According to The United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) – to which Israel is a State party – torture is defined as “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”. Moreover, it may be “inflicted by or at the instigation of or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity”. International law also prohibits “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”, as outlined in Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), encapsulating any physical treatment designed to intimidate or coerce a person.
Despite this, Israel routinely adopts methods of ill-treatment and torture when seeking to procure information from civilian detainees. The Palestinian Prisoner Society reports that, when detained and interrogated, approximately 95% of Palestinian prisoners in Israel suffer torture or ill-treatment. Amnesty International has also noted how Israeli forces have “tortured and otherwise ill-treated Palestinian detainees, including children, particularly during arrest and interrogation” through means of “beating with batons, slapping, throttling, prolonged shackling, stress positions, sleep deprivation and threats.” Other abusive measures employed during interrogations have included “exposure to extreme temperatures…prolonged or continuous exposure to bright spotlights; denial of timely and adequate medical care; tear gas and sound bombs; detention in inhuman and degrading conditions; [and a] denial of basic rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of worship”. Furthermore, interrogations of Palestinian children are routinely conducted without the presence of a parent, violating both international and domestic laws which are designed to protect detained children from forced confessions. According to Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), an estimated 500-700 Palestinian children are detained and prosecuted each year, with some children only 12 years old. The most common charge against these children is stone-throwing.
Whilst in September 1999 Israel’s Supreme Court issued a ruling which prohibited torture, the court also asserted that the ‘necessity defence’ clause in the penal law, “which grants protection to a defendant in a criminal trial”, could be utilised by Israel Security Agency (ISA) interrogators who used physical methods amounting to ill-treatment during ‘ticking bomb’ situations. A ‘ticking bomb’ state is typically observed when concerns of an imminent attack arise and the only way to prevent the outbreak is with information obtained from a suspect. Effectively, this ruling allows Israel to present itself as against torture, whilst continuing to enact it as they so choose. Consequently, the ‘necessity defence’ clause, when applied to cases of interrogation, cannot simultaneously exist with the absolute international prohibition of torture.
Israel’s continuous violations of international human rights violations, and the lack of effective recrimination from the international community paints a bleak image for any progressive change for the future treatment of Palestinian detainees. With Israel’s recent terrorist categorisation of six Palestinian NGOs, the erosion of human rights for Palestinians is only worsening, and the lack of accountability permits Israel to continually deepen its systemic oppression of the Palestinian people. This raises questions on the practical efficacy of international human rights legislation and whether, in actuality, the conceptual universality of human rights translates into reality.