metal chair in the interrogation room for hours, sometimes while the interrogators themselves were in the room, aside from short bathroom and eating breaks.

Half reported having been manipulated into confessing in exchange for leaving solitary confinement or permission to make phone calls to family members.

Since a 1999 High Court ruling forbade interrogators from using physical violence during questioning, complaints on the part of detainees have dropped sharply.

The Justice Ministry responded to the report on behalf of the Shin Bet and the military. Hila Tene-Gilad, a lawyer in the ministry's department for international agreements and litigation, said the report "makes general, baseless assertions, some of which are extremely grave."

She said ministry officials regularly visit Shin Bet holding facilities and had not heard a single detainee raise complaints similar to those contained in the report.

Tene-Gilad said the army quickly notifies relatives of their family members' detention, and that while it uses reasonable force on detainees, it does not resort to violence.

The ministry said Shin Bet interrogations are conducted within legal limits and under the appropriate legal bodies, and that detainees have the right to file complaints over inappropriate or illegal treatment.