Hundreds of Palestinian detainees were held under inhuman conditions during the first weeks of Israel's invasion of West Bank cities, and refugee camps, dubbed "Operation Defensive Shield." An internal report from the State Attorney states that detainees were kept tied up for up to twelve days, blindfolded, on the ground, exposed to the cold and rain, unable to wash, and were practically starved. This information was revealed to the State Attorney's office while its lawyers were preparing their response to a Supreme Court appeal, filed by Human Rights organizations, regarding detainment conditions. The State Attorney's office chose not to bother the court with these facts, because detainment conditions were improved a day before the state's response was submitted to the court. In its response the state described detainment conditions as "appropriate, human, and reasonable."
The report, prepared by Shay Nitzan, the lawyer in charge of security cases at the State Attorney's office, says that valuables and documents were taken from many detainees without a procedure, and were not returned to the owners upon release. The report also says that detainees have complained of being battered by soldiers. About 6,000 Palestinians were arrested since the begriming of the invasion. Over 4,000 have already been released. In other words, at least two thirds of the detainees are not even suspected of any illegal act.
The report, submitted to Attorney General, Elyakim Rubinstein, and to the head State Attorney, Edna Arbel, states that "due to a lack of preparedness, hundreds of detainees were kept handcuffed, exposed the cold and rain for several days. The Ofer facility [a detainment camp - oznik.com] was not responsible for them, and it is not clear who took care of them. Additionally, because of unpreparedness, hundreds of detainees were kept for about a week without sleeping surfaces, mattresses, or blankets, not to mention a shower and a change of clothes. In addition, there was a scarcity of food for the detainees."
Following this report, Rubinstein has approached the military and demanded a thorough investigation of detainment conditions during the first weeks of the invasion. The report was passed on to Major General Yitzhak Eytan, commander of the army's Central Command, together with Rubinstein's request. Eytan was asked to examine the possibility of appointing an internal committee of investigation to check the issue. In other words, should the military look into this, Major General Eytan, under whose command the inhuman facilities were run, will also be responsible for the investigation.
State Attorney Did Not Tell The Court
The Supreme Court appeal was filed in mid April by the Center for the Individual's Protection, and other Human Rights organizations. Plaintiffs argued that detainment conditions in the Ofer facility, and in the temporary detainment facilities in the West Bank are "inhuman," and "severe." They requested the court to order appropriate conditions of detainment.
To study the case and prepare the state's response, Nitzan visited the Ofer facility, met with the facility commander, and with officers in the Military Police. On 24 April the state told the court that "as of today," detainment conditions at the Ofer facility are human, appropriate, respectable and reasonable. The state also claimed that due to detainees' fast arrival in the facility, and because of their large numbers, not all detainees were held under all the accepted detainment conditions, for a relatively short period.
The state claimed in court that temporary facilities have been shut down, and therefore discussing those facilities would be theoretical and irrelevant. The Supreme Court accepted the state's position regarding the temporary facilities, and decided that Nitzan will visit the Ofer facility together with five representatives for the plaintiffs, after which a supplementary statement would be submitted regarding current conditions in the camp. The visit, scheduled for 30 April, was postponed because representatives for the plaintiffs demanded to talk to detainees during the visit. It finally took place this last Wednesday.
Nitzan became aware of the harsh way detainees were treated while he was working on the response to the appeal. This information, which, according to Nitzan, "astonished and saddened us," were not submitted to the court, nor made public. This is the information on which the internal report, first published here, is based.
Bread and Jello
Most of the detainees were first taken to temporary facilities in the West Bank. According to the report, in most cases detainees were kept in these facilities for a short period of time, ranging from a few hours to 48 hours. During this time period detainees were screened. They were taken through primary interrogation, then sorted out for release, or detainment for a thorough investigation of suspicions against them. In general, those detained were supposed to be transferred to the Ofer facility as soon as possible. Few detainees were transferred to other facilities. Nitzan says in his report that "conditions in these facilities were "very minimal," but detainees were given drinking water, food, and toilet access.
"In general, all detainees in these facilities were kept blindfolded for the whole time. Blindfolds were only removed for meals. There were no beds, or mattresses in these facilities, so detainees were kept on the ground. They did not have access to showers, nor to a change of clothes. Food supplied to them was very minimal [sic.]. According to reports we have heard they were given mostly bread and jello, as well as a meat portion for lunch. In some places detainees were kept without a roof, under the sky. As can be remembered, during the first days of the operation the weather was cold and rainy, and thus, in some of the places where detainees were staying, they sat handcuffed, in the cold and rain, blindfolded."
"Such conditions," Nitzan wrote, can be accepted as unavoidable, so long as detainment is relatively short. Still, I doubt it was reasonable to keep such detainees for more than 24 hours, without a roof over their heads, in the cold and rain, and many detainees were held under such conditions this long. In any case, one cannot dispute how entirely unreasonable it is, to say the least, to hold a detainee under such conditions for days on end, especially detainees that have not yet been interrogated thoroughly. But investigation has shown that 13 detainees were kept under such conditions in the temporary facility in Samaria [the Northern West Bank] on 24.4.02. One detainee was kept under these conditions for twelve days. Two detainees were held under these conditions for eleven days. And other detainees were kept for periods that ranged from four to eight days. All this while, according to the information we have received, they were cuffed (without rest), on the ground (without a mattress or a bed), blindfolded (except during meals), without taking a shower, eating mainly bread and jello." Nitzan immediately approached the army about those detainees. That same evening he was told that they have been transferred to a facility with reasonable conditions.
"It seems to me that there's a need to investigate how this could take place at the Samaria facility," Nitzan wrote, "and whether similar things took place in other facilities. What took place in these facilities should be investigated."
"The Claim May Not Be Unfounded"
Since the beginning of the invasion, between 3,000 and 4,000 detainees were brought to the Ofer facility. The majority of them were released, and as of the day the report was written (24 April), 1,130 detainees were held there. The Ofer facility's capacity is 450 detainees. The facility's emergency capacity has been put at 700 (thirty detainees are crowded into each tent, designed to hold twenty). Since more than 700 detainees were brought to the Ofer facility directly at the very beginning of the invasion, there was little room left.
"During the first days all the overflow detainees, numbering about 300, sat for three days on the ground... detainees sat through the cold and rain in the open field, exposed to the weather, without mattresses, or beds, cuffed. Those detainees were not, during those days, under the responsibility of the Ofer facility, so it is not clear who (if anyone) supplied them with food," the report states.
The report has more to say on the food issue: "According to the appeal, detainees were left hungry for days. It is argued that one Cottage cheese container, one cucumber, and matzos were all the food given, for example, as breakfast for six or seven detainees. Our investigation shows that this claim may not be unfounded." It also says that for three weeks detainees had to eat with their hands, without plates, forks, or spoons. "The claim that this was supposedly due to security considerations is hard to accept," Nitzan wrote.
On the issue of clothing, underwear, and towels, the report says: "We were told that 700 sets of clothes, underwear, and towels were at the facility. Once the 700 sets were distributed to the first 700 detainees, no change of clothes was left, no towels or underwear. Additional sets arrived only on 24 April. Therefore, hundreds and thousands of detainees were held for up to three weeks in their clothes and underwear, with no towels."
After the three days of roofless detainment on the ground, four roof covered vehicle sheds were converted into temporary detainment space. The detainees were held in these sheds, where sleeping boards and chemical toilets were brought (and later a shower too), for three weeks. The sheds were a temporary solution for the space scarcity. Still, "the sheds are completely open on one side, and were therefore very cold for part of this period. It must also be noted that during the first days, following the move to the sheds, there were no sleeping boards, no mattresses, nor blankets for some of the detainees, nor did they have showers, and such like."
During the three weeks the detainees were held in the sheds, seven new detainment areas were built in the Ofer facility. Those areas were paved with tarmac, fenced, and secured. Toilets with sewage were installed, as well as showers. The areas, designated to hold 500 detainees under reasonable conditions, were populated a day before the court hearing, enabling the state to claim in court that detainees are held under reasonable conditions.
Nitzan ended the report with some questions: "First, there is a need to investigate how is it that the IDF did not reasonably prepare for the possibility that it will detain more than 500 people within a short time... on this point it must be noted also that the Supreme Court judges, even though they did not, naturally, concentrate on the conditions in the facility at the begriming of the period, did find it necessary to comment that unpreparedness for taking in detainees beyond the facilities' capacity, which has caused much trouble, arouses great wonder. The judges also noted that there is a need for tight supervision over what takes place in the facility. To all of the above I will add that we have been told that now, after the facility has been expanded to a capacity of 1,200 detainees, the sheds will be dismantled. It is worth asking whether the IDF is prepared for a future situation in which more than 1,200 people are detained, so that such events will not recur... all these questions are bothering, and require a real examination."
Nitzan also calls for an investigation into why the military was did not prepare to take in the detainees in the temporary facilities: "They should have at least prepared to erect tents in the temporary detainment facilities, so that detainees will not be held without any cover, in the cold and rain. It must be mentioned that the vast majority of detainees were released from these facilities after a short time, because it was not found that they had operated against our forces."
As of press time, the army spokesperson has made no comment on the facts in this article.
Testimony: Those who raised their heads were beaten up
Ramzi Al-Nabrissi was arrested on 30 March, and released after ten days
An affidavit from Ramzi Al-Nabrissi, a Palestinian policeman from Ramallah, who was detained on 30 March, was submitted to the Supreme Court as part of the appeal by Human Rights organizations. Al-Nabrissi was released after ten days. He was not suspected of any offense, and was not indicted. His ID, taken from him upon his arrest, was not returned to him. Human Rights organizations have many affidavits of this kind.
"We were taken to Beth-El military camp. We were many people, they sat us on the ground. It was a rainy cold night. We were cuffed, and our eyes were covered. A strong rain fell on us, and drenched us. I tried to cover the bandage over my injured hand as best I could, from the rain, for fear of infections, but this was no good. We stayed like this all that night, and the following day, until the afternoon. The intense cold, the rain, and the cuffs, prevented us from sleeping. Over these long hours we were not given food, or cigarettes. We were required to sit with our heads down. Whenever someone raised his head, he'd be exposed to curses and beatings. Our requests for drinking water were partly complied with, depending on the favors of the soldier that was near. Most of our requests to urinate, or defecate were not answered, at least not within reasonable time."
Later Al-Nabrissi was transferred to the Ofer facility: "From the first night there was a shortage in mattresses and blankets... I was held in the camp for about ten days, until 9 April 2002. Conditions at the camp were harsh and inhuman. Evidently those in charge of the camp disregarded, and neglected our basic needs as human beings... Sleep in the tents, during those cold days, and the fiercest rains, was very hard... the lack of mattresses and blankets forced us to sleep huddled up together... It appears that the amount of food served, the food quality, and serving conditions were supposed to retain us alive, nothing more... I wish to sum up and not that this is undoubtedly the hardest period in my life. I have never felt so humiliated and held in such contempt. Whole days of hunger, cold, dirty clothes, no medical care, etc. All these gave me a hard feeling that I am not being treated as a human being."