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5.3.2019

Abuse of minors during ISA interrogations at the Petah Tikva interrogation facility – complaints to the ISA Complaints Inspector

For three years now HaMoked has been monitoring the routine of violations in the detention and interrogation of Palestinian minors from the West Bank, arrested in their hundreds by the Israeli security forces each year. In April 2018 HaMoked published a report titled “Childhood in Chains: The Detention and Interrogation of Palestinian Teenagers in the West Bank”, based on 29 affidavits collected from minors arrested in 2017. The report detailed the systematic violation of rights depicted in these affidavits, from the violent and traumatic arrest, through the harsh detention conditions to the severe violation of interrogee rights. HaMoked is now taking affidavits from minors arrested in 2018. These recent affidavits mirror the findings of the report and suggest that no real change has been made.

An integral part of the fight against unacceptable practices in detention and interrogation of minors, as well as adults, is the filing of complaints to the competent authorities in the hope of obtaining accountability. Understandably, though, minors who were arrested and interrogated – whether they have been released or are still in custody – often prefer not to file complaints and initiate contact with the authorities, whether because of the trauma they suffered, fear of retribution directed at them or their family members, or because they lack faith in the accountability mechanisms – or a mixture of these reasons.

When it comes to allegations of abuse in interrogations by the Israel Security Agency (the ISA, also known as the shin bet), complaints are submitted to the Inspector for Complaints Against the ISA (hereinafter: ISA Complaints Inspector), operating within the Ministry of Justice since 2013 – after it had operated for many years from within the ISA itself, absurdly enough. The ISA Complaints Inspector is charged with “examining exceptional incidents or complaints of misconduct” by members of the ISA in the course of their interrogations, and the provision of recommendations to a supervising senior attorney at the Ministry of Justice “with respect to the appropriate means that should be taken as a consequence of these examinations”. Only the supervisor may decide whether a criminal investigation is to be opened or other steps taken, including “systemic steps (such as clarifying regulations, alterations etc.)”.

However, the available data shows that although the ISA Complaints Inspector has received hundreds of complaints over the years – filed, among others, via HaMoked and on a very large scale also by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel – only once was a criminal investigation opened against an ISA employee, regarding an interrogation he participated in in 2015. This raises substantial concern that the culture of impunity that prevailed in the years the ISA Complaints Inspector worked from within the ISA still prevails, and that the institutional change has not led to the hoped for outcome of genuine accountability.

Despite this grim reality, once in a while we encounter a minor who does want to file a complaint about his ordeal during detention and interrogation. Thus, of the West Bank teenagers who provided their testimonies to HaMoked in recent years, two who had undergone interrogation at the ISA interrogation facility at Petah Tikva sought to complain to the ISA Complaints Inspector via HaMoked. In their affidavits, the youths related events that recur in many other testimonies collected thus far. Therefore, HaMoked demanded that the ISA Complaints Inspector handle their complaints as representative complaints, in the hope that the illicit practices would be tackled across the board and an overhaul made of the conduct of ISA officials in the interrogation of minors.

The complaint of MWK, 17 years old at the time of arrest (HaMoked case 102705):
MWK was arrested in the early morning hours of March 1, 2017 from his home in Hizma. He was brought to the ISA interrogation facility at Petah Tikva that same day.
  • For 12 long days MWK was held at the facility in a dirty, smelly solitary-confinement cell, in complete isolation – without any contact with his parents, a lawyer, or anyone else from the outside world, and not even with other inmates – except for ISA interrogators and the personnel at the facility. His isolation was even more extreme during the weekend, when there were no interrogations.
“It is very hard to be isolated, in a small solitary-confinement cell, when you don’t know if it’s day or night. There’s no one to talk to. These were the difficult days of my life. You can’t sleep there. You don’t get to calm down.”

  • He was not given the opportunity to talk with his family.
  • He was denied the right to counsel. Only on his sixth day in custody, did he encounter a lawyer during the remand hearing. But the lawyer only asked for his details without giving him any advice.
  • The first interrogation began immediately on his arrival at the facility, without his being allowed to eat, drink or relieve himself.
  • At the beginning of the interrogation, one of the interrogators gave him misleading information about the right not to cooperate in the interrogation, and told him that if he did not talk, it would mean that he agreed with the interrogator.
  • He was interrogated daily (except for Fridays and Saturdays) and had to confront a changing number of interrogators.
  • During interrogations his hands were cuffed behind his back, which caused him increasing discomfort and pain as the interrogation progressed.
  • The interrogators cursed him using obscene language. One used to spit on him.
“The interrogators… cursed and talked to me in obscene language. One of them shouted in my face when he interrogated me and when he shouted he kept spitting in my face. It was disgusting.”

  • In one of the interrogations, one of the interrogators grabbed the youth by his shirt collar, pulled the youth’s head close to his own, and in a threatening manner offered the youth to work as a “cleaner“ for ISA.
“One of them grabbed me in a chokehold, and said ‘How about starting to work for us. We’ll let you clean and tidy up’. It was scary. I don’t understand what he meant.”

  • To the best of his knowledge, the interrogation was only documented in notes made by the interrogator.
  • The youth was not given the opportunity to shower and change his clothes for four days.
  • The food he received at the facility was almost inedible.

On March 4, 2018, HaMoked filed a complaint to the ISA Complaints Inspector on behalf of MWK. HaMoked described the intensive and protracted interrogation which had left the teenager helpless, exhausted and broken spirited, making him compliant and defenseless.

In a preliminary response, dated March 5, 2018, the then-ISA Complaint Inspector addressed HaMoked’s request to regard the complaint as representative, stating that “insofar as following an examination of a concrete matter or from the accumulation of several concrete complaints, the existence of a phenomenon which requires our attention becomes evident – the matter is examined and handled”.

On May 3, 2018, HaMoked was notified that an investigator from the ISA Complaints Inspector Unit had met MK and taken his statement.

Thus far – more than a year since the complaint was filed – no substantive response has arrived regarding the examination findings.

The complaint of MKH, 17 years old at the time of arrest (HaMoked case number 105600):
MKH, from Balata refugee camp, Nablus District, was arrested on August 29, 2018. His first interrogation took place about a week into his arrest, at the Shomron military court compound (Salem), and the interrogator was probably a police officer. After another week he was transferred to the ISA interrogation facility at Petah Tikva, and interrogated there twice.

MKH was kept at the facility for two days in solitary confinement, in a dirty, smelly and tiny “mattress-sized” cell. During his time there he had no contact with anyone except for the ISA interrogators and the personnel at the facility.
  • He was not given the opportunity to talk with his family.
  • He was denied the right to counsel and his rights were not explained to him.
  • The first interrogation began immediately upon his being brought to the facility, without giving him an opportunity to eat, drink or relieve himself.
  • During interrogation, MKH had to face a number of interrogators at the same time, ranging from one up to three.
  • During his interrogations, each lasting several hours, his hands were cuffed behind his back, which caused him increasing discomfort and pain. In his first interrogation, his legs were cuffed as well.
  • He was roused abruptly from his sleep in the solitary-confinement cell when taken to his second interrogation session – which caused him disorientation as to his whereabouts and the time.
  • The interrogators shouted at him and cursed him using obscene language.
  • The interrogators made harsh threats against him.
“The interrogator shouted and talked about things unconnected to me. He tried to pin awful things on me. He threatened to arrest my mother, said I was going to cause her death. He threatened to demolish the family home and leave them on the street without a roof over their heads.”

  • The food he received was almost inedible.
  • To the best of his knowledge, the interrogation was not documented in any way.

On January 2, 2019, HaMoked filed a complaint to the ISA Complaint Inspector on MKH’s behalf. HaMoked clarified, among other things, that holding a minor in such conditions and the use of illicit interrogation measures were highly unsettling and therefore the results of any interrogation conducted thus would be extremely suspect. HaMoked added that the overall interrogation process, and especially the use of verbal abuse and threats, amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment of the minor.

No substantive response has arrived to date.

HaMoked will continue monitoring the Complaints Inspector’s progress in these cases.
mail@hamoked.org.il (02) 627 1698   (02) 627 6317

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