Israel’s Department for the Investigation of Police (DIP) is currently investigating eight complaints filed by Palestinian minors regarding alleged abuse by interrogators at the Israel Police station in Gush Etzion. The minors claim that severe violence was used in order to force them to confess to stone-throwing. In their testimonies to B’Tselem, they described being subjected to severe physical violence that, in some cases, amounted to torture. In addition, some of them reported being threatened with sexual assault, harm to family members or electrocution. Some of the minors claimed that their initial confession was taken by an interrogator in civilian clothes, and that an official, recorded interrogation began only after they confessed to having thrown stones.
Since November 2009, B’Tselem has collected a total of 64 testimonies – including the eight cases under investigation – from Palestinian residents of the Bethlehem and Hebron Districts, most of them minors, describing violence during interrogation at the said station, which is under the jurisdiction of the Hebron unit at the SHAI (Judea and Samaria) District of the Israel Police. From 2009 to 2013, B'Tselem sent 31 complaints to the DIP on the matter. In the remaining 33 cases, the minors or their families chose not to file a complaint with the DIP, for fear of possible harm to them, or confiscation of family members’ permits to enter Israel, or because of a general lack of trust in the Israeli justice system. Of the 31 interogatees in whose name B'Tselem complained to the DIP, 20 eventually withdrew from their intention to file a formal complaint and give testimony to DIP investigators. As a result, the DIP only opened investigations into 11 cases. Three of the case files were closed and the investigation of the remaining eight, all opened in June 2012 or later, is still under way.
In its correspondence with the DIP, B'Tselem demanded that the issue of violent interrogations at the Etzion station be handled systemically, and not just through the investigation of each individual complaint. B'Tselem representatives also presented this demand to officials in the Israel Police and the Ministry of Justice. The DIP replied that a systemic investigation of the matter was under way. Although B'Tselem contacted the Israel Police on this matter repeatedly, no official answer was given to the question whether any steps had been taken to address the phenomenon and, if so, what they were. All our communications with the police on the matter were met with denial. Police officials refused to comment on the complaints themselves, claiming they could not verify the details of the cases since they were under ongoing investigation by the DIP, and there was a concern of obstructing the investigation. The high number of reports B'Tselem has received regarding violent interrogations at the Etzion station, and the fact that they span several years, gives rise to heavy suspicion that this is not a case of a single interrogator who chose to use illegal interrogation methods, but rather an entire apparatus that backs him up and allows such conduct to take place.
Given the severity and scope of the suspicions raised, the DIP and the Israel Police must examine the issue systemically. If the claims are substantiated, they must take immediate action to stop the illegal conduct and take legal and administrative measures against those responsible, including officials who are aware of this conduct and are allowing it to continue. Also, the existence of efficient oversight mechanisms must be ensured, so as to prevent similar cases in the future.