Israel dismisses 1,000 complaints of torture

Israel has failed to launch a single criminal investigation for torture despite more than 1,000 complaints by victims since 2001.
Last week, the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz revealed that the justice ministry unit responsible for investigating torture complaints, known by its Hebrew acronym Mivtan, employs only one investigator.
Mivtan “has never launched a single criminal investigation against a Shin Bet agent, even though it has examined many hundreds of complaints,” Haaretz reports, referring to the Israeli secret police agency also commonly known as Shabak, the Israel Security Agency or the General Security Service.
The fact that there is only a single investigator means “it’s unlikely that complaints can be thoroughly examined,” Haaretz states. “In practice, then, the unit does not interfere with the Shin Bet’s work, even though complainants have reported harsh and prohibited forms of torture – including severe beatings and extensive sleep deprivation.”
From 2001 to 2008, nearly 600 complaints were submitted to Mivtan, but every single one was dismissed. During that period, the investigations were carried out by a Shin Bet employee, meaning in effect that the agency that was accused of torture was in charge of investigating itself.
In 2013, the justice ministry named an ostensibly more independent person to head the unit, but with no impact: none of the approximately 300 inquiries conducted since the appointment resulted in a single criminal investigation either, according to Haaretz.
The impunity extends to circumstances where there is strong evidence that torture led to the death of a detainee, such as Arafat Jaradat, a 33-year-old father of two who died after an Israeli interrogation in Megiddo prison in 2013.
Mivtan only reports the numbers of inquiries it conducts, not the total number of complaints received. However Efrat Bergman-Sapir, an attorney with the nonprofit group Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, told Haaretz her organization has submitted more than 1,000 complaints since 2001.
The revelations about the scale of impunity Israeli interrogators enjoy come as a new survey from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has found that world opinion is becoming more tolerant of torture.
In September, the ICRC surveyed 17,000 people in the five nations that are members of the UN Security Council, as well as in Switzerland and in 10 countries “affected by war” – including Israel and Palestine (the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip).
Overall, 66 percent of those surveyed said that torture is “wrong,” while 27 percent said that it was “part of war.”
In Israel, just 44 percent said torture is wrong and 38 percent accepted it as part of war.
Perhaps reflecting the fact that they have lived under Israeli military occupation for decades, Palestinians were the most inured to torture, according to the survey: just 35 percent – the lowest for any country – said it was wrong, while 52 percent said it is part of war.
But when it came to specific circumstances for using torture, Israelis are among the most enthusiastic. When asked if a captured enemy combatant could be tortured to obtain important military information, just 25 percent of Israelis answered “no” while half said this would be acceptable.
By contrast, 53 percent of Palestinians rejected torturing an enemy combatant, while a third said it would be acceptable. According to the survey, Palestinians are more opposed to torture of an enemy combatant than the publics in the UK, US, Nigeria and Ukraine.

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