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A new academic study in the peer-reviewed medical journal ‘Reproductive Health Matters’ has revealed dozens of cases of “alleged sexual torture or ill-treatment” of Palestinian male prisoners detained by Israel.
The article, ‘Sexual torture of Palestinian men by Israeli authorities’, claims to be “a first in the investigation of torture and ill-treatment of a sexual nature, allegedly carried out by Israeli security authorities on Palestinian men.”
The study’s findings “show that sexual ill-treatment is systemic”, with 60 testimonies identified over the period 2005-2012. According to the article, “Israeli authorities are systemically involved with torture and ill-treatment of a sexual nature.”
Daniel J.N. Weishut, a clinical psychologist and teaching associate at Bar Ilan University, authored the study based on a database of testimonies gathered by human rights NGO The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI). Weishut is a volunteer member of PCATI’s forensic group.
According to Amnesty International, “Palestinian detainees continued to be tortured and otherwise ill-treated by Israeli security officials, particularly Internal Security Agency officials, who frequently held detainees incommunicado during interrogation for days and sometimes weeks.”
Methods used included “physical assault such as slapping and throttling, prolonged shackling and stress positions, sleep deprivation, and threats against the detainee and their family.” Amnesty concluded: “The authorities failed to take adequate steps either to prevent torture or to conduct independent investigations when detainees alleged torture, fuelling a climate of impunity.”
Weishut describes “torture and ill-treatment of detained Palestinians” by Israeli officials as “prevalent”, despite Israel’s ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture, prohibition of “the use of several forms of torture”, and “laws against (sexual) harassment and abuse.”
Israeli interrogators, however, are officially permitted to use “exceptional” interrogation methods and “physical pressure” in so-called “ticking bomb” situations. Many believe that this ‘exception’ is used “much too broadly” and “de facto institutionalizes torture by Israeli authorities.”
In addition, while victims can go to court and be compensated “if torture were established”, in practice, “torture allegations are dismissed without criminal investigation or rejected and perpetrators are cleared, though in rare cases soldiers are punished through a disciplinary system.”
Such impunity is grimly familiar. An Israeli military examination of 400 incidents of suspected breaches of the law during 2009’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’ led to just three indictments; the harshest sentence was given to a soldier who stole a credit card. When it comes to settler violence in the West Bank, the probability that a Palestinian complaint will produce a conviction is just 1.9 percent.
According to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, cited in the study, torture is:
any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Weishut’s study aimed “at identifying sexual violence against male Palestinian detainees to reveal the extent and nature of sexual violence and ill treatment among collected reports, as one component in a broader frame of torture perpetrated by Israeli authorities.”
The majority of the Palestinian victims (43 percent) were aged 20-29 at the time of the incident; 15 percent were minors. Testimonies included “allegations toward four different categories of perpetrators: a) soldiers and border police officers (25 reports), b) secret service officers (25 reports), c) police officers (8 reports), and d) jail officers (9 reports).”
Weishut divided the incidents into three categories: verbal sexual harassment, forced nudity, and sexual assault (60 testimonies indicated incidents of sexual torture or ill-treatment, but as some of these testimonies included more than one such incident, a total of 77 incidents were identified).
According to the author, “verbal sexual harassment seems relatively widespread among Israeli security authorities”, including “verbal sexual harassment in general, threats of rape, sexual humiliation with regard to family members and threats toward family members.” Most of these cases “involved secret service officers, trying to get a confession.”
“And he said […] if you will talk and sign on everything that we’ll tell you, we’ll treat you nice and well, and if not, we’ll f**k your sister.” (age 15, perpetrator: secret service)
“One of the interrogators said ‘if you don’t confess, I’ll put my foot into your a*s.’ […] One of the two interrogators had an electric lamp with cables and told me ‘if you don’t confess, I’ll put these electricity cables in your a*s’. […] I confessed out of fear from the electricity and from putting the cables into my behind.” (age 17, perpetrator: secret service)
Examples of forced nudity included the description by some victims of being interrogated in the nude, while several detainees “recounted being photographed in the nude.” The study notes that “this kind of ill-treatment recalls incidents at Abu Ghraib.”
“When I got off the army jeep at [name place] I was nude like a baby is born, and the soldiers started to take pictures together with me.” (age 23, perpetrator: soldiers)
The study highlights a 2013 article which “concluded that sexual humiliation is considered a form of psychological torture, with many victims painfully reliving memories of sexual insults and threats. Forced nudity, which strips a person of his/her identity and puts him/her in a shameful position and at risk of assault, was suggested as comparable to sexual assault.”
The Istanbul Protocol is a set of international guidelines for the investigation and documentation of torture and its consequences; it became an official UN document in 1999. The guidelines state that “verbal sexual threats, abuse and mocking are also part of sexual torture”, and that “nudity enhances the psychological terror of every aspect of torture.”
Weishut’s study also includes reports of sexual assault, with “hits to the testicles…described by several victims.” One testimony concerned simulated rape.
“One of the undercover soldiers lay down on me and started to caress my bottom as if he was having sex with me and he started to move his hips and genitals while making sounds. At that point I tried to fight him with all my strength, but my hands were tight behind me and I wasn’t able to. When this undercover soldier got up from me, another came and he too started to caress me and my genitals and buttocks. He tried to take off my trousers, but I kicked him with my feet and they then hit me on all parts of my body with their hands and feet.” (age 26, perpetrator: soldiers)
Of all cases reviewed in this study, an incident in 2007 “of an actual rape with a blunt object” is the only case “in which the victim’s complaint was not rejected outright by the authorities.” According to the study, “at the time of writing this article, it is still in court.”
While the study highlights 60 specific incidents, according to the author “it is expected that the actual number of sexual torture and ill-treatment is much higher.” There have been “no convictions of perpetrators” based on these testimonies.