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The Israeli High Court Of Justice Permits Torture Against Palestinian Detainees


Published @ 11.00 GMT 14/1/96



The Israeli High Court of Justice has taken the decision to permit the use of physical violence during the interrogation of Palestinian detainees. This is an outrageous decision which sets a dangerous precedent at the highest judicial level in Israel and constitutes a blatant violation of the absolute prohibition on torture contained in international instruments, which Israel is a Party to, and non-derogable international norms and principles.

The lawyers of Abdel el-Halim Bilblsi made an appeal to the Israeli High Court for an injunction against the use of any physical force against him during his detention. The Court’s decision to refuse the injunction has the effect of permitting the use of torture against Palestinian detainees. Bilbisi is 27 and comes from Jabalia Camp in the Gaza Strip. He has been detained by Israeli security authorities since December 6th 1995, on suspicion of being behind the preparation of explosives used in a suicide bombing operation carried out by Palestinians in Bet Leid in Israel on 22nd June 1995.

A special committee called the Landau Committee was set up in Israel in 1987 to determine the issue of torture practices. It was presided over by the former Head of the High Court of Justice in Israel, Justice Moshe Landau. The Committee’s Recommendations provided that the Israeli General Security Services could use moderate physical and psychological pressure during the interrogation of Palestinian detainees.

Israel has ratified the United Nations International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights and is one of the Contracting Parties to the International Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 1991. These prohibit absolutely the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments in any and all circumstances. Israel has entered a number of important reservations, but these do not dissolve the absolute and non-derogable obligations Israel has not to carry out or allow torture.

A.2(1) of the Convention against Torture states that each State Party must take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction. The Landau Recommendations clearly violate the terms of this Convention.

The Court’s decision ends a chapter of dispute which has taken place in Israel during the last few years around the legitimacy of practising torture and physical pressure against Palestinian prisoners by the Israeli General Security Services (the Shabak) . Such practices have lead to the death of many Palestinians in interrogation rooms.

Even though the Landau Committee’s recommendations permitting torture were received with international and local shock and condemnation, former Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin considered that these recommendations restricted Israeli’s capacity to fight terrorism.

The Landau Committee Recommendations were never published. However the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and other human rights organisations have collated comprehensive documentation which constitutes evidence of consistent patterns of torture and ill-treatment.

The GSS has systematically used torture methods against thousands of Palestinian detainees. The method of violent shaking was adopted in the 1980s and is now a technique of widespread usage. According to this method the hands of the detainee are tied behind the back of a chair, and his/her feet to the chair-legs. This position weakens the support of the detainee’s back, and thus his ability to resist violent shaking. The detainee is shaken violently, for example by holding the shoulders or head, for several minutes at a time, and often for intervals over a long period.

The latest victim to die from this method was Abd al-Samad Harizat, a resident of Hebron. Tragically his case provides a clear example of GSS practices against Palestinian detainees. Harizat was sent to hospital unconscious 24 hours after his arrest by the GSS on 22nd April 1995. Three days later, on 25th April, he was announced dead by the hospital. The medical report concluded that despite being in general good health there was haemorrhaging within the skull overlying the brain. A haemorrhage of this type resulted from sudden jarring movements of the head.

Usually Israeli authorities justify use of physical and mental torture on the basis that these help prevent terrorist bombing operations. However the prohibition on torture in the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and accepted international norms and principles is absolute. Article

2 (2) of the Convention Against torture provides that “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war or internal political instability, or any other public emergency may be invoked as a justification for torture”.

The decision of the High Court gives GSS officers a license to use torture techniques against Palestinian detainees which are known to cause death.

The peace process promised to be the harbinger of new and renewed freedoms for the Palestinian people, which for many years they have been denied. The new climate of peace in the region requires nurturing and the taking of measures which will build trust between the Parties to the peace process. Israeli policy in relation to Palestinian prisoners is a direct violation of, its commitments in the peace agreements and severely undermines the development of a stable climate for the peace process.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemns the Court’s decision and calls for the following:


      i. The Israeli High Court must rescind its decision to legalise these practices, in particular violent shaking against Palestinian detainees.

      ii. The Contracting parties to the International Convention against Torture and all other international bodies and human rights organisations must intervene to compel Israel to comply with its obligations under the Convention and in international law.

      iii. Israel must legislate to prohibit torture within its territory.

      iv. Human rights organisations both locally and internationally to closely monitor the case of Abdel el-Ealim Bilbisi and to lobby for the assurance of his physical and mental safety.

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