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Thursday, May 23, 2024

How the Shin Bet uses torture against Palestinians

Sarmad Ishfaq talks about Israel's internal security agency, the Shin Bet. Established in 1949, the Shin Bet subjects Palestinian detainees, including children, to torture and other forms of cruelty.

As the world looked on with consternation at the latest Israel-Palestine battle, many in the world became cognizant of Israeli crimes via their armed forces against the Palestinians – however, most still remain unaware of Israel’s covert actions via the elusive Shin Bet.

The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, was established in 1949 soon after the formation of the State of Israel. It is believed to be divided into 3 operational wings i.e. the Arab Department, the Non-Arab Affairs Department, and the Protective Security Department.

The Shin Bet’s primary duties include dismantling terror outfits, counterintelligence operations, counter-espionage, protecting senior officials, and so on. This article deliberates on the Shin Bet’s human rights abuses against the Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

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Although the Shin Bet has committed gross atrocities against Israeli Palestinians (i.e. Arab citizens of Israel) in Israel, their atrocities transcend in the OPT of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

This is mainly due to the Military Governorate system that was implemented from 1967 to 1982 in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, and the Western part of the Golan Heights – this was a key factor in Shin Bet abusing Palestinian rights.

Although this military rule ended in 1982, the Israeli occupation still continues directly and indirectly in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Shin Bet is therefore a hidden force that keeps millions of Palestinians under its control in the territories occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War. The practices this agency employs include but are not limited to surveillance, arrests, detention, and even torture.

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Harsh policies

Lisa Hajjar and Dr. Rachel Stroumsa, the executive director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, comment that torture has tragically been an enduring characteristic of Israeli methods of interrogation against Palestinians. Although torture is outlawed under Israeli law, the Shin Bet is shockingly allowed to use “moderate physical pressure” when dealing with interrogees to obtain information.

According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), “The methods used in nearly all interrogations are prolonged sleep deprivation; prolonged sight deprivation using blindfolds or tight-fitting hoods; forced, prolonged maintenance of body positions that grow increasingly painful; and verbal threats and insults.”

HRW further states that these methods are “almost always” coupled with heinous tactics such as imprisonment in small closet-like spaces, using extreme temperatures on interrogee, and interrogators moderately or severely beating interrogee.

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The already harsh policies of the Shin Bet enhanced tenfold with the First and Second Intifadas. The First Intifada (1987-1993) saw the detention of over a hundred thousand Palestinians. There are a plethora of reports by human rights organizations that the Shin Bet and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) personnel used violent and ignominious interrogation methods against the Palestinians during the First Intifada.

A B’Tselem report from 1991 (during the First Intifada) highlighted that forty out of the forty-one-member sample revealed that Israeli interrogators violently beat them using sticks, fists, and other weapons.

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Torture methods

Al-Haq’s 1989 report describes in detail one of Israel’s most ultraviolent interrogation methods, the Al-Shabah. The process includes tying the detainee’s hands in front or behind their body with plastic or metal cuffs. The person is also blindfolded or their head is covered with only a little slit left for breathing purposes.

The person is then made to stand in this position in a yard or at times with their hands tied to a pole, for several days. Another interrogation technique used by the agency is “the banana”. This is characterized by handcuffing prisoners who are then stretched backward over their seats; sacks are put over their heads and they are forced to listen to loud music.

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During the First Intifada, Riyad Shahabi, a Palestinian living in the West Bank, was arrested and brought to a detention center in Jerusalem. He states that he was brought in for allegedly throwing stones and that he was brutally beaten by a club. He also went on to say that the agents would take a break and pour water on him and then continue to beat him, demanding a confession.

Another case was of Usama, a high school student, who was arrested and beaten repeatedly on his stomach and groin. He was also made to wear a foul-smelling sack over him and forced to hear derogatory comments about his mother, father, and himself.


In 1995 Miriam Ben-Porat, an Israeli jurist, assailed the Shin Bet stating that they tortured prisoners and in so did not even follow the “moderate physical pressure” rule which was stated in the Landau Commission. Ben-Porat’s report remarked that the complete leadership of the Shin Bet knew about these transgressions, which were mostly taking place in a facility in Gaza.

Furthermore, the report said that the Shin Bet agents lied under oath in courts and also to their superiors. In a B’Tselem report by researcher Noga Kadman, she states that at least ten Palestinians have died due to the immoral and loathsome interrogation methods used by the Shin Bet.

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The preceding report is from 1998 so these numbers have surely increased since its publication. The same report also mentions that Abd a-Samad Harizat, a resident in the OPT, died due to brain damage caused by shaking (a torture method) – as revealed by the pathologist.

Violence against women

During the Second Intifada, Avi Dichter, the former head of the Shin Bet, conducted a media campaign in which he urged the need to strike back for the deaths of thousands of Israeli citizens.

This campaign was so effective that the politicians allowed the Shin Bet and its head unprecedented autonomy in its actions which subsequently led to further oppression of the Palestinians.

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In 2013, the U.N human rights expert called for an immediate investigation of the death of Palestinian prisoner, Arafat Jaradat. Dr. Saber Alout, the chief pathologist of the Palestinian Authority, stated that there were signs and marks of torture on the deceased’s body – the Israelis claimed that a heart attack caused the death of the prisoner, however, according to Dr. Aloul, no evidence supported that statement.

Cases like these have unfortunately become commonplace. Palestinian deaths whether through the hands of the military or the Shin Bet have become mere numbers on a newspaper or a statistic in a report.

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In her book, “Making Women Talk: The Interrogation of Palestinian Women Security Detainees by the Israeli General Security Services”, author Teresa Thornhill, reveals that even women are oft the victims of Shin Bet integrations. She states that women detainees are routinely subjected to hooding, hygiene deprivation, physical violence, sexual threats, confinement in closed spaces, and so on.

Shin Bet’s abominable ways of coercion

The role of informers in the OPT is also of utmost importance for the Israeli intelligence agencies and must be underlined here. The Shin Bet operates a network of informers in its pursuit of Palestinian militants.

According to Andrew Stevens, the Shin Bet has used informers as agent provocateurs. For example, cases have revealed in the past that agent provocateurs allegedly working for the Shin Bet damaged six Palestinian churches in order to fuel violence.

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In their paper, Cohen and Dudai highlight how laden with human rights violations the use of informers really is: the Shin Bet pressurizes the Palestinians into informing for them by reminding them that they can approve or disapprove any permits they require.

The Shin Bet has also recruited children in the past to inform for them; furthermore, many informers have been killed after they were caught. Unfortunately, the Israeli security agencies do little to nothing to rescue their “assets” when they are compromised.

Amnesty International’s 2017/18 report states “Israeli soldiers and police and Israel Security Agency officers subjected Palestinian detainees, including children, to torture and other ill-treatment with impunity, particularly during arrest and interrogation”.

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This is proof that the Shin Bet’s abominable and indelible ways have not abated in contemporary times. The same Amnesty International report mentions that since 2001 there have been over 1,000 complaints, which have resulted in no criminal investigations. Only one criminal investigation has been initiated, over a 2017 alleged rape case, which is still open. This shows the impunity the Shin Bet and other Israeli agencies enjoy – there is virtually no accountability.

In 2019, a fatal bombing in West Bank saw a widespread Shin Bet-led manhunt begin. A total of 50 Palestinians were detained and tortured in the aftermath of the bombing. The Shin Bet identified Samer Arbid as the mastermind and reports state that he was tortured by the agency.

Writing for Haaretz, Tal Steiner states that Samer Arbid was hospitalized in September 2019 due to multiple broken ribs and kidney failure. She as well as other Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups note that the Shin Bet tortured him – but when an investigation was conducted, it was, like thousands before it, found that there was no wrongdoing by the agency.

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Tal writes that “This sends a resounding message to every Shin Bet interrogator: It doesn’t matter what you do during the interrogation, how much violence you use against the interrogee or what the results are, the system will defend you…”.

No end to the atrocities?

The preceding cases specified, paint a troubling picture of the Palestinian situation inside the OPT. The Shin Bet’s network of terror has expanded from Israel to the Occupied Palestinian Territories since 1967 but it is in the latter that they truly show the totality of their vileness and distaste of everything Palestinian.

Barring a few, the Muslim world too has turned a blind eye to the plight of the Palestinians with many commentators and Palestinians stating the Israeli peace deals with Muslim states such as UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan have damaged the Palestinian cause.

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Even with the 2021 Israeli war crimes against Palestinians, which mirrored Israel’s 2008-09 incursion into Gaza (called the “Gaza Massacre”), Israel seems adamant on the path taken. As for now, the conflict between Hamas and Israel might have ceased, but Israel’s behavior vis-à-vis the illegal Israeli settlements and the Shin Bet’s tortuous ways will not – therefore future conflicts are all but guaranteed.

Under the guise of patriotism and using the “War on Terrorism” as a shield to hide behind, the Shin Bet has committed many ignominious crimes that it remains unaccounted for. According to the evidence, Israel’s label of “the only democracy in the Middle East” is as controversial as its past triumph in becoming the only Jewish state in the world.

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The writer is a researcher for Lahore Centre for Peace Research. He has several publications in international journals and magazines in the fields of Terrorism/Counterterrorism and International Relations. He can be reached at: sarmad.ishfaq747@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.