Report of Torture and Ill-Treatment 1994
Human Rights Watch/Middle East

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Summary and Recommendations

Israel's two main interrogation agencies in the Occupied Territories engage in a systematic pattern of ill-treatment and torture - according to internationally recognized definitions of the terms - when trying to extract from Palestinian security suspects confessions or information about third parties. This pattern has continued in 1994, despite the peace process now underway.
Israel's ill-treatment of Palestinians under interrogation is notable for the enormous number of persons who have experienced it. Well over 100,000 Palestinians have been detained since the start of the Intifada in December 1987. Of those arrested, reliable sources indicate that some 4,000 to 6,000 are subjected to interrogations each year. The figures appear to have declined only slightly during the first quarter of 1994.
The overriding strategy of Israel's interrogation agencies in getting uncooperative detainees to talk is to subject them to a coordinated, rigid and increasingly painful regime of physical constraints and psychological pressures over days and very often for three or four weeks, during which time the detainees are, almost without exception, denied visits by their lawyers and families. These measures seriously taint the voluntariness of the confessions that they help to bring about, and therefore compromise the fundamental fairness of the military courts that try Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
The methods used in nearly all interrogations are prolonged sleep deprivations; prolonged sight deprivations using blindfolds or tight-fitting hoods; forced, prolonged maintenance of body positions that grow increasingly painful; and verbal threats and insults.
These methods are almost always combined with some of the following abuses: confinement in tiny, closet-like spaces; exposure to temperature extremes, such as in deliberately overcooled rooms; prolonged toilet and hygiene deprivation; and degrading treatment, such as forcing detainees to eat and use the toilet at the same time. In a large number of cases, detainees are also moderately or severely beaten by their interrogators.
Israeli interrogations consistently use methods in combination with one another, over long periods of time. Thus a detainee in the custody of the General Security Service (GSS) may spend weeks during which, except for brief respites, he shuttles from a tiny chair to which he is painfully shackled; to a stifling tiny cubicle in which he can barely move; questioning sessions in which he is beaten or violently manhandled; and then back to the chair.
The intensive, sustained, and combined use of these methods inflicts the severe mental or physical suffering that is central to internationally accepted definitions of torture.
Israel's political leadership cannot claim ignorance that ill-treatment is the norm in interrogation centers. The number of victims is too large, and the abuses too systematic. Official acquiescence is indicated also by the extreme infrequency with which abuses are punished, and the fact that the classified guidelines for GSS interrogators actually permit, under certain circumstances, the use of "moderate" physical pressure to obtain information. Since 1988, there has been only one case in which GSS interrogators were jailed for abusing a detainee under interrogation.
There are further obstacles to accountability for abuse:

Many prison doctors and paramedics, in violation of the ethics of their profession, tend to serve the interests of the interrogation agency more than they serve the health interests of the detainee. Rather than ensuring that their patients are not subjected to illegal or health-endangering ill-treatment, these medical personnel tend to intervene in the interrogation process only in order to avert permanent injuries or death; and
Palestinian defendants seeking to use the available legal procedure to challenge the voluntariness, and thus, the admissibility, of their confessions, face delays, pressures and obstacles that prejudice this important right.

The abuses documented in this report took place between 1992 and 1994.
Comparing this period to interrogations during earlier years as they were documented by other human rights organizations, some trends emerge:

The GSS now resorts less frequently to beatings while relying more extensively on sustained psychological pressures and physical pressures, such as shackling detainees in contorted body positions, which fall short of direct violence but cause severe suffering nonetheless; and IDF interrogations have become more standardized: beating is still the norm, but instances of extreme violence are less common.

Despite these trends, the interrogation practices of both agencies continue to constitute a pattern of torture.

Recommendations to the Government of Israel

Human Rights Watch call on the government of Israel to end the practice of torture and ill-treatment of detainees under interrogation, by adhering to and enforcing the provisions of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture). Israel acceded to the Convention in 1991. Under Article 2, Israel is obliged to take "effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture." To fulfill that obligation, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his government should:

Enact domestic enabling legislation that makes the Convention against Torture enforceable in Israeli courts;
Publicly state that the provisions of the Convention apply to the conduct of all state agents in the Occupied Territories;
Make public all existing guidelines relating to the use of pressure during interrogation, including the secret appendix to the Landau Commission report and subsequent modification of it, so that their compliance with international standards and Israeli law can be assessed;
Revoke those clauses of the GSS interrogation guidelines that permit the use of physical force despite its prohibition in Israel's Penal Code; and
Review and revise the regulations and practices surrounding investigative detention so as to strengthen safeguards against abuse.

Human Rights Watch urges the U.S. administration to address Israel's systematic use of torture against Palestinians under interrogation through both enhanced public reporting and enhanced advocacy. We urge the administration to:

State publicly that Israeli practices during the interrogation of Palestinians amount to systematic torture, and that one of the two state bodies most responsible for the torture of Palestinians under interrogation is the Israel Defense Forces, which is the main beneficiary of $1.8 billion in U.S. security aid to Israel annually.
Inform the government of Israel that future aid levels will depend on palpable progress toward curbing these abuses; and
Request from the government of Israel a progress report on the steps taken to curtail such practices, including specific information about the measures taken against abusive personnel.

If the pattern of torture continues, the U.S. should either suspend aid or explain publicly the extraordinary circumstances that necessitate its continuation, as required by U.S. law.
Human Rights Watch urges the European member states acting individually and in concert, to stress to the government of Israel that good political and economic relations will depend on steps taken to eliminate the practice of torture in the Occupied Territories.


This report documents a pattern of ill-treatment and torture by Israeli interrogators questioning Palestinian detainees from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The report, which is based on thirty-six lengthy interviews that Human Rights Watch (HRW) conducted with male security suspects1 who were interrogated between June 1992 and March 1994, charges that these practices have continued on a systematic basis since Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister - and even since September 1993, when the current government co-signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization a Declaration of Principles on negotiating Israeli-Palestinian peace. The testimony of Palestinians who underwent interrogations was corroborated by interviews with soldiers who served in the IDF detention camps, court testimony by security force agents, medical reports and other information.
In fact, the extraction of confession under duress, and the acceptance into evidence of such confession by the military courts form the backbone of Israel's military justice system. The end product of that system is one of the world's highest of imprisonment.2 Nearly all military court trials end in convictions - according to official statistics, of the 83,321 Palestinians tried in military courts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip between 1988 and 1993, only 2,731, or 3.2 percent were acquitted.3
While not every Palestinian detainee confesses, the signed statements obtained through interrogations usually constitute the main piece of evidence against defendants. Because a defendant's signed statement is almost sufficient to convict him or her under the applicable laws of evidence, interrogators have strong incentives to obtain such a statement. And whether or not detainees incriminate themselves, they are frequently pressured to speak about others, who can then be convicted on the basis of third party confessions.
Abuses that occur during interrogation and during the trial cannot be seen in isolation from one another: they are interdependent. For example, pressures to plea bargain and inordinate delays in trial scheduling deter detainees from mounting court challenges to their confessions. This allows interrogators to escape what might otherwise be significant scrutiny of their methods.
Israel's ill-treatment of Palestinians under interrogation is distinguished not only by its conveyor-belt quality but also by the huge number of persons who experience it. Over 100,000 Palestinians had been detained since the start of the Intifada in December 1987, the IDF told us in July 1993.4 The Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem charged that roughly 5,000 Palestinians per year had been subjected during interrogation to some combination of the methods of torture or ill-treatment documented in its 1991 study on interrogations.5 Information from reliable sources indicates that during 1993 the volume of interrogations remained close to this level.
Throughout 1993 some four hundred to six hundred Palestinians were under interrogation on any given day, according to reliable estimates. Since the majority of interrogations last one month or less, we can infer that the number of Palestinians who passed through interrogation during 1993 was over 4,000 and perhaps substantially higher. To our knowledge, the government of Israel has never provided figures on the number of Palestinians interrogated.6
Nearly all Palestinians undergoing interrogation are put through some combination of the same basic methods, although the duration varies from case to case. Thus the number of Palestinians tortured or severely ill-treated while under interrogation during the Intifada is in the tens of thousands a number that becomes especially significant when it is remembered that the universe of adult and adolescent male Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is under three-quarters of one million.
The Israeli government maintains that there is no pattern of torture by its interrogators in the Occupied Territories. Abuses are exceptional, it states, and each time there is evidence of a "deviation from the permissible," it is investigated, and if wrongdoing is found, the perpetrators are disciplined or charged. The GSS is permitted to use "exceptional" measures against certain categories of detainees. These methods, delineated in guidelines that remain classified, include forms of what authorities characterize as "moderate physical pressure" to obtain information or statements. According to the government, the use of physical force, which would otherwise violate Israeli law, is carefully monitored to ensure that it does not violate the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (hereinafter the Convention against Torture) ratified by Israel in 1991.
As this report demonstrates, however, methods of torture and severe ill-treatment constitute more the rule than the exception, Contrary to the image that the Israeli government seeks to project, abusive methods are routinely practised even on suspects who are not accused of involvement in plotting or participating in attacks involving firearms or explosives. Often, they are accused of membership in an illegal organization, and eventually charged with that offense alone.

Government-Approved Abuse

Few of the abuses documented in this report are isolated occurrences. They are practised with a considerable degree of consistency system-wide, and with virtual impunity for the practitioners. The abuses are clearly being carried out with the knowledge of the government - although officials deny that the methods constitute torture.
A disturbing phenomenon that is documented in this report is the involvement of Israeli medical personnel in the abusive interrogation process. While HRW has no evidence to suggest that doctors or medics have participated directly and actively in abuses, they have routinely checked and monitored the health of Palestinian detainees during interrogation, while remaining silent on the evidence of abuses confronting them.
The most infamous aspect of what has been publicly divulged of the GSS guidelines is the authorization of unspecified means of "moderate physical pressure" to obtain information and statements. This phrase came in the 1987 report of the Landau Commission, which was appointed by the government to investigate the interrogation methods of the GSS. The specific methods it recommended were contained in a classified appendix to the Commission's report, and have been reviewed and modified by inter-ministerial committees since their adoption by the Israeli cabinet in 1987.
Although the specific guidelines have never been revealed, government approval of the techniques of hooding, position abuse7 sleep deprivation and confinement in closet-like spaces is made abundantly clear by the system-wide employment of specialized equipment (such as tiny chairs, mechanically refrigerated stalls, and shackle attachments built into walls), and by the fact that interrogators admit in open court, readily and without fear of sanction, to practising these techniques. As this report argues, a calibrated system of what could be characterized as "low-intensity torture" operates under government supervision.

Techniques of Abuse

While the abuses described in this report are generally employed in such a way as to cause no lasting, visible physical harm, they occasionally cause long-term injury and even death. Since 1992, four Palestinians have died while under interrogation; in some of these cases, ill-treatment or torture, combined with medical negligence, appear to have contributed substantially to the death. In other cases, Palestinians have emerged from interrogation with lasting psychological and/or emotional damage.

Torture and International Law

The government of Israel as mentioned above, admits that the GSS employs "moderate" physical and psychological pressure during interrogations, but claims that the agency guidelines explicitly prohibit torture and degrading treatment. 8 A petition challenging this claim was filed before Israel's Supreme Court, but in 1993 the Court declined to hear the claim, on the grounds that the petitioner's case lacked the requisite degree of case-based concreteness.
While denying that the approved methods constitute torture or ill-treatment, Israeli officials point out that a courtroom remedy is available to any Palestinian detainee who wishes to challenge the voluntariness of his or her confession.
The peace process, we found, has yet to trickle into the interrogation rooms: if a detainee is brought in for an earnest interrogation, he is likely to be subjected to some combination of several of the following abuses: sleep deprivation, verbal insults, prolonged position abuse, hooding or blindfolding, enclosure in closet-like spaces, subjection to temperature extremes and to distressing and continuous noise. He is also likely to be beaten, especially if the interrogators are from the IDF.
The prospect of ill-treatment does not hinge on whether the detainee is suspected of violence offense. Our sample, in fact, under-represents persons suspected of grave offenses, who might be expected to face even harsher interrogation methods. Nine of the ten ex-detainees we interviewed had been released without charge after their interrogation and the tenth had been released on bail.

Two interrogations conducted in late 1993 illustrate the ongoing problem:

On November 10, Bassem Tamimi of Ramallah was rushed to Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, where a CAT scan revealed a cerebral hemorrhage. The hemorrhage was due to a very recent trauma, according to a member of the medical staff who spoke with human rights lawyer Tamar Pelleg-Sryck. Tamimi had been brought to the hospital from Ramallah prison, where he was under interrogation by the GSS, He had been arrested the day before in a round-up of several suspected members of a rogue Fatah unit that had abducted and killed Jewish settler Chaim Mizrahi on October 29,9 Tamimi described what happened to him after his arrest and arrival at the GSS wing at Ramallah prison:

They hooded me, and then took me straight to an interrogation office. They took my hood off. It was about six in the evening. In the interrogation room, there was a small chair. An interrogator tied my hands to the back of the chair, and left me there with the hood on.

Tamimi said he remained on the chair all night, except for a trip to the toilet. In the morning an interrogator code-named "Abu Ghazal" came in and began questioning him about various matters. Then the subject turned to the killing of Mizrahi:

From that minute, he started to beat me, and all the questions were only about the Mizrahi killing. He grabbed my chin and began to flip my head back and forth, very powerfully. He did that continuously. Then he started shaking it right and left, twisting my neck from side to side.
Then he made me stand up. He grabbed me by the shoulder, and began to push me back and forth violently. He would come up close to me, hold my shirt, and then thrust his hands out very quickly, and then pull me back up to him. When he did that, my head flapped back and forth very quickly. He did this many times ...
At one point, I was kneeling on the ground, my legs tied together and my hands cuffed behind my back. "Abu Ghazal" sat on one of these revolving office chairs, the kind that go up and down when you turn them. He screwed the seat of his chair down very low until it trapped my knees between the seat and the floor. Then he grabbed my chin and yanked it back and forth. When he did that, I fell backwards very quickly. He then pulled me up, and did it again. Sometimes, when I was on the ground, he would grab my collar and shake me like he did when I was standing.
When he was doing the pushing with the seat, ( felt as if my brain was rolling around loose it hurt so much ...
At first, he was asking me only about the Mizrahi case. Then, he started asking me questions about a "wanted" person caught in my house a year ago. He also said that someone else had said that there were weapons hidden in my house. Then he said, "( won't ask you about that other stuff. ( want you only to talk about the killing of Chaim Mizrahi. If you do not talk you will be killed. You have two choices: to talk or to die. Don't bet that because you were interrogated before you can withstand this ... Your case is very serious. You either confess or you die."
He started shaking me again, but even more violently. He kept asking about Mizrahi. Then he pulled me up so that I was standing, knees bent, with my back to the wall. If I tried to sink down to the ground, he pulled me up to my feet. If I stood up straight, he smacked the top of my head with his hand, forcing me back down. I stood that way, knees bent, for about half an hour. He then put me back on the ground, screwed the chair down again, and trapped my knees, and began pushing and shaking again. He was sitting at one point on my knees, and I was feeling very sick and dizzy. Then, all of a sudden I fainted, I woke up five days later in the hospital with the injury.

Tamimi said he did not know whether the cerebral hemorrhage he suffered was caused by a blow, or hitting his head on the chair or floor as he fainted. The diagnosis, however, suggests a higher-velocity impact than a simple fall. Tamimi underwent surgery and spent four weeks recovering, most of it in a Prison Service hospital, and was then released without charge.
Tamimi's lawyer, Jawad Boulos, submitted formal complaints to the Justice Ministry and the Israeli police, demanding to know the results of any investigation into the case. (The Israeli press had reported in November that an investigation had been opened.) 10 As of March 16, Boulos told HRW, he had received no reply from the authorities.

N.S., a nineteen-year-old university student from Ramallah, was interrogated for thirty days in November and December by IDF interrogators at al-Far'a detention center. N.S. was charged with membership in Hamas, and writing and distributing leaflets and posters for that organization. He was released on bail.
The abuses at al-Far'a he described resemble those recounted by detainees held there in earlier periods:

Shabeh [enforced sitting or standing while blindfolded and handcuffed] consisted mostly of standing from nine in the morning until eight at night, in the courtyard. Some days I stood all the time, with no food, or no visit to the toilet. This happened four or five times. Sometimes they would put me instead on a stone seat in the yard.
Sometimes, I was put in a leaky, damp "closet" [a closet-sized room) ...for eight or ten hours, other times for three or four hours. In the "closet" you sit all the time. You can't move. The guards come around and bang on the door, Often, people relieved themselves in the "closet" because they weren't allowed to go to the toilet, and there was no container in there. Many people did that, and the closets stank very badly.
At night, you lie in the cells like animals. The mattresses and blankets are filthy, and they stink. There is no sun or air. The cell is full of water, because it leaks and there is rain. The blankets were soaked, the mattresses too. There was no toilet. There was a container to go in, but it was very difficult to go in there.
All the time, I was wearing the same clothes that they first gave me when I came to the prison. They were very thin clothes, and it was very cold when standing in shabeh, or in the closet. The closet was especially cold.
In the interrogation room, the interrogators slapped me and kicked me between the legs while I was sitting on the chair, My prison number was 2048, so once an interrogator tried to make me squat 2,048 times. This is impossible, of course, so after a while I fell on the ground. Then he kicked me in the legs and testicles,
When in interrogation you feel destroyed psychologically. For example, when they give you the same cup to drink from and to wash your behind with after defecating. It's disgusting. This is the atmosphere there all the time.

Testimonies such as those of Bassem Tamimi indicate that the peace process, by itself, has done little to eradicate a pattern of torture and ill-treatment. The places where they were interrogated, Ramallah prison and al-Far'a military detention center, continue to induct scores of Palestinians for interrogation each month. Even if the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and Jericho area proceeds as planned, Israeli security forces will continue to exercise direct rule over the majority of Palestinians who live outside these areas; and throughout the Occupied Territories, Israel will retain responsibility "for overall security of Israelis for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public order," according to the Declaration of Principles, In this context, systematically abusive interrogations are likely to continue unless strong pressure is brought to bear to end them.


1 Palestinian women have also been subjected to routine abuse while under interrogation. However, the number of women interrogated during the Intifada is only a tiny fraction of the total number of interrogated. HRW did not have the resources to include a reasonably sized sample of women detainees in this study of interrogation methods. Teresa Thornhill, in her Making Women Talk: The Interrogation of Palestinian Women Security Detainees by the Israeli General Security Services (London: Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, 1992), argued persuasively that women detainees are routinely subjected to sleep deprivation, hooding, confinement in closet-like cells, slaps, kicks, hygiene deprivation, and sexual and other threats.

2 The number of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians incarcerated by the Israeli authorities has fluctuated over the last three years between roughly 10,000 and 15,000 Palestinians, At the beginning of 1994, the figure was closer to the lower figure, which would give a per capita rate of roughly 550 per 100,000 inhabitants. This rate surpasses those of the two countries with the highest per capita rates, among the countries for which data is available: the United States, with slightly over 500 per 100,000, and South Africa, with 393 per 100,000. [Human Rights Watch, Prison Conditions in South Africa (New York: Human Rights Watch, February 1994). p. ix.] In contrast to the prisoner population in these two countries, most incarcerated Palestinians are held for security-related offenses or accusations, rather than for common criminal offenses.

3 Letter to HRW from Lieutenant Colonel Moshe Fogel, head, Information Branch, IOF Spokesman's Unit, February 24, 1994. The letter stated that in 1993,15,676 Palestinians were tried in military courts, of whom 320 were acquitted.

4 IDF spokeswoman Captain Avital Margalit, in a July 10, 1993 telephone interview.

5 B'Tselem, The Interrogation of Palestinians during the Intifada: Follow up to March 1991 B'Tselcm Report (Jerusalem: B'Tselem, March 1992), p. 10. These methods included severe beatings on all parts of the body with fists, sticks and other instruments; verbal insults and abuse; threats to harm the detainee or his family members; sleep and food deprivation; hooding; painful confinement for long periods in deliberately painful positions; the use of collaborators to extract information either by violence or threats of violence; forced physical exercise; and cold showers and enforced sitting on a wet floor for prolonged periods. (p.7)

6 The lDF responded to a February 13, 1994 request from HRW for data on IDF interrogations by advising us to contact the Ministry of Justice. Our query to that ministry, submitted on March 20, 1994, has not been answered.

7 For the sake of brevity, we use "position abuse" or "abusive body positioning" to denote the forcing of detainees to maintain painful and usually unnatural body positions for prolonged periods. It may involve requiring them to stand erect without moving for hours on end, or shackling them to tiny chairs and/or to pipes or rings embedded in walls at awkward heights; or confining them in spaces so cramped they can barely move their limbs. These positions grow increasingly painful with time.

8 We wish to emphasize that the position of the State of Israel has been and remains, that the IGSS] authorization procedure does not conflict with the 1984 Convention against Torture or with other prohibitions in international law." (Response by Shai Nitzan, Senior Deputy to the State Attorney, dated November 16, 1993, to B'Tselem, The New Procedures ill GSS Interrogation.

9 PLO chief Yasser Arafat condemned the killing as a renegade action carried out "without the knowledge of the leadership." (Clyde Haberman, "Arafat Condemns Settler's Slaying," Tile New York Times, November 14, 1993).

10 Israel Radio in Hebrew, November 12, 1993, as reported in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, November 15, 1993.