Israel, Golan Heights, 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
There is no law explicitly banning torture; however, the law prohibits assault and pressure by a public official. In 1999 the Supreme Court ruled that although torture and the application of physical or psychological pain were illegal, Israeli Security Agency (ISA) interrogators may be exempt from criminal prosecution if they used “exceptional methods” in extraordinary cases determined to involve an imminent threat, such as the “ticking bomb” scenario, as long as such methods did not amount to torture. On June 19, the Lod District Court ruled that two defendants’ statements were inadmissible evidence because they followed application of interrogation measures “that severely impair the physical and mental well-being of the defendants, as well as their dignity.” The case concerned two Jewish defendants indicted for the 2015 firebombing of a Palestinian home in Duma, the West Bank, which led to the deaths of three family members. The court acknowledged that those measures included physical pain but did not rule whether they amounted to torture. On November 26, the Supreme Court rejected a complaint alleging that ISA interrogators tortured West Bank resident Fares Tbeish in 2012, including punches, slaps, stress positions, threats, humiliation, and sleep deprivation. According to the verdict, the ISA was justified in extracting information from him with “exceptional methods,” even in a situation that did not qualify as a “ticking bomb” scenario. Whereas prior rulings had not expressly permitted violence in interrogations, the NGO Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) stated the text of this ruling may imply that torture is permitted in highly extraordinary cases. The government stated that ISA rules, procedures, and methods of interrogation are confidential for security reasons, but they are subject to governmental supervision from within and outside of the ISA.
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 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 of 10 years or more, regulations require recording interrogations; however, an extended temporary law exempts the General Security Services from audio and video recording of interrogations of suspects related to “security offenses.”
The 2015 Ciechanover report, which suggested practical steps for implementing recommendations of the second report by the Turkel Commission concerning the legal framework surrounding the interception and capture by the Israeli Navy of ships carrying humanitarian aid bound for Gaza, recommended installing audiovisual documentation systems in ISA interrogation rooms. The government installed closed-circuit cameras and stated that cameras broadcast in real time from all ISA interrogation rooms to a control room, accessible to supervisors appointed by the Ministry of Justice, as of the beginning of 2018. Supervisors are required to report to the comptroller any irregularities they observe during interrogations. PCATI criticized this mechanism as insufficient to prevent and identify torture, since there is no recording of interrogations for later accountability and judicial review.
According to PCATI, the government had acknowledged that it used “exceptional measures” during interrogation in some cases. These methods included beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, threats of rape and physical harm, and painful pressure from shackles or restraints applied to the forearms, sleep deprivation, and threats against families of detainees. As of May 21, one complaint led to a criminal investigation, but as of the end of the year, authorities had never indicted an ISA interrogator. Nonetheless, some preliminary examinations led to disciplinary measures, changes in procedures, and changes in methods of interrogation. PCATI reported that the average amount of time for the ISA Interrogee Complaint Comptroller to render a decision on a case was more than 34 months, and the vast majority of complaints submitted in 2014 were unanswered as of November. The comptroller initiated 30 preliminary inquiries into allegations regarding ISA interrogations during the year, according to the government.
In its May 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. The government stated that requests from prisoners for independent examination at the prisoner’s expense are reviewed by an Israel Prison Service (IPS) medical team. During the year 121 private doctors entered IPS facilities to provide both general medical care to the prisoners and individual care requested by prisoners. According to PCATI and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, Israeli medics and doctors ignored bruises and injuries resulting from violent arrests and interrogations. Regulations allow the IPS to deny medical treatment if there are budgetary concerns, according to Physicians for Human Rights Israel.
PCATI stated the government’s system for investigating allegations of mistreatment of detainees was complex and fragmented. For example allegations against police and the ISA are investigated by two separate departments of the Police Investigation Department in the State Attorney’s Office of the Ministry of Justice, each with different procedures. The National Prison Wardens Investigation Unit is responsible for investigating allegations against members of the IPS. PCATI reported this fragmentation created a disorganized system characterized by widely varying response times and professional standards.
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: The IPS held 19,376 prisoners, including 12,475 Israeli citizens, 5,725 Palestinians from the West Bank, 836 Palestinians from East Jerusalem, and 340 Palestinians from Gaza, as of the end of the year. Of these prisoners, the IPS characterized 5,539 as “security prisoners” (those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence), as of the end of the year. The vast majority (85 percent) of the security prisoners were Palestinian residents of the West Bank; 6 percent were Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, 4 percent were Israeli citizens, and 4 percent were Palestinian residents of Gaza. These prisoners often faced more restrictive conditions than those for prisoners characterized as criminals, including increased incidence of administrative detention, restricted family visits, ineligibility for temporary furloughs, and solitary confinement.
A June 2017 report on 62 prisons by the Public Defender’s Office described physical neglect and harsh living conditions. The report also cited a shortage of treatment and rehabilitation groups for non-Hebrew-speaking prisoners, lack of social workers in some prisons, excessive shaking of detainees during transportation, and extended stays in court detention facilities beyond the duration of legal proceedings.
Among Israeli citizens, the percentage of minors of Ethiopian or Arab origin in prison was significantly higher than their proportion of the population. As of the end of the year, there were 11 Ethiopian-Israeli minors and 44 Arab citizen minors in prison. In addition, 181 imprisoned minors were Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza and 48 were Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.
In June 2017 following a petition by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and the Academic Center for Law and Business in Ramat Gan, the Supreme Court ruled that within 18 months, prisons must allocate a living space of 48 square feet to each prisoner, including toilet and shower, or 43 square feet, not including toilet and shower. According to ACRI, each prisoner is currently allocated 33 square feet, including toilet and shower, and approximately 40 percent of the prisoners were imprisoned in an area that amounted to less than 32 square feet per person. On November 1, the Supreme Court extended the deadline for implementing the verdict to May 2020 but stipulated that living space should be no less than 32 square feet by April 2019. On November 5, the Knesset passed a temporary law for three years to enable earlier release of prisoners excluding security prisoners–in order to facilitate implementation of the Supreme Court verdict on prisoners’ living space.
As of October the government had not applied a 2015 law authorizing force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners under specific conditions. The Israel Medical Association declared the law unethical and urged doctors to refuse to implement it.
Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment, except as noted above. 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 alleged authorities did not allow Palestinian detainees, including minors, access to a lawyer during their initial arrest. The government granted permits to family members from the West Bank on a limited basis and restricted those entering from Gaza more severely.
In a report in July, the Public Defender’s Office stated that defendants with mental disabilities were often sent to prison when the justice system lacked suitable accommodations and supportive therapeutic treatment.
Independent Monitoring: The International Committee of the Red Cross maintained its regular visits to all detention facilities holding Palestinian detainees in Israel, including interrogation centers, in accordance with its standard modalities, as in previous years. The Public Defender’s Office is mandated to report on prison conditions, which it does every two years.
Improvements: In December 2017 the IPS published new regulations allowing HIV-positive prisoners to reside with the general prison population and to participate in activities as permitted other prisoners, subject to their medical condition.