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Israel, West Bank and Gaza

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits torture, the application of physical or psychological pain, and assault or pressure by a public official. Israeli law exempts from prosecution ISA interrogators who use what are termed “exceptional methods” in cases that are determined by the ISA to involve an imminent threat, but the government determined in 2018 that the rules, procedures, and methods of interrogation were confidential for security reasons.

Authorities continued to state the ISA held detainees in isolation only in extreme cases and when there was no alternative option, and that the ISA did not use isolation as a means of augmenting interrogation, forcing a confession, or punishment. An independent Office of the Inspector for Complaints against ISA Interrogators in the Ministry of Justice handled complaints of misconduct and abuse in interrogations. The decision to open an investigation against an ISA employee is at the discretion of the attorney general.

In criminal cases investigated by police involving crimes with a maximum imprisonment for conviction of 10 years or more, regulations require recording the interrogations; however, an extended temporary law exempts the ISA from the audio and video recording requirement for interrogations of suspects related to “security offenses.” In non-security-related cases, ISA interrogation rooms are equipped with closed-circuit cameras, and only supervisors appointed by the Ministry of Justice have access to real-time audiovisual feeds. Supervisors are required to report to the comptroller any irregularities they observe during interrogations. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) criticized this mechanism as insufficient to prevent and identify abuses, arguing that the absence of a recording of an interrogation impedes later accountability and judicial review.

According to PCATI, the government acknowledged that it used “exceptional measures” during interrogation in some cases, but the Ministry of Justice refused to provide information regarding the number of such “necessity interrogations.” These measures, according to PCATI, included beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, threats of rape and physical harm, painful pressure from shackles or restraints applied to the forearms, sleep deprivation, and threats against families of detainees.

PCATI also argued that torture is not enumerated as a specific offense under the criminal code in Israel, despite the government’s statements to the relevant UN treaty bodies it would introduce such a law. According to PCATI, there was an uptick in the use of “special measures” on security detainees in 2019, with at least 15 persons subjected to what it considered physical torture during interrogations between August and November 2019. PCATI stated the government’s system for investigating allegations of mistreatment of detainees shows persistent and systematic shortcomings. According to PCATI, the average time it takes authorities to address complaints is more than 44 months. The Ministry of Justice stated that its internal reviews led to the opening of two investigations since 2018. PCATI claims that approximately 1,300 complaints of ISA torture were submitted to the Ministry of Justice since 2001, resulting in one criminal investigation and no indictments.

Israeli security forces arrested Samer al-Arbid, a Palestinian suspect in the August 2019 killing of Rina Shnerb, who was killed near the settlement of Dolev in the West Bank. Security forces placed al-Arbid in solitary confinement, and transferred him to an interrogation center in Jerusalem. Two days later he was admitted to a hospital unconscious and with serious injuries, including the inability to breathe, kidney failure, and broken ribs. According to PCATI, the ISA used “exceptional measures” in interrogating al-Arbid, who was subsequently released from the hospital into an Israeli Prison Service (IPS) medical facility, where his interrogation continued. The Ministry of Justice’s Inspector of Interrogee Complaints opened an investigation into the incident. The investigation was underway at year’s end.

The government stated that requests from prisoners for independent medical examination at the prisoner’s expense are reviewed by an IPS medical team. According to PCATI and Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), IPS medics and doctors ignored bruises and injuries resulting from violent arrests and interrogations. In its 2016 review of the country’s compliance with the UN Convention against Torture, the UN Committee against Torture recommended (among 50 other recommendations) that the government provide for independent medical examinations for all detainees.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The law provides prisoners and detainees the right to conditions that do not harm their health or dignity.

Physical Conditions: Local human rights organizations reported Palestinian security prisoners (those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence) often faced more restrictive conditions than prisoners characterized as criminals. Restrictive conditions included increased incidence of administrative detention, restricted family visits, ineligibility for temporary furloughs, and solitary confinement.

A 2019 report by the Public Defender’s Office on 42 prisons and detention centers warned that despite efforts by the IPS to improve prison conditions and correct deficiencies noted in previous reports, grave violations of the rights of detainees continued to occur. The report described thousands of prisoners held in unsuitable living conditions in outdated facilities, some of which were unfit for human habitation. According to the report, many of the prisoners, especially minors, were punished by solitary confinement and disproportionate use of shackling. The Public Defender’s Office found this particularly concerning in cases where prisoners suffered from mental disabilities.

As of December the government had not applied a 2015 law authorizing force-feeding of under specific conditions of prisoners on hunger strikes. The Israel Medical Association declared the law unethical and urged doctors to refuse to implement it. Regulations stipulate that medical treatment must be provided in reasonable quality and time, based on medical considerations, and within the resources and funding available for the IPS. Regulations also allow the IPS to deny medical treatment if there are budgetary concerns, according to the PHRI.

A report published by the PHRI in 2019 pointed to significant failures in the IPS medical system. The report assessed that the separate health care system for prisoners was unable to provide services equivalent to those provided to the general population through enrollment in government-sponsored health maintenance organizations (HMOs). According to the PHRI’s findings, the services do not meet the accepted HMO standards, and in half of the incidents examined, there was a risk posed to the health of the inmates due to substandard treatment or denial of treatment. PHRI recommendations included applying national HMO standards to medical care provided in IPS facilities, establishing a professional and efficient supervision mechanism to govern medical services provided by IPS, and increasing the opportunities for outside medical practitioners to provide care in prisons.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment, except as noted above. On August 25, the Knesset passed a law permitting virtual hearings with prisoners and detainees during the COVID-19 crisis. While authorities usually allowed visits from lawyers and stated that every inmate who requested to meet with an attorney was able to do so, this was not always the case. NGOs monitoring prison conditions reported that adult and juvenile Palestinian detainees were denied access to a lawyer during their initial arrest. The government granted visitation permits to family members of prisoners from the West Bank on a limited basis and restricted those entering from Gaza more severely.

Independent Monitoring: Despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in Israel, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) maintained its visits to detention facilities (including interrogation centers) with adapted visiting modalities to monitor conditions of detention, treatment, and access to family contacts. The ICRC also monitored humanitarian consequences of COVID-19 and related measures on Palestinian detainees and their families, and continued engaging concerned authorities in this regard. The ICRC’s family visit program–through which families of Palestinian detainees may visit their relatives in Israeli custody–remained suspended for families from Gaza due to COVID-19 movement restrictions.

Improvements: In 2018 the Knesset passed a temporary law for three years granting early release of prisoners (excluding security prisoners) in order to facilitate implementation of a Supreme Court verdict requiring prisons to allocate a living space of 48 square feet to each prisoner. According to the NGO Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), each prisoner is allocated 33 square feet, and approximately 40 percent of prisoners were imprisoned in cells that amounted to less than 32 square feet per person. The court ruled that the implementation of the verdict on the ISA detention center must be implemented no later than May 2021. The government notified the court that as of May no more than 40 percent of all prisoners were imprisoned in cells smaller than the minimal space determined to be adequate by the court.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. Authorities applied the same laws to all residents of Jerusalem, regardless of their citizenship status. NGOs and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem alleged that security forces disproportionally devoted enforcement actions to Palestinian neighborhoods, particularly Issawiya, with temporary checkpoints and raids at higher levels than in West Jerusalem. Palestinians also criticized police for devoting fewer resources on a per capita basis to regular crime and community policing in Palestinian neighborhoods. Police did not maintain a permanent presence in areas of Jerusalem outside the barrier and only entered to conduct raids, according to NGOs. Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza detained on security grounds fell under military jurisdiction, even if detained inside Israel (see West Bank and Gaza section).

The law allows the government to detain irregular migrants and asylum seekers who arrived after 2014 from countries to which government policy prohibits deportation, mainly Eritrea and Sudan, for three months “for the purpose of identification and to explore options for relocation of the individual.” The law also states authorities must provide for irregular migrants taken into detention to have a hearing within five days. After three months in detention, authorities must release the migrant on bail, except when the migrant poses a risk to the state or the public, or when there is difficulty in identity verification.

The government may detain without trial and for an indefinite period irregular migrants who were “implicated in criminal proceedings.” According to the NGO Hotline for Refugees and Migrants (HRM), this policy enabled indefinite detention either without a trial or following the completion of time served. According to HRM, during the year the government released 20 irregular migrants, detained under the criminal procedure, due to COVID-19 regulations seeking to reduce overcrowding in prisons. In 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that the legality of this policy required additional review, but it had not issued any guidance by year’s end.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The government described security prisoners as those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence. Some human rights organizations claimed that Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel should be considered political prisoners.

West Bank and Gaza

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The PA basic law prohibits torture or use of force against detainees; however, international and local human rights groups reported that torture and abuse remained a problem. The PA’s quasi-governmental Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) reported receiving 60 complaints of torture or mistreatment against the PA and 53 complaints of torture against Hamas during the year. Some human rights groups reported that during the year Palestinian police took a more direct role in the mistreatment and torture of Palestinians.

According to a 2019 update to a 2018 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, torture regularly occurred in detention centers in both Gaza and the West Bank by Hamas and PA security services, respectively. HRW reported systematic and routine abuse in PA prisons, particularly in the PA’s Intelligence, Preventive Security, and Joint Security Committee detention facilities in Jericho. HRW reported practices including forcing detainees to hold painful stress positions for long periods, beating, punching, and flogging. Victims also reported being cut, forced to stand on broken glass, and sexually assaulted while in custody. A Palestinian accused of collaborating with Israel due to his political beliefs alleged to foreign diplomatic officials that he was tortured in a prison in Jericho. In the 18-month period ending in April 2019, 242 West Bank Palestinians complained of torture and mistreatment by Palestinian security forces, according to HRW.

Palestinian detainees held by Palestinian Authority security forces (PASF) registered complaints of abuse and torture with the ICHR. The PA Corrections and Rehabilitation Centers Department, under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, continued to maintain a mechanism for reviewing complaints of prisoner abuse in civil prisons. In 2019 HRW stated, “there have been no serious efforts to hold wrongdoers to account or any apparent change in policy or practice” by the PA or Hamas. As of 2019 the courts in Gaza had not convicted any prison employees for mistreatment of prisoners, and courts in the West Bank had convicted only one employee of mistreatment of prisoners and sentenced him to 10 days in prison, according to HRW.

In February the ICHR called for an investigation into the February 23 death in Gaza of Issam Ahmed al-Sa’afeen at al-Shifa Hospital after he was transferred from Hamas’s Internal Security Agency. According to family members, Hamas detained al-Sa’afeen on charges of communicating with the PA in Ramallah. The ICHR stated al-Sa’afeen’s family filed a complaint with the ICHR and that Hamas refused to allow the ICHR’s representative to visit the inmate. The ICHR stated there were indications al-Sa’afeen may have been tortured.

ISF arrested Samer al-Arbid, a Palestinian suspect in the August 2019 killing of Rina Shnerb near the settlement of Dolev in the West Bank, and placed him in solitary confinement and transferred him to an interrogation center in Jerusalem. Two days later he was admitted to a hospital unconscious and with serious injuries, including inability to breathe, kidney failure, and broken ribs. According to the NGO Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI), the ISA used “exceptional measures” in interrogating al-Arbid, who was subsequently released from the hospital into an Israel Prison Service (IPS) medical facility, where his interrogation continued. The Ministry of Justice’s Inspector of Interrogee Complaints opened an investigation into the incident. After an investigation, the Advocate General closed the case claiming there was no basis to prove a crime was committed, according to the Israeli government.

PCATI reported that “special interrogation methods” used by Israeli security personnel against Palestinian security detainees in the West Bank included beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, threats of rape and physical harm, painful pressure from shackles or restraints applied to the forearms, sleep deprivation, and threats against families of detainees. Female prisoners and detainees reported harassment and abuse in detention by ISF. According to PCATI there was no investigation into these complaints.

The NGO HaMoked alleged that Israeli detention practices in the West Bank included prolonged solitary confinement, lack of food, exposure to the elements, and threats to demolish family homes. Military Court Watch (MCW) and HaMoked claimed Israeli security services used these techniques to coerce confessions from minors arrested on suspicion of stone throwing or other acts of violence. According to the government of Israel, detainees receive the rights to which they are entitled in accordance with Israeli law and international treaties to which Israel is a party, and all allegations of abuse and mistreatment are taken seriously and investigated.

Some human rights groups alleged ISF used excessive force while detaining and arresting some Palestinians accused of committing crimes. On August 5, a Border Police officer shot Palestinian shepherd Abd al-Rahman Jabarah in the head at close range near the village of Salim outside the city of Nablus without prior warning after mistaking him for his brother who was suspected of stealing vehicles, according to media reports. Jabarah was in a coma for several weeks after the incident and is blind as a result of the shooting. The Department for Investigation of Police Officers was investigating the incident, according to the Israeli government.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in PA prisons and detention centers in the West Bank were reportedly poor, largely due to overcrowding and structural problems. Conditions of Hamas prisons in Gaza were reportedly poor, with overcrowding cited as a major problem. NGOs reported all prisons in the West Bank and Gaza lacked adequate facilities and specialized medical care for detainees and prisoners with disabilities.

Physical Conditions: PA prisons were crowded and lacked ventilation, heating, cooling, and lighting systems conforming to international standards. Authorities at times held male juveniles with adult male prisoners. Security services used separate detention facilities. Conditions for women were similar to those for men. The PA used several refurbished structures and buildings as prisons, some of which lacked necessary security accommodations.

Ayman al-Qadi died September 23 after an apparent suicide in a PA police station in Bethlehem while in pretrial detention for issuing bad checks. According to media reports, his family had requested he be released due to mental disabilities, but a state-ordered psychiatric exam had determined al-Qadi was not a risk to himself or others.

The ICHR called for an investigation into the August 31 death of Hassan Barakat at the al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza after his arrest in July. Barakat was transferred from a Hamas detention facility after suffering a stroke and brain hemorrhage, which required immediate surgery, prison authorities told his family.

In June the ICHR called on Hamas to take measures to prevent suicides in detention facilities after 19-year-old Moaz Ahmed Shukri Abu Amra committed suicide by hanging on May 29. The ICHR cited a lack of accountability after previous suicides as one of the main causes of their reoccurrence.

Administration: According to HRW, procedures designed to hold employees and administrators accountable in both PA and Hamas detention facilities rarely, if ever, led to consequences for serious abuses.

Independent Monitoring: In the West Bank, the PA permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to detainees to assess treatment and conditions. The ICRC continued its regular visits to detention facilities, including interrogation centers, in accordance with its standard modalities, as in previous years. Human rights groups, humanitarian organizations, and lawyers indicated that, as in previous years, there were some difficulties in gaining access to specific detainees held by the PA, depending on which PA security organization managed the facility.

In Gaza, Hamas granted the ICRC access to detainees to assess treatment and conditions. The ICRC continued its regular visits to detention facilities, including interrogation centers, in accordance with its standard practices, as in previous years. Human rights organizations conducted monitoring visits with some prisoners in Gaza, but Hamas denied permission for representatives of these organizations to visit high-profile detainees and prisoners.

The Israeli government permitted visits by independent human rights observers to detention facilities it operated in the West Bank. NGOs sent representatives to meet with Palestinian prisoners–including those on hunger strikes–and inspect conditions in Israeli prisons, detention centers, and some ISF facilities. Palestinian families and human rights groups reported delays and difficulties in gaining access to specific detainees from Israeli authorities. They also reported transfers of detainees without notice and claimed Israeli authorities at times used transfer practices punitively against prisoners engaging in hunger strikes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, human rights groups reported that lawyers were at times barred from seeing their clients in Israeli military prisons due to coronavirus prevention measures.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

For further information on the treatment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons as well as prison conditions in Israel, see the Israel Country Report on Human Rights Practices.

The Palestinian Basic Law, operable in the West Bank and Gaza, prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. There were reports the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza did not observe these requirements.

Israeli law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. Israeli authorities applied the same laws to all residents of Jerusalem, regardless of their Israeli citizenship status. NGOs and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem alleged that Israeli security forces disproportionally devoted enforcement actions to Palestinian neighborhoods, particularly Issawiya, with higher numbers of temporary checkpoints and raids than in West Jerusalem. Palestinians also criticized Israeli police for devoting fewer resources on a per capita basis to regular crime and community policing in Palestinian neighborhoods. Israeli police did not maintain a permanent presence in areas of Jerusalem outside the barrier and only entered to conduct raids, according to NGOs.

Israel prosecutes Palestinian residents of the West Bank under military law and Israeli settlers in the West Bank under criminal and civil law. Israeli military law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in military court, with broad exceptions for security-related offenses. There were reports the IDF did not observe these requirements and employed administrative detention excessively.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

NGOs reported the PASF arrested Palestinians for political reasons in the West Bank. There was no reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners the PA held in the West Bank. In 2019 there were reports Palestinian security forces arrested, intimidated, and tortured Palestinians following their participation in an international conference in Bahrain. Other sources reported that the PA was targeting the individuals for criminal behavior. Some of these individuals, labeled “collaborators” for working with or engaging with Israelis on political initiatives the PA did not support, reported direct and indirect threats of violence from Fatah, members of Fatah’s Tanzim, Hamas, and other groups, some with possible ties to the PA. They reported damage to personal property and businesses. There were reports that the families of those targeted were pressured to disown them, which would decrease risks for attackers to injure or kill them, and that they and their family members were denied medical treatment in PA health facilities, which allegedly contributed to greater health complications including death.

In Gaza Hamas detained thousands of Palestinians due to political affiliation, public criticism of Hamas, or suspected collaboration with Israel, and held them for varying periods, according to rights groups. Hamas alleged that it arrested Fatah members on criminal, rather than political charges, although many of the arrests occurred after Fatah anniversary celebrations in Gaza that Hamas would not sanction. Hamas detained some Fatah members after their participation in protests or social media activity pertaining to the 14th anniversary of the Fatah-Hamas split, according to the PCHR. Observers associated numerous allegations of denial of due process with these detentions. NGOs had limited access to these prisoners.

Some human rights organizations claimed Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel were political prisoners. The Israeli government described security prisoners as those convicted or suspected of “nationalistically motivated violence.”

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